Kiss Me And I’ll Kiss You Back

April 10th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I live fairly close to a Japanese bookstore, and that gives me a chance to recklessly spend money on things I can’t read. I’ve got a few manga, a few art books, and a few magazines that had pictures I like. I was flipping through one I bought a while back, Inio Asano’s Sekai no Owari to Yoake-Mae (Before Dawn and the End of the World), and really took notice of the kiss that closes out the last story in the book. It got me thinking about kissing and comics, and trying to figure out the first kiss I saw in comics.

I’m pretty sure that it’s in Chris Claremont and Jim Lee’s X-Men 1. During a Danger Room sequence, Gambit steals a kiss from a robot duplicate of Jean Grey. She explodes, and Gambit’s response is, “As I always suspected… redheads, they have a dynamite kiss.” It’s part of the personality spamming Claremont often got up to, something to remind you that Gambit is a Cajun lothario with a sense of humor.

There was another kiss later in the same story. A brainwashed Cyclops steals a kiss from Jean Grey (I’m just now realizing how weird it is that it happened TWICE in the span of three issues) and asks if his kiss is as much fun as Wolverine’s, which is actually this whole weird cuckolding/male competition thing that I’m not sure I’m okay with in my old age.

I asked Twitter about other notable comics kisses. The most common suggestion was from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman. After gallivanting around Earth and using their superpowers all day, Superman and Lois Lane share a kiss on the moon.

The next most common was from Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s The Dark Phoenix Saga. I flipped through and spotted a couple. I think most people thought of the kiss on the bluff, but here’s two:

The only multi-page kiss I found came from a suggestion from Jeff Lester. He suggested Gerry Conway and Ross Andru’s Amazing Spider-Man 143, which is toward the end of the golden age of ASM for me. This is one of the few kisses that lasts longer than 1 panel that I came across, and it’s good, if you’re a Spider-Fan.

There are plenty of others. Brandon Graham’s King City had a couple gooduns, Batman and Wonder Woman in Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke’s JLA: The Obsidian Age, and Ennis and Dillon’s Preacher undoubtedly had a few great ones, though specific instances are escaping me right now. Azzarello and Risso’s 100 Bullets had a great one in New Orleans.

The thing about 99% of the kisses I’ve seen in comics, with precious few exceptions, is that they all look basically the same. Look at the examples I’ve pulled. It’s usually a man, who is generally taller than the woman, in a dominant position, with one arm around the woman’s waist and maybe a hand bracing her head. The woman’s arms go around the man’s neck. It usually lasts just a panel.

The similarity got me thinking. This is a cultural thing, isn’t it? This is how people kiss. This is what it’s supposed to look like. It’s very Hollywood and screen-ready. Neither party is obscured from an observer, the man gets to lead the way, visually at least, even if the woman initiated the kiss… where’d this representation come from?

Here’s Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square. You’ve seen it before, I guarantee. It’s a spontaneous kiss, rather than a posed one.

I kinda feel like this is the kiss in America, too. It’s definitive. It’s what you see at marriages, when people propose, and in movies. This has to be the genesis of that specific kiss configuration, at least pop culturally, right? Sort of like how John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat are the genesis of hard-edged heroes with twin guns, Bruce Lee is the genesis of 90% of kung fu fools in comics, Clint Eastwood is the source of Wolverine and all of his descendants, and on and on and on. V-J Day in Times Square may not have been first, but it’s got to be the biggest touchstone.

What’s interesting to me is that this type of kiss is far from the only type of kiss in real life, but it’s the most dominant in media/pop culture. It’s fairly chaste, isn’t it? There’s no groping, no grinding, none of the stuff that makes kissing so unbelievably interesting. There’s passion, but there’s no lust, for lack of a better word. It’s just a kiss. It’s romantic.

