Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Teen Themes

Teen Titans v. 1 #5

in issue #5 the Titans get into a seriously mismatched fight with a villain called The Ant. In theory the Ant doesn't stand a chance. All he has going for him is a level of acrobatic skill (like Robin) he inherited from his acrobat mother and the strength he inherited from his father who was a circus strongman (1) and some suckers on his boots that allow him to climb walls.

My knowledge of Herolix is barely above zero, but I'm guessing that if you set up a Heroclicky fight between the Ant and Robin it might be an even match: Robin is more experienced but Ant has the wall climbing thing. Pit Ant against Wonder Girl or Kid Flash solo and Ant doesn't stand a chance. So how come Ant gets to defeat the entire team twice (2) in this issue?

By this issue recurring themes are starting to become apparent. The Titans are summoned by some authority figure to save some teenagers from going bad. The teens are always good guys even though at some point they appear to be on the wrong side of the law. The teens are always virtually all male (3).

I wouldn't go so far to say Haney is misogynist (4) but he is sexist. It's almost painful the way he continuely attempts to obscure the fact that Wonder Girl is the most powerful member of the team. It's as bad as his efforts to hide how completely useless Aqualad is. Perhaps he assumed that only boys would be reading the comic, and they wouldn't want to look at pictures of teenage girls, and it certainly wouldn't do to have a girl who was more powerful than the boys, but if so, why add her to the team in the first place?

The one thing that really puzzles me this issue is the cover, which suggests some kind of personal grudge match between Robin and the Ant. Not only does the scene not occur in the story, but there is nothing personal between the two.


1. because in Haneyworld you can inherit learned skills and the results of exercise from your parents.

2. once when he's not even in costume.

3. Even when the teens in question are the entire teenage population of a town. What does smalltown America do with its girl children?

4. he doesn't have bad things happen particularly to female characters; he does his best not to have female characters appear in the comic at all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Go go Gail!

The story so far: Kimiyo Hoshi, the good Doctor Light was last seen depowered and left for dead in Green Arrow over a year ago. Her subsequent appearances in Infinite Crisis, 52, and other comics required the shiny new post-IC continuity be twisted into a pretzel in order to place this event during week 2 of 52, even though the story concludes several issues later with an event that clearly occurs during Infinite Crisis, and fans are so confused that most lose the plot and assume that she must have got better and regained her powers off-camera.

One Year Later Kimiyo is considered for membership of the Justice League. The dialogue about her is open to wide interpretation, but it appears that she has recovered both her health and her powers.

Now: Birds of Prey issue #100, page one. Kimiyo is alive and well and back to being the bitchy scientist we know and love. She receives an invitation to join the Birds of Prey.


Now, if you can only tell us the story of how she got her powers back and kicked the ass of evil rapist Doctor Light into the next galaxy, I'll never be snarky about the Atom again.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I am a bunny in the headlights of Teen Titans

Teen Titans volume 1 #3

I've been reading the Teen Titans Showcase collection and one thing has been bugging me all week. How is it that I can cheerfully accept Wonder Woman flying a propellor driven airplane to Mars while fighting pteradactyls in space, or Lois Lane wearing a safe on her head because it's less embarassing than letting anyone see her face, and yet Bob Haney crosses some unseen line of stupid where I find myself rolling my eyes on almost every page?

After a lot of thought I've decided that the difference is that Bob Kanigher's Wonder Woman and a lot of the more peculiar 60's Superman and 50's Batman works because it is fairy tale fantasy; no effort is made to convince you it has any relation to the real world. You can take your brain out and just have fun, knowing that anything is possible. Conversely, Haney is forever attempting to ground his stories in realism and trying to tie it to the everyday world, and then doing something that flaunts his ignorance of his subject matter. That and Teen Titans tries so hard to be trendy that it's not only horribly dated, but it reads like your dad trying to sound cool.

I'd originally planned to just do one article on this collection but that would be a terrible waste of good snark, so I'm going to make it an occasional series. I may get back to earlier issues at some point but right now I'm going to focus on issue #3, as it's the one I just finished.

The story jumps right into the action with a bank in Gotham being robbed by a wacky looking custom car, (1). It's tough being a villain (2) in Gotham. Not only do you get chased by Batman, but the banks are equipped with machine guns.

