This piece was first published Sept 16, 2016 on Comix I Read (now defunct).
Wow, in case you missed it, Woodruff from Gotham had a few words in defense of their choices regarding Poison Ivy in the latest season of the show. I’ll save you hunting it down.
“One of the character’s biggest skills or powers is the power of seduction. In order for Ivy to exist and be a threat to most of our characters – Gordon, Bullock, Captain Barnes and all the villains – she needed to be older in order to exploit that power. No one felt comfortable having a 15-year-old seduce grown men. It was weird.
The other thing was it’s not just a physical change. We’re leaning into an emotional change as well. Something happened to her. It wasn’t that she got aged-up. Something in the wiring and the DNA changed as well. It’s not the same Ivy. It’s a little more dangerous for Selina because she thinks she can trust this person down the road, but can she? Ivy is much more of a villain now.”
Now, there’s a few points to break down here.
THE POWER OF SEDUCTION
This has been in Poison Ivy’s wheelhouse for a long time, giving her the ability to do something between seduce and mind-control other people, most often men. Depending on the interpretation and version you’re reading, the specifics of this power or suite of powers is a moving target.
Either way, it buys into a trope of the woman who gains power through seduction. As explored below, this is far from the only power that Poison Ivy has. In many iterations of the character, she goes through various transformations that even result in her being a powerful crime boss/shadowy underworld figure/something else.
The use of seduction as a power for a female character (or any character really), however, is always one that walks a difficult line. While I’m the first to think that it can be used effectively (check out Fatale), it is incredibly easy for it to be the fetishization of the character. If using the power of seduction is done to in part serve as some form of wish fulfillment, often on the part of men, then it doesn’t empower the character. Rather, it denegrates everyone involve and is more than a little sad. The truth is, from these comments I don’t think that the difficult line is going to be walked here. I think instead of examining it for the complex and problematic power that it inherently is, we’ll be treated to more sophmoric approaches like we have seen here.
IN ORDER TO BE A THREAT
This one had me confused. Poison Ivy, one of DC’s many characters that can control plants, is a super genius, and happens to be a sexualized woman can’t be a threat without the ability to seduce people.
Let us ignore the fact that depending on the iteration she has been able to create powerful toxins that could take over or hold the city hostage, something that she doesn’t even need her powers for. This just puts her in the genius category, just with a speciality in the biochemical and similar.
And maybe this iteration, being only fifteen, doesn’t have that experience (yet). Apparently, someone quickly learning an entire skillset overnight is less beleivable than a character not being able to be a threat without seduction. That doesn’t speak to the fact that within her skillset is the ability to literally control plants. Sometimes she can create plant creatures who run around and do things with that. Other times she can do her best Doctor Octopus impression through using vines attached to her costume.
This even ignores that some iterations of her literally have the ability to poison people with a touch. It doesn’t have to be a kiss, or a sultry breath into their ear, or the ridiculous phermones situation, she can literally kill people with a touch. Now, they can counter this with hazmat suits, but who would want to apply any sort of sense to this situation.
IT WASN’T THAT SHE GOT AGED-UP
This might be one of the weirdest ones depending how you interpret it. There’s some implication that this might be in part due to her powers, and for the hell of it I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one. The concern here is that if she isn’t “aged-up” and is instead somehow older as a result of her powers, or whatever, that still has internal ramifications for the show. The character still only has fifteen years of world-experience around her. Any sort of attempted continuity around this has to stumble on this point.
Instead of portraying a character using the sexualized powers that Poison Ivy has had for some time, and grappling with them. Maybe a younger iteration that has to try to understand what all these things are and mean, and how she chooses to interpret and use them. No, instead we have one of the laziest options I’ve seen for wanting to have a sexualized character. And it is just too bad.
Just remember, Poison Ivy isn’t a threat unless she can hit on adults.