Friday, September 29, 2006

Catching Up

— Enjoying Birds Of Prey
Like all of life's essential pleasures, Birds of Prey #98 left me with a satisfied smile on my face. It's all in there: the damn Batgirl (and her "Dark vengeance!" warcry); Josh in his doofus-y splendor; the delightfully murderous Yasemin; and Rhosyn (Rose!) Forrest.

These panels made me laugh out loud:

Supergirl Gets Better
The creative team working on Supergirl seems to have produced a minor miracle, righting what was until the last two issues a crazily listing ship. The comic is delivering stories of interest, interspersing those narratives with troubling and interesting flashbacks from Carrie ... uh, I mean Kara's Kryptonian past.

Though juxtaposing the Silver Age Kara's sweetness with the modern Supergirl's violent and abusive backstory is a fairly pedestrian move, I'm finding it compelling nonetheless. Having said that, though, I'm hoping that it was her evil father who actually pulled the trigger on the weapon that dealt out the payback to her teasing schoolmates:

Civil War
Call me a knucklehead, but I'm actually liking Civil War.

Yeah, I know there's no precedent for Reed acting like an Evil Scientist, and Iron Man is so out of control there's no explaining it, now. Their actions and motivations are so clearly out of character, it's not even funny. I'm wagering that this isn't the result of authorial incompetence, and am interested in finding out exactly why they're acting as they are. Having read Wolverine #46, Amazing Spider-Man #535, Captain America #22, and Civil War: Frontline #6, it's clear that there's some kind of prime mover at work behind the scenes. I have no doubt that Reed and Tony's motivations will be explained — though, of course, I'm open to the possibility that what we're told might be, in the end, idiotically lame.

The component of Civil War that has totally drawn me in is that it's basically about personal autonomy and choices, and that a hero making the wrong choice (not registering) is facing a loss of freedom and a forced vacation in the Negative Zone.

With the torture/treatment of detainees, men held indefinitely without charge or trial, (unfortunately) a real issue that has recently been debated in Congress, I'm not bothered by having to face an analogue of it in the series, nor does it strike me as a cheap or simplistic ploy to make the comic relevant.

And, it has to be said, I found Sue Storm's intervention during the battle in CW #4 to be both more dramatic and satisfying than almost anything Wonder Woman was given to do in all of Infinite Crisis.

Dr. Light
Again, a single panel in JLA justifies the cost of the comic, for me. Marionette's post covers all of the angles on the interesting interaction between Clark, Diana, and Bruce when they discussed Dr. Light's possible membership in JLA #2.

Man, Bruce actually says: "It'll send a message, Clark ... It'll scare them."

Reading this brought a smile to my face, and my thinking mirrorred Marionette's: scare who, exactly, and why?

A Weird Convergence
Thanks to Pip the Troll's appearance in She Hulk #12,

and Ragdoll's channelling of Paradaemon in Secret Six #4,

we got two up-the-skirt jokes in a single week!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Action Girl Comics

Gems continue to emerge from my comic store's 25 cent bin.

Finding Action Girl Comics #1 (1994) in the slushpile actually led me to ask the clerk if the comic had been misfiled.

(I wanted to shout: Don't you realize this comic should be kept in a climate-controlled room!)

Action Girl Comics was edited and compiled by Sarah Dyer. (She also contributes several strips.)

Dyer's editorial manifesto is still worth reading, twelve years later. (You can click on the image for a legible version of the page.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Catwoman Conundrum

(The most recent issue of Catwoman is spoiled in the post which follows.)

#59 reveals both the father of Selina's child, and the situation surrounding Helena's conception.

In order to be at peace with the comic's revelations, one needs to accept the following three things:

(1) Selina Kyle's pregnancy was the result of a specific moment in which Selina quick-stepped a nascent attraction to Slam Bradley's son, Sam, to it's culminating point.

Sam has not before been a major figure in the book, or in Selina's life. While I know that Catwoman isn't a romance comic, it still would have been nice to see something actually romantic going on between the two characters.

(2) Selina, confronting Black Mask's organization with Sam, thinks that both of their deaths are a likely outcome, leading her to suggest that it might be best for them to act upon their mutual attraction and take what pleasure they can in the midst of a bleak situation.

(3) Having convinced Sam to see the sense of her position, Selina engages in sexual intercourse without using contraception.

I suppose I could convince myself to make peace with the first two. However, the last one is really, really difficult to swallow.

Especially since the two characters aren't exactly overwhelmed by passion in that scene. Given how she's controlling everything else about the situation, it's kind of striking that Selina fails to even bring up the topic of contraception/protection.

And, as far as I can tell, the fact that Selina herself initiated the sexual act is supposed to make this questionable element of her character motivation go down easier.

Basically, I'm being told: even if the character has done something uncharacteristically dumb, at least she exercised agency and autonomy while doing it.

