Saturday, October 28, 2006

Challengers of the Bleeding Obvious

One thing you notice when reading a lot of Challengers of the Unknown at one time is a peculiar style to the covers. On almost every cover you get a speech balloon where one of the Challs feels the need to comment on whatever dramatic predicament they are in.

See if you can match up the covers with the comments.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Secret Sex

Secret Six #5

Okay, it turns out I was mistaken. The scene at the end of Secret Six #4 was entirely consensual. But it was written to make the reader infer that it wasn't, so I'm not going to apologise for it. But then it also depends entirely on Knockout being either very ignorant, very stupid, or a bad liar.

It is claimed that Knockout has sex with Deadshot because she doesn't realise that sex is assumed to be exclusive when you are in a relationship with someone, because it wasn't that way back on Apokolips. I don't know how long Knockout is supposed to have been on Earth post-IC but she's been appearing in comics since 1994. She seems well acclimated to Earth culture but has somehow failed to notice the most overwhelmingly popular image of romantic relationships that pervades that culture.

But then in pre-IC comics Knockout is seen as something of a sexual predator, and even has a similar scene when Superboy catches her seducing Victor Volcanum.

So if Knockout is the same person she was pre-IC, then she's a big fat liar and sexually manipulative, or she is new retconned Knockout, so fresh off the Boom Tube from Apokolips that she hasn't spotted that people in stable relationships screwing around is the plot of half the dramas available in any medium. Possibly three quarters.

Which leads me to wonder what anti-heroes do in their spare time if they never crack open a novel, go to a movie, catch any daytime TV, or ever have a conversation that might include any references to relationships.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beef or cheese?

Here's a late entry for Ragnall and Kalinara's Beef/Cheesecake Week I just ran across.

I'm not entirely sure which category it falls into.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lacking Authority

The Authority #1

What's this? Two reviews of new comics in one week? Surely not.

I haven't read any Authority in a long time. I loved the original Warren Ellis Authority, but by the time the second series started I could barely recognise the characters. When I saw Grant Morrison was having a bash, I thought I'd give it another try, but since they don't appear in the comic, it's hard to make a comparison.

I'm not sure what is so hard to understand, but I'll try to spell it out for any comic writers who are too clever for their own good: When I read issue #1 of Spider-Girl I expect to see Spider-Girl. When I read issue #1 of The Authority I expect to see The Authority. When I buy a superhero comic I expect to see a superhero doing superhero stuff. If I want a soap opera or a crime thriller I would not be reading a superhero comic*. I don't care if it's a big buildup to a story that is six issues long and will work great in the trade; if I buy a comic I expect more than a preview of the trade. And that goes x 10 for the first issue. Your first issue is your best chance to establish a readership. Producing a bad first issue is the fastest way to turn an ongoing into a miniseries. And having a first issue in which the title character(s) appear nowhere but the cover doesn't make for a spectacular start.

I'm sure a lot of people are going to say The Authority #1 is a great Grant Morrison comic, but personally I had been hoping for an Authority comic.

*Okay, you can do all kinds of genre stuff with superheroes in it. I just reckon that when there aren't any superheroes in it then it doesn't qualify as a superhero comic.

Showcase fails to present...

Showcase Presents has been going a while now, and I'm delighted to see that in January it moves up to giving us two chunky collections a month of silver age goodness. The schedule so far seems to bounce between the obvious DC standards - Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Justice League, Teen Titans, Aquaman, etc - and material so obscure you have to wonder what motivated them to dust it off and send it to the head of the queue - Haunted Tank, Unknown Soldier, House of Mystery, etc.

But even though I've been enjoying a lot of the stuff that's appeared in this line it feels like they are missing something somewhere. Perhaps it's just that from the lineup so far you might be forgiven for assuming that DC didn't publish any comics with female stars at all between 1950 and 1980.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Amazing Spider-Girl #1

Since fan pressure contributed to the survival of Spider-Girl and this new relaunch, it's not so unsurprising to see this comic open with some fan in-jokes and subtext. Amazing Spider-Girl is concrete proof that fan support makes a difference, and you don't have to look far in the online community to find the source for the opening scene which makes fun of the stereotype portrayl of comic superheroines.

But it couldn't possibly be anything to do with the ongoing feminist comics debate, could it? Because people keep trying to tell me how that has zero effect on the industry.

In fact the scene isn't nearly as funny as it could have been. The supposedly absurd version of Spider-Girl made up by Mayday's friends wouldn't stand out in an average Marvel comic, let alone be seen as extreme enough to be a joke. Her breasts are smaller than her head, her pose is stiff but not back-breaking, and she's not even wearing heels. The text defines her as "policewoman/supermodel Jennifer Justice". Now this may have been a poke at quantum physicist/supermodel Stormy Knight, but either way it falls flat because the non-parody version is funnier.

