Do the Math: Sometimes You Get What You Ask For

January 19th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Gail Simone being back on Birds of Prey is kinda like a big deal. I’m pretty sure that Esther is still going “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” even today. She’s gotta be hypersonic by this point.

Anyway, I liked the old BoP. Those first 12-18 issues or so are some of Simone’s best work, and I didn’t even really mind Ed Benes’s art back then. But, the new announcement bugs me because of DC’s history with announcing fan-pleasing things and then doing half the job on them, at best.

-Spoiler dies in a sexualized and degraded way. Fans form Project Girl-Wonder in protest of the way her murder devalued her character. A couple years later, DC Comics brings her back, completely sidestepping the issues behind people were mad at her death. She’s just… back.

-DC makes a big deal about the return of Milestone, a well-loved company that featured a truly multi-cultural cast. Rather than bringing DC Comics up to the modern day with regards to portrayal of race, the Milestone books are effectively quarantined. They were shuffled off into a series as filler between big-name runs (Mark Waid and JMS) and their reintroduction took place in Dwayne McDuffie’s already-hamstrung run on JLA. And then, in the end, they drop every Milestone character except for Static. They wanted a new toy and jerked everyone around to get it.

-DC announces the return of fan-favorite Gail Simone’s fondly remembered Birds of Prey, with art accompanied by Ed Benes. Simone on Benes: “[H]e also does lovely, subtle acting, and tremendous facial expressions and body language. I think he brings a very fiery European influence that is a wonderful remedy to some of the tired vaguely manga and video game-esque influences we’ve seen lately.”

And, well, I realize that Simone can’t trash her artist (that would be unprofessional), but that doesn’t actually reflect reality. Benes’s men have one face, his women another, and they all have the same flat, empty expression. The body language tends to be of the “crotch or butt thrust directly at the reader” variety, and the “subtle acting” is so subtle as to be nonexistent. The “fiery European influence” would be better termed “draws kinda like Jim Lee used to, only with bigger boobs,” and the “vaguely manga and video game-esque influences” is the kind of annoying strawman people pull all the time without actually naming names. Is she talking about UDON? Humberto Ramos? Paul Pope? Joe Madureira? Ed McGuinness?

Benes is a bad artist for comics, is my point. His storytelling skills are subpar, his love for T&A gets in the way constantly, and his people all look the same. There are numerous other artists DC could have paired Simone with to make a book that would be the girl power monthly it should be- Nicola Scott, for example, or the Lopez brothers from Catwoman. They’ve proven that they can draw realistic, funny, and attractive women, and, most importantly, they have strong storytelling skills. The Lopezes in particular do great work, even with a varied cast, in a style that would fit the tone of Simone’s BoP.

But hey- Ed Benes. DC says he’s nice? I say he’s polite.

Y’all can have him, though.

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Everything’s Going My Way!

January 13th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

What had me singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” today?  Sure, my week brightens around Wednesdays.  And sure, I was still riding high on the leftover Batmanderthal vapors.  But this is what really kick-started my morning:

The Birds of Prey are back!  And they’re being written by Gail Simone!

Of course scans_daily is all over this, including the mysterious blacked-out figures in the background.  Creote is the front-runner, as far as speculation goes, for the big figure.

There are more contenders for the flying figure.  They include

1.  Misfit – Charlie Gage-Radcliffe  (Yeah, yeah.  “Dark Vengeance.”  Not my favorite.)

2.  Batwoman – Kate Kane (I’d think she’d be up front in the picture, though.)

3.  Batgirl – Bette Kane (That could be interesting.  And I’m pretty sure she’d be pissed to see how many people have stolen her moniker.)

4.  Manhunter – Kate Spencer (Very unlikely.)

5.  Spoiler/Robin/Batgirl – Stephanie Brown  (I don’t think Gail Simone has ever written her before.  That could be cool.)

Simone states that the two new characters are a pair, which cuts down on a lot of possibilities.  I suppose they could be Creote and a very interestingly posed/surgically altered Savant.  The ruling theory, though, is that they are Hawk and Dove  in some new iteration of the pair.  We’ll know in spring.  Until then, I’m humming the rest of Oklahoma!, and keeping hope alive.

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The things you learn when you go back through old entries of abandoned communities.

November 21st, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

So, according to Gail Simone, Achilles is gay.  My reactions are as follows:

1.  But Zeus put him in charge of Amazon Island because he wanted the Amazons to lay down their weapons and become wives and mothers.  Is this one of those Greek irony deals, where the gods act like extreme bastards, but in an amusing way?  Telling the Amazons you want them knocked up, and then giving them a gay guy to get the job done, that’s just mean.

2.  And also damn.  I liked how he was in sympathy with the Amazons even as he tried to follow Zeus’s orders.  It would have been interesting if he had developed an actual relationship with one of the Amazons, instead of a marriage of state.