The police are nowhere to be seen, but the batmobile is soon on the tail the hot rod. It attempts to lose the pursuit by driving into a river where it becomes a hovercraft (3). But the Batmobile continues the chase as a hydrofoil. Unfortunately in Haneyworld hovercraft are faster than hydrofoils. Even this one which has no skirt to trap the air shooting out of its undercarriage and no apparent means of forward propulsion.

The villains (4) get away. Where could they have got that fancy car from, muses Batman, as Robin receives a message that will conincidentally take him to the very place Batman is wondering about.

The Teen Titans are summoned to Washington to do a job for the President's Commission of Education. (5) The PCoE is running a campaign to stop kids dropping out of school (6) and it's just occured to them they don't have any actual teenagers associated with it so they want to bring the Titans in to help, because costumed vigilantes make the best role models.

So do they want the Titans to:
A) go on chat shows encouraging kids to stay in school?
B) investigate the high drop-out rate of some small town nobody has ever heard of?

Obviously it's B because government departments don't have staff to look into stuff like that, and it's not a ludicrous waste of resources.

Arriving in Nowheresville they talk to the school principal (7) who is particularly puzzled about one high achiever who dropped out. It's a shame he's not concerned enough to make the effort to find out that the boy left because he needed to earn money to keep his family after his father died, but it suggests that part of the problem here might be down to the way the school is run.

In fact this student and every other kid who reaches drop-out age has gone to work at Ding-Dong Daddy's Hot-Rod Hive. (8) Rather than hire skilled mechanics, Ding-Dong employs children who haven't finished high school to build custom cars. And it's not some kind of cheap wages scam either, as we are informed that he pays well. The Titans visit Ding-Dong and Kid Flash finds some kids tricking out an ice cream tricycle with a machine gun (9).

The Titans pretend to leave but in fact keep the building under surveilence from their helicopter, somehow assuming that Ding-Dong won't notice it. Three vehicles leave the chop shop at the same time, and Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, and Aqualad each follow one. It's just as well one of them takes the beach road or Aqualad would have been stuffed. Several examples of improbable physics later (10) all three Titans are out for the count, but Robin doesn't know because instead of backing up his chums he takes the opportunity to sneak in to the workshop and find the car he and Batman had chased in Gotham.

A brief scuffle later (11) and Robin is tied to a motorcycle with the brakes cut and the throttle wedged open and sent hurtling away to his doom (12). It's here we find that Robin may be the brains of the team but he knows nothing about motorcycles. If you woke up to find yourself tied to a runaway mororcycle with no brakes would you:

A) Slow the vehicle using the gears for engine braking?
B) switch off the fuel tank?
C) Pull out the spark plug cable?
D) Jump the cycle off a conveniently placed ramp into a conveniently placed mound of sand?
E) Drop the stupid bike and risk a few bruises because it can only have been doing about 20 miles an hour maximum?

So our heroes regroup and a convenient subplot occurs to help them on their way, as Ding-Dong attempting to murder Robin isn't good enough evidence to take to the authorities. It seems that the kids who work at Ding-Dong's have rivals who ride motorcycles and are armed with spanners, and are prone to random acts of violence. Forgetting that they have access to armour-plated hovercraft equipped with machine guns, they quake with fear until the Titans turn up in disguise and beat up the bikers for them. The kids are so happy that they cheerfully recommend the disguised heroes for work at Ding-Dong's.

A rare good point occurs when Ding Dong asks Wonder Girl if she is a mechanic, rather than assuming she is a bubble headed bimbo who intends to dance to music all day to "encourage" the workers like some kind of workshop cheerleader (13). She then takes him into his office and jiggles for him so the boys can get on with the real work while he is distracted.

Robin then uses a gizmo to broadcast what is being said in the "secret" room where someone is conveniently explaining the plot. The kids are shocked, shocked, I tell you, to find that all the bullet-proof, machine gun armed hovercraft they are building are intended to be sold to villains. Ding-Dong unleashes a robot gas pump but is quickly defeated by someone other than a Titan. The kids all decide to go back to school (14) and everyone is happy.

Good points:

Ding-Dong is visually based on artist Big Daddy Roth, famous for drawing weird vehicles.

It's very rare for the period to get a story that focusses on something like where villains get their fancy gear from.

The surfboard firing van and the robot gas pump.

Ding-Dong is an equal opportunities employer.

Bad points:

Everything else.


1. because obviously if you are committing armed robbery you'd want a getaway car that was strange enough looking that you could spot it from orbit rather than one that would blend into a traffic jam.

