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My take on the Evil Amazons

April 8th, 2012 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

So it seems that there has been a development in the Wonder Woman continuity, and it’s even more of a surprise than Wonder Woman’s not-so-secret origin.  It has put the internet in an uproar.  On the off chance that you haven’t seen the spoilers, I’m putting in a cut.

Read the rest of this entry �

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The Invisibles 2 (or 3): Entropy in the U.K.

February 22nd, 2012 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I hit a slight snag in my Invisibles continued reading when I realized I went from the first volume to the third volume, only barely noticing.  It did seem strange that suddenly two characters were kidnapped and threatened by space beetles, but then again the entire thing started out with a sixties/seventies pastiche, that seemed to both come from and go to nowhere.  For those of you rolling your eyes, call it a lack of understanding in how Morrison works.  That’s fair.  But give me credit for my faith in the dude, continuing the story even though it seemed to jump.

That being said, I think that jumping ahead a book and then retracing my steps seems to be in the spirit of my decision to read them in the first place, so I’m going to go ahead and take a look at what I see.  For those who are struggling to place the book, it begins and ends with retro pulp teams whose stories brush against the main villain, revealed in this book to be a group of bug like aliens which are going to take over the Earth.  Agents of the aliens have kidnapped King Mob and Fanny, and are torturing King Mob who is talking about stories (the retro tales) as a way to cover up what he knows.

Since I’m no connoisseur of fictional torture and don’t have the stomach to become one, let me say that the torture scenes are creative and visceral, and turn my attention to the other parts of the book.

We get Boy’s back story, and how she seemed to be the middle ground between her angelic brother and her devilish brother – until it turns out we had the brothers switched around.  Artist Tommy Lee Edwards has a style that syncs up well with the bleak winter in New York that he’s depicting, and that’s the most visually arresting part of the book, even though other talented artists are given very flashy things to do.

But that’s a standard review of a comic book.  What about The Invisibles story?  Well, the story is still going, really, and that’s all you can say for it.  Although this volume can be summed up as a story – the rest of the Invisibles pull together to rescue the kidnapped Fanny and Mob, it doesn’t unfold in a way that actually lends itself to story telling, as opposed to telling about a bunch of things that happened in sequence.  The macro story, the one that’s being told over many volumes, feels good and relaxed.  Although it’s more pulled-together than the first volume, it still gives me the impression that story is what happens in between Grant Morrison saying what he wants to say.

Which is fine, since the things he wants to say are about adding shading and moderation to characters.  Moderation is not typically prized in comics, especially in a comic like this, but it’s a rare and wonderful thing, all the same.  Jack Frost (or Dane) begins to pull his character together instead of slaloming between endangered waif and bad seed.  King Mob is less of the unflappable, invincible icon he was in the first volume (I was about to say that being tortured will do that to you, but when does Batman look one bit more vulnerable when being tortured?  Never.  DC wouldn’t allow it.).  Boy, or Lucille, was one of the more even-keel characters from the start, so the backstory just adds a little depth to what otherwise might be a moderator.

The one place that the story falls is the same place that most stories fall – magic is magic.  When a hero has magic ability, it’s there whenever the situation is grave enough that it needs to be there.  That’s not necessarily bad.  You could say that about any facet of a story.  The cavalry will arrive when the author needs them to and if the author needs them to.  They’ll disarm the bomb if that’s how the story goes.  It’s just that magic needs a focal point, a switch that’s well established and yet not obvious to flip when the going gets tough.  When you use magic, you need to secure to an emotional solution instead of a practical one.  It didn’t feel like Dane, even with the famous vision of Jesus that he experiences in this volume, was up to doing battle with something that big, and then healing his dying friend.

Then again, if I wanted that emotional build-up to make sense, I should perhaps have read volume 2.  We’ll see if it all adds up when I do!

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Volume One of The Invisibles

February 6th, 2012 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I’ve started reading The Invisibles because I wanted to read something very unlike regular comics, and something I’d want to respond to.  It half-worked.  The Invisibles is, in its allusions, its characters, its narrative, and its aims far different from mainstream comics.  I don’t have much to say about it, though, at least not at this point.  Part of that is its departure from comics.

