Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wonder Woman #225

They like her, they really like her.
(Spoilers follow.)

I have seen champions come and go. Time and again felled by their own weaknesses...Their hubris, their ignorance, their base stupidity...But not this one... Diana of Themyscira endures.--Pallas Athena

Dramatically plucked away from her confrontation with the OMACs by Athena, Diana spends a brief time with the gods, who inform her that they are readying to leave, making way for the advent of new deities. After she returns to the world, Diana breaks the news to her staff that she intends to immediately shut down the Themysciran embassy. As Diana locks the building's door, she turns to acknowledge the presence of a supportive crowd, comprised of people who have gathered from around the globe.

WW #225 is the second part of Greg Rucka's grand farewell to Diana. (The title is to be re-booted in the spring with an as-yet-unnamed writer.) In the previous issue, Rucka let us see how Io, one of the Amazons, views Diana. In this one he provides the god's-eye-view. Many of the questions that the reader has been guided to ask about the gods get answered. (And some new ones get posed.) Why didn't they actively intervene during the battle with the OMACs? Why don't they just put a stop to the whole crisis? And, if Diana's so favored by them, why do they give her such a hard time?

Well, Athena is the goddess of wisdom, and she's fully aware of the questions and emotions that her actions have raised in her champion. Her explanation, expressed in a thought balloon, is disarmingly simple: "We gods are small beings of great power, nothing more. If any here is deserving of respect, it is she."

Rucka stresses the point that champions exist to be tested; that's the process through which their remarkable qualities emerge and are given purpose. Athena notes that although Diana has lost in the past, she has never been forced to deal with defeat. And Diana now faces an utter defeat. Themyscira is gone; her sisters with it. Her mission is at an end. The gods who have shown her favor have just vanished before her eyes. However, Diana recovers her self-confidence at the embassy by recognizing the source of the fierce loyalty displayed by her friends. (Athena: "She understands that their faith in her is greater than her faith in herself.")

She, in turn, inspires those friends to carry on with the message. However, they must do this on their own, since, she informs them: "I now must go to aid those friends of mine who no longer call me friend. I must offer my aid to end this crisis ... whatever the cost." Though the last part of her comment has an ominous ring to it, the issue is actually about the persistence of hope in the face of adversity and defeat. Diana explains to Athena that she chose to remain behind in this world when her sisters departed because she has hope for it's future. And at the close of the issue, her mere presence imparts hope to those uncertain supporters who have gathered outside of the embassy.

Rucka has definitely given Diana her due in these two issues. She emerges from issue #225 with a renewed sense of purpose, energized, and well-prepared to do some righteous damage in the pages of both Infinite Crisis and the "new" Wonder Woman title when it is re-launched in the spring.

Monday, January 30, 2006

For Museum Walls

An all-Marvel edition.

These stunning panels should convince even
the most stubborn doubter that comics are a
valid artform.

Jessica Jones and child, drawn by Michael
Gaydos. (The Pulse #13)

Who knew that the dead spent so much of
their time relaxing? Mockingbird, Gwen
Stacy, and Dead Girl, from the final splash
page of X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #1.
(Drawn by Mike Allred and Nick Dragotta.)

What can I say? Amanda Conner is simply
phenomenal. One of her three priceless
pages from The She-Hulk #3/100 extravaganza.

Frank Cho's drawing of an introspective
Jessica Drew from New Avengers #14,
colored by Jason Keith. Several reviewers
have commented upon the beauty of this image.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Catwoman #51

Spoilers follow.

The previous issue contained the long-anticipated revelation that Selina Kyle had been mind-wiped by the JLA, which caused quite a stir. Questions were raised about the use of such an invasive and coercive procedure by 'the good guys,' and readers of the title also feared that this plot element might be a signal that a lot of the nuanced development that Ed Brubaker had brought to the character might be unravelled in future issues.

However, over at X-Ray Spex the title's current writer, Will Pfeifer, offered some calming advice in a comments thread. "What happened to Selina," he wrote, "isn't nearly has important as how she reacts to it, and where she goes from here. And you'll start to see that in the next issue."

I liked what I saw here. Although Selina is understandably unsure of herself, and is asking other people questions that she's going to need to answer on her own, she hasn't magically reverted into some past, super-villainous version of the Catwoman.

The issue's first page shows us Karon and Holly's casual meet-up with Slam Bradley; from there we turn our attention to Selina as she seeks out Bruce Wayne for answers. And, as he has in recent issues of Catwoman, Bruce actually comes across as a perceptive and supportive fellow.

Having arrived in a stolen a car, Selina breaks into the manor; Bruce's first words to her are "Why didn't you use the front door?" After some banter, Selina asks the question that's been hanging in the air since the close of the previous issue:

Here's the final portion of Bruce's long response, (which follows Selina asking "Who was I before your JLA buddies got to me?"):

That's a nicely written (and beautifully drawn) exchange. Selina's slightly sunken eyes in the "Who am I?" panel (heightened by the glare of Bruce's flashlight) subtlely convey the toll that all of this has taken on her.