3.  But I suppose there aren’t that many gay guys in DC.

4.  There’s pretty much just him and Obsidian and Creo-

5.  Oh my god, there’s also Creote.

6.  Who is also a Simone creation.

7.  Oh please, Gail.  Give me Creote and Achilles as a couple for Christmas.  I’ve been so good all year long.

8.  For some definitions of good.

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Wonder Woman: Can’t Win for Losing

October 1st, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Wonder Woman #36 came out on Wednesday, and things are happening in the Wonderverse.  The Amazons are in a state of bubbling, barely-restrained rebellion against Achilles, their new king.  Wonder Woman and Nemesis seem to have ended their courtship, and Diana is ordered by the daughter of Kane Milohai, the volcano god, to ‘remember her vow’ which means openly standing against Achilles.  In other words, things are looking very, very grim for our heroine.  Again.  I swear that woman has Peter Parker’s luck.  Everytime she does anything, she ends up the worse for it.

I’m pleased and impressed by the characters in Wonder Woman.  Nemesis is convinced that he’s not on Diana’s level (the one weakness in his characterization is the fact that we never see him do anything which would lead to this conclusion) but that’s not what ends their relationship.  Neither is Diana’s ‘lie’.  It is only when he realizes that Diana wants marriage and kids, a normal life, that he pragmatically states that that can never happen after the life he has led, and breaks up with her.

Achilles is a surprisingly likeable character, despite his deep flaws.  We see him trying, again and again, to do what is right while obeying orders that are wrong.  He’s not a bloodthirsty zealot, only someone too mentally subjugated to follow his conscience.

Diana continues her quest to find out who she is, which is a legitimate quest.  The problem, though, is I don’t know who she is.  She’s supposed to be honest, but all that her honesty has shown me is that she loves her family and she’s compassionate.  What does she enjoy?  What particularly drives her?  What feels personal to her?  What about the world she lives in does she identify with?  What gets under her skin?  What foolish faults does she have?  I can fill in all these blanks for Green Arrow, Batman, Superman, Stephanie Brown, Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake, Dick Grayson, Scandal Savage and dozens of other characters.  Wonder Woman remains a fog of admirable virtues, and not much else.

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Four Color Reality, or Lack Thereof

August 3rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I attended the Four Color Reality Panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2009. It was described like this:

6:30-7:30 Four Color Reality: Making Comics Relevant to Readers Across Cultures— Comic book stories have become the core of American pop culture—is there a big-budget spectacular that doesn’t in some fashion owe its existence to comic book roots these days? But sales of traditional-format comic books themselves have been in decline for years. This panel explores one reason for this shrinking market: the divergence between the identities of mainstream comic icons, who are typically straight, white, male, and American, and the demographic makeup of a new generation of readers. How can the comic book industry connect with changing audiences—not just of diverse races and backgrounds, but of different cultural and national origins as well? Moderated by Jeff Yang (editor-in-chief, Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology). Panelists include Dwayne McDuffie (Milestone Comics, JLA, Ben 10: Alien Force), Gail Simone (Wonder Woman), Gene Yang (American Born Chinese, The Eternal Smile), Stuart Moore (Wolverine: Noir, The 99), and Jai Nitz (Blue Beetle, El Diablo). Room 3

Jeff Yang had a powerpoint presentation that kicked a few facts to start off the panel. One was a comparison of readerships between now and fifty years ago. Back then, comics were read by both boys and girls, at about a 50/50 ratio. In 2008, or 2009, I forget the exact year he quoted, it’s 90/10 in favor of boys. 90% of comics readers. He also showed a few quotes. I have the Paul Levitz quote exactly, since I took a picture of it, but I may have slightly paraphrased/cropped the Gary Groth quote.

Like all American media, [comics have] reflected the culture, which means there were things in the 1930s and the 1940s and the ’50s I’m sure we’d be less proud of today…
But in modern times, there have been either heroes or supporting characters introduced in our line that represent different ethnic groups and the world.

-Paul Levitz

It’s the chicken-and-egg question. The market is mostly teenage white boys. The reason is that the content has been aimed at white teenage boys. That’s why women and black adults don’t read comics. Most literate, intelligent people don’t read comics. We’re trying to change that, but it’s really difficult to do.

-Gary Groth.

Near as I can tell, Yang pulled the quotes from Facing Difference, a text book that was written in… 1997. The specific article is from the November 14th, 1993 edition of the Los Angeles Times.

One more time: November 14th, 1993. That’s sixteen years ago, give or take a few months. So, let’s get into my problems with the panel, and then loop back around into specifically talking about those numbers, and what they mean.

