Fear State was the defining Batman event of a whole generation. Scarecrow’s most ambitious plan yet saw Gotham on its knees, with the Dark Knight apparently dead once again. Now, with such an expansive comic book event, Gotham City is certainly going to include one or more additional stories that will expand the main story with side narratives that give a bigger picture. One such story was presented in Batman Secret Files: The Gardener, a story written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Christian Ward. We at Fiction Horizon had the pleasure of reading this story and this article is going to contain our opinions on the story.
The Gardener is an origin story, basically, but with several twists that make it a very intriguing read. The story is focused on Pamela Isley, better known as the villainess Poison Ivy. But, unlike classical origin stories, where the narrative is usually presented from the perspective of the character whose origins we are reading (great, recent examples include Penguin: Pain and Prejudice and Scarecrow’s origin retold in the canceled Batman: The Dark Knight), this origin story is presented from the perspective of one Bella Garten, a relatively new and obscure characters similar to Pamela Isley.
Now, this is where Tynion’s writing talents really come to the forefront. Namely, while this origin story isn’t really revolutionary in terms of Ivy’s character (it does have some twists to it, but the basic outline and Pamela’s connection to Jason Woodrue remains), it is quite unusual – in the best way possible – in terms of narration. Tynion has managed to draw our attention to the character of Poison Ivy by barely including her in the story, which is a brilliant way of redefining an origin story. This is, in no way, bad, as some of you might think while reading this, as Tynion did a lot to refresh this comic book subgenre; in fact, this was executed so greatly that we really had the feeling of reading the story from Pamela’s perspective, which is a deception, but a truly great one.
What helped Tynion in crafting his story was Ward’s excellent artwork, which is rather atypical for a Batman story. This is due to several factors, with the most prominent one being the use of color. Namely, everyone who’s ever read a Batman story knows that these stories feature mostly darker shades; they’re not black and white, but the atmosphere is mostly dark(er) and gloomy, which means that the colors aren’t overly bright. Here, on the other hand, we have a palette of bright and light colors that dominate the story, even when the Dark Knight himself is present.
Now, Ward wanted to connect the colors to the narrative itself. Pamela Isley is a plant- and nature-based villain, and the color palette of nature is so vast that there is really not much space for Batman’s usually monochromatic palette. We see bright waves of green, orange, red, yellow, and all the colors in between. The colors are often chaotic, but that functions greatly within the context of the narrative and the story that Tynion is telling us as we’re looking at Ward’s panels.
There is also a certain psychedelic atmosphere that lingers, sometimes even bursts into the narrative, which has a very cathartic effect. The story itself is not psychedelic, but Ward’s drawing style, as well as these psychedelic panels make the story more special, more authentic, and more convincing. What Ward actually did was convince us that this is what a Poison Ivy origin story should look like and how it should feel.
This is a completely new approach, both in terms or the narrative and art, but it feels so familiar, so well-known, and so great that after reading, we actually have the feeling that this is how it should look like. This, actually, turned out to be the origin story we never knew we wanted, but desperately needed.
As for the story, it remains to be seen how it actually connects to the main narrative; it is going to be continued in Fear State: Omega. The comic book was certainly interesting. Regardless of the fact that Tynion is a great writer, the story itself could’ve been simply innovative, but not really great or interesting. Luckily for us, this one was.
The story starts of in a somewhat sinister tone and has you thinking that it will develop in a familiar way, but as it progresses, you constantly keep waiting for that oh so familiar moment which never really happens and that’s absolutely great. The whole structure of the story is both new and intriguing, leaving you wanting more when the 28-page story actually ends.
Of course, this story is only the beginning of a larger Poison Ivy story so we don’t find out much, but seeing how this new origin added a lot of innovative elements, we’re quite certain that the continuation will also be great.
Another aspect that we liked very much was the emotional aspect of the story, something that is often overlooked when Batman stories are concerned, especially when the villains are portrayed (although this is a shifting trend in recent decades). Poison Ivy, here, was portrayed with a lot of compassion, even love, which is a consequence of the fact that she has been portrayed from a third-person perspective, from the perspective of someone who loves her.
Now, this didn’t necessarily have to work, but it did and the emotion of this story, best seen through Ivy’s relationships with the people mentioned in the story, was absolutely amazing and something that made it so great.
Now, The Gardener is not a perfect story, but that’s mostly because it’s incomplete. It has all the right ingredients to be a brilliant story and we hope that this Poison Ivy, the old-new Poison Ivy with so much depth and emotion, will establish itself as canon in the DC Universe and that the future stories won’t ruin what Tynion and Ward did. Overall, The Gardener is an intriguing and innovative piece of fiction whose continuation we look forward to.