No one can say that Grant Morrison doesn’t fully flesh out his characters.  They’re great, voluptuous, curvy things by the time he gets done with them, which is why they so often bother me.  The central character of volume one, who becomes Jack Frost and who I will refer to by his ‘superhero’ name for simplicity’s sake, starts out as a mean, ungrateful, character who has a mind but prefers not to use it, opting for mindless violence.  The book starts out with him burning a library.  Perhaps a loftier reader could look at this with a detached interest.  I really can’t.  My immediate reaction to things like that is to mutter, “You ass!  You’re ruining it for everyone!”  After that, I nurse a dislike for the character, a little like a sore spot, to the point where I giggled just a bit when someone snipped off his finger.  (I’d flipped to the back to make sure he came out okay, first.  I’m not a monster.)

The problem is I couldn’t enjoy my dislike, because of the scenes in which it shows, in part, why the kid was screwed up the way he was.  It seemed like every time he asked for a break, or looked to someone for basic compassion and understanding, people turned away.  Which is why I could understand when, after being caught by police, sent to a sadistic indoctrination center posing as a correctional facility, and living on the streets until he nearly starves, he grabs on to the first person to be even the slightest bit nice to him.  Luckily, Tom seems to be on the side of the Invisibles, if not the angels, and dispenses wisdom in manageable bunches.  What I didn’t understand is why Tom tended to dispense that wisdom via eye-stealing, pushing off cliffs, or brutal ass-kicking.  I suppose some comics conventions can’t be discarded.

The middle third of the story can be roughly described as Tom using compassion, dogged-perseverance, magic, and the occasional beating to gradually get the kid to shed all the miserable stuff he’d believed made him strong, and then Tom symbolically dies and turns the kid over to The Invisibles, a group of misfits fighting a personified conformity.  They go back in time.  Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and (unfortunately) the Marquis de Sade make appearances, sometimes in their time, sometimes in our own, and sometimes in a surreal dream space.  A guy with somebody else’s face attacks them.   They split up and star in vignettes about individuality.  Jack Frost quits the Invisibles.  We all know he’ll be back.

And that’s where The Invisibles shakes me.  It’s not that I don’t think the various stories indicate inventive ideas, and it’s not that I don’t think that that’s valuable.  It’s just that at some point the first volume becomes like being told a person’s dreams; and not their first dream, or their most interesting dream, but an entire night’s worth of dreaming.  If there’s one thing you can rely on mainstream comics for, it’s a story set around a clear central concept.  If you forget what that concept is, it will be restated up to three times per floppy.  I like structure – a plot that snaps together.  This is one of the reasons I liked the Rogers’ Blue Beetle series so much.  Random digressions happened all the time, but in the end the entire series stacked up to something with a structure.  Still, this is the first volume of The Invisibles.  We’ll see how the rest progress.

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Marvel just kicked me out of Marvel

November 20th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

And I don’t mean that in a snarky way.  Marvel just cancelled the Marvel titles I read.  I say this not because there were a lot – there were just a couple, and the occasional books I picked up when I saw something interesting that tied in to the ones I regularly pick up.  Mostly I noticed it because they tended to cluster around certain weeks when my DC haul was low, and I’d be surprised to see that my Marvel occasionally equaled or outnumbered my DC titles.

It is a blow to see them gone like this, though.

The Daken: Dark Wolverine cancellation, I have to say, I saw coming for a long time.  I liked the character, in part because I was tickled by the weirdness of him, and in part because I think he represents a fantastic picture of the dark romantic hero.  (Don’t laugh.  A bunch of books and comics present certain characters as ‘dangerous’ – characters like The Punisher, or Wolverine, who are about as dangerous as ten week old staunchly loyal labrador puppies.  Everyone might say that they’re violent and cruel, but then unfailingly end up doing the right thing, and often the most noble thing.  Dangerous AntiHeroes With Dark Pasts Who You Shouldn’t Get Involved With pretty much always end up being the best people in any book.  Daken’s arcs followed the same pattern; people getting to like him, seeing his vulnerabilities, thinking they were the exception, and then unfailingly getting screwed over because that’s what darkly violent romantic heroes would actually do.  You don’t develop a bad reputation by doing the right thing all the time.)