I'm sorry to report that the factors do not quite balance out in my book.

Oh, and on top of everything else, the penultimate panel (the one in which Selina says "Good") has got to be one of the ugliest panels I've ever seen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ms. Storm, To You

Given the events of Civil War #4, these two paragraphs from Jonathan Lethem, "Identifying With Your Parents," in his collection titled The Disappointment Artist: Essays, (Doubleday, 2005), seem especially relevant.

"...[T]he Four were always answerable to the female priorities of Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl, Reed Richards's wife and famously 'the weakest member of the Fantastic Four.' She wanted a home for their boy, Franklin; she wanted Reed to stay out of the Negative Zone; she was willing to quit the Four and quit the marriage to stand up for what she believed."

"I seriously doubt whether any seventies Marvel-loving boy ever spared a dram of sexual fantasizing on Sue Storm. We had Valkyrie, Red Sonja, the Cat, Ms. Marvel, Jean Grey, Mantis, and innumerable others available for that. We (I mean, I) especially liked the Cat. Sue Storm was, to our conscious minds, truly invisible. She was a parent, a mom calling you home from where you played in the street, telling you it was time to brush your teeth. Not that she wasn't a hottie, but Kirby exhalted her beauty in family-album style portraits, showing her nobly pregnant, in a housedress that covered her clavicle. The writers and artists who took over the Fantastic Four after Kirby and, later, Lee departed the series, seemed impatient with the squareness of Sue and Reed's domestic situations. Surely these weren't the hippest of the Kirby-Lee creations. Nevertheless, if you ... accept my ... premise ... that the mid- to late-sixties Fantastic Four were the exemplary specimens, the veritable Rubber Soul and Revolver and White Album of comics, and if you further grant that pulling against the tide of all of Kirby's ... whole army of aliens and gods, was one single character, our squeaky little Sue, then I wonder: Was the Invisible Girl the most important superhero of the Silver Age of Comics?" (p. 67)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Humane Perspective

I'm enjoying Alex Ross, Jim Kreuger, and Doug Braithwaite's Justice. Although the creators took their own sweet time in laying the groundwork for the title's multiple plot elements and cast of thousands, all that careful work has now paid off. The story is firing on all cylinders, and the five issues that remain would seem to provide the perfect amount of room for resolving the remaining plot points without needing to rush to the conclusion.

Justice delivers a dose of Silver Age-y goodness in every issue. For example, issue #7 presents a Zatanna who has not yet become a mind-wiping machine; a live Sue Dibny; a Hawk-couple who kick ass and bicker over Carter's communication skills at the same time; a Dr. Niles Caulder who is not a wanker; and, of course, a non-angst-ridden Doom Patrol. (For the name of their team alone, I love the Doom Patrol.)

But it's not just the nostalgia that keeps me reading this title. Krueger has scripted an engaging story which Braithwaite and Ross complement with dynamic and interesting artwork. And what I like most about Justice is that the human element is actually integrated throughout the visual and written elements of the story. You get the sense that the characters care about one another. (What can I say? I am on record as a proud, self-professed fangirl.)

Most importantly, the characters go beyond saying that they care about each other, (something the Teen Titans did continuously during the Wolfman/Perez years), to actually expressing, through actions large and small, that they might be believably "real" characters with recognizable human(oid) emotions and feelings for one another.

There's an extreme situation in issue #7 that gets at this point. Zatanna and the Martian Manhunter have finally learned the location of the missing Aquaman, and head out to a warehouse/lab facility to rescue him. (In issue #2 Aquaman was captured, and Brainiac was headed in his direction with one of those menacing-looking surgical saws.)

Braithwaite and Ross make good use of cinematic angles of perspective to re-inforce Zatanna and J'onn's concern for Aquaman in this sequence of panels:

The center of focus is different in each of those panels, which nicely conveys a sense of movement and disorientation. The deep close-up on J'onn's face actually shows him shedding a tear, while Zatanna is depicted with her hands up to her face in the following panel.

The effect is brought home on the next page when the we get the villain's-eye-view of J'onn and Zatanna as they discover Aquaman's lifeless body:

Aquaman is brought to the Doom Patrol's lab, where he's observed by Dr. Caulder. In this next panel, the Chief is foregrounded as he provides vital information, but the artists also take the care to assure that J'onn's and Zatanna's body language convey information about the characters, even though they're far in the background of the image.

The heroes have confronted separate enemy attacks in the previous issues; most of them are reunited in #7 for the first time since the villains unleashed their assaults. Wonder Woman has gone mano-a-claw with the Cheetah, and her comrades react with a realistic mixture of alarm, concern, and surprise when they first observe Diana's battle scars near the end of the issue.