Later in the book, Selina learns that Black Mask has kidnapped Slam Bradley, and she doesn't miss a beat-- the next we see her, she's riding a (no doubt stolen) motorcycle to the villain's HQ. Selina's reaction is so swift, so in-character, and her desire to save Slam is so urgent, that Pfeifer is cannily leading the reader to think: "Well, maybe Bruce was right; the mind-wipe wasn't such a transforming event for Selina, after all..."

Not so fast! Upon her arrival at Black Mask's HQ, Pfeifer quickly lets us know that Selina isn't quite the same. She proceeds to shoot the building's guard in the shoulder when he opposes her; he's as surprised as we are by this.

More than anything, this issue convinced me that Pfeifer is the genuine article. His deft storytelling and strong characterization successfully moved the characters, the plot, and his readers beyond the unpleasantness of Selina's mind-wipe. We're now focussed on the adventures of a thinking, autonomous woman as she confronts the considerable challenges ahead of her. Catwoman's definitely got some interesting things coming up in her future, and I continue to look forward to reading this book each month.

Friday, January 27, 2006

What is this thing, called ..."meme"?

For more on this, go here.

Always Remember:

Gender and Revenge, A Brief Follow-up

Since scientists have assisted us in the past, I have emailed the authors of the study in order to pose the question most relevant to us: how might the gender of the punisher effect the outcome? Did they test for gender as a variable on the other side of the equation? Did men enjoy seeing wrong-doers punished by a woman as much as they did when a man was the instrument of justice?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Gender and Revenge

It seems to me that this report, written about by William Saletan here, has clear implications for readers and producers of comics. (Not to mention the creative team behind Fox's 24.)

The researchers report evidence that men and women express divergent preferences for the punishment of "wrong-doers." Here's one money quote from Saletan's long and interesting article:
Scientists planted actors among volunteers playing a game. Some actors played fairly; others played unfairly. Then the researchers delivered electric shocks to the actors while monitoring the brains of volunteers who looked on. Men, like women, showed "empathy-related activation in pain-related brain areas" when shocks were administered to actors who had played fairly. But when shocks were delivered instead to actors who had played unfairly, empathetic responses in men, unlike women, "were significantly reduced." In fact, men showed "increased activation in reward-related areas, correlated with an expressed desire for revenge." Apparently, judgment controls men's feelings more than women's. It determines who gets our empathy and who gets our schadenfreude—the joy of watching the suffering of someone you dislike.
While I'll need more time to think about this before I venture a definitive comment, it seems apparent that Wonder Woman's killing of Max Lord (and how Batman and Superman have reacted to it) offers strong contrary evidence. However, the question may be a moot one, because I'm sure that, as usual, superheroes were under-represented in the study's sample.

Update (1.27.06; 8:15 AM): The danger of a mis-placed parenthesis! What I actually wanted to say in my penultimate sentence is this: it seems apparent that reactions to Wonder Woman's killing of Max Lord (specifically Batman's and Superman's) offer strong contrary evidence. (kalinara and Ragnell, thanks for helping me clarify this point.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


(1) The sequel just won't be quite be the same for me, now.

CREATIVE GENIUS: John Lasseter, of Pixar Animation Studios, is pictured at the premiere of the film "The Incredibles" in Hollywood in October 2004. The Walt Disney Co. has agreed to acquire Pixar Animation Studios in an all-stock transaction worth $7.4 billion.
(Fred Prouser/Reuters)

(2) Michael Jackson, center, wearing a traditional Arabic women's veil and all-covering gown called an abaya, holds the hand of one of his children, also veiled, as they walk toward his car on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006, behind a Manama, Bahrain, shopping mall. Jackson is a reclusive resident of the Gulf island country since being cleared of child molestation charges. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali) The complete AP report is here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Huzzah For Lady Sin!

Several years ago a student writing a senior thesis on piracy loaned me the extant run of Chuck Dixon and Steve Epting's El Cazador, published by CrossGen. After graduating she acquired the TPB, and was nice enough to allow me keep the individual issues as a gift. (If you're reading this, thanks again, R.M.!) The recent discussions on women in comics drew my attention back to this title. I liked it when I first read it, and upon re-reading it, I've come to appreciate it even more.

Six issues and a one shot appeared before the wonderful enterprise was cut short by the CrossGen's financial implosion. Issues #1-4 came out monthly between October 2003 and January 2004; #5 appeared in March 2004; and #6 June 2004. "The Bloody Ballad of Blackjack Tom" was published in April 2004.

The central character in El Cazador is a young Catalan woman named Cinzia Elena Maria Esperanza Diego-Luis Hidalgo. (And yes, the length of her name does become a running joke throughout the series.) Finding herself on the Misericordia, a Spanish ship under attack by Anglo-French pirates, Cinzia uses the linguistic and martial skills her father taught her to avoid victimization. Although her older brother has been slain, and she's separated from her mother and young brother, (who've been taken away as hostages by an allied pirate band), here's how she handles the unwelcome sexual advances of one of the pirate captains:

The determined young woman resolves to make it her mission to find and rescue her captive family members, and she needs to take control of the pirate vessel upon which she is being held as a "captive" to do this. And, as I'm sure you've heard: if you want to make an omelet, you're going to have to break...

