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REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES POISON IVY
By Thomas Wheeler

One of the frequent cries heard by action figure manufacturers is, "Female action figures don't sell!" I think I could introduce you to a number of action figure collectors that would dispute that statement. Now, there may be a corollary, in that given that female characters in an otherwise predominantly male concept, are so relatively scarce that they become better-known simply because of their scarcity, it is nevertheless true that characters such as Scarlett and Baroness in G.I. Joe, Arcee in Transformers, Teela and Evil-Lyn in Masters of the Universe, do manage to become quite well known.

Certainly the DC Universe has no shortage of popular females, and thankfully, many of them have been brought into the world of articulated plastic thanks to Mattel's superb line of DC Universe Classics action figures, currently doing business as the DC Universe Signature Series through MattyCollector.Com.

And one of the most recent additions is a well-known femme fatale, one of Batman's arch-enemies by the name of POISON IVY.

Few, if any, super-heroes, have garnered the number of really well-known villains that Batman has. The Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Bane, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn -- and every one of the characters I just mentioned has been made as an action figure in this superb line. These are some of the best-known super-villains in any comics universe.

The DC Universe Signature Series may not have the opportunity to be as numerous as the DC Universe Classics line -- pretty much restricting itself to one figure per month with occasional specials -- but it can achieve a number of things. It can complete certain special teams that got their start in the DC Universe Classics line, and it is doing so with both the Doom Patrol and the Metal Men (and I'm personally hoping for more members of the Legion of Super-Heroes), and it can bring into the overall line characters that most fans would say are long overdue. The line pretty much started out that way, with Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. Poison Ivy fits into this category, as well. Someone more than a bit overdue, who'll certainly be a hit with the fans.

Let's consider the history of this character, and then have a look at her action figure.

Poison Ivy, real name Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley was created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff, she first appeared in Batman #181 (June 1966).

Poison Ivy is depicted as one of the world's most prominent eco-terrorists. She is obsessed with plants, botany, and environmentalism. She uses toxins from plants and mind controlling pheromones for her criminal activities, which are usually aimed at protecting the natural environment. Fellow villain Harley Quinn is her recurring partner-in-crime and possibly her only human friend. She is best known as a villain of Batman and plays an important role in his rogues gallery and has proven to be one of his more powerful foes, being one of the few Batman villains to display anything close to superpowers.

Pamela Isley a.k.a. Poison Ivy has been portrayed as a love interest for Batman in some comics. In one comic, Ivy was robbing a charity gala Bruce Wayne was attending. Ivy's first kiss was poison, the second its antidote. When they first meet, Ivy's toxic lips planted a seed of toxic rapture in Bruce. But when she later kissed a dying Dark Knight, Ivy unknowingly cured her intended victim and established a budding romantic tension between them.

Creator Robert Kanigher modeled Poison Ivy after Bettie Page, giving her the same haircut and Southern drawl as Page. In her first appearances in 1966, no origin was developed; she was merely a temptress. At her first appearance, her costume was a one-piece, strapless green bathing suit, covered with leaves. Leaves also formed her bracelets, necklace and crown. She also wore green high heels and yellow-green nylon stockings with leaves painted on them. These particulars changed somewhat when she re-appeared.

Poison Ivy was promoted after the rise of feminism brought the need for a greater number of more independent female villains in the series. She was also used to replace the increasingly sympathetic Catwoman as a clearly antagonistic female supervillain foil for Batman, and then made further appearances in the Batman comic book series and in Suicide Squad.

An origin story was later created for her by Neil Gaiman, in Secret Origins #36, 1988. Pamela Lillian Isley grows up wealthy with emotionally distant parents. She later studies advanced botanical biochemistry at a university with Alec Holland under Dr. Jason Woodrue. Isley, a timid shy girl, is easily seduced by her professor. Woodrue injects Isley with poisons and toxins as an experiment, causing her transformation. She nearly dies twice as a result from these poisonings, driving her insane. Later, Woodrue flees from the authorities leaving Isley in the hospital for six months. Enraged at the betrayal, she suffers from violent mood swings, being sweet one moment and evil the next. When her boyfriend has a car accident after mysteriously suffering from a massive fungal overgrowth, Isley drops out of school and leaves Seattle, eventually settling in Gotham City.