Here’s the kiss from Inio Asano’s “End of the World.” Long story short, the girl’s dating a dopey guy, but she loves him anyway. It makes her a little uncomfortable, being so content, and I sorta feel like this is their first kiss. Five pages:

This is really interesting. There are a few major differences from the standard kiss. She’s in control throughout, it’s explicitly erotic (consider her knee on the first page), her tiptoes and subsequent collapse lend it a sense of both desperation and satisfaction, and I feel like the way both of them are blushing and sweating only add to the effect. And then there’s the tongues and the spit. This sequence is wet. It looks raw. It looks like making out. I really like the difference between page 1, panel 1, and page 3, panel 1. One’s a surprise. The other’s a genuine embrace.

You can imagine why I found this sequence so striking. I was raised on a diet of women bent backward, chaste mouth locks, and variations on a specific pose. This is dessert. Makeouts, instead of kisses. I feel like it’s more reflective of real life, too, and it’s almost definitely the best kiss I’ve seen in comics. I don’t think most porn comics even go at it like this.

(A few asides:

(-googling for info on the history of kissing, how kissing is different in various cultures, and really anything in detail on kissing got really really weird and makes me self-conscious in a way I really wasn’t expecting. Do I need to make some apologetic phone calls? In any case, tell your mom I said hello.

(-As pointed out by my man Jamaal Thomas (who should really write more, once he finishes doing things like “having several jobs”), the kiss in All-Star Superman is deflated two pages later by the overwhelmingly paternal kiss on the forehead Superman gives Lois. I’m not saying dudes shouldn’t be kissing their ladies on the forehead or anything, but in that instance? It’s a little too much like a father tucking in his daughter. Mmmmmno, thanks.

(-here’s the origin of the title of the post.)

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Fourcast! 63: Hellboy: Whom Gods Destroy

September 27th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-You Made Me Read This!
-David made Esther read Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Vol. 3: The Chained Coffin and Others.
-It was good. A nice mix of creepy and funny, and Esther digs the character of Hellboy, too.
-Esther made David read Chris Claremont, Dusty Abell, and Drew Geraci’s Superman/Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy.
-David made it two and a half issues in before tapping out.
-It may not be unreadable (there are a lot of word balloons to read), but it is unbearable.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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Grant Morrison Ruined the X-Men

November 6th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Grant Morrison ruined the X-Men when he wrote New X-Men.

No, really, it’s true. Look at Marvel’s moves after he left the book. The very first thing they did was launch X-Men: Reload, a branding and soft-relaunch initiative that saw Chris Claremont put on Uncanny X-Men, Chuck Austen placed on the last two issues of New X-Men (where he cleaned up plots that were already perfectly clean), and Joss Whedon hired to write what turned out to be one long love letter to the glory days of Claremont/Byrne Uncanny X-Men.

Later, they reduced the total number of mutants to the low three figures, a huge change from Morrison’s population of millions.

Morrison pulled the X-Men into the modern day, not even the future, and Marvel’s move after he left was to immediately dial things back to 1982. It’s a baffling decision, and one that’s hamstrung the X-Men ever since. Whedon’s run went from mildly entertaining to stone cold stupid with a quickness (Space bullet, Professor Xavier in a truck, too-cute dialogue, pretty much everything after issue 12, though granted John Cassaday was awesome throughout), no one remembers Claremont’s run despite the Alan Davis art, Peter Milligan’s run was a non-starter, Brubaker was a tremendous mistake, and Matt Fraction’s run is a little too cute and sandbagged by Greg Land. The best X-Men run since Morrison left was the first year or so of the Mike Carey/Chris Bachalo/Humberto Ramos X-Men, which managed to match the writing with the art and tell a solid story. It was good, however, not great.

New X-Men was great.

“No question, bein a black man is demandin'”

The X-Men have often been seen as a metaphor for oppressed peoples, with black and gay people being the most common ones cited. Morrison looked at this metaphor, looked at real life, and updated the X-Men to reflect that. Being a mutant became cool in the same way that being black is cool. You can buy clothes and music made by mutants and be down. You can even hang out in Mutant Town after dark to show how open-minded and cool you are.

At the same time, that only goes so far– no one wants to be black, or a mutant, when the things go down or the cops show up. So when Xorn visits Mutant Town and ends up witnessing the death of a young mutant? The humans react the way they always have: with fear and bigotry.

