Exclusive: All Star Batman's Scott Snyder and Tula Lotay on Poison Ivy's new look
Presented by: Aaron Sagers
Scott Snyder's All Star Batman book is more than a chance to take the Caped Crusader on a road trip and face off against his most infamous foes. It's also an opportunity for the writers to team up with an all-star roster of artists.
Following a five-issue Two-Face arc with John Romita, Jr., Snyder – whose New 52 run on Batman with Greg Capullo was critically lauded – kicked off Issue 6 with a seemingly stand-alone story involving Mr. Freeze (which featured art by Jock). Now, with Issue 7 on stands today (don't miss Syfy Wire's exclusive preview of the issue), it's revealed that there's a larger arc in the works.
Focusing on Poison Ivy and a showdown with Batman in Death Valley, the issue has a noir-ish vibe with slight horror influences. The art is by Tula Lotay, pseudonym of the exceptional Lisa Wood, who's also behind Supreme: Blue Rose from Image Comics and Bodies from Vertigo – as well as the frightening, and frighteningly erotic, illustrated interpretation of the song "Demon" by Bear in Heaven. Lotay injects her work with her love of the horror genre as well as a trippy David Lynch influence, which complements Snyder's plot here.
In the following interview with Snyder and Lotay, we discuss why Poison Ivy makes sense for All Star Batman and why she's a good fit for the creative duo. We also discuss how this version of the villain is a departure from what we're used to, dive into Ivy’s brand-new costume and wrap up with a helluva tease from Snyder as to where his book is headed next.
So where does this issue fit into an arc? Is it a stand-alone?
It is sort of a four-issue arc where Freeze, Ivy, Mad Hatter and a culmination villain – the one behind all of it – all come together. Each issue is an exploration of a singular villain. I am hoping they almost feel like one-shots and meditations on that villain, and what makes them scary – but what might also make them scary, or heroic, given the anxieties in the air right now. The whole arc is meant to have a doomsday feel, but ultimately it all culminates in Issue 9. And there are subplots, like the Black Hawks, the characters coming after Batman and his villains.
After spending the first five issues of All Star with Two-Face, why choose to break up the villains a bit?
Scott Snyder: This is an art showcase and a book that is meant to move at a different pace and explore Batman and his mythology in this prismatic way. Instead of doing arc leading to next arc leading to next arc, I am able to do arcs that feel almost stand-alone but build on each other. The Two-Face arc is referenced here and comes back in the arc after this. Some of the characters from that, the black-and-whites – Penguin, Great White, Black Mask – all come back with that history between them. It is one continuity and one big story. But the fun was to be able to move around and do arcs that challenge me as a writer that are wildly different from one another.
How did you connect with one another for this Poison Ivy story?
Tula Lotay: I remember exactly where we were when Scott asked me. He came over to my festival in the UK, Thought Bubble. We were getting a taxi back to the hotel – the show is so hectic you don't get a chance to speak, but it was a quiet moment – and he mentioned his plans for All Star. It blew me away. I said please, please let me do Poison Ivy. I love the character so much.
Scott Snyder: The joy of the series is getting to work with these artists I haven't worked with in this capacity. The whole fun is adjusting my style, challenging myself and doing a story with a villain that fits the artist. I asked the artist first what villain they wanted to use and gave them the story I had for that villain. I wanted to make sure we landed in a place that felt organic and special. My hope with the Ivy story here is that's what's happening; that what Tula wanted to draw fits with the story I wanted to tell with Ivy. It became something where we'd go back and forth, collaboratively, to make certain the story I'm telling plays into the things she's excited to put on the page. I couldn't be prouder. It is one of my favorite issues I've ever done, looking at it. My wife's, too.
Why is Poison Ivy a good villain to use for All Star?
Scott Snyder: This arc is called "Ends of the Earth." It has this apocalyptic feel where Batman, every issue, emerges from the desolate landscape on the first page. In the next issue, it's a swamp. I wanted the story in each issue to be about the ways in which these villains speak to some deep fears and anxieties that are particularly potent right now. To me, Ivy is somebody who has rejected humanity for all of its faults and embraced the natural world. And ultimately believes we're doomed to destroy each other and the natural world will reassert itself. At a time like this, where I think there's so much debate about how to come together and find a balance in terms of environmental policy, but also with each other, moving forward … she's at the nexus of a lot of that stuff. She's human, unlike Swamp Thing, but very disillusioned with humanity.