In the first issue, Dona Cinzia is transformed from a young, unmarried, late-seventeenth-century Spanish woman (with all the expectations of weakness that go with that role in life) into ... Well, into a classic comic book bad-ass. This kind of momentous transformation is usually accompanied by a name change, and El Cazador delivers one:

Cinzia has earned the name, and the mostly Anglophone crew bestows it upon her as a sign of their respect for (and fear of) her. She in turn renames their ship, transforming it from La Misericordia (Mercy) to El Cazador (The Hunter).

From the first issue, Dixon provided excellent characterization and gave us a woman with a clearly defined mission requiring the completion of several intervening steps before it could come to fruition. She's learning as she goes, and we want her to succeed, but we're not entirely certain that she actually will. In addition, issue #4 could be used as the single assigned reading for the "Pacing" lecture of a course in Sequential Art. (If you have seen Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the pursuit scenes in El Cazador are as suspenseful and exciting as those in that film.)

Through six issues, Lady Sin bonds with a crew of experienced hands who respect her, accept her authority over them, and ultimately watch her back. These relationships are cemented by her proven bad-assery and the pursuit of a common purpose. (She's no fool, and has offered to lead them to Spanish treasure once her family members are safe.) Sin fights off a mutiny, complements her meager crew with Africans liberated from the hold of a slave ship, and gathers up the evidence she needs to find the hidden cove frequented by the man who is holding her loved ones.

While the pacing, hand-to hand combat, and the sea-battles are all satisfyingly well-rendered, the book is also spot-on in depicting the "smaller" moments that highlight the developing trust between Sin and the most prominent members of her crew. Godshall, the ship's blind pilot, serves as a growing source of support, and there's a moment before her first sea battle in issue #4 where a simple gesture makes this point for the reader. The artist uses three concise panels, with Godshall's steadying hand being the key image in the central one:

From issue #2 onwards, Sin the huntress finds herself pursued by a skilled privateer named Redhand Harry. (It seems that Harry might have been planned as a possible love interest, though the two don't meet face-to-face until the final issue.) However, with the help of Godshall and her crew, Sin and her men outflank the more experienced mariner and board his ship. Here's how the confrontation between the Harry and Sin is resolved in issue #6:

At the close of the issue, Harry is in chains below decks. (And that kiss: a tactic to knock Harry off his guard? Or does Sin like the cut of his jib? I tend towards the former, though both could easily be at work.) Woe and alas, here's the final exchange of dialogue in all of El Cazador:
Sin: I have learned much and quickly since taking up this new life. First and foremost, these dogs of the sea respect victory above all else.

Harry: And now ye've had a gloat at my expense-- I suppose I'll swing from a rope?

Sin: Actually, I offer you an alliance. Do you, by chance, speak Latin?
Talk about wanting to know what comes next! Perhaps this title will be revived, or picked up by another publisher. Maybe there's a movie in the works, an improvement upon and updating of Cutthroat Island. I will certainly keep my eyes open for any of these developments. Hope, I've been told, is the essence of being human.

Monday, January 23, 2006

It's a Comics World

Five of "The 99," from left: Mumita (speedy), Dr. Razem (a gem expert), Rughal (mystery powers), Jabbar (expandable) and Noora (sees truth).

Yesterday's New York Times contained an article by Hassan M. Fattah titled "Comics to Battle for Truth, Justice and the Islamic Way."

Here are the article's key paragraphs:
"Naif al-Mutawa's Teshkeel Media, based in Kuwait, says that in September it will begin publishing 'The 99,' a series of comic books based on superhero characters who battle injustice and fight evil, with each character personifying one of the 99 qualities that Muslims believe God embodies."

"Mr. Mutawa is seeking to reach youngsters who are straddling the cultural divide between East and West. They like comics and Western entertainment, and yet are attached to their roots and intend to hold on to their customs. He, too, faced that divide, going to summer camp in New Hampshire in the 1980's..."

"The story concerns 99 gems encoded with the wisdom of Baghdad just as the Mongols are invading the city in the 13th century - in his version, to destroy the city's knowledge. The gems are the source of not only wisdom but power, and they have been scattered across the world, sending some 20 superheroes (at least in the first year, leaving another 49 potential heroes for future editions) on a quest to find them before an evil villain does."

"The characters in 'The 99' are not all Arabs, but Muslims from all over the world. Jabbar, the enforcer, is a hulking figure from Saudi Arabia with the power to grow immense at a sneer; Mumita is a bombshell from Portugal with unparalleled agility and a degree of bloodlust; and Noora, from the United Arab Emirates, can read the truth in what people say and help them to see the truth in themselves. There is even a character who wears a burka, aptly called Batina, derived from the word meaning hidden."

"[W]hat may give him the biggest edge is a seasoned team, including writers like Fabian Nicieza, who wrote for X-Men and Power Rangers comics, and a group of managers and advisers who are old hands in the industry."