Costume-wise, the only difference is the smaller mask and long hair that makes her look a bit like Spider-Woman, but possibly the biggest reason it falls flat is that there's no image of the real Spider-Girl anywhere in the story to contrast it with. Maybe Tom De Falco just doesn't write humour very well.

Once we get into the story it moves along apace. I haven't read the previous 100 issues, so I was pleased to find that characters were introduced in a way that did not assume prior knowledge. I'm not sure how well it reads to someone who knows all the backstory, though. The story set up takes what is to be honest a fairly dull plot for a superhero story and makes it work by making the characters engaging so that you are interested in what is happening to them. Mayday gets to jump about a lot but still hasn't got into costume by the end of the issue.

Is there enough in this first issue to get new readers to come back for more? I'm not sure. If it was me I'd have gone for something a bit more flashy than a riff on The Maltese Falcon. Have they purposely gone for a non-superhero style to this story? Nobody uses super powers (apart from May doing an urban Tarzan), nobody wears a costume - and no, I don't count the guy in a suit and tie wearing a hobgoblin mask; that's only a costume in 1940's movie serial terms. Putting Spider-Girl on the cover is as misleading as any Emma Frost cheesecake art.

I kind of liked it, and I'll be back to see what happens next issue, but it's going to have to move up a gear or two to get me coming back for issue #3.

It's not plagarism, it's art

After poking fun at Greg Land so thoroughly I could hardly pass up the opportunity to comment on the god of swipemasters, Roy Lichtenstein. In fact the comparison is enough to make poor Greg cry (if he didn't have enough problems now he's not allowed to swipe from porn mags anymore). Lichtenstein not only sells individual swipes for upwards of a million dollars, but they are not even good copies.

In the Boston Globe article on the subject, the executive director of the Lichtenstein Foundation, Jack Cowart claims that Lichtenstein's works are not copies because they were "changed in scale, color, treatment, and in their implications". I had been planning to set up a Cafepress store selling swipes of Lichenstein's works with a little Photoshopping to fulfil these requirements but looking at the side by side comparisons of Lichenstein's versions and the originals, I noticed what bad copies they are and it put me off.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Rethinking "Rethinking Feminism"

Occaisonal Superheroine's article Rethinking Feminism in Comix has had me thinking a lot this week. It is thought provoking for all the wrong reasons and effectively demolished by Karen Healey in her response. In fact it's so bad that you tend to skim over a lot of the minor points because the major ones are so wrong-headed and stupid, but I feel like addressing them anyway.

Specifically, at one point in her argument she gives us what she calls her "Cassie Code"; a list of rules that could be imposed comics code style on all published comics. She's not seriously advocating this code of course, it's deliberately over the top and ludicrous in its demands to illustrate how stupid it would be to try and institute such a thing. Not that anyone has. But if the evil feministas tried to then wouldn't they look bad?

Anyway, here it is:

The Proposed Cassie Code
1. All women's breasts must be properly covered and realistically drawn and shall not exceed a C cup.
2. No thongs.
3. No high heels for superheroines.

See, when you look at it in detail you find that mixed in with the absurd crap there is the occasional bit of semi-sense that almost makes it look believable. Of course it would be absurd to limit the body shapes allowed to be portrayed - hell, this is just a gross exageration and inversion of the current situation where some have complained about the lack of range in body types currently seen in comics. We want greater diversity, not just a different set of limits.

As for the clothing, my personal opinion (and I am not suggesting it's anyone else's) is that female characters should be drawn in whatever costume the writers and artists wish, providing that clothing is treated realistically. Points 2 and 3 become irrelevent once half a dozen heroines have broken ankles and chafing.

4. All superheroines must die heroic deaths in battle in a manner deemed non-misogynistic by the Cassie Code Council.
5. Only two female characters are allowed to be killed from each comic company per year.
I don't see how killing off all superheroines would help the cause, however heroically they went... Oh wait, that's not what you meant, was it? Again, it's absurdity by isolation. There's no sense of equality, it's all "women must be treated in a special way", which is about as far from feminism as you can get.

6. No rape scenes.
7. Superheroines must not have rape or sexual abuse anywhere in their origin story.
I agree with 6. Not as the absolute presented here, of course, but I have been saying for months now that I would like to see a moratorium on sexual abuse used in comics in any form for a while as the current overuse has turned it into a nasty cliche. You can only repeat the same thing over and over so many times before it loses all meaning.

Superheroines having sexual abuse in their origin story? So how many male superheroes have sexual abuse in their origin story? How about we say no more abusive origins for females until the men have caught up? I could live with that.

8. Strong women cannot be depicted as villains.
This has to be one of the funniest. Most feminists I know would love to see more strong women as villains. There aren't nearly enough.

