Part of DC’s collection of graphic novels for young adults, Poison Ivy: Thorns introduces a backstory for its title character that’s both unique and familiar. Although the origin of Ivy’s powers over plant life are similar to her most well-known origin story, which was written by Neil Gaiman in Secret Origins #36 back in 1988, it’s the differences between these tales that makes this graphic novel truly stand out.
Written by Kody Keplinger (New York Times bestselling author of The DUFF) and featuring delicate, pretty illustrations by Sara Kipin, Thorns is the story of a high school-aged Pamela Isley. A shy, quiet girl who hides behind her bright red hair, Pamela is an accomplished chemistry student who lives alone with her physician father in a large, shuttered mansion. Pamela’s mother is reportedly on an extended research trip to the rainforest, studying rare plant life.
What’s clear from the beginning is that there’s much more going on in the Isley manor than Pamela and her father want the rest of the community to know about. Her father, in particular, is adamant that they leave all the curtains drawn and preaches that “you can’t trust anyone but family”.
At school, Pamela is being bullied by a male student that she had gone to homecoming with. Wealthy and used to getting his own way, he can’t handle it when Pamela doesn’t give him everything he wants, and he begins spreading rumors about her around the school. When she goes to the principal about the situation, she finds him to be frustratingly less than helpful, stating that the boy is from a good family and that Pamela should change the way she looks if she doesn’t want attention from boys.
The only person that offers Pamela support and guidance is a fellow student, a cute goth girl named Alice Oh. She urges Pamela to stand up for herself, encouraging her not to let anyone walk all over her, and promises to be there for her.
Unbeknownst to Alice, Pamela had already begun finding ways to stand up for what she believed in. When it’s announced that the town will begin the deforestation of Bailey Park, the only park in the town and a place that Pamela frequented with her mom, she sneaks into the park at midnight to release a homemade toxic gas to slow the workers down. The next morning, it’s announced on the news that two construction workers have been hospitalized after coming into contact with the gas and that there will be an evacuation of the homes near Bailey Park until the toxin can be cleared out.
One of the homes near the park belongs to Alice’s family. Alice’s mother is a colleague of Pamela’s father and asks him if Alice can stay at Isley manor while the situation is sorted out so that she can be close to school. Unwilling to arouse suspicion, Pamela’s father agrees, and Alice moves into the guest room the next day.
The more time that Pamela and Alice spend together, the more their feelings for each other grow. Thorns isn’t just a tale of Pamela becoming Poison Ivy, it’s also a tale of Pamela recognizing that love isn’t defined by gender for her. This is actually a nice tie-in with the fact that DC has finally fully recognized Ivy and Harley Quinn’s queer relationship, which is something that comics had been hinting at for quite a while now.
Of course, once Alice is living in Isley Manor with Pamela, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep family secrets hidden, despite Pamela father’s warning that they’re “going to have to be careful while she’s there”. Will Alice discover what Dr. Isley has been up to? Will Pamela trust her with the truth? And what is that creepy sound coming from the attic???
I would say that this is a good, compelling young adult read. It does contain some elements of abuse and bullying, which readers should be aware of, but it’s a strong story with some lovely artwork. I would definitely recommend it to any Poison Ivy fan, even if you aren’t a young adult.
Angela “LaLa” Rairden is an avid fan of comic books, Star Wars, and most things nerdy. A cosplayer, she loves to attend comic cons dressed as her favorite fictional characters, particularly Harley Quinn. Although her day job is at a grocery store, writing has always been her true calling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is currently writing her first novel.