Still, it was easy to see the concept was staggering from the beginning.  Daken was born in a tie-in, raised in massively-confusing event continuity, and his solo title launched in an incomprehensible crossover series.  That pretty much hobbled the guy.  Since then, various writers have been sending him around the globe trying to give him something to do.  ”Look!  He’s in New York!  Milan!  Madripoor!  LA!  Something’s happening!  We’re almost sure of it!”  The book never settled down into telling a story.  It just sent him places.

PunisherMAX was a shock, though, especially since I like Aaron’s work so very much.  Not only does he slalom between genuinely horrific events and hilarious slapstick violence perfectly, he brings a new dimension to the Punisher.  I, being a wuss, have to mentally edit out the worst of it, but brainwashing myself is worth it for the story and the characters.  Anyone reading this is a comics fan, and so anyone reading this will definitely know how rare it is to see the big reveal on the last page of the issue and think, “Holy crap!  I did not see that coming!  I can’t wait to see what happens next.”  It’s rare to be surprised, and even more rare for that surprise to elicit more than an, “Oy.  This guy again.”  Aaron’s Punisher had me doing that every issue.

More importantly, it had me interested in the Punisher as a character.  Most Punisher comics don’t have the guy thinking more than a few words, and if they do, it’s usually words of blank contempt for the villains, the onlookers, or the world in general.  This Frank looks at himself, and his mistakes, explains why he does the things he does (More than just ‘I hate them,’ which was a cop-out.), and shows more variation of emotion.  Aaron gives the character feet of clay without surrendering an ounce of toughness or personal morality.  It’s a great look, and while I didn’t expect him to get Garth Ennis’ ten book run, I was hoping to settle in with this character being written by this author.

Oh, well.  I shall bid a fond farewell to both books, and secretly hope that Daken shows up on a team without too much tedious backstory and Jason Aaron writes a Punisher novel.  It could happen.  In theory.

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Batgirl #2 Play-by-Play

October 13th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

 

This will be a short play-by-play, since the story in this issue is very dense in some scenes while others are knock-down drag-out fights.

We start where we left off last week, with Mirror having killed a criminal, and a cop, in the hospital, and the cop’s partner and Batgirl standing aghast.  I’ve decided that I was too hard on the title last week.  It seems the entire universe is younger, and if the male Bats are exactly where they used to be, well, it’s not like that franchise hasn’t always been given priority.  Batman has been the economic and public recognition power house for DC for decades, and that’s not going to let up.  Since it’s been established that he works with the Robins closely, and not Batgirl closely, his continuity is pretty much always going to be more protected.

Babs regains her resolve and runs after the villain as he flees.  The next ten pages are a knock-down drag-out fight between the two of them, broken up briefly by Detective McKenna telling Commissioner Gordon that they need to issue a warrant for Batgirl’s arrest.  Babs manages to steal Mirror’s hit list, finding both her identities on it, but at the end he disappears and she can barely change clothes and limp home.

Back at home, her roommate, Alysia, is shocked by Babs’ condition, but rallies, and manages to patch her up and put her to bed.  Afterwards, she asks Babs why, exactly, she’s beat to hell, and why, exactly, Alysia shouldn’t call the cops.  Babs assures her she’s ‘not a criminal or a victim.’  I think you’ll find, when you check with your dad, Babs, that the former is no longer true.  She then borrows some clothes – which I have never managed to do with all my myriad roommates because none of us are even remotely the same size, but this is comics, and there are only so many body types to go around.

The clothes she borrows allow her to go on a date with her physical therapist, who protests the entire time that this is not ethical.  Named Gregor.  Is he buff and cheerful, with black hair?  Of course he is!  Oh, Babs.  Just go back to Dick already and make us all happy.  Well.  Make me happy.

Gregor asks about how Babs got the use of her legs back.

“I’m a skeptic, Gregor.  I don’t believe in miracles.”

What a coincidence, Babs.  Neither does any reader of the title.

“And if someone is handing them out . . . Why should I, of all people in the world, be the recipient?”