All I can say is, man, I hope there's an easy way to get this title here in the US.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Deep Focus

I was impressed with Grant Morrison and Ryan Sook's Seven Soldiers of Victory: Zatanna #2 when I first read it. Upon subsequent re-readings, I've come to appreciate the book even more. Not only is it my favorite issue in Zatanna's portion of the larger maxi-series, it's one of my favorite comics, ever.

First of all, how can you not like a comic that opens with a splash page like this one? (Check out the progression from raindrops, the sea, the fish, to the stone!)

The issue centers upon Zatanna, her "apprentice" Misty Kilgore, and Gwydion (a malevolent spirit who is pursuing them); most of the action takes place in Casandra Craft's cramped magic shop in San Francisco.

It's been commonplace for some time to speak of the extent to which movies have influenced comic books. Splash pages, compression/de-compression, and hyper-violence are the elements most frequently mentioned. Here, I'd like to discuss the layout of several indicative panels that are illustrative of the richness of this book in particular and the mini-series in general. Most of the Craft shop scenes provide the viewer with both extraordinary lines of perspective and stunning depth of focus, two cinematic effects.

Two movies expertly deploy the formal elements that I'm talking about: Citizen Kane and Popeye. There are myriad scenes in Citizen Kane that make use of an extraordinary depth of field; the film's cinematographer Gregg Toland modified several cameras in order to get the depth-effects that he wanted. Most frequently mentioned are scenes in which all of the people in a scene are in focus (while some of them are in motion), while structural elements in the room (particularly the ceiling) are in view, too.

Here's a panel from SS:Z #2 that incorporates a particularly cinematic perspective. We survey the room, the things in it; it's shot from above, enabling us to see from the point of view of someone who has the drop on the people below. The vulnerability of the females is played up (they're preoccupied; we watch them; they aren't aware of us). Unsurprisingly, Hitchcock made frequent use of this camera angle.

Misty Kilgore's cough also "reminds" the reader that she's there, even though the two adults are speaking and appear to be the main figures of attention.

The scene in Citizen Kane that most gets at what I'm talking about is one in which the newly rich Charles Kane's mother is in the front room of her modest house arranging for her son to leave home and be raised apart from her. (This is the foreground scene.) Outside, the boy Kane is playing in the snow, and we can see him through the room's wondow. Though this is the background scene, and we see it through a window, it's entirely in focus, and the boy's cries of glee from outside are intermingled with the words of his mother's conversation.

These two panels get across how Morrison/Sook provide an equally rich depth of field. In the one on the right, Cassandra Craft provides crucial information on the demon who's been stalking Zatanna and Misty. She's in the foreground, right up against our noses; (you can almost see what's reflected off of her medallion). Cassandra's face obscures our view of Zatanna's own. However, the layout of the panel also draws our eyes to Misty, due to where she's placed in the frame. (The speech balloons, the lamp shade, and crystal ball are in a verticle line that leads our eyes down to MK.) Misty's as interested as we are in the magical objects crammed into the room. And since she's darting about and is so much smaller than the other two figures, the art in these pages prompts your brain to play the "where is Misty Kilgore?" game as you view each panel. The second panel here (on the left) foregrounds a talking cat, centers on Misty's reaction to it, provides information through Cassandra and Zatanna's speech balloons, and shows us Zatanna's face reflected in the mirror. (Now that's what I call depth!)

What's also nice is that Misty serves as the pivot-point for the changed perspective between the two panels.

Altman's Popeye came to mind as I was thinking about all of this, because almost every scene in that movie has multiple focus points, with action taking place all across the viewer's field of vision. Even when one or two characters are the center of attention, at least one other person is moving, speaking, or doing something of interest somewhere onscreen. When I first saw it in the theater (yeah, I'm that old), it was pretty disorienting. (This was eons before the advent of split screens and multiple data crawls and all that we experience now.) But what's interesting to think about is that that Popeye's sensory clutter replicated what our perceptions of the real world are sometimes (or often) like.

Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #2 was a feast for my eyes and brain that's stood up to multiple readings and viewings. The panels I've put up here are just a few of the many complex ones in the book. (I've migrated over to Marvel's X-Factor, since it's being pencilled by Sook.) Finally, SS:Z #2 delivers one of the most interesting three person exchanges I've ever come across in comics. I chortled out loud when I read this:

Friday, January 20, 2006


Infinite Crisis continues to deliver the goods, and was my favorite book this week. (In the end, I actually felt sympathy for Superboy-Prime-- and only good writing could have made that happen. Diamondrock had a similar reaction.)

Favorite lines this week:

From Infinite Crisis #4:
(1) Batman (to Nightwing): The early years. I've forgotten if ... They were good for you, weren't they?
Nightwing: The best.

(2) Superboy-Prime (to Bart): Stupid little kid. Left all alone.
Bart (as he punches Superboy-Prime): I'm. Not. Stupid!
Flash/Barry Allen: Bart. You're not alone either.
Bart: Grandpa?

(3) Superboy-Prime: You can't get rid of me! When I grow up I'm going to be Superman!

From Birds of Prey #90
(1) Oracle (to Batman): No.

