Over the years, Batman has tangled with many marvelous and thorny women. But in 1966's Batman #181, he would meet a mistress of chaos who would become a key player in his life, shaping not only his romantic life and crimefighting career, but also the future of his comic book canon. Created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff—and reportedly inspired by Bettie Page—Poison Ivy’s Silver Age introduction established the character as an enigmatic femme fatale with a mind for crime, a sharp wit and a lipstick that could send electrical impulses to shatter the bulbs of photographer's cameras and temporarily blind possible witnesses of her crimes.
Blinding the bystanders in her first appearance did have an unanticipated downside for Ivy—with everybody unable to see, Bruce could change into his Batman suit in public! Still, despite a daring pursuit, Ivy managed to escape, as she often would throughout the years. Although she wasn't given a backstory or secret identity until years later, Batman #181 also set up what would become a core part of the villainess and Bruce's relationship: the pair's recurring romantic dalliances.
Ivy would continue to appear in multiple other Batman comics, but it wasn't until 1978's World's Finest #252 that fans would learn who she truly was…though it would only be her canon backstory until the universe-shifting events of Crisis on Infinite Earths a few years later. The issue introduced a number of interesting and intriguing plot points, as well as a brilliant splash page which showed Wonder Woman trapped in her own lasso at the hands of Ivy.
As Diana tries to decipher the past of the mysterious new threat, readers learn that Ivy was tricked into a life of crime by her Professor, a "slick and aloof" man named LeGrande. Introduced as Lillian, young Ivy broke into a museum to steal some ancient herbs for the man she loved, only to be poisoned by the scoundrel who was trying to kill her. Instead, she gained an immunity to the plants and herbs which should've killed her. In a very Silver Age twist, it turns out that Ivy's wooden manservant Redwood is actually a magically transformed version of her old college professor, and Wonder Woman goads the man/monster into killing his former mistress, grimly stating, "Now they have peace together, the long final peace of the grave."
Of course, this wasn't the last time that readers would see Poison Ivy, and though her strange revenge-driven origin would soon change, it's an interesting chapter in her history—part noir thriller and part EC Comics crime story.
Neil Gaiman would be the man put in charge of redefining Poison Ivy post-Crisis in 1988's Secret Origins #36. His short story first introduced the name which would become synonymous with the character, Pamela Isley, as well as a new origin for the character.
Secret Origins rewrote Isley as a passionate botanist whose awful childhood was only made better by her connection to flowers and plants. The comic references her original LaGrande backstory, but implies that it was a lie concocted by Ivy. Gaiman also introduced an interesting, but widely forgotten, connection to Swamp Thing, with Isley studying under Jason Woodrue A.K.A. yhe Floronic Man, who was the man behind the experiments on and ultimate transformation of the young woman who would become Poison Ivy.
With this story, drawn by Fables’ Mark Buckingham, the Pamela Isley that fans know and love was born. Her iconic look remained mostly unchanged, but her love for Batman was reaffirmed in a couple of panels and she quickly became one of the most famous of the Bat's rogues gallery and is still a part of that eclectic, but elite, group to this day.
The popularity and success of the character has as much to do with her onscreen representations as her comic book history, as they have introduced the antihero to a much wider audience. From Diane Pershing's iconic voice performance in the fan favorite Batman: The Animated Series to Uma Thurman's camp masterclass in Batman and Robin, all the way through to Gotham's fast-growing seductress, there's something about Isley and her plight for the planet that has appealed to fans for decades. And as she moved into her future, she would leave Batman behind and engage in a groundbreaking romance that would see her become one of the most high profile queer superheroes in comics.
Since their first meeting in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Harley and Ivy," Pamela Isley and Doctor Harleen Quinzel were a match made in heaven. The pair would team up many times over the years, but it wasn't until 2009's Gotham City Sirens series that their companionship would blossom into a long-running and often implied romance. The favorite ship wouldn't be properly confirmed until 2015's Harley Quinn series from Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and Chad Harden, where it was announced that the couple was in a non-monogamous relationship. Though they're not currently together due to Ivy’s possibly being dead (but possibly not!) as a result of Heroes in Crisis, they're one of the pairings that fans care most about.
Over the decades, Poison Ivy has gone from enemy to love interest to occasional ally to the Man in Bat. Though her current fate is unknown, we're sure that the plant-obsessed princess of botany will soon be blossoming in the pages of DC comic books again. And, as her sometimes-girlfriend Harley Quinn has a starring role in the new Birds of Prey movie, perhaps she'll soon be back on the big screen too.
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. Be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.