9. No women shall be depicted in chains, bound in rope, mentally enslaved by a devious psychic villain, suspended in a cage over a pit of steaming lava, or otherwise shown in any way that would make them seem vulnerable to men.
But that's no fun. Now I'd prefer it if when a heroine found herself in such a situation she were to get out of it herself, rather than being rescued by some guy. Especially if he then rushed after the villain to have a big fight, completely forgetting the heroine and leaving her to bleed to death on the floor. I'd also like to see equality with male characters. When was the last time Batman was tied up to a big penis substitute?

Rape of the Month - Tangential

Heroes is not a comic, it's a TV show. But it is a show about people with strange powers and has been deliberately associated with superhero comics. It also has a co-executive producer who is not only a popular comics writer but is associated with another TV show with superhero comic connections. He also wrote the third episode. The one in which one of the two super-powered female characters is sexually assaulted. The only reason she is not raped is because she suffers a fatal wound to the head during the struggle. The irony of being saved from rape by having her skull penetrated is not lost on me, but the grotesque things that happen to this girl are not negated because the physical scars heal up, however light her mutilation is treated.

And the only other female character with powers? She got her sexual abuse in the previous episode. You think they'd leave something for the rest of the series. Now they are either going to have to introduce more super powered women or start in on the non-super supporting cast females.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I ♥ Wonderella

Best Wonder Woman parody ever ever.

oh no, not again

You know what it's like when you see this same guy wherever you look? When you first saw him you thought he looked kind of interesting, but then you find that he is shallow and unoriginal, and it's only that he's hanging with the cool kids that makes him look good, but everyone seems to be taken in by his hackneyed stories.

So you just try and avoid him but he has his hooks into someone you like and you can't give up on her simply because she's fallen in with the wrong crowd, so you're patient and you stick by her until the guy gets bored and moves onto his next victim, and when you finally think you've seen the last of him and you can breathe easy, you're just relaxing watching some cool TV show and there he is again.

And it's like you can't switch on the TV anymore without him showing up to haunt you and dragging every show you like down into the suck and I'm beginning to think I need to get a restraining order on Jeph Loeb.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

No Nano

I wanted to do NaNoWriMo again this year but I don't think it's possible. I'm way busier than this time last year and it was hard enough then. I had this plan to do a big fantasy quest thing written like totally in, y'know, valleyspeak or whatever? But I guess it will have to wait until I have more free time.

But I would recommend it to anyone who has any desire to write. It's an incredible experience.

The wig room

Back in the early days when things weren't so frenetic, the Fantastic Four would have time to relax and unwind a bit between cosmic threats and internal strife in the superhero community. Mister Fantastic would tinker around with complicated machinery to refract tides, the Thing would read newspapers and smoke cigars while weightlifting double decker busses, Johnny would be throwing darts made of fire at a dartboard with a picture of Spider-Man on it, and Sue? Sue would be in the Wig Room.

Because a girl is a girl, even when she's a full-fledged partner of the Fantastic Four. And don't all girls while away the hours trying on different coloured wigs?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Buckets of Blüd

Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Battle for Blüdhaven

It's easy to spot examples of something when you are particularly sensitive to it, so I try not to overreact when I encounter what seems to be misogyny in comics without checking the context. Like Battle for Blüdhaven has a high bodycount, so it's inevitable that there will be female deaths as well as male deaths, so is it overreacting to see a big bias here?

I expect someone's annotated the whole thing on some corner of the web, but I can't be bothered to hunt it up. Lady Liberty is the only person to die in issue #1 depending on whether you count Silent Majority, who has multiple bodies. Is the Silent Majority who appears in #3 the same person or a different one? Unlike with Lady Liberty, it's impossible to tell.

The six Atomic Knights who appear at the end of #1 include one female member (as far as I can tell). She is the first to die. Only one other knight is defeated (I think). S.H.A.D.E. is introduced and of the eight members only two are female, including a new Lady Liberty. She will die later, in a way that echoes the death of the previous Phantom Lady in Infinite Crisis.

In issue #3 a bunch of Knights are blown up. One is saved for later torture. Guess what, it's the one female member of the group. The only other person tortured by the evil Face is Firebrand, who somehow escapes without a scratch. The female knight is battered and bleeding before the torturer starts on her. She is never seen again. In fact the Knights have a disturbing disregard for the lives of their comrades, but it is particularly noticeable here. Nobody is going to come rescue this damsel in distress.

It's true, male characters are killed. Major Force kills Major Victory on a whim. Many people of indeterminate sex are beaten up or exploded. But taken over all, given the starting ratio of males to females (about 6:1) it seems kind of odd that more women should be seen dying than men. I'm not even going to get into Black Baron's suicide love slaves.