(2) Deathstroke: Last warning, ladies. Don't let Green Lantern be the prettiest living JLAer.

(3) Dinah (thought balloon): ...Huntress shows why you don't mess with Italian girls.

(4) Dinah (after disabling DS's remaining eye): That's for Phantom Lady, you sick son of a bitch.

(5) Batman: This is good work. No. This is ... outstanding work. Huntress.

From Batgirl #72
(1) Tigris: For me? Why did she do this for me? I'm not worthy--
Alpha: Because everyone's worthy of the chance to change.
Cassandra: Yesss...you fnnly unnerstan...me. I win.

(2) Shiva: She is the hero. I am not. Never have been. Heroes are forever...

(3) Cassandra: Stephanie? Am I --?
Stephanie: Yes. And it's okay. You saved them...

From Uncanny X-Men #468
Rachel Grey (thought balloons about the Shi'ar): Because my mother was Phoenix, all of the Grey family were something to be afraid of. Especially me. But I'm not my mother. I'm not Phoenix. I'm my own woman ... And before I'm done ... They'll wish I were the Phoenix.

From Runaways #12:
(1) Fake Cloak: Well, now I got [a girl-friend], too, and she's a lot prettier than your fat chick.

Chase: I hope your health insurance sucks.

(2) Molly: Yeah, Wolverine and Mister America will probably be here soon.
Victor: Wait, you met those guys?
Molly: Uh-huh, but they were stupid. Super heroes are for little kids, Victor.

Quite a good week for comics! For the sake of brevity, I didn't even mention All Star Superman and X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl. Both were great reads, and are highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It's Carnival Time!

The latest Carnival of the Feminists is up. There's a hearty section covering comics, with pointers to posts by Shelly, Ragnell, and kalinara. Many, many other themes and topics are represented, and the whole shebang is worth exploring. (I was directed to this by Ragnell.)

Before I rush off to my comic shop (and other adventures), I wanted to leave you with a late Elizabethan poem that deals with being an artist, intellectual, hobbyist, or lover with considerable insight.

Michael Drayton, Untitled, 1600
As other men, so I myself do muse
Why in this sort I wrest invention so,
And why these giddy metaphors I use,
Leaving the path the greater part do go.
I will resolve you: I am lunatic;
And ever this in madmen you shall find,
What they last thought of, when the brain grew sick,
In most destraction they keep that in mind:
Thus talking idly in this bedlam fit,
Reason and I (you must conceive) are twain.
'Tis nine years now since first I lost my wit;
Bear with me then, though troubled be my brain.

With diet and correction, men distraught
(Not too far past) may to their wits be brought.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Recently acquired:
Emrys Jones, The New Oxford Book of Sixteenth-Century Verse, (OUP, 1991).
Rand McNally, The International Atlas, (Rand McNally, 1969).
A. Spiegelman and C. Kidd, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to their Limits, (Chronicle Books, 2001).
Anne Bonney and Blackbeard action figures

Recently announced:
Spider-Girl will cease publication after #100.

Arriving tomorrow:
All Star Superman #2
Birds of Prey #90
Infinite Crisis #4
Runaways #12
Spider Woman: Origin #2
Uncanny X-Men #468
X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #1
Spider-Girl digest volume 5

Monday, January 16, 2006

Et in Arcadia Ego

"[Those words] conjure up the retrospective vision of an unsurpassable happiness, enjoyed in the past, unattainable ever after, yet enduringly alive in the memory."--Erwin Panofsky, "Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegaic Tradition," in Meaning and the Visual Arts, (Doubleday ed., 1955), p. 296.

"Being a kid you have, like, 12 comics, and you read them to death; you have them memorized."--Brian Michael Bendis, in The Comics Journal #266, p. 98.

When I was a boy we had little money, but after relentlessly whining, I finally convinced my parents to give me 75 cents a week for candy and comic books. What passed for a local comic shop, though, was a broken down convenience store that I realize now was probably a front for some other (possibly nefarious) business. (This will become clearer below.)

Like Bendis, I was mainly (re-)reading a corpus of comics that I had already purchased or acquired through trades. Some of them I read until they fell apart. Here's a list:

Spiderman #142, 148-53; 155, 157-58; 176, 192, 202, 205 & Ann #10
Spider-Woman #1 & 26-34
X-Men #1 & 97-99
Thor #241, 246-48, 250, 259, 283 & 293
The Incredible Hulk #187, 191-94, 196, 199, 201 & 203
Fantastic Four #162, 167, 182, 214, 219 & Ann #11
Ms. Marvel #1, 3 & 6
Red Sonja #5
Black Panther #7 & 21
The Defenders #32, 35, 77 & 80
The Inhumans #3 & 6
The Destructor #1 & 4
Devil Dinosaur #1
Metal Men #1

The availability of comics at the convenience store was erratic and inconsistent, (as was my ability to afford runs of issues in sequence). The comics that I bought there were not even always in good shape. But you know, I really don't recall being disappointed or bothered by any of this at the time.

How could I have known that Spiderman's creative team was about to embark upon the follies of the clone saga, driving the franchise over a cliff? All I knew was that issue #150 was most excellent: clones of Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker? And one of the two Parkers dies? That was totally deep.

