Poison Ivy Costume History
With the feminist movement at full strength in the United States, DC Comics wanted to add another strong female villain to their stock of characters. Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff created Poison Ivy for the 1966 issue of Batman #181. Ivy would be a beautiful seductress that uses plant toxins to eliminate or entice people to get what she wants. Ivy quickly became a popular adversary for The Dark Knight and one of his most dangerous opponents.
The inspiration for her character was taken from several sources. There is a heavy influence from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Rappacini's Daughter. Ivy and Rappacini's Daughter are both immune to plant poisons, but they themselves are deadly to others. Physically, Ivy was made to physically resemble the fetish model Bettie Page. She was even given Bettie’s recognizable haircut and Southern drawl. Of course, the drawl was dropped when Ivy’s origin revealed her to be from Seattle, Washington.
Pamela Lillian Isley was a skilled botanist who was seduced by the criminal Marc LeGrande. He wanted to use her skills to help him steal an Egyptian artifact that contained an ancient herb. With the job complete and not wanting to leave any loose ends, Marc poisoned Isley with the ancient herb. She survived (obviously) and was now immune to most toxins and diseases. At the time, the only other superpower she appeared to exhibit was the ability to easily scale walls. The power to control plants would evolve later. With her new powers, she decided to turn to a life of crime and call herself Poison Ivy. She would use her alluring appearance and exotic plant toxins to control people into following her commands.
The Crisis On Infinite Earths storyline would have far reaching effects on the entire DC Universe and Poison Ivy was no exception. Her origin story would be drastically changed, but also give more insight into the twisted mind of this venomous vixen. Pamela Isley was the brilliant but shy child of a wealthy Seattle family. In college she discovered her affinity for plants and studied botanical biochemistry. This withdrawn and beautiful young woman was seduced by her college professor Dr. Jason Woodrue. It is not surprising that this professor who would later become the Floronic Man used Isley as a guinea pig for his experiment and injected her with a plant-based poison. This procedure almost killed her, but instead of dying it changed her both physically and mentally. As if the severe mood swings were not bad enough, the chemical reaction and trauma left Isley infertile and insane. The loss of her ability to conceive a child and the mental instability are probably what caused Isley to believe she was the “Mother Nature” of the plant world and that all plants were her precious children. After these events, she attempted to put her life back together and even started dating again. However, it was discovered after her boyfriend died in a car accident that he had acquired an unusual fungal growth. With his death and hints of her developing powers, Isley moved to Gotham. It was here that she complete succumbed to her mental instability and took on the Identity of Poison Ivy.
As time went on, Ivy slowly grew in both the objectives she wished to accomplish and powers she possessed. Much like her original incarnation, she would use her natural beauty and plant toxins to achieve her goals. The modern version had her genetically modify plant extracts and species, but the concept was the same. Poison Ivy gradually evolved to be more plant like herself. This became apparent in both her physical appearance and ability to mentally manipulate plants. At the peak of her transformation, she had turned green and could fully animate plant movements. The farther she moved from humanity, the more dramatic her plans. She went from a superpowered thief, to an eco terrorist who will protect plants at all costs.
It should come as no surprise that a character whose origin has her being a seductress would be dressed provocatively right from the beginning. Poison Ivy’s original costume was a strapless one piece bathing suit made out of leaves. She wore light green tights, with a single ivy strand running up the side of each leg. Her green high heeled shoes with leaves shooting out the back look like she might have stole them from Peter Pan. A girl needs to accessorize and Ivy does it with plants. She has leaf bracelets that could be worn by a hula dancer, a leaf necklace and and a wreath on her head. She went with a theme and stuck with it.
Less of the Same
Poison Ivy would keep with her original costume for a long period of time. There would be less of it, but the basic elements did not change much. At times it seemed like DC were daring the Comic Code Authority to say something. The leafy swimsuit top would be cut lower and lower, or perhaps it was that her chest getting bigger and bigger. The Peter Pan shoes were replaced with a simpler green pair. She also stopped wearing the plant jewelry. The Laurel Wreath on her head, leave bracelets and necklace were all removed, but she would often have plants woven or stuck in her long hair.
As Poison Ivy grew more plant-like, her physical body began to change. She would eventually have her skin turn green. It was a light plant green, not Hulk green. For her original transformation to green skin, Poison Ivy’s clothing would not undergo any dramatic changes. However, now that her skin was green there was no longer a need to wear tights. Her shoes did go from low tops to knee high or thigh high. At times she could also be found with vines wrapped around her arms.
The Human Plant
With Poison Ivy’s transformation into a goddess of nature complete, she no longer saw the need to be bound by human decency or modesty. She might as well have been walking around naked, because other than the leaves strategically placed around her body, there was not much else covering her. We’ll say the artists were inspired by Eve in Genesis, but she was basically wearing a leaf bikini. She did have vines wrapped all around her body like a living thing. These simple vines add a fluid and deadly appearance to Ivy’s character.
Before the Flashpoint storyline, Poison Ivy had become practically naked. With no more items of clothing to remove, DC went in the opposite direction for their New 52 Universe. Ivy was now completely covered in a black bodysuit with a scattered leafy pattern throughout. The only flesh showing in this costume maybe her face, but artist made sure the outfit was tight enough that you can still see just as much as before. Her skin was also returned to a more natural tone.
As is the case with most characters that have been around for decades, there will be variations to the costumes made. Many of them do not last very long or are only for a particular drawing.
Uma Thurman played Poison Ivy/Dr. Pamela Isley in the 1997 Batman and Robin movie, with George Clooney. Ivy arrives in Gotham with her henchman Bane and teams up with Mr. Freeze. She wants to pave the way for her genetically modified plants to take over Gotham and uses her seductive skills to tear the Dynamic Duo apart.
Thanks to the movies and television shows bringing Poison Ivy to a larger audience, there is a large selection of Poison Ivy Halloween Costumes available at most costume shops.
Fans of the character enjoy making their own Poison Ivy cosplay costumes.
If you enjoyed this article, you can find links to my other Costume History Hubs by clicking on the link above. Explore the history of some of the greatest female superheroes in comics through their costumes.
Google Images (Images appeared on several sites and was unsure of original)
And of course: Reading way too many comic books.
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