Okay, on the odd occasion that Phantom Lady managed to get a line she did come across as the most sane person in the entire story, and I did enjoy the general chaotic lunacy, but Battle for Bludhaven has a real misogynistic streak, and underneath all the fireworks there is barely half a story.

How to draw comics the Greg Land way



She Hulk

Power Girl


Another brick

At Ragnell's suggestion I've been reading Battle for Bludhaven, which was not, as I expected, dull. I'm not sure I could exactly recommend it though, since it makes less sense than a barrel full of Morrisons. But one thing I noticed early on, before it went completely chaotic, is that the set up involves Chemo being dropped on Bludhaven, which makes the whole place toxic.

Can you guess what the government's response to this disaster is?

A) send in hazardous waste disposal teams to neutralize the toxic chemicals.

B) use the city as a military base to conduct highly illegal experiments on the surviving citizens.

C) Build a big wall around the city.

If you answered A) then you are obviously a Marvel fan, or you haven't been paying attention.

What is it with the US government in the DCU that their first response to a disaster is to wall the place off and hope it goes away? In No Man's Land Gotham was hit by an earthquake (and possibly an epidemic, I wasn't really following it) so the government had a big wall built around the city and shot anyone who tried to leave. In fact I think they declared it no longer part of the USA so they wouldn't have to go clean it up. In Green Arrow there was a bunch of explosions and possibly a riot so a large part of the city got walled off. And now this.

It just seems like an entirely unrealistic response to a disaster that makes no sense in real world terms and even less in one full of super powered people, and I am a little boggled that they keep doing it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Putting thoughts in her head

Okay, it was a real temptation just to leave it at that.

I've seen this image knocking around the web but I have never read the comic (or comics - Greg Land isn't too proud to reuse an image he's photoshopped) it's from, so I have no idea of the context. And I was trying to work out what could possibly be going through the mind of Sue Richards to occasion such an expression.

Here's a few of my attempts to define her mood.

Try it yourself. It's fun.

Heroine addiction

Oh dear, I can feel it coming on again. My obsession for lame female characters has struck again, and in the most unexpected place.

I winced along with everyone else when the first promo pics appeared showing her broken-backed T&A stance. I laughed along at her shiny, shiny plastic skin. I didn't even bother reading Battle for Bludhaven, but I may have to now. I'm sure I can pick it out of a bargain bin at the next comic fair. It was only when I leafed through Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #2 that my interest was sparked.

Who am I talking about? Well the art in Uncle Sam may be a little heavily over-airbrushed with shadows, but there's only one female character in it, and she has a degree in quantum physics.

It's Stormy Knight, physicist and supermodel. And I'm aching to see her written in a way that would make me believe she really is the science nerd she claims to be. Even if it means designing gedanken in a thong.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Biting the hand

You'd think it was the absolute first lesson in marketing: be nice to your customer. And yet somehow this basic message seems to have escaped the comics industry (genre TV has the same issue), which often seems to go out of its way to insult its core audience.

They seem to have forgotten that comics are no longer picked up by casual readers and the main support of the industry are the hardcore fans. Oh, they might show up at conventions, set up message boards to communicate with the fans, and respond to their questions as though they really cared what we think, and they'd be delighted to flog us any kind of merchandise they can think of, but how are comics fans actually portrayed in the comics themselves?

At best they are the socially inept comic relief or the geeky tech who can fix the hero's computer. At worst they are the sad, annoying, obsessive losers who have no life and no girlfriend. Because they are almost always male, too.

Is this any way to treat the people who pay your bills?

Sure, there are extreme elements in fandom, the same as in any other social grouping, but somehow it's always these types that turn up in comics. Never the regular people with rounded lives for whom an interest in comics is one of a variety of activities. And conversely we rarely get to see people with any other kind of obsession (not counting the villains whose whole purpose for existance seems to be making trouble for the hero)

Don't you feel insulted?

They've worked it out in Japan. For years now they have presented images of the geek as hero, the nerd as object of desire. There's everything from Read or Die where women with great psychic power are also obsessive book collectors, Oh My Goddess where the socially inept guy is surrounded by beautiful goddesses, to the non-fantasy Genshiken, which follows the lives of a group of anime/manga fans. In each of these some fun is made of the obsessive fannish nature, but in a sympathetic, kindly way that is balanced by the depth of the characterisation. Plus of course these are the heroes of the stories, rather than the comedy sidekick.

Isn't it about time American publishers learned this lesson?

Rape of the month: September

You know, I thought we were actually going to get a month rape free for a moment, there. And then I read Secret Six #4.

Now I love Gail Simone's writing, and this storyline shows every sign of being well written, but it's still the same ghastly cliche that everyone else in comics feels the need to write ad nauseum as though they were the first to think of it.

And honestly, there are few enough women in the DC universe unmolested. Was it really necessary to reduce that figure by one more?