She begins her criminal career by threatening to release her suffocating spores into the air unless the city meets her demands. Batman, who appears in Gotham that very same year, thwarts her scheme, and she is incarcerated in Arkham Asylum. From this point on, she has a kind of obsession with Batman, he being the only person she could not control. Over the years, she develops plant-like superpowers, the most noticeable being a lethal toxin in her lips; she is able to literally kill with a kiss.

In subsequent issues, she states that she only started a life of crime to attain sufficient funds to find a location to be alone with her plants, undisturbed by humanity. A few years later, she attempts to leave Gotham forever, escaping Arkham to settle on a desert island in the Caribbean. She transforms the barren wasteland into a second Eden, and is, for the first time in her life, happy. It is soon firebombed, however, when an American-owned corporation tests their weapons systems out on what they think is an abandoned island. She returns to Gotham.

At times, Ivy demonstrates positive, even maternal traits. When Gotham City is destroyed in an earthquake, rather than fight over territory like most of Batman's enemies, she holds dominion over Robinson Park and turns it into a tropical paradise. Sixteen children who are orphaned during the quake come to live with her as she sympathizes with them having suffered a traumatic childhood herself. She cares for them like sons and daughters, despite her usual misanthropy.

That winter, Clayface pays Ivy a visit, hoping to form a bargain with her. This would entail her growing fruits and vegetables, having the orphans harvest them, and him selling the produce to the highest bidder. She wants nothing to do with the plan, and she attempts to kill him with a kiss. Clayface overpowers her, however, and imprisons Ivy and the orphans for six months in a chamber under the park's lake.

Eventually, Batman comes and discovers the imprisoned orphans and Ivy. The two agree to work together to take Clayface down. Batman battles Clayface and instructs Robin to blow up the lake bed above, allowing the rushing water to break apart the mud, effectively freeing Ivy. She fights Karlo, ensnaring him in the branches of a tree and fatally kissing him. She then proceeds to sink him down into the ground, where he becomes fertilizer for Ivy's plants. Batman, originally intending to take the orphans away from Ivy, recognizes that staying with her is what is best for them, and they remain in her care until the city is restored. Also, as part of a bargain to keep her freedom, Batman arranges it so that Ivy provides fresh produce to the starving hordes of earthquake survivors.

Soon after, Ivy finds Harley Quinn, who had almost been murdered by the Joker, among the debris of the earthquake and nurses her back to health. The two have been best friends and partners-in-crime ever since. Sometime later, forms an alliance with Catwoman and Harley Quinn, leading into the ongoing series Gotham City Sirens.

Later, when Harley Quinn betrays her friends and breaks into Arkham Asylum with the goal of killing the Joker, she ultimately chooses instead to release Joker from his cell, and together the two orchestrate a violent takeover of the facility. Poison Ivy arrives and tries to convince Harley Quinn that the Joker is evil, but Harley Quinn refuses to believe her and knocks Poison Ivy unconscious. After they are defeated by Catwoman and Batman, Catwoman then tells Poison Ivy that they are no longer friends, after Ivy had drugged Catwoman in an attempt to discover Batman's identity. Poison Ivy is taken in Arkham Asylum. Ivy soon escapes and ambushes Harley in her cell, binding and gagging her former friend before she can defend herself. Ivy struggles with the decision to execute Harley for her betrayal, but ultimately releases her after realizing that she is still her friend. Together, the two set off to find Catwoman and make her pay for leaving them behind. The two of them found Catwoman and fought her on the streets. While they were fighting, Catwoman confessed that she saw good in the both of them and only wanted to help them. When she told them that she only kept tabs on them because Batman wanted to keep them under control, Ivy lashed out onto the city by using giant vines to destroy buildings, cursing at Batman for manipulating her. Batman was about to arrest them, but Catwoman helped the two of them escape.