2. or indeed a bank customer.

3. Artist Nick Cardy has no idea what a hovercraft looks like.

4. we never find out who they are.

5. Doesn't this conflict with their membership of the Peace Corps?

6. I know nothing about the american education system, but it seems to me it might be an idea to have the final exam while school is compulsory, rather than after a lot of people have left.

7. the town is so small it only has the one school.

8. Well, the male ones at least. We never see any female teenagers. Or adults. In fact the only female in the whole comic is Wonder Girl.

9. There is an effort made later to explain that the kids are all nice really and hadn't known about the illegal side of the business. The only way I can see this working is if the kids are too dumb to realise that the gun emplacements, robot arms, and bullet-proof armour are in any way unusual components. Though this could explain why Ding-Dong is training kids instead of hiring proper mechanics.

10. the van that fires surfboards is best.

11. Do the Titans ever win a fight without help?

12. rather than immediately stalling the second it was put in gear or falling over sideways.

13. which, sadly, is her actual plan.

14. including the one who only dropped out because his family needed the income to survive.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The greatest crossover in history

Batman meets the Freedom Fighters.

Why? Because it will mean that the comic will feature a Dark and Stormy Knight.

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?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Twenty one years

DC comics dated March 1985 contained the following guest editorial Meanwhile column.

Dear Mr. Giordano, Here’s two attempts to get printed.
Look at it this way: it’s better than another one of my annoying letters to you. Anyway, I love to make speeches and I need the money. Okay, let’s go. (Sound of throat clearing)

Dear Whoever-Reads-These-Things, I’d like to speak to you about a subject that has been ignored for years, an American tragedy, a shameful blot on the comics industry. I’d like to discuss heroine abuse and neglect.

Women in comics are treated terribly by both DC and Marvel, mostly by Marvel, but Jim Shooter doesn’t do guest columns. They are downplayed, put-upon, wasted, ignored, and stereotyped into six categories. I like to call these categories the Six Do’s.

The first Do is Dependence. The heroine is somehow linked to a hero, either by costume (like Batgirl), by relation (like Huntress), by romance (like Black Canary), or by joining a teem (like Wonder Girl). Thus, the heroine has a bloody hard time standing alone and independent. Eventually, she becomes either a sidekick (“Green Arrow’s Girlfriend, The Black Canary”) or a bookend (Hawkman and Hawkwoznan).

The next Do is Deemphasis.
Everyone ignores the heroine and hopes she’ll go away. DC has an
enormous wealth of interesting, exciting, and enjoyable heroines, most of whom haven’t appeared in years. Demoralize often goes under the guise of “characterization.” The heroine is given a quirk in her personality or a mental aberration that cripples her. A good example is The Thorn’s split personality, which makes it impossible for her to fight in the daytime. The most common personality modes are The Bubblehead (”Oh, dear, this fight to the death with Vrot the Remarkably Unpleasant will simply ruin my manicure”), the Battlehappy Battler (“I will tear Vrot the Remarkably Unpleasant into little pieces”), and the Weak and Helpless Type (“I would fight Vrot the Remarkably Unpleasant, but I’m so afraid of snakes and I’m a pacifist anyway”).

Deglamorize is ridiculous but effective. The heroine is given an ugly costume, which effectively weakens her popularity without too badly weakening her ability in combat. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the beautiful weather-goddess who was phenomenally popular and was just about to branch out into solo guest-appearances and maybe even her own mini-series until the writer suddenly decided to have her go punk, complete with mohawk. This set her upon the road to ruin as she progressed to the next stage...

Depower! Of course, the aforementioned character was exposed to the fullest and most literal example of Depowering. She was stripped of her superhuman qualities and rendered utterly normal ... a fate worse than death. There is a more subtle form of Depowering, where the heroine’s talents are downplayed and presented as trivial. That way, she needs a hero around to keep her from getting killed. Thus, deadly destruct­bolts become stun-stings, extrasensory perception becomes “I sense en evil presence somewhere in this room,” and even telepathic mind-control becomes a parlor trick.