Morrison turned mutants into a subculture, a logical extension of what happens when new elements are introduced into society. They were still oppressed, but they actually had some kind of culture to go along with their oppression. He gave them their own Chinatown, their own Little Italy, and made it a point to show that mutants, while not entirely accepted just yet, were more than just mutant paramilitary teams. There were ugly mutants, ones with useless powers, ones with hideous powers, and ones who just didn’t really care about the X-Men.

These Are The Days of Our Lives

The soap opera was a huge part of the draw of Claremont’s, and everyone else’s, X-Men, Morrison included. However, where the previous soap operas tended toward being the status quo (Rogue and Gambit’s will they/won’t they, Scott and Jean’s alternating marital strife and bliss, Storm being aloof and faux-queenish, Iceman being an idiot), Morrison took them and forced actual change.

Jean Grey embraced her amazing powers, rather than being afraid of them and found true peace and confidence. Wolverine goes from a beast of a man to a man who has figured out how to keep the beast under control through discipline and poise. Emma Frost found love. Magneto found out what it really takes to change the world. And so on.

My favorite change, though, is Cyclops. He went through something horrible and traumatic, and after, he didn’t feel the same. He felt like he didn’t measure up to the storybook romance that he found himself in, and was worried about not being perfect enough for his (in his eyes) perfect wife. And it hurts their relationship, they grow apart, and he eventually finds someone else.

It’s a bad thing, but at the same time, believable. His friends warn him off, tell him he’s being stupid, and he still does it. And when the missus finds out, what’s he do? He leaves to get drunk. He reacts poorly to a situation he simply doesn’t know how to handle, and ends up adventuring with Wolverine.

And you know what? It works. It pulls Cyclops away from being the stick in the mud, generic leader type he’d been for years. He even sticks to the Marvel blueprint: he struggles with a personal problem, makes a poor decision, and somehow ends up sticking the landing.

Grown Man Business

Grant Morrison made the X-Men grown-up. He eschewed stereotypical supervillain stories until the tail end of his run, and even those stories were layered with a depth of character and nuance that kept them above generic megalomania. When Magneto nearly destroys New York as the culmination of his big plan, he’s forced to confront the fact that the personality he created to further his plan, the healer Xorn, is better liked and more effective than he could ever be. No one wants Magneto any more. Magneto is old and busted, Xorn is the new hotness.

That’s what Morrison’s New X-Men run was about: the new. Mutants as subculture, the changes Beast has gone through, Wolverine fighting against his true nature, Jean loving herself and her powers, and Magneto joining the X-Men and doing more good than he ever did before. All of that is pushing the X-Men toward the new.

The X-Men, moreso than any other franchise, needs to be on the cutting edge of culture. The oppression metaphor practically requires it. Morrison put them right out there, threw a bunch of new ideas and philosophies into the mix, and created something amazing.

And ever since, Marvel has run screaming from it. Major developments were dialed back, retcons applied, and hands waved. The X-Men line, post-NXM, has been, to be kind, a complete mess. It’s finally found focus recently, but New X-Men? That was years ago.

They would have been better off embracing it wholeheartedly, rather than depowering all the mutants, reinforcing 15 year old status quos, and generally putting out bad comics. Morrison laid the ground work for a whole new generation of X-Men comics. We could’ve seen the tales of a new class of New Mutants who had no interest in being soldiers, explored mutant subculture in-depth, examined how humans react to having a brand new and vibrant subculture evolve right under their noses, or even just shown an X-Men team that didn’t solve all its problems by hitting things really hard.

The seeds for all of this are right there in New X-Men. But, we’ll never see it. Marvel got to the end of NXM, recoiled, and ran in the opposite direction. Now we’re just left, once again, with re-runs of our grief. The potential for the X-Men to be more than they were, and are, is gone. It’s sad, but it’s true. After New X-Men, the franchise took a hard turn into a brick wall.

Marvel hasn’t totally run from it, though. You can still buy the series in three handsome softcover volumes. I absolutely recommend it. It’s definitely my favorite X-Men story.

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