My (former) biggest problem with the panel is the way it seemed to conflate superheroes with comics. I didn’t quite believe it, but I took the 90% number at face value during the panel, despite my reservations. But even then, there is no way that number is accurate for comics in general. Maybe, maybe, for superheroes, but not for comics, which cover a range of genres and interests. Even leaving out manga, which is a dumb thing to do but something people do anyway, you aren’t going to see 90:10. You aren’t seeing 50:50, but you definitely aren’t seeing 90:10.

And even then, should we be looking at superheroes for racial sensitivity, anyway? This past year has convinced me that the only sensible answer is… no. Superhero comics, by and large, aren’t built for nuance. They are built to punch bad guys, be deconstructed occasionally, and to have large explosions. Nine times out of ten, superheroes are going to approach a subject from a black and white point of view, there is right and there is wrong, and that really isn’t how race and racism works. You can’t beat up racism. There are too many shades of gray, too many varied experiences, and too much baggage for that to ever happen. Sorry. Time to look elsewhere. There’ll be the occasional gem, but then there will also be Superman making proclamations and an entire generation rolling their eyes so hard that they go blind.

My new biggest problem with the panel, the problem I didn’t have before I started doing research with this post, is the research that apparently went into those figures that helped to set the stage for it. Numbers (with no sources) and quotes on the state of the industry from 1993 have about as much to do with the numbers and state of the industry in 2009 as the murder rate in New York City in 1936 has to do with the crime in NYC in 2009.

It’s irrelevant, and using those numbers, comics or murder rate alike, to bolster your point is intellectually dishonest.

Since 1993, we’ve seen an industry contract and nearly collapse. We’ve seen the rise of graphic novels and trade paperbacks as a viable way of reading and producing comics. We’ve seen a burst of movies based on comics. We’ve seen Time Magazine give Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home book of the year. Not Comic Book of the Year– Book of the Year. We’ve seen an explosion of fandom thanks to the internet. That explosion led to an explosion of female fandom online, with Scans Daily, Girl Wonder, and When Fangirls Attack probably being the three highest profile sites focused around girls’n’comics. Manga wasn’t a going concern in 1993. “Real” publishers didn’t care about anything but Maus in 1993. Bone hadn’t sold several million copies in actual book stores. Batman: The Animated Series was just getting going. And so on, and so on, and so on.

1993 isn’t 2009, and you cannot, absolutely cannot, use 1993 to make points about 2009. Those numbers? They were valid, once. Then that time passed, we moved on, and we’re in a different world now. 90% of comics readers being male in 1993, which I feel is already a dubious number but that’s just off gut instinct, has zip to do with whatever the ratio of male to female is these days.

I can understand where Yang was coming from with this. Race and gender and comics? It’s better than it was in the ’40s, yes, but it could always be better. But, pulling out figures from 16 years ago and using them to frame and position a discussion about the comics world of today is a mistake. It’s dishonest. It’s arguing against, what, a strawman? It was true at one point, perhaps, but isn’t now. It’s not a valid position to argue from.

And I mean, I’m ostensibly on Yang’s side. Should comics do better with regards to whatever ism comes to mind? Yes! Absolutely! Let’s get that range of portrayals going. But, to argue from data from 1993? That’s not how it works. If I’m on your side, and I have huge issues with your data, imagine what a theoretical nay-sayer is going to say.

Things are, and have been, getting better. I’d like to think that readers are getting smarter and more, for lack of a better word, diverse. My personal experience has certainly suggested that, and the experience of the circles that I run in.

But, really, we’ve got to do better. Halfway research and outdated figures don’t cut it, not even remotely. It doesn’t prove anything, and it doesn’t say anything beyond “Man, yesterday sucked, didn’t it?”

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Fourcast! 10: “I Can Make Human Words Around Gail Simone And I Have Proof: The Explosive Audio Interview.”

August 3rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

It’s our tenth fourcast and the last from San Diego Comic-Con 2009. As befitting an event of this magnitude, we’ve got a couple of guests.

-Esther hits us with an introduction
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental is our theme music
-Esther chats with Gail Simone about Wonder Woman, Secret Six, and other things for about ten minutes
-David talks to Graeme “iam and io9” McMillan for about twenty minutes, mulling over everything under the sun
-I came this close to taking Graeme’s “Prrrr… sexy” and turning it into a ringtone to put up on the site. Just FYI.

Next week, we’re back to our usual format.

If you’re new to the Fourcast!, subscribe to the podcast-specific RSS feed or subscribe on iTunes. Our full-blown RSS, with space-age things like “text” and “images” is here. Befriend us on Facebook, too!

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Fourcast! 08: San Diego Comic-convicted

July 20th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

San Diego Comic-con launches this week, and Esther and I are going to be there. So, it’s only fitting that our show is a con-preview. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to mix this, so please bear with any technical issues.