As to her powers and abilities, the extent of them has tended to vary more than usual depending on the writer. The dangerous experiments that transformed Pamela into Poison Ivy placed a deliberate overdose of plant and animal based toxins into her blood stream that make her touch deadly while also allowing her to boost her immunity to all poisons, viruses, bacteria, and fungi. This immunity also includes Joker venom. Some comics have even gone so far as to depict her as more plant than human, breathing CO2 and requiring sunlight to survive.

Despite retaining in her earlier appearances her Caucasian, red-haired appearance, in time the amount of vegetable toxins and chlorophyll in her tissue tinted her skin permanently green. After years of practice, she regained the ability to consciously control her appearance, restoring herself to an almost fully human facade, with only her lips and eyes tinted a bright shade of green -- which isn't a bad way to explain what was probably a colorist's mistake here and there.

Ivy's body produces pheromones that make people susceptible to mind control around her, although strong-minded people like Batman are usually capable of resisting. She was even once able to control Superman with the use of kryptonite and ordered him to fight Batman in a fierce battle that Batman managed to survive.

She specializes in hybrids and can create the most potently powerful floral toxins in Gotham City. Often these toxins are secreted from her lips and administered in her preferred way, a poisonous kiss, usually after professing false love or affection for her victim. They come in a number of varieties, from mind-controlling drugs to instantly fatal toxins.

In some stories, she can control plants with her mind. For example, while in Arkham, she was able to manipulate and animate plants, using roots to form supports for a tunnel she and another inmate named Magpie were digging to escape, and also spawning glowing fungi to entertain Magpie.

So, how's the figure? Really outstanding. A number of things especially impress me about this figure. There are elements of it that really showcase the sculpting and design abilities of the Four Horsemen, the studio that Mattel employs for many of their better action figures, and I am impressed that this figure features as many distinctive parts as she does.

Now, I appreciate the fact that the DC Universe line -- call it Classics or call it Signature Series -- is able to reuse as many body parts as it does. I think this lends a very welcome consistency to the line that can sometimes be lacking in other action figure lines that would benefit from similar practices.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that one of the primary reasons Mattel does this is not so much for the sake of figure consistency, although I am certain that they recognize this, but economics. Molds cost money. In fact, they're the most expensive part of making toys. And if multiple figures can appropriately use the same arm assembly or leg assembly or torso, just with changing the molded color and painted details -- well, so much the better.

So understandably, Mattel wants to craft as few entirely new parts per figure as possible, especially with a line like DC Universe Signature Series, which has a more limited production run, and is dependent on online subscription and online day-of-release sales, as opposed to a wider retail distribution. In light of all this, the number of unique parts on Poison Ivy is very impressive.

One thing I seriously appreciate is that the figure was given green skin. This legitimately could have gone either way, but I think the green makes her look more interesting. It's an incredibly pale green, too. I've never seen a color quite like this in the DC Universe line -- or much of anywhere else, either. It almost looks like she should glow-in-the-dark, but she doesn't.

As I was studying the figure, It almost looked as though she had just the tiniest hint of a flesh-colored overspray on some parts of her. Honestly, it was so minimal that I thought it might have been a trick of the light of the room I was in. So, I took the figure outdoors, and studied her in both direct and indirect sunlight. I even put her under a fluorescent light. And really -- I'm still not sure. If there is any kind of faint, flesh-tone detail spray on this figure, it has to be the most subtle, minimal detailing I've ever -- not quite been sure I've seen. Suffice to say, though, that Poison Ivy's skin color, overall, is a very pale green.

Her facial expression I would politely describe as looking moderately peeved. This is due as much to the downward-arched eyebrows as anything, and a slight frown. Her overall facial features are superbly sculpted and very nicely crafted.