You’re recognizable and potentially lucrative.  Done!  Move on!

And the comic does.  Babs does some research, and finds out that Mirror is a federal agent whose family died in a flaming car crash.  She breaks into the agent’s place and finds a small armory and Mirror talking to her on one of those giant computer screens that comic book villains love so much.

It seems that he thinks life is too painful, and that the survivors of any disaster deserved to die and be relieved of their suffering.  Why he had to kill them in the most painful and horrifying way possible is just a mystery.  His next victim is a guy who was saved from a train, and rides it to work every morning.  Mirror has put a bomb on it, to show Batgirl that there is ‘an end to all miracles.’

Can’t anyone in this universe just get therapy and slowly learn to live a fulfilling life again?

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I like the sex scene in Catwoman #1. It’s the rest of it that’s the problem.

September 30th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

This is a response to the overwhelming talk about Catwoman #1 on the internet.  It started, of course, with Laura Hudson’s post on Comics Alliance, which I have mentioned before and which is now up to over 2100 comments.  (If we could match that on this post, I would be pleased.)  Next I heard about Catwoman on the Wait, What? Podcast with Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan.  They mentioned that Judd Winick made a statement about Catwoman, which he wrote.  The statement goes like this:

This is a Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions reflect someone who lives in our times. And wears a cat suit. And steals. It’s a tale that is part crime story, part mystery and part romance. In that, you will find action, suspense and passion. Each of those qualities, at times, play to their extremes. Catwoman is a character with a rich comic book history, and my hope is that readers will continue to join us as the adventure continues.

A quibble or two: Catwoman has almost always been a person who lives in our times, wears a cat suit, and steals, right up to the last issue of her last run, which I believe was in 2011 or 2010.  None of that is new.  The only new thing that you’re bringing to the book is the explicit sex scene at the end between Batman and Catwoman.  Because the cover of Catwoman let me know it wasn’t for me, I didn’t pick it up at the store, so the only scene I saw from the comic, when reading about this, was the sex scene.

I thought it was great.

The art was not my cup of tea, but I thought the sex scene was a good innovation in continuity.  First, I liked the idea for the relationship.  I like superhero romance in general.  I think it can be fun and interesting and sexy,  and it necessarily turns the focus on the characters.  Batman and Catwoman have been mutually involved before, but not, to my knowledge, when she was still a thief.  I think it brings up all kinds of really uncomfortable dimensions to both characters that would be interesting to explore.  What does it say about Catwoman that she either cozies up to a guy who is out there solely to put her in jail or has sex with him in the belief that he won’t take her to jail?  And what about Batman?  He knows she’s a thief and knows where her apartment is and knows that she’s putting innocent people in danger with her illegal activities.  And yet I didn’t see him bring out the cuffs.  What does it say that if Batman is attracted to you, and you have sex with him, he’ll let you get away with a crime?  Suddenly both characters have serious feet of clay, and they’re in a situation that cannot last.  It’s interesting.

What’s more, I was fine with the explicitness of the scene.  I think the fact that it made clear, through art and story, that both of them are angry with themselves for doing any of this, and the last panel, with them collapsed together, not looking at each other, just before all hell will probably break loose was a good cliffhanger, in my opinion.

Ah – but then I borrowed and read the rest of the book.  And learned that all of that ‘romance’ and ‘passion’ and woman ‘of our times’ stuff was ridiculous.

To see why, let’s work back from the end.  Here we have Batman and Catwoman, two people who are deliberately are in a bad relationship, but are so passionate that they just can’t help themselves.  You can make a case for this being a sexual woman, who makes a romantic choice that will pose problems for her later.  Fine.  Interesting, even.

Just before that, Selina is at a party, trying to pick up tips for where to find high-value items that she can steal.  She’s in a red wig and posing as a bartender.  Suddenly she sees a man, who she says is ‘supposed to be locked up.’  She flashes back to a scene from her adolescence.  She huddles against a wall, terrified and crying, as the man uses a gun to kill a woman right in front of her.  Back at the party, the man goes to the bathroom.  Selina follows him.  She finds him with his back to the door, over the toilet, obviously about to pee.  She gets his attention, and the first panel we see of her in this scene is this:

He makes some comment, she moves to embrace him, and then beats the hell out of him.  She smashes his face against the sink, and then claws and hits him as blood splatters everywhere.  Then she changes into her Catwoman suit and flies out of the party, knocking down everyone in front of her and getting down the hall before anyone at the party can even make it out the door.  She’s hurt and sad, and ‘just wants to go home.’