The most drastic step is Death. It means exactly what you think it means. The heroine is quickly and not-very-neatly disposed of. Ever since Phoenix left this mortal coil, hundreds of heroines are sacrificed daily in a vain attempt to produce a classic comparable to her story. The only one that even comes close is “The Judas Contract,” which featured the death of Terra—a death that, let’s face it, we knew was going to happen. Too many heroines have been sacrificed to the great volcano god Fan-Dom. It’s about time the writers found a new cliche to overuse.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the comics creators are engaging in a sinister conspiracy. It’s doubtful that Mr. Giordano has even realized the problem. But it is 8incerely wished that someone would realize what’s going on and take steps to correct the problem. Why is it that when a character must go insane, sacrifice her life to save humanity, or get blasted by the neural-vac power-remover, it’s always a woman?

I represent W.A.S.P., the Women Anti-Stereotyping Patrol. We have been attempting to correct this injustice (by the way, if any W.A.S.P.ers are reading this .. for Heaven’s sakes, write! I’m good, but I can’t do it all alone!), but we require some help. If a favorite heroine of yours has been suffering from one of the six symptoms, write to the comic of your choice (don’t bother Mr. Giordano . .. that’s my job) and complain, politely but firmly. If any submitters are reading this, consider revamping an old heroine or creating a new one as your project. It might be fun. I know I had fun when I did it (I didn’t have fun when DC rejected it, but that’s not important). And if any professional comics writers are reading this ... for gosh sakes, lay off the heroines, willya?

I thank you for your time. Now let’s see if I can get this thing printed.
Michael Pickens
Greentree Apartments
784 Blacksnake Rd.
Utica, OH 43080
I hope this doesn’t fall under “defamatory.” I tried to present the facts as I see them and to give DC a fair shake. If you do decide to print it, I believe you’ll have room for a rebuttal.
Now personally I disagree with his comments about ugly costumes (I liked Storm's punk look, and the ghastly costume designs of the Justice League of the late '80s were distributed equally between the sexes. More recent female costume designs may be problematic but looking ugly was never the intention), but a lot of the rest echoes what is being said right now.

So next time anyone tells you that they recognise the problem but things can't be changed overnight, feel free to point out that after twenty one years you are fed up of waiting.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Scott Kurtz brings new meaning to the phrase "gag strip"

I'm not sure what I find more disturbing, someone who considers it funny to do a comic strip about people vomiting on a dead dog (which was beaten to death in the previous strip) or the audience that laugh like drains at such antics.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Having it both ways

You may or may not be aware of the term Editorial Swimwear. This is where some time after the art for a comic is created someone decides that the cheesecake they ordered is a bit rich and they have some hack come in and scribble bikinis on women in the shower scenes, airbrush very opaque wisps of smoke over the wisps of smoke that were already present, or just generally scribble over the completed artwork until the only people it would offend were those who don't like seeing artwork disfigured.

The question I've always wanted to ask those responsible is why the hell they agreed to a scene that involved nudity if they were not prepared to have any in the comic? Rarely is a shower scene integral to the plot, so why not have it changed at the scripting stage? Or when the pencils are delivered, if the art has come out a little more racy than the script indicated? Why wait until the inks are completed and it's too late to have the original artist alter it tastefully?

Why? Because they want the cheesecake shots. They are happy to have scenes in which giant naked women are running around the landscape. Just so long as you can't see any of the nudity.

There's a similar thing happening with the extremes of violence lately. This took me by surprise after the excessive graphic violence on show in Infinite Crisis, but maybe the reaction to that was what caused the change in policy. So when Blockbuster rips the head off a heroine in 52, instead of graphic images of it bouncing away down the street the art is composed in such a way as to leave it unclear what has actually happened to her, and with no text to explain it, the only place you'll find mention of decapitation is on the official website.

There is evidence to speculate that this too was down to late editorial interference, though the extra shadowing applied to obscure what was going on is more subtlely applied. Unfortunately it leaves the sequence of pictures reading so ambiguously that without any text to explain it, you're not sure what's going on at all. When you know she's being decapitated it does read better, but dead is dead, so why have her head removed at all if you aren't going to show it or mention it in the story? I thought he'd broken her neck and the panel structure was just a bit clumsy and random until I read about it on the net.

It seems like they want it both ways. nude scenes that don't show any skin, and extreme violence without the gore.