Poring over my 4 issues of the X-Men, I was ignorant of the whole Phoenix/Dark Phoenix story arc that picked up steam in the issues immediately following those that I owned. Though issue #99 was the cliff-hanger to end all cliff-hangers, I never knew what happened when the X-Men faced the X-Men; it wasn't until I was in college that I learned that Jean Grey actually died in issue #100. And the thing is, I didn't lose sleep over this. In fact, I must have read those four issues fifteen times, at least.

How things have changed! For instance, I've been scouring the Internets recently for issue #2 of Samurai: Heaven and Earth. Though I have the other four issues, I can't force myself to open any of them because of this lacunae in the series. Must. Acquire. Issue #2. First.

Has graduate school...teaching...writing academic articles and books...changed the way that I read and enjoy non-academic things? It seems so. When I do re-visit my corpus of comics, what I primarily derive from them is the historian's satisfaction that a few of them are important markers of the passing of the Silver Age. Nice, but no joy.

But that's OK, because the joy that I got from my ritualistic re-readings of my comics was a component of my adolescent mental world. (And I don't particularly want to revive or revisit that.) So, while I can't relive the joy, I can certainly recall it-- that's the essence of nostalgia.

I read my comics for entirely different reasons, now. And that's not a bad thing, either.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Proposed Solutions

How can the walls that separate the "comics world" from the "rest of the world" be torn down?

At comics fairplay, Heidi Meeley offers a detailed program for positive change of the comics industry. She covers management, creative production, and retail aspects in a four part entry.

It's essential reading.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Fan Interest

On the question of the mentality/demographic to which mainstream superhero comics are pitched: a sampling of my fellow comic fans' thoughts and opinions from the DC Comics Message Boards.

Title of thread: Power Girl's Boobs
Location of Thread: Infinite Crisis Board
Number of responses: 1,173
Thread Initiated: Dec 2, 2005

Title of Thread: Kendra's Heinie
Location of Thread: Hawkman Board
Number of Responses: 887
Thread Initiated: May 15, 2003

Title of Thread: This Board is Getting Creepy
Location of Thread: Supergirl Board
Number of Responses: 73
Thread Initiated: Sept. 13, 2005

Title of Thread: Would You Rather Kiss Mr. Bones or Have Sex With Amanda Waller?
Location of Thread: Infinite Crisis Board
Number of Responses: 46
Thread Initiated: Jan 6, 2006

Title of Thread: DC's Brokeback Lesbian Mountain
Location of Thread: Infinite Crisis Board
Number of Responses: 40
Thread Inititated: Dec 25, 2005

Title of Thread: Anyone Else OK With Supergirl Being More Powerful Than Superman?
Location of Thread: Supergirl Board
Number of Responses: 95
Thread Initiated: Dec 17, 2005

Title of Thread: My Problem With Supergirl
Location of Thread: Supergirl Board
Number of Responses: 39
Thread Initiated: Dec 10, 2005

And yes, I do recognize that the threads listed co-exist with a plethora of fairly prosaic statements and requests for information. However, items 1 and 2 do seem to have generated an inordinate amount of fan response.

Friday, January 06, 2006

They Make It Easy For You

Ragnell and kalinara have a new blog, When Fangirls Attack, an up-to-date catalogue of links to blog postings on women in comics from around the web; the site has some original material, too.

Several personal and professional issues have reared their unwelcome heads at Mortlake this morning; though I'll be reading what's out there at some point, blogging and commenting will consequently be light.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

One of the Things About Comics

I want to follow up my previous post with a brief listing of (what I think are) facts:

1. Lea Hernandez is a strong, talented woman who speaks for herself, and defends herself quite effectively. My post wasn't intended to do these things for her, or in her name. She isn't a victim who needed me to ride up on my white horse and defend her. And though I don't think anything I wrote gave that impression, I just wanted to state this for the record.

2. Ms. Hernandez's LiveJournal entries are about the choices she has made in the industry, based upon her 20 years of experience. (This is about much more than just the Miller/Lee "ass shot.") I strongly support women making autonomous decisions.

3. Ms. Hernandez's entries crystallized something about comics that's been gnawing at my brain for some time. And as a returnee to the regular reading of comics, (after having been away for twenty years), I think that I provide a useful perspective.

4. Off the top of my head, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, and Spider-Girl are just about the only titles with strong central women that I can urge my female students to read without reservation.

What I mean is, they generally don't contain excessive numbers of panels which are blatant fan service. I don't have to say to my female students "If you can get past the way the women are sometimes drawn, the plotting is really effective," or "You can tell by how the women are written that the book isn't just a conveyance for sexist imagery." (This last, a comment I've had to make several times about my beloved Birds of Prey during Ed Benes' run as penciller.)

Following up on I what I said about cultural hegemony, and the values being conveyed by a "girl's comic" from the 60s, it's worth thinking about what messages and norms are being endorsed, reinforced, and conveyed by superhero comics in 2006. (That's a task, however, for a future post.)