Here’s the big stumbling point.  Why did she open her shirt just then?  I’m serious.  Consider why she would do that.

Well, maybe she was trying to distract him?

No.

The panel before she spoke to him, he was completely relaxed, facing away from her, his pants undone, and unaware that she was even in the room.  Not to mention this is a woman who is a good enough fighter to fight her way through a mobbed-up party, tackle and pin Batman, and leap out into the air to escape a group of guys with guns.  She doesn’t need a distraction to beat up a white-haired man who needed a gun to intimidate an unarmed woman ten years ago.

Maybe she wanted him to see her coming?

No.

There’s no indication that he ever knows her name,  or she wants him to know who she is.  If she wanted it to be real payback she would have taken off the wig, not the shirt.

The lack of a concrete reason for her to do this indicates that this is a gratuitous and inappropriate shot of Catwoman with her shirt off.  That’s not necessarily true.  There is a character-appropriate reason for doing this, but it changes things.

Remember, this is a guy who stopped her cold a panel earlier.  He literally made her flash back to what had to be one of the most terrifying and helpless moments of her life.  And her immediate reaction was to display herself sexually to him.  This display isn’t the same as sexual power.  She’s not grabbing his crotch, or making him sexually afraid, or even sexually intimidated.  She’s trying to please him in order to make herself feel more powerful and in control, even though it’s clear that she can beat him through strength alone.  This is how she reacts to fear, disgust, and helplessness; being sexy.

Go back to the Batman and Catwoman tryst at the end.  Batman is a guy who knows where she lives, who she thinks might know her name, and who she knows ‘should’ be hauling her to prison.  Kind of puts another perspective on it, doesn’t it?  It’s not ‘passion’ or ‘romance’ anymore.  It’s not Selina being sexual.  It’s a response to fear and powerlessness – a need to use sex to win over a man and make herself feel in control.  This makes it pretty sad when she tackles the guy who broke into the apartment she was using as a safehouse and proceeds to have conflicted, angry sex with him.  If we take these two incidents together, this sex scene is not empowered female sexuality, it’s a panic response.

And then what does that say about Batman?  Before, he was a man who ruthlessly hunted down criminals and brought them to justice – but who let it slide when it came to the woman he was attracted to and who had sex with him.  Now we see that sex is Selina’s response to stress and trauma.  In essence, she has a compulsion that makes her try to bargain her way out of difficult situations with sex, and Batman, knowingly or not, is going along with it.  That’s really awful.  It’s a demonstration of how morally bankrupt it is for Batman to have sex with her in the first place, and how deadened she is.  This book is looking pretty dark.  It’s about a woman who’s clearly been abused and whose first, instinctive response to danger is to try to appeal to people through sex.   It still can make sense, though.  It can still be a good character portrait.

Now let’s go farther back.  The first page has her fleeing her apartment as a gang is pounding down her door.

The more astute reader will notice that the voice is flippant, the boobs are front and center, and she has no head.  Given the intensity and bleak sexiness that we see in the last half of the book, this doesn’t really fit in well, but maybe her introductory panel will show us more of her fear -

 

This panel can be summed up as, “Wheee!  Mortal danger is fun and my shirt is just coincidentally open!”

And what about the cover to this issue.  Does it expose the fun she has running free through the night ahead of her attackers?  Does it show her desperation and dark past?  Does it emphasize the romance and passion?

I think we can all agree it shows none of them.

And the reason it shows none of them is none of them exist in this book.  This isn’t a book about a dark, desperate character who clings to sexuality as a way of trying to deal with a crazy world filled with mystery and action and violence.  This isn’t a book about a fun-loving, sexy thief.  This isn’t a book about a star-crossed romantic thief in a relationship with her adversary.  This is a book about boobs, and Selina Kyle will be whatever kind of character she needs to be in order for her breasts to be exposed as much as possible.  When people talk about mindless sex dolls, ciphers, or degrading portrayals of women, this is what they mean.  There’s no character there – no story and no mystery and no adventure and no romance and no passion.  There’s whatever will put the character in a suggestive pose.  So let me change the statement.