Okay, I never liked the gore, but I'd rather have nastiness depicted as being nasty and with actual lasting consequences than have it sanitised away. How about just having less violence? Nudity I have no problem with, I just can't get my head around the whole "nudity good, nipples bad" thing anymore than I can make sense of putting flying characters in tiny skirts that barely cover their ass but absolutely never show a flash of panties. Make up your damn minds, you can't have it both ways. Either dress them more sensibly or accept that panties are part of the uniform and since everyone behind her when she's flying is going to get to see them, it's no big deal if the reader does too. She'll still be more modestly dressed than Emma Frost.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rape of the month: October

I didn't get around to doing a Rape of the month last month because, to be honest, I couldn't face looking at another issue of Walking Dead to see whether the serial rape of the previous two issues was going to continue into a third. Maybe someone can tell me how that worked out, but please without any detail. I just want to know whether I can consider September rape-free or not.

I had been looking forward to having a little graphic that went like "Months with no rapes in comics:" and then a number to show how well things were going. One week into October and already I find I won't be needing it this month after the publication of How To Make Money Like A Porn Star! written by Neil Strauss, with art by Bernard Chang. Kphoebe reviewed it, for which I am sincerely appreciative as it's saved me having to touch the ghastly thing with a ten foot pole.

On the other hand, maybe I should keep a stack of the things. Then I could send a copy out to any writer who thought they were being daring and edgy to have one of their characters sexually abused.

Maybe not. It's bad enough them doing it to show how socially aware they are. The last thing we need is more people writing rape for the comedy value.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

One of several things

Anyone who's followed my ramblings for any length of time will know I have a fondness for obscure DC heroines who didn't get the chance to fulfil their potential.

Today was a good day, and one of several things that made me happy was to see the latest issue of Action Comics cameo The Crimson Avenger. She appeared to have been caught by the Spectre during Day of Vengeance, and although we never saw her actually killed, being an obscure heroine is often enough to qualify you as cannonfodder to big up the villain for the big crossover.

I don't have any hopes of seeing the mini-series that so needs to be written, but I am content to know that she is still out there.

House of ummmm...

Does it make me a bad comic fan that I always get these two guys confused?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sitch that, Jimmy!

Back in the land of long ago I once saw a neat science lecture that was full of cool stuff about perception. One thing that particularly stayed with me was an experiment that was done live, where a member of the audience was hooked up to a headset and fed a speech through the earphones. They had to repeat what they were hearing into the microphone without pause as it progressed.

Now you'd imagine that repeating at that speed would not give you time to process the information, but when the original speech and the repeated version were played back it got very interesting. Because the original speech was full of slight mistakes, and the repeated version had corrected them. Clearly the mind is a clever and wonderful machine. Clearly also, people don't listen very hard to what they are hearing, and fill in any gaps with what they think fits the context best.

But what's this got to do with Disney cartoons?

Kim Possible is my favourite Disney TV cartoon, second only to Darkwing Duck (1). If you've ever seen Kim Possible you will know that her catchphrase is "What's the sitch?"(2). This may not be a patch on "Let's get dangerous!"(3) but it does allow for a time travel movie (4) of the series to be called A Sitch in Time. Which would be neat and clever if anywhere that carried the DVD spelled it right (5).

1. She's got this weird thing going with her upper lip that makes it look like she's got a chocolate milk moustache the whole time.
2.Sitch - short for "situation" in fashionable young persons' talk.
3. Catchphrase of Darkwing Duck.
4. If you can really call something 66 minutes long a movie.
5. A brief random sampling of internet sites found roughly half the people selling or commenting on the DVD had failed to successfully copy the title of the box in front of them and "corrected" Sitch to Stitch. How dumb does it look to repeatedly quote the ti
tle incorrectly in an article when you have the cover art prominently displayed next to it with the correct spelling?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Light at the end of the tunnel?

In which I make a few logical deductions about what we can look forward to.

For the first time since Kimiyo Hoshi was depowered and left for dead in Green Arrow #55 we have a sighting of Dr Light II that cannot be put down to a flashback or awkward resheduling of timelines. Unless Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are all so out of touch with the current superhero situation that they are unaware of what happened to her, then it's safe to say that Kimiyo is alive and well, and back in action.

In fact the dialogue here suggests not only that they are aware of what became of her, but that subsequent events have occured that we haven't been been shown yet.

Consider; Superman doesn't want her in the Justice League because she is too scary. Retired heroine, single mother, doctor (or business executive according to some), last seen powereless and symbolically raped is too scary for Superman to invite to the Justice League.

You think he maybe knows something we don't?

Extrapolation: Kimiyo has done something scary. Kimiyo has her powers back.

Deduction: Kimiyo done something scary to evil rapist bastard Arthur Light, resolving the plot lines left dangling for the last year and establishing her as someone not to mess with.