I was really hoping, from a character standpoint, to bring back a real scientist element to her. A lot of times she gets characterized as this mystical nature villain -- a witch element to her, which I love -- constantly controlling vines and kissing men and making them do her bidding. But I've always been more interested in her as a person of science with an incredible intelligence and conflicted sense of purpose. On one hand she's been let down by humanity in so many ways and embraced the natural world in a way that went over the line. But that sense of her as someone not magically able to control plants but understands the science of them ... and the wonders hidden in the plant world, and the terrors. And the potential for her to do tremendous good and tremendous bad.
Tula Lotay: I think she maybe she's not necessarily explored as much as other villains. She is so iconic and looks incredible. I didn’t think it'd be so difficult to find a new, alternative costume, but it was because she looks perfect anyway. But she's always spoken me. I always remember seeing Dave McKean do her in Black Orchid when I was very young and I was transfixed by the way he drew her and the complexities of her character. I loved her so much.
How does this version of Pamela different than what we've seen before?
Scott Snyder: We're catching her in an unguarded moment at first. Usually when we do stories about Ivy, she's attacking Gotham and she has a big plan. She's scheming, or she's a hero, and working with Harley and Catwoman as an anti-hero. I wanted a story that shows her when nobody's watching. In an environment you wouldn't expect to see her in. And Batman recognizes her as a fellow person of science. She's a genius. That's something I love about their relationship. There is a certain respect for her as an adversary, as a great scientific mind. There's a sympathetic connection between Bruce and her in that he recognizes she isn't just a psycho-villain but has a purpose that is understandable, even if you disagree with it.
In this story, he's coming there also with an apology. In the origin we have for her now, from New 52, is she was a scientist at Wayne Enterprises where she showed him how he could manipulate people and wanted him to be able to do that to suit the purposes of his company. He threw her out immediately and she took her research with her and became Poison Ivy. Here, I wanted Bruce say to her, "I got it wrong with you," and that the research beneath the surface was phenomenal.
Tula Lotay: You're dealing with this human who is incredibly intelligent. She's not a villain, really. She has so many things she wants to explore.
What was the inspiration behind the new look for Ivy, revealed in this issue?
Tula Lotay: As I said, finding a different take on the costume is so hard because she looks so perfect anyway. But the setting Scott chose, the California desert, spoke to me. The costume flows from that. I was thinking of one of my favorite films, Blade Runner. I really love Pris' character and was thinking a little bit of Pris with the make-up. Other things came to mind with the desert, like Furiosa [from Mad Max: Fury Road] – and the black paint that would shield her eyes from the sun – and the mechanics of the costume that keep her cool. The mesh would do that, and the shoes would have to be sensible sand shoes, but I wanted them to be high to accentuate her figure. It ended up being easy with Scott's writing.
Scott Snyder: She not only gave her a new look and costume but brought a different level of emotion and interesting conflicted humanity where she's sensual but tough and dangerous. All those things I think about her, you were able to evoke on the page. I love the way she fits with the landscape.
Can you tease what's next in upcoming issues?
Scott Snyder: I hope this feels like a stand-alone, an exploration of Ivy and her potential both good and bad. But it is part of a four-issue arc, so the next one is artist Giuseppe Camuncoli with Mad Hatter. He is a character we don't often take seriously, but in that story he has invented a kind of hat that everybody wants. You wear it and skin the world any way you want to see it. It is not hallucinatory but scientific. There is nothing holographic about it, so you can see your significant other as someone else if you feel like it. What Batman discovers is it has a dark secret that gets him into this very scary place. It takes place down in the Mississippi Delta and I'm really excited about that, too.
The finale is with artist Afua Richardson and takes place in Washington, D.C. I've always wanted to do a story with Batman and the Washington Monument and fighting atop that. You get the reveal of how the stories are linked. After that, we're doing a new arc called "The First Ally," and after that is Sean Murphy, so I'm pretty psyched. What I love about the book so much is it gives me a chance to work with all these people I've been dying to work with and create Batman stories with them organically. It is easily the most fun I've had on a superhero comic.