This is a Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions is tits.  There are tits on the cover and there are tits on the front page and the last page cliffhanger is meant to show the promise of more tits in future issues.  In these, you will find action and suspense and passion, and each of those qualities will go to extremes that cause Catwoman to get her tits out all the time, because that’s the way she responded to everything in this book.  Let’s face it, the only reason that we didn’t call this Catwoman #Tits is because we made a line-wide stylistic choice to start all new books at #1, and we’re not going to change that for a flimsy, inconsequential tittybook like this issue of Catwoman.

 

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This Wonder Woman Really Is Number One

September 28th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Well, DC is catching even more internet crap than I ever imagined they would over the Starfire and Catwoman.  But I’ll give them credit where it’s most assuredly due.  They hit a home run with the Wonder Woman title.  I was not even remotely enthusiastic about this title when I saw first saw it, but now that I’ve picked it up, I have to say I’m extremely impressed.  Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang combine their talents to make a vivid and fantastic book.

Azzarello is at his best in noir, and he’s shown us in Flashpoint that he can get a little nutzo with it.  What he’s done in Wonder Woman is transport the Greek Gods into an urban underworld.  Perhaps the better world for it is ‘overworld,’ since the first mythological character we see in the book has taken up residence in a spectacular penthouse.  According to him he’s the ‘sun of a king’ in what I am sure, by the end of the book, is not a misprint.  Mythological creatures flit around the world, committing murder, trying to commit murder, and very occasionally trying to prevent murder.

If the premise of mythology in the everyday world sounds too precious for regular comics readers, Cliff Chiang rides to the rescue with deep neons that stand out against red skylines.  Never have centaurs looked so perfectly in place.  The storyline is pure noir as well, with the thoughtless kingpin (Zeus) at the top, playing around while his underlings, in this case his children, scrambling and scheming to get a bigger slice of the pie.  It looks like the most ruthless of those children wants to knock off dear old dad himself, or at least a few of his brothers and sisters.

Into this world, a hapless innocent – a young woman who was impregnated by Zeus – has gotten in over her head.  Diana is summoned to save her, from the machinations of Zeus and from all of his children on earth.  This book, funny as it sounds, has Wonder Woman playing Sam Spade.  She’s world weary, knows the lay of the land, knows she’s not particularly high up in the hierarchy, but also knows she’s tough as nails.  It’s her job to figure out what’s going on, what needs to happen, and to go up against the powers that be to make sure it does happen.

Let me add a word or two about Cliff Chiang’s art.  (I believe those words will be; Nekkid Ladies Done Right.)

This is Zola.

She spends the entire issue in her underwear, and it’s pink.  I didn’t notice it until my second or third reading.  Although Chiang’s art makes women very ‘pretty,’ there isn’t any scene that looks posed or contrived.  When Zola’s in danger, the art is about Zola being in danger.  When she’s threatening someone with a gun, the pose is one that looks right for threatening someone with a gun.

And here’s Diana:

I would argue that the picture above is hot.  At the same time, the art doesn’t sacrifice personality, context, or the heroic look of the character in order to make it hot.  In fact, the most awkward piece of art in the entire book was this panel:

That magical coverlet has to be held on with magnets, or has to have slid down to her waist one second later, because otherwise Diana would be flashing the reader.  And I would be fine with that.  Surprised that they did it, but fine with it.  (I’d also be fine with her sleeping in pajamas.)  It’s not about nudity.  I’m pretty sure that between Vertigo and Max and independent titles every comics reader out there has seen a nipple or two, and kids don’t read this stuff.  (Even if they did, I doubt a naked boob shot would hurt them.) It’s about the context and the character – and prioritizing both.  Not all nudity is bad nudity, and a nude shot of Diana here would, in my opinion, be better than the fully-clothed gratuitous butt shots of other female characters in other books.