Heidi Meeley has frequently posted on how "the rest of the world" views the comics-reading community. Having had fairly intensive interactions with friends and colleagues over the past year around the question of my comics-reading, I think we all need to recognize that a big reason why the outside world looks askance at adults (say, people post-25) who read superhero comics is because of the mentality to which DC, Marvel, Image and the rest pitch their product. And let's be honest, though there are exceptions, we can all pretty much name the demographic to which mainstream superhero comics are being pitched. And, (to name just one), it clearly isn't female college professors in their mid-thirties.

Update (1.5.06; 11:48PM): Item 4 of this post fueled an understandable (and self-termed) rant from Lea Hernandez, which I urge you all to read here. It would be dishonest for me to make a "silent" edit of the sentence in the light of her justifiable criticism. Instead, what follows below is how I would edit the above sentence, so that it might reflect what I actually meant to say:

4. Off the top of my head, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, and Spider-Girl are just about the only titles with strong central women that I can justify reading regularly when asked about my comics reading habits by my feminist students.

The rest of the post can stand as it is.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Lea Hernandez's News

Lea Hernandez, creator of Cathedral Child, Clockwork Angels, Texas Steampunk I-III, and Rumble Girls has recently announced that she is going to stop "looking for work in comics."

Late to the party, as usual, Melchior, I immediately thought to myself. Having just recently discovered and enjoyed her interesting, manga-inflected Killer Princesses, a book she produced with Gail Simone, I was looking forward to regularly seeing her future work appearing in my comic book store.

(Here's Lea Hernandez's LiveJournal. I learned of all this from Heidi MacDonald's The Beat.)

Hernandez's "Why Did I Quit Comics" entry (Jan 2nd, 2006 01:30 am) deals with how a deeply entrenched sexism influenced her decision. She reproduces a page from Frank Miller's script to All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder #1. Here's what Miller wrote in the script to Jim Lee, the artist:
OK, Jim, I'm shameles, let's go for an ASS SHOT. Panties detailed. Baloons from above. She's walking, restless as always. We can't take our eyes off her. Especially since shes got one fine ass.

Here's what Hernandez wrote about Miller's script in her Journal entry:
The above is one of comics' legendary creators, a guy who once publically tore Wizard magazine a new taint. But this is comics, even when it's not out in the open: arrested adolescents in men's clothing, or women who accuse other women of "not getting it" or being bitter, old or jealous. Sure, the script was never meant for public consumption, but the attitude within is endemic.

When I first read All Star Batman #1, I (like a lot of people) had placed the blame for that book's relentless T & A at the door of Jim Lee (well known depicter of large breasted women). But it wasn't just a guy who likes to draw curvaceous women letting himself go a little crazy. He was explicitely directed to by Frank Miller. This, from one of the guys who cultural brokers in this country regularly place in a creative pantheon that includes Art Spiegelman, R. Crumb, Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore. Hernandez is right on this one, especially because newspapers and magazines that would never discuss "ordinary" comics--thinking that comics are not worthy of their attention--will pay attention to something produced by Miller. (I'll reserve my thoughts on why I think Miller is doing this for a future post.)

Here's Hernandez's LiveJournal entry from Mon, Jan. 2nd, 2006 01:46 pm.
How I Quit Comics

I need to clarify my Quitting:

I haven't quit making comics. I've got two books under contract for print: Ironclad Petal and Rumble Girls: RLO. Those will both been seen on the web first. I'm still writing and drawing them. I will write and draw more after them.

What I've quit doing is looking for work in comics, to make money doing production work, or servicing trademarks. Not that either of those is bad, mind, I'm just tired of doing it. I'm sick of the business, not the form. I'm tired of the chase. I'm disgusted with the state of the art. I'm thoroughly disgusted (and have been for some time) with some of my peers: their lack of hygiene, their lack of scruples, their surfeit of slander, their unwillingness to confront bad behavior, their lack of memory of even the last ten or twenty years of the history of this business.

There are scars from wounds from being in comics I might as well call self-inflicted because I let someone else cut me and said nothing because no one else did. Except, of course, it's not right to be a horrible shit because you're embarassed that you laid out all your stories and now must discredit me so I look crazy if I repeat what you've said, or I stopped being impressed with Your Fabulous Life.

I find my own children much more interesting, moral, and fun to spend time with. I spend my time advocating for my son, and learning to speak his language. I am enjoying my daughter's growing up as an artist. I spend time fighting with her school so she can get what she needs to learn. I'm learning about myself, and what it means for me to have two kids on the Autism Spectrum.

I want to underscore that Hernandez is not saying that she made her decision simply because Frank Miller produced a sexist comic book (or more specifically, a comic with degrading imagery in it). What she's saying is that the comic was produced by an industry that is riven with sexism, and she'd rather not be a part of it anymore.

Finally, again in her own words, an entry of Tues, Jan 3rd:
As I said, it wasn't that image in particular, it was a plethora of images like it, that were ONE of MANY reasons I quit comics (other than writing and drawing my own).