I do have one complaint here, and it's my only one on the figure. Although the eyebrows and green lipstick were superbly well painted, her eyes were painted a little askew. The right eye looks like it has a sort of squint to it. It's not severe, but it is noticeable. This has nothing to do with the sculpt, or even the paint stencils, but rather with somebody's aim at the factory. It also has to do with quality control. While this is a relatively minor matter, I've been encountering a number of issues both in the DC Universe and Masters of the Universe lines involving everything from more serious paint glitches, to mold creases on figure's heads, to assembly problems of loose joints that one wonders if they're going to fall off.

This is why I don't like to mail-order action figures if there's any alternative. In this case, there isn't. But there's no opportunity to study the figure or choose from several specimens. You take what they send you, and if there's a problem, there's no guarantee that a replacement would be an improvement. That being said, and in light of that and the fact that these are not inexpensive toys, Mattel seriously needs to crack down on some of this stuff with their factories before it gets worse.

Back to Poison Ivy. Her hair is one of the things where the Four Horsemen really get to shine. Her hair is very long, really all the way down her back past her waist, very wavy, and is interspersed with occasional leaves. So, does she go to a hairstylist or a gardener? Anyway, the hair is astoundingly well designed, sculpted, and detailed. Some portions even have waves that seem to separate from the rest of the hair and then rejoin it further down. The mold for this hairpiece must be a doozy.

Poison Ivy, in distinct contrast to the rest of her coloration, is a redhead. Her hair has been painted a dark auburn red, sort of a brick red as much as anything, with some darker detailing, and the little leaves that turn up here and there have been painted the same dark green as her costume.

With regard to that. As described earlier, Poison Ivy wear what amounts to a one-piece swimsuit, with some garden accessories to go with it. This has resulted in an entirely new upper and lower torso being designed just for this figure, which is pretty impressive -- I'd say very impressive seeing as how I don't really see this set of molds being used for anyone else. The swimsuit is dark green, but is adorned across the top and bottom with strings of little sculpted leaves. Since the upper torso is entirely new, this also enabled the sculptors to give Poison Ivy a collar or tight necklace of leaves around the base of her neck.

Poison Ivy's arms and legs are standard issue -- except for her feet. Poison Ivy is barefoot. The only other barefoot female figure in the entire line was the modern Cheetah figure, and her toes ended in claws. Poison Ivy's do not. Her feet, except for the color, are entirely normal-looking. So that means that along with the head -- naturally -- as well as the hair, Poison Ivy required an entirely new torso and feet. That's a lot of new parts to put into one of these figures. That's not a complaint, certainly. I'm impressed.

Mattel even went so far as to paint dark green nail polish on her toenails. Her fingers do not have similar treatment, but her hands are clenched into fists, so that would've been tricky, anyway.

There are some additional accouterments, however. Weaving along both arms and her left leg are three short, leafy vines. These are entirely separately molded pieces, but they fit well, and are as superbly sculpted and detailed as the rest of the foliage on this figure, and they certainly do a superb job of completing her look.

So, what you really have here is a very attractive if very dangerous green-skinned young woman. I don't think you'd want to take her on a date, though. She'd probably just want to talk about environmental subjects, and then would likely claim that she knew your salad personally. And you certainly wouldn't want to end the evening with a good-night kiss!

Poison Ivy doesn't come with any accessories, unless you count the little vines, and for my part, I consider those part of her costume. Of course, the figure's articulation is superb. Poison Ivy is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

I would also, as I am in the habit of doing with these Signature Series figures, like to commend the artist who provided the painted illustration on the package. These are impressive masterpieces, and Poison Ivy's painting is certainly no exception.

So, what's my final word? This is an outstanding figure from many aspects. The distinctive figure parts, the interesting color scheme, the astounding hair sculpt and overall detail, and certainly the character is likely a bit overdue for inclusion in this line. I know she was on my "short list" of characters I was hoping to see, and now here she is.

I sincerely believe that any Batman fan or anyone who's enjoyed this collection of action figures will be truly delighted to add Poison Ivy to their collection. I know I am.

The DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES figure of POISON IVY definitely has my highest recommendation!