But back to Wonder Woman.  The art and the storyline work together well.  It’s also an interesting story, thanks to good world-building by Azzarello and thanks to the fact that, unlike nearly every other book in the New 52, it isn’t stuck waist deep in yet another re-telling of a superhero’s origin.  If there’s one thing that hampers it, it’s the fact that Wonder Woman remains DC’s version of The Man With No Personality.  (“Some say he robbed a bank and saved a puppy at the same time.” “Is he fer the law or agin’ it?”  ”Nobody knows.  ’Cause he ain’t got no personality.”)  Putting her in the Sam Spade role is a good way for her to stalk through the book with authority and purpose, but the main show will always be the side characters.  Overall, though, I’d say it’s one of the best books to come out of the New 52, and it’s good to see that for this particular part of DC’s Big Three.

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Why I put back the Red Lanterns book.

September 25th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

To start off, I’d like to link to Laura Hudson’s excellent post at Comics Alliance.  She hits the nail on the head exactly when talking about male and female characters and their sexuality.  It’s worth a read, but for those of you with limited time, it can be summarized in three points.

1.  The ‘sexuality’ expressed by female comic book characters is not female sexuality but male sexual fantasy.

2.  In several important books male characters are shown as heroes first while female characters are shown as expressions of sexual fantasy first.

3.  That is really sexist, and makes her want to turn away from comics despite the medium being both her primary interest and her job.

The post focuses on Catwoman #1 and Red Hood and the Outlaws #1.  Catwoman I knew was not for me the moment I saw the cover.  Red Hood, though, had two characters in it I was interested in and one character in it I was unfamiliar with – but the  images that Laura shows of the male heroes juxtaposed with the female heroes are why I put it back on the shelf, feeling exactly as depressed and turned away from comics as she did.  I thought I’d add one more example.  Two weeks ago Red Lanterns #1 came out.  I thought the rainbow of lanterns corps was a stupid idea when I first heard of it, but seeing what DC did with it, I realized I was wrong.  I grew to love the idea, the wacky joy that it brought to comics, and the many different stories and characters it spawned.  I was excited to pick up the book.  Then I looked through it.

This is the introduction of Red Lantern 1

This is the introduction of Red Lantern 2

This is the introduction of Red Lantern 3

And I put the book back on the shelf.

On the plus side, I will have more money for Batgirl and Batwoman, since I’ve seen the upcoming Birds of Prey #4.

What is this, a Bratz doll catalog?  Even the Teen Titans cover looks more badass.  Why are they all twelve?  Why do they all have the same face?  Why is Barbara knock-kneed?

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Harley’s corset was just the beginning.

September 14th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

This was Amanda Waller.

And this is Amanda Waller.

Because why have a reboot if you have to draw even one female character heavyset, over forty, plain, or with her shirt completely buttoned up.

Seriously, though, a gorgeous supermodel with huge boobs that she is prominently displaying!  What fantastic character innovation this is!  What a change from other female characters in the DC universe!

I guess there’s a chance that this could be an impostor.

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Batgirl #1. Again.

September 10th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Ah, Batgirl Issue 1.  It’s almost as if I’ve seen you before, recently.

We start with a (presumably) sweet old man being murdered horribly in his front yard by some kind of costumed villain called The Mirror.  The man, Graham Carter (and I kind of hope that this shows up in internet searches so that when a Graham Carter somewhere out there googles himself he gets this result.), was the survivor of a shipwreck years ago.  The Mirror asks why he survived, but instead of letting him answer, shoves a hose in his mouth and drowns him (I suppose.  How do you die when a running hose gets shoved in your mouth?).  We see that the next name on his list is Barbara Gordon.

We then cut to Batgirl expositing about her life as Barbara Gordon.  This is, I guess, for the benefit of anyone picking up the book for the first time.  She talks about how she’s the Police Commissioner’s daughter while she swoops in to catch a group of kids who themselves are expositing, to a terrified family, that they are rich kids from good homes who have been murdering entire families for fun.  She takes them out, but when one tackles her over a railing, she is helped up by the family, thinking to herself how she got lucky and how scared she is.