Previews and Wizard are comics' two biggest print faces, and they're -embarassing-. It's the "Hurr hurr hurr" a GURL" in four colors. And that image, and others like it, play straight to that, and how can anyone wonder why comics are seen as that weird uncle you doon't leave alone with the kids?

Most of what passes for comics (output, shops, conventions, and attitude) in the U.S. has a locker room stank that has not lessened in twenty years, not even with the influx of women creators, or manga.

And that is not for me. I gladly leave the making, selling and reading of this faux porn to the people who enjoy it. Everyone needs a place to be, after all.

It's a bit simple to say it's sexism, and to lay the blame on one image (which I didn't). Miller's para encapsulates a "HUrr, hurr hurrr a GURL" attitude that has been present in comics (U.S. comics) that I noticed the first time I walked into a speciality shop in 1982.

From that time to now, I've gone from offers of rooms, dates, dinner or breakfast har-de-har and gropings to being told I won't get a series because I was pregnant, I didn't need to be sent a check on time because I was breastfeeding so I didn't have to worry about needing the money to feed the baby, to being told (by a marketing manager) perhaps my husband could write my book in a way he could understand, to being laughed at for having an objection to having my books printed by slave labor, to seeing...you get the idea.

Enough was ehough. I don't like the comics business, I never have, and I realized it would feel so good to stop beating my head against the wall.

And, frankly, guys can be sympathetic, but they'll never know what it's like to have a career that spans the spectrum from being fondled by someone in front of other people at a private party (San Diego, year 2) to being fondled in front of other people at a private party (San Diego, this year).

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Thirteen Going on Eighteen

I have been following, with great interest, several exchanges and posts dealing with women in comics, some of which can be seen here, here, and here.

This topic has been on my mind because issue #272 of The Comics Journal (Nov '05) contains copious extracts from a "teen girl's" comic from the 60s drawn by John Stanley called Thirteen Going on Eighteen.

The book depicts the youthful romantic travails of Val, Judy, and Jane, and their nemesis Janie Killboy, all "normal," white American young women. It might be of no surprise to you that these girls pretty much seem to have nothing but boys on their minds. I came away from reading these well-drawn, entertaining comics thinking that they provided a clear example of the concept of cultural hegemony.

Now, I'm not saying that Stanley wrote propandistic tripe; I enjoyed reading his comics. But Stanley's depiction of these girls, (for whom he holds affection that's apparent), conveys a clear "message" about who young American girls are, how they should behave and act, how they should select their partners, and how they should judge their peers. The hegemonic part is the sense that the norms and values depicted and conveyed are not only the "right" ones, but they're also the ones that adolescent girls should be reading about, learning about, and patterning for one another. They're not just norms, they're natural truths, in the sense that Stanley didn't come up with them himself: it was up to humankind to discover them.

But, of course, those norms and standards were anything but natural (since they were sustained/maintained by living men and women). What fascinates me is that in reading comics like Stanley's Thirteen we can see not only how a set of values is held up as the norm, but we can also discern how human beings more generally think about the values we hold. Most fascinating to me is that I'll bet anyone a dollar that Stanley (were he alive) would tell me that he didn't write these "girl stories" to espouse any values at all, but rather produced them to entertain and make money to feed and support his family. I totally accept this, because it gets to the heart of what hegemony is actually all about: since these values are "natural," everyone (by definition) shares them, and no propagandization about them is actually necessary.

Have You Read Your Eisner, Today?

Even though I knew that DC's The Best of the Spirit was due out soon, I pounced upon three 70s era Spirit reprints that turned up in the used comics box of my local used book store. What a find, too! There were 2 Kitchen Sink Comix issues [#20 and #29], and one from Warren [#14]. (Indiana Jones, eat your heart out.)

For various reasons, I've been undergoing a self-prescribed Eisner-immersion treatment here at Mortlake, and all I can say is that Grant Morrison's storytelling pace is going to seem radically de-compressed to you if you turn to it after reading any of The Spirit comics. Eisner produced the comic as an insert to be included with a newspaper (so technically it's a strip rather than a book), and consequently did not have a whole lot of space to fill. But man, how he makes use of the space he alotted himself. Eisner was a good artist and a master story-teller, who gave us:

Splash pages! Pages so detailed, and so carefully rendered, that they're basically three dimensional.

Atmosphere! The Spirit lives in a graveyard, and there are hints of light, copious shadows, and, of course, there's the famed "Eisner spritz." (His singular way of depicting rain falling.)

Moral conundrums! Common city folk! New York's Jews!

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly: strong, ambiguous, dangerous dames!

These strips were begun in 1940 and produced into the 50s, so keep in mind that there is a particular brand of strong woman to be found here. She's weighed down by sterotypical traits and desires; and Eisner is a pro at depicting the struggle between the "good girl" who loves the Spirit, and the "bad girl" who offers him vitality, danger, and much more fun. So I make no claim to Eisner being enlightened in his views of women (or black people, for goodness' sake). But after reading "Silk Satin," "Meet P'Gell," "Wild Rice," or the two "Sand Seref" stories that close the collection, I thought to myself that Eisner has to have produced some of the more interesting female characters that were written in this period.

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