Extrapolation 2: since this important plot development has not yet been seen or previously referred to in a One Year Later title it seems reasonable to look for it in 52.

Okay, it would be nice to see a Doctor Light miniseries, but if we are going to get anything that does this story justice then I'll be happy.

Conclusion: Yay!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nana nana nana nana Batman

Showcase Presents: Batman vol. 1

I'm a big fan of wacky silver age goodness, so I was disappointed to find that this volume dates from 1964 instead of 1957 like the Superman & Superman Family volumes. The back cover blurb refers to the TV show, and I have to wonder if tying it in to a forty year old TV show is enough to make up for this bunch of lacklustre adventures.

I believe this collects stories from the period where Julius Schwartz took control as editor. The accepted wisdom is that he saved Batman from cancellation by throwing out all the weird and colourful elements and bringing it back to Batman the detective, but what we find here are stories that are dull to look at, feature a succession of drab, forgetable villains, and the "detective" elements are either so supremely obvious it hardly counts as detection to spot them or so ridiculously convoluted that it's hard to believe anyone would have either got them or set them up in the first place.

There's the kidnapped scientist whose kidnappers allow him to do a spot of shopping at the chemical supply store, so he buys a series of items which, when you take the chemical names of each form letters that spell out a clue to his location. There's the zappy thing that a villain uses to electrocute Batman, and when our hero wonders why he should have used this particular item it occurs to him that it might also be a remote control to open a trap door. That's not deduction, it's wild speculation that happens to be correct because it fits the script.

And for a series that is focussing on more down-to-earth detective and police related adventures, you'd think there might be some effort to get the police aspects of it vaguely believable. Or perhaps it is just the regulations local to Gotham City that enable a graduating police cadet to be promoted straight to detective level without any experience, and for her to then be partnered with her own father. Or maybe it's just nepotism and he pulled some strings. Certainly she is competent when she's not crushing on Bruce Wayne; she spots clues about villains clothing "because she's a woman" that Batman misses, and gets to their hideout before he does. Of course she then has to be rescued, but you can't have anyone upstaging the star, now can you?

Another Schwartz element that seems to be present here is where he would commission covers and then have the writer produce a story based on that cover. It's an interesting exercise, but he doesn't seem to have cared how the resulting story incorporates that element. Often the featured scene has little to do with the plot and just seems incongrous in context.

Possibly the most interesting thing to a modern reader is how much influence the editor had over the style of a comic at this time. Nowadays you are often left wondering whether the editor even reads the comics they are in charge of - they certainly aren't checking continuity or ensuring that characters behave and look the same as they do in other titles. They hardly even seem to be up to ensuring their titles are delivered on time. In this volume every story has the mark of Julius Schwartz all over it.

In fact, now I think about it I have to wonder how much of this dull change of direction saved Batman, and how much it was the TV show that revitalised sales of the comics. Although the show was created during this period, it features all the wacky stuff that Schwartz had removed, and even forced him to resurrect Alfred, who he had killed off. I don't intend to knock Schwartz as an editor, as I like a lot of the stuff he oversaw on other titles, but I fear his reputation on this title is misplaced.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Judd Winick is still not a misogynist

When I saw Brave New World I couldn't help but notice Winick's treatment of Mary Marvel parallel what he did to Doctor Light II - take her powers away and then drop her from a great height. Thanks to Scans Daily I now find that the parallel continues, and the only female member of the Marvel family is going to spend at least the first two issues of the new series in a coma, with severe physical damage.

Of course it's entirely possible that he hits his male characters with extreme physical trauma and leaves them for dead on a regular basis. It's not like I read enough of his work to make a comparison. It may be pure coincidence that whenever I pick up one of his comics it happens to feature a female character being severely traumatised and removed from the action, leaving only male characters to continue the story.

Let's just say if the next time I see only the female character(s) in a story put out of action (even if they aren't depowered and/or dropped from a great height) and it turns out Winick had anything to do with it, I'll begin to suspect he has some unresolved issues.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

...and then all her clothes fell off

Nude villains of the DC Universe

I'd been thinking of doing a post about all the things that are wrong with Detective #823, but it doesn't seem to have happened, but I do have to wonder what it is with female clothing in the DC universe this month.

