The Poison Ivy League began as a hashtag in November 2015, a concept coined by Twitter user @venomous_rose to celebrate the growing fandom around longtime Batman adversary Poison Ivy. The response was larger than many founders predicted, and so began one of comics' most vocal subgroups. In the years that followed, Ivy fandom has grown exponentially as people have found community in the discussion of her, focusing less on her status as a sultry villain and more on her heroic potential.
According to co-founder @ivygirl851, "We don't agree on everything, but we agree that Poison Ivy deserves more." For her, the league is "based on solidarity and nonhierarchical organization, valuing inclusivity, openness, and freedom." As for the overall importance of Ivy fandom, co-creator of the Ivy-focused zine Vines and Roses @fayettevamp notes, "Ivy tends to draw passionate, intelligent people. Feminists, anarchists, pacifists. Neuro-divergent people. Professional sex workers. Lots of LGBTQ people. Lots of women. People of color. Pretty much anyone who doesn't feel represented by the current offerings of DC comics." Adds fellow zine co-founder @autumnivy3, "Ivy represents so many things for so many different people. You can read Ivy in all sorts of ways. There is no doubt that she is nonconforming. Ivy inspires me to be authentic."
Those who were interviewed for this piece recalled seeing themselves in Ivy at a young age, drawing inspiration and strength from her ecological concern and her unwillingness to conform to societal expectation.
A read on Ivy that emphasized empowerment has become the dominant one for many fans, including @fayettevamp, who elaborates that "Ivy is an archetype as old as storytelling. She's Callisto. She's la belle dame sans merci. She's the fae queen. She's the Witch of the Forest. She's the mysterious woman of power that so terrifies men because they can neither control nor understand her. She's beauty and danger and they are attracted even as they hate her for it."
Beyond simply connecting with other fans, the League has been making concentrated efforts to connect with DC and the writers and artists who work on Ivy stories. The reason for this is just as simple as wanting better Ivy stories. As @autumnivy3 notes, "We want to encourage writers to make more stories that are consistent and recognizable. Some writers use her as an unprincipled temptress and ruthless killer, others kill her off in gratuitous, objectified scenes, and others undermine her romance with Harley or turn it into a friendship. We want consistency. We want to see Ivy portrayed as a passionate, loyal, intentional, intelligent woman who cares about the earth and the downtrodden."
Another important element of discussion has been the evolution from a one-dimensional villain to a complicated antihero and where she might go from here. Why is Ivy's evolution to heroism so important? @fayettevamp says, "Kids need to understand you can be a hero and still say no when men tell you what to do. They can exert their own will without needing an underlying male power system to be effective."
@autumnivy3 also noted that "[Ivy] has a sense of anger and loneliness that female characters aren't typically allowed to express. When female characters adopt this personality, more consequences befall them in stories. They are more often considered the villains of the story. It would be nice to change that perspective."
For women in male-dominated spaces, it's obvious that there is a need for better representation of women in STEM, while current questions of mass environmental harm of the planet make Pamela Isley a particularly poignant character in 2020. The level of action required to save the planet and the morality behind the use of extreme force to enact change is a question on a lot of people's minds, and no one embodies that question more succinctly than Poison Ivy.
Still, nearly all fandoms have their critics, and the League is no different. Why is there opposition to their ideas? According to @fayettevamp, "We're largely a female fan base. Queer. It's as simple as that. Ivy is intelligent, powerful, and confident, and it's vital for certain sections of the fandom to see her remain a villain so she can be punished for those things. If Ivy succeeds, it shatters their worldview. Ivy is every beautiful woman who rejects them. They want to see their favorite audience insert character, Batman, punch her and throw her in Arkham. If she's not a villain, they lose that."
"You can't talk about Poison Ivy without positioning her in a sociopolitical context," @ivygirl851 continues. "She is a queer feminist, environmental activist, a woman in STEM, Antifa, a mother of three. Poison Ivy, what she represents now, annoys gatekeepers. It is the alt-right, the MRAs, the neofascists who lose it at the idea."
Yet other comic characters have made the change from hero to villain and back again many times over, as @autumnivy3 points out. "The biggest hate we get is for claiming that Poison Ivy should be a hero. If characters like Wolverine, Clayface and Deadpool can be considered heroes from one time or another, why not Ivy?"
The first issue of Vines & Roses is releasing today, February 11, aka International Women in STEM day, emphasizing the importance of Ivy's life as a botanist and a scientist. Says @fayettvamp, "She's arguably the greatest female super-scientist in comics! She doesn't get credit for it, but she's always successful. We all want to see kids have a character like her, a brilliant scientist who isn't ashamed of her intelligence. That's so important." Adds @autumnivy, "Not only do we need more real-life examples of women and girls in science, but fictional ones as well."
For the League, Ivy's status as a straightforward villain doesn't make sense, and it's worth speaking up about. @autumnivy3 points out that "it's important because we often have cis-male writers and fans define Ivy. A lot of writers tend to pigeonhole her as this gimmicky character with plant-based powers, but she is so much more than that. A lot of those contributing to this zine are LGBTQ+ who often don't see their voices reflected."
Advocating for powerful women in fiction is something that a lot of women in media have had extensive experience with, and there is a long history of people who don't have access to traditional publishing venues to take to the streets via the wonderful world of zines. There is no doubt that, whatever your thoughts on Ivy, she would absolutely support DIY cultures. To that end, @fayettevamp admits that some of this project was constructed with the naysayers in mind: "The toxic aspects of fandom who loved shouting, 'If you don't like what DC is doing, make your own'? They challenged us, we accepted."