Warning: SPOILERS for Harley Quinn
Batman villainess Poison Ivy has worn many outrageous costumes over the years. Various comic book artists have depicted the self-described “eco-terrorist” in increasingly skimpier outfits – from leaf covered tights to provocatively cut bathing suits. Given Ivy’s reputation as a seductress, it’s only natural that her fashion choices have become more shocking and titillating over time – but her latest outfit may be her most outrageous yet.
In the adult animated series Harley Quinn, audiences discover the latest version of Dr. Pamela Isley is dressed – modestly. That’s right, no longer is Poison Ivy running around nearly naked in a vine-made sling bikini or strategically placed leaves. Instead, this new Ivy (voiced by Lake Bell) likes to lounge around her apartment wearing long-sleeved sweatshirts with “Tree Hugger” logos and dons a fashionable black jacket and long pants when going into battle.
This departure from Ivy’s usually blatant sexy style seems bizarre – but it actually works beautifully when taken in context with Poison Ivy’s fashion choices over the years, as it finally lets Pamela flaunt her sexuality in a different way.
From her first appearance in Batman #181 (1966), Poison Ivy has dressed provocatively. Her original costume consisted of a one-piece bathing suit covered in leaves, green tights, leaf-covered bracelets, and a laurel wreath – a surprisingly seductive look, especially since Ivy’s original appearance was based on fetish model Bettie Page. Over the years, Ivy lost most of her accessories and bared more skin as artists made her leaf-covered swimsuit skimpier and more low-cut.
Poison Ivy’s look really began to change when writers altered her powers. While most Batman fans know Ivy as a superpowered villainess with the ability to control plants, Ivy was originally a human botanist who became immune to all toxins and diseases after being injected with several poisons. She later used her genius to create plant-based toxins that allow her to mind control others. Over time, however, writers gave Poison Ivy more powers – including a poisonous kiss, natural pheromones that attract others, and an ability to mentally grow and animate plant life.
All of these changes were reflected in Poison Ivy’s appearance – as her skin became greener to indicate she was becoming more plant-like. The DC comic hero Swamp Thing later stated that Ivy has a connection to “The Green” – the elemental force that connects all plant life and allows beings like Swamp Thing or Poison Ivy to control plants. As Ivy shed her humanity, she also lost her remaining modesty – and some comic storylines had her walking around nude with strategically placed leaves and vines – making her resemble an Earth goddess or Eve in the Garden of Eden.
By this point, artists had literally run out of items to remove from Poison Ivy’s wardrobe. Thus, when DC rebooted their comic book universe with the New 52, Ivy’s skin tone became more human-like and her outfit consisted of a black bodysuit with a leaf pattern. Although this technically made Ivy cover more skin than she had in years, the outfit was still skin tight and left little to the imagination.
Outside of comics, Poison Ivy has worn a variety of temptress-style outfits. Actress Uma Thurman wore a variation of Ivy’s original leaf covered bathing suit and a green body stocking in the critically panned film Batman & Robin. In the Gotham TV show, Ivy was played by several different actresses, including Clare Foley, Maggie Geha, and Peyton List, who wore increasingly provocative outfits as Ivy aged into a more seductive character. In animation, Poison Ivy typically wears her leaf-covered bathing suit (although the Pamela Isley of DC Super Hero Girls is surprisingly portrayed as an awkward teen who wears turtlenecks and long coats when she’s not fighting superheroes).
All this leads up to the Poison Ivy of the Harley Quinn adult animated series who, despite her green skin, is usually seen lounging around her apartment in a sweatshirt and jeans rather than committing acts of eco-terrorism. In contrast to her traditional seductress persona, this Pamela Isley seems content to stay in the background offering sarcastic commentary as her roommate Harley Quinn complains the news won’t report on her crew’s bank heists. “You guys realize you’re committing serious felonies, right?” Ivy points out, “Like, you actually don’t want people to know who you are.”
And yet, despite this Poison Ivy’s lack of interest in seducing others – or of committing almost any real crimes at all – her character now attracts more people than ever. When Harley and Ivy crash the Penguin’s nephew’s bar mitzvah (yes, really), Ivy gets hit on by every teenage boy in the room (who were affected by her pheromones – but remain smitten even after she gives them the antidote) and Kite Man (a D-list supervillain who Ivy also finds herself inexplicably attracted to).
Why is this laid-back, modestly dressed Poison Ivy suddenly more attractive than her oversexualized past self? A lot of her new appeal comes from voice actress Lake Bell’s sardonic delivery of Ivy’s snarky comebacks, which makes her the perfect straight woman whenever Harley Quinn rants about wanting to join the Legion of Doom. Much more, however, can be attributed to Harley herself – who ditches her jester’s outfit for a skimpy bikini to show her liberation from the Joker. It’s a huge overcompensation, but it also helps contrast Harley with Ivy, who’s finally able to show that being sexy doesn’t mean showing a lot of skin. Ironically, by dressing down while everyone around her is parading in outrageous outfits, Poison Ivy has finally become the most eye-catching woman in the room.
Next: Harley Quinn Changes Up The Origins Of The Harley/Ivy Friendship