-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental starts off the show, and then
-we get right into You Made Me Read This! This time around, Esther read Darwyn Cooke’s Selina’s Big Score.
-We both like it. Surprise!
-Darkwing Duck joke.
-We talk a bit about SDCC and what we’re looking forward to.
-Twilight fanfiction joke.
-Firefly Browncoats joke (Poor Taste Variant #2.)
-I talk about the time I embarrassed myself in front of Dwayne McDuffie.
-Esther talks about meeting Gail Simone, Devin Grayson, and Judd Winick.
-We talk a bit about the smokescreen of Marvel vs DC, I relate it to Yankees vs Red Sox, and Esther tunes out.
-We turn off.

We’ll be at the con from Wednesday to Sunday. If you’re gonna be there and want to say hello (without being creepy or awkward) you can either find us on the floor or throw us an email and we’ll see if we can work something out. No promises, though, as the life of a comics blogging superstar is a tough one, requiring a lot of scheduling and running around.

Or, you know, sitting on your couch with a laptop. Either/or. Maybe both.

Boilerplate podcast pimpery:
If you’re new to the Fourcast!, subscribe to the podcast-specific RSS feed or subscribe on iTunes. Our full-blown RSS, with space-age things like “text” and “images” is here. I hear that the kids like Facebook, too, so if you’re so inclined…

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Stockholm is Beautiful This Time of Year

July 7th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

In Secret Six #11– oop, spoilers.

Read the rest of this entry �

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Spoiling the Moment

July 1st, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Recently there was a post on spoilers on io9, and a little dust-up over them at the new scans_daily, and it got me thinking about the popularity of spoilers in general.  The io9 post dealt with someone who asserted that spoilers were a status symbol among fans, and that’s why people love them so.  This concept is alien to me.  I don’t doubt that there are a few big men out there, bragging about their inside information, but fans can turn anything into a status symbol, from bagging and boarding to camping out outside a movie theater in order to ensure that you are the first person to get tickets to a movie that anyone can see two hours later.  Plus, the few people I’ve met who have legitimate spoilers just seemed happy to be able to share the information.

The scans_daily scuffle was more understandable to me.  Fans posted the last page of the latest Wonder Woman comic, in which a big change is made.  This change was what the last eight issues had been leading up to.  Creator Gail Simone showed up in the comments, annoyed that the point of eight months worth of comics was revealed abruptly online instead of at the end of the book, as she had intended.

I’ve tried my hand at creative work, and I can understand the frustration that creators must feel.  Working on a narrative is about building an specific experience.  You want your audience to have moments of enjoyment, frustration, suspense and revelation.  So have someone sum it all up with ‘the butler did it’ renders the whole experience, and your work, meaningless.

At the same time, I can understand very well why fans clamor for spoilers.  Most of the time, I prefer them.  Not all kinds of suspense are pleasant.  I can’t enjoy a story all that well if I spend the whole time wondering if I’m going to get stuck with continuity that I hate at the end of it.  The pacing of comics often compounds this.  Story lines are stretching longer and longer, meaning that a story can pose a question one year that won’t be answered until two years later.  I don’t want to pick up a story and think, “Wow.  The Christmas after next, when I figure out what the hell is going on, is going to be gooood.”  I want to know where I’m going so I can stretch out and enjoy the trip.

I guess who you think is  right depends on who you think has rights to a story.  Is it the creator’s to give out as they wish?  Or do fans have the final say in how they want to enjoy the stories they buy?

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Fourcast! 02: She Is Her Own Mother

June 8th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I managed to pull myself away from Final Fantasy VII long enough on Saturday to record another Fourcast! with Esther. Of course, the looming specter of technical issues ended up eating about twenty minutes of what we recorded, if not more, but we pulled it out in the end. You can tell that there were issues because my headset suddenly changes sounds with five minutes to go. Whoo!

Here’s the breakdown:
-We open with a brief chat about the unnamed Secret Six, courtesy of Gail Simone and Nicola Scott, and beefcake. Did I call beefcake gross? No, but I did call Bane’s chest gross. Look at it.


-Look at that chest.
-Next up is Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin, where we praise the book, namecheck frequent commenter ACK (holla!), and critique Quitely’s art.
-Thomas Wayne can beat up your dad.
-Dumb comics, like Spider-Man: The Short Halloween, are fun comics!
-No, wait, dumb comics are bad comics as we discover in a new segment that is as-yet unnamed. Esther explains the history of Dinah Drake, later known as Dinah Lance, while I go into a brief overview of the Clone Saga.
-Neither of us escapes unscathed.
-At the end of the show is a surprise for you, listener! And also one for you, Esther!

Kapow! We’ll see you in… seven days?! What new development is this?!

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