NOTE: The grammar of this article has been updated, due to an initial tech problem resulting in an unproved copy being published. The tenth paragraph has been added for clarity. Additionally, this now includes a final statement from Amy Chu.
Back in January 2016 DC comics published Poison Ivy’s first (and only) solo mini series in her 50 year old history. The series, written by Amy Chu, narrates the story of Poison Ivy trying to “turn over a new leaf” in her life as a scientist at the plant sciences department of Gotham’s Botanical Gardens. Without spoiling the plot, the story quickly turns into a murder mystery and Poison Ivy has to fight against many creepy, shady people. And one of the major themes in the book is misogyny and sexual predators. Oh and also— Eddie Berganza was unexpectedly the editor.
In the book we are presented with various incidents of sexism: bikers harassing a waitress at a bar, Pamela Isley’s boss expressing disdain for women in the workplace, and at issue #2 we are introduced to Winston, a colleague of Ivy who shows a creepy interest at her. In issue #3 Winston visits Pamela Isley’s house without warning and he tries to blackmail her into having sex with him.
Isley says these exact words: “I’ve been more than patient with you at work, Winston. Your little jokes… The innuendoes are wearing thin.” And she kills him with her famous poison kiss.
Winston’s body becomes food for Pamela’s “chompies”, her flytrap plants. This whole incident feels a bit out of place for the book, and it’s framed in an almost cartoony kind of way. The final panel where Winston gets eaten by Pammy’s plants even feels a bit Looney Toon-y. At first the whole scene annoyed me a little because it seemed like it didn’t fit in the book. Why would Ivy, who is being investigated for a murder case, kill someone and draw even more attention to herself? Thinking harder, I began to suspect this was “off” for a reason.
Amy Chu’s work is filled with tiny bits of real life information, inside jokes, allusions to other books and creators. As implicitly confirmed by her in a recent tweet, this moment in the book seemed inspired by the reports of Eddie Berganza sexually harassing women at work. Life becomes Art. As Chu says, her book was transferred to Berganza—an unsafe professional peer—without anyone informing her. So she “changed the story.” Fans suspected it was to reflect her feelings about workplaces harbouring abusive employees, as it reflected their own about the known harassment Berganza had been reported for at DC in 2010. With this in mind, the whole book can become a comment about the problems women creators are facing at DC.
In issue #4 Poison Ivy (with the help of Catwoman and Darshan, a co-worker of hers) enters a mirror facility of her lab. She is the creator guiding us behind the story, showing us what’s really going on. What we find out is that Ivy’s bosses have been using her work, “editing it” to create abominations which have nothing to do with what Ivy—the creator—is trying to achieve. All this mess “could not have been constructed without higher up approval, this came from the top, like all Gotham institutions, rotten to the core,” we read.
In my opinion it looks like it’s all a big metaphor about how a rotten to the core company treats the work of women, as well as women characters, with “higher up approval” creating and presenting distorted versions of their work. The story is about showing the reader what’s happening behind the book. It’s about sexism and harassment in DC. It’s about how everyone knows but nobody with power talks. An agreement of silence.
Now the things get a bit more complicated.
During some personal Facebook conversations with Dan DiDio he told me that DC was pleased with how the mini sold and that after the mini a new book would likely be published. Indeed, with very little to no promotion, Amy Chus mini sold quite well compared to other similar books. Let’s take as an example ComicChron’s sales estimates for February 2016. Poison Ivy sold 23,452 copies. In comparison Batgirl sold 25,625, Suicide Squad (despite receiving huge promotion because of the movie) 23,687, Teen Titans 23,566, Aquaman 23,546. Also Red Hood, Green Arrow, DC Bombshells, Gotham Academy, Injustice, and more sold significantly less than Poison Ivy and most of them got renewed for Rebirth or got a second chance at a mini, digital titles etc, or got expanded as franchises. Another example is Omega Men, written by Tom King, had a chance at a 12 issue run despite having half Amy Chu’s sales. And King ended up getting the main Batman book.
Amy Chu never got a chance to finish her story that ends on a cliffhanger. In fact since then she only got to write one Wonder Woman story for DC. Of course she’s a talented writer, and she is currently writing Red Sonja and Dejah Thoris for Dynamite as well as Summit with Lion Forge. Her stories are inspiring, well written, include strong, independent women, and deal with multiple issues from modern feminism to racism and abuse to the dangers of big corporations and control of power.
So there’s a question here: what happened at DC? Was there another Amy Chu book planned that was iced due to internal DC conflicts related to Berganza? Can they be that corrupt? Of course personal conversations with DiDio are not official word from DC, but a second person has confirmed to me that they were also told this.
For a company that wants to advertise diversity and inclusivity, it feels weird to cancel an upcoming book with a feminist icon like Poison Ivy written by a successful Asian American writer like Amy Chu. And it becomes even weirder when you add the Eddie Berganza story in the mix.
Thank you Amy Chu for everything. In your own words:
It shouldn’t have to take courage to do what’s right. Yet here we are. And I stupidly still love comics.
At WWAC, we can relate.
WWAC editor in chief Claire Napier approached Amy Chu on twitter, asking if she would like to make a statement regarding the tweets referred to in this article and the fan theories around this book. They had the following conversation, shared with Chu’s permission:
Chu: I will say that I signed on with the understanding that Chris Conroy would likely be the editor under Mark Doyle who I have infinite respect for. For someone to transfer the title outside of the Batgroup was surprising and never fully explained to this day. Poison Ivy was my first title ever and I was grateful to have the chance to write the character, but it was a stressful time, to say the least.
Napier: It sounds… like an incredible letdown. I’m really sorry for that.
Chu: I had been specifically warned by people within DC about Eddie, and then to find myself suddenly with his name on my first book was infuriating.
Mind you I had very little interaction with him the entire time but still… There’s so many other editors I would happily have worked for.
Napier: Can I ask you if there was notably little contact with him while he was your editor? Or just something that could be called an industry-standard level of unavailability?
Chu: He had very little to do with the book. Most of my interaction was through the assistant editor and Dan Didio who approached me about the mini. The outline was approved before it was moved under Eddie. I didn’t deviate that much from the outline…
I would also add that I have nothing but good things to say about my experience with DC editors like Kristy Quinn, Bobbie Chase and Marie Javins.