Next we have exposition about how she was shot by the Joker, has a photographic memory, how she was Oracle for three years (establishing time period), how by some miracle (it doesn’t say what) she can walk again, and how she lives with her dad but is about to move out.

Cut to her moving out.  She goes to a building that, she exposits, is centrally located and that she can afford, as long as she has multiple housemates.  She meets a roommate, who weirdly isn’t named.  Destined for the chop?

Across town, some cops are guarding a nonspecific murderer who is injured and confined to a hospital bed.

Back to Move-In Day.  Barbara’s roommate sees her wheelchair lift and talks about how she would never want to be, “trapped in a chair.”  Unnamed roommate is now the most tactless person in the world.  *Really* destined for the chop?

Back in the hospital, The Mirror is shooting a bunch of cops, on the way to get to the bedridden killer.  One guarding detective, McKenna, draws a gun and prepares to shoot, but doesn’t, even though her partner tells her too.  The Mirror kills the partner, wounds McKenna, steps on her face, and goes after the guy they were guarding, “Theodore Rankin.”  He says he was ‘next on the list’.

Batgirl swoops in, and promptly freezes when she sees The Mirror has a gun.  The Mirror then throws Rankin out the window while McKenna calls Barbara a murderer because she didn’t do anything.

Conclusions:

I say this carefully, because it’s the first issue, and I love Gail Simone’s work, but this didn’t work for me at all.

First there’s the violence.  I’m always a little disturbed by how often cops are killed in comic books.  It seems like a way to signify that This Killer is a Big Deal, and I believed that already.  Still, that’s something that happens in every comic book.  Add to that the pleasure-killing family annihilators, the fact that you saw the old man’s eyes popping out slightly from the pressure from the hose, and this feels like Secret Six violence in a Batgirl book.  Not every villain has to be the most horrible killer imaginable.  If it’s a dark book overall, it works, but contrasted with Barbara’s demeanor and storyline, this is jarring.

And then there’s Barbara’s storyline.  When Cass screwed up, it was okay.  She was 17, and didn’t speak any human language at all.  When Stephanie screwed up, it was okay.  She was 16-18, and was kind of known for screwing up.  She’d received no training and had gone through life trying to be a superhero just because she wanted it enough.  When Babs screwed up the first time around – fine.  She was new, too.

But even though the issue number is starting over, and even though this is meant to introduce new readers to the book, Barbara Gordon isn’t new anymore.  She’s not a rookie hero, she’s the freakin’ Oracle.  She wasn’t just a superhero, and she didn’t just lead a superhero team, she led all the superhero teams, everywhere.  She’s was everyone’s go-to source for information and advice.  She trained new heroes.  She trained them in how to fight – by fighting with them.  She fought in virtual reality.  She beat people up, trained fighting people, in actual reality.  She didn’t just face a gun, she faced the Joker.  She faced the Joker with a nuclear bomb.  She also fought the Joker face-to-face.

She bought buildings.  Not ‘house’ buildings, ‘skyscraper’ buildings.  She bought luxury cars for people who came in to fight on her team’s side.  She bought planes, and then paid to have them completely re-done to fit her team’s needs.

This storyline, the new girl spreading her wings and moving out of her father’s place to a bare-bones apartment in the city, scraping by, and managing to do good at work through spunk and determination – that’s not Barbara Gordon.  Maybe it was before any of this stuff happened to her and before she accomplished all the things she did, but it isn’t anymore.  It can’t be.  Put another way, what would the reaction be if Bruce Wayne ‘froze’ every time he got picked up and had dialog in his head that went, “My spine!  He’s going to snap my spine!  Just like Bane!  I can’t move!  I can’t move!”  Or Dick Grayson thinking, “He’s just like Two-Face!  I’m frozen!  I can’t do anything!”

It’s not that I don’t think she’ll get better, and it’s not that I don’t think that the roommates in the new apartment will lead to some funny banter and good relationships.  It’s just that this woman has been a hero for years, and is one of the most compelling characters of the DCU.  She’s a badass. A rich badass.  A rich, brilliant, multi-talented, and ruthless badass.  Having her play the ingénue doesn’t work anymore.  It just feels condescending.

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