On the cover of Detective #823 Poison Ivy isn't so much wearing a costume as garnish. On the first page we find her tucked up in her cozy cell in Arkham wearing an orange prison uniform several sizes too small for her and apparently made of tissue paper. This is confirmed a few pages later as a fight with a monster reduces it to a few shreds (don't they let girls wear underwear in Arkham?). Batman later has a fight with the same monster and yet his outfit remains remarkably intact.

Meanwhile, over at the new Atom #3, which is generally pretty cool, the wonderful Giganta pops up and pops out. It seems she forgot to bring her costume, so when she gets big her clothes explode. She tries hard to do the manic villain thing, but it's difficult to posture like Doctor Doom when she keeps having to hide her scary bits.

I've nothing against cheesecake, but if you aren't going to make any effort to have it make sense in the story, then stop pretending otherwise and just do pinups.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Unscrewing the Inscrutable

In which I make a liar of myself by underestimating my own perspicacity

Over at the Absorbascon, Scipio has been throwing a few digs at feminst comic bloggers lately. After a recent comment where he says:

bloggers who shall remain nameless have made DC self-conscious about the use of prostitution, rape, and similar sexual story elements

I responded, doubting the influence that a few bloggers would have on the editorial policy of a major comic publisher, but it seems I underestimated my own powers.

In an interview at Avengers Forever, Molly Lazer says:

After my column in the Marvel Heroes Hotspot was published, an internet blogger pointed out that, of the characters I listed as examples of strong female heroes, the majority of them had been sexually assaulted at some point. I thought about it for about two minutes before I realized that, of my list of four characters, three of them had been assaulted in one way or another. We can point to the damage inflicted on male heroes, as a counterexample, but I can't think of many male super heroes who have been raped or attacked in the way that female heroes so often are. Storylines like that happen less often these days, possibly because more people are aware of the women in refrigerators phenomenon, but they haven't completely disappeared. Comics reflect the world in which we live, and when you consider the amount of violence towards women that has gone on in the medium's history, that's a scary thought. Still, I think we're on the right path towards remedying this situation and making the comics medium one that treats males and females equally.

That was me.

I did that.

I made someone at Marvel think.

But only for two minutes.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Skrull Culture

It's possible that the Skrulls might have conquered the entire galaxy by now, if only they had a little imagination. Luckily we are spared enslavement at the hands of shapechanging green guys with bumpy chins due to their lack of creative insight.

The story of the Skrulls was not exactly planned out by Marvel. It's entirely possible that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby never intended to use them again after their first appearance back in FF #2, but they stuck around and have popped up all over the Marvel universe in succeeding decades.

But I don't think anyone has ever really put all the pieces together and considered how Skrull culture actually works. Now I don't pretend to know all the details; I certainly haven't read every Skrull related story, and it's been years since I last read some, so set me straight if I'm missing something.

When the Skrulls first appeared in FF#2 (I'm discounting their retconned previous appearance in Marvel: The Lost Generation as the whole series seems to have been written out of continuity now) they pretend to be the Fantastic Four. They can shape-change, but do so only to copy the FF. In fact it is apparent that they have total control over their body shape, but they only use this to stretch when pretending to be Reed Richards.

Ultimately, and I'm sorry if I'm spoiling this for anyone, they are defeated by transparent lies and fooled into thinking that comic book art is a photographic representation of reality. CGI would be wasted on the Skrulls - they are completely taken in by line art and a four colour dot screen.

Looking at this now it seems absurd that they could possibly be fooled. The explanation given is that their eyesight is poor. I don't believe it. There is no way they could possibly have duplicated the physical forms of the FF so accurately if they are myopic enough to be unable to distinguish between comic art and photos. So what's the real reason?

Quite simply, the Skrulls have no concept of fiction. They are entirely devoid of creativity. If there is a picture of something it must be real because they cannot comprehend the concept of making a picture of something that does not exist. This is their one blind spot and the thing that cripples them. They have the ability to be anything they can think of, but they do not have the imagination to do anything other than copy the things around them. Sure, they have an empire. But I suspect if you looked into Skrull history you'd find they were just copying the imperialist activities of the Kree.

Look at how Skrulls are presented when we get occasional glimpses into their society. In our world if everyone could shapechange, it would all be about fashion - everyone would look like the latest celebrity, fads in physical shapes would sweep through the world. Society would fall apart because nobody would be able to keep track of who everyone else was as they changed shape at whim. But the Skrulls keep their own shapes unless they have a reason to change. And they use tools when they could reshape their own bodies to be tools. In fact it is their lack of imagination that allows their society to function.