The panel is nicely done: the Flash delivers the obvious line of dialogue and tactful thought balloon; Plastic Man's frown and wrinkled brow are revelatory, as is Black Canary's steady gaze and outstretched hand. We learn in the following panel that Diana has averted her eyes not because she is ashamed of how the scars have made her look; rather, she's embarrassed to be the center of her friends' attention over a set of wounds which she considers to be superficial.

I really appreciate this title's careful attention to complex and humane visual story-telling.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Marie Severin

Though I wasn't looking for additional reasons for why comic creator Marie Severin is one of my heroes, I recently came across one:

Dan Johnson's article in Back Issue #17 ("Marvel's Dark Angel," pp. 57-63) reveals that Severin was the (until now uncredited) designer of Spider Woman's killer costume in 1977.

Why the costume works:

— It just looks cool. (Superheroes have got to look cool.)

— It is distinctive: red with yellow accents.

— It draws upon all of the cool visual elements associated with spiders.

— Webs are not referenced.

— It immediately establishes that the character is distinct from Spiderman.

There are two particularly nice Severin quotes from Back Issue.

MS on designing Spider Woman's costume:
When it was that long ago, you don't think you're making history when you're doing these things.
MS interviewed by Dewey Cassell; on pencelling the first two issues of The Cat (a character who eventually morphed into Tigra):
Cassell: I understand they deliberately put a team of women creators on The Cat.

Severin: Absolutely. They were hoping to capture female readers. After all, fifty percent of the population is female.

Cassell: I guess female inkers were hard to come by, though, because Wally Wood inked the origin story.

Severin: Yes, I remember saying, "My God, I drew this woman and Wally inked her like she's wrapped in Saran Wrap." His storytelling always had lovely inking, nice blacks and everything, but I didn't have her that revealing. The boys loved his work, though. She was hot stuff.
The deftness with which Severin compliments Wood, while simultaneously distancing herself from what he's done, is a work of art.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 + 5

Sonnet XIX
Lady Mary Wroth (née Sidney)

Come, darkest night, becoming sorrow best;
Light, leave thy light, fit for a lightsome soul;
Darkness doth truly suit with me oppressed,
Whom absence' power doth from mirth control:

The very trees with hanging heads condole
Sweet summer's parting, and of leaves distressed
In dying colours make a griefful roll,
So much, alas, to sorrow are they pressed.

Thus of dead leaves her farewell carpets made:
Their fall, their branches, all their mournings prove,
With leafless, naked bodies, whose hues vade
From hopefull green, to whither in their love:

If trees and leaves for absence mourners be,
No marvel that I grieve, who like want see.

Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson, (eds.), Early Modern Women Poets: An Anthology, (Oxford, 2001), p. 149.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Choose Your Poison

It's seems that the recent Batman stories featuring Poison Ivy always include something, either in the art or the story-line, that makes me cringe. Sometimes it's just one, minor thing.

However, in Detective Comics #823, the artist provides several viable cringe-inducing candidates, and I gave up trying to figure out which was the more egregious offender, the title splash page (reproduced above), or this page:

I don't ask much of my comics. Like everyone else, I read them to be entertained. I'm not expecting to encounter transcendent works of illustrated literature that will withstand the test of time.

However, I do like for them to pass the trolley test: if I'm reading a comic on the trolley and run into someone I know, I don't want the pages I've got open and visible to cause me public embarrassment.

This issue of Detective Comics failed, miserably.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A League of One

In order to keep myself sane as the maelstrom known as the first week of classes churned around me, I read Christopher Moeller's marvelous JLA: A League of One when time permitted.

The plot of League of One is set into motion by a prophecy which fortells the death of the members of the Justice League should they confront a re-awakened dragon bent on consuming the earth. It's one of those particularly unpleasant prophecies: their deaths are assured, even though they defeat the dragon.

Upon hearing the prophecy, Diana immediately decides that rather than see the entire Justice League perish, she will face the threat on her own: though her own death is assured, none of her friends will have to die with her.

When I first became aware of this graphic novel, I simply was not in the mood to see my superheroes mixing it up with creatures from some bygone age of enchantment. For several reasons, it was foolish of me to think in this way. First of all, Moeller's painted artwork is breathtakingly beautiful. Secondly, rather than a trite plot device, in the right hands dragons are actually good to think with. (To steal a phrase from Clifford Geertz.)

Drakul Karfang, the dragon in Moeller's book, serves as a kind of metaphorical and literal refiner's fire, testing the beings subjected to its flames and feeding upon their inwardly-kept sins and corrptions. It derives strength from frailty; transforming its victims' outward forms so that they resemble their inward states. (Everyone who falls prey to this treatment comes out of it looking pretty much like one of the Orcs in Lord of the Rings — or worse.) As individuals fall under his sway, Drakul's power increases.

Since Diana knows that friendship and honor will compel her team-mates to join her in facing the dragon, she is forced to lie to them and neutralize them one by one. How she does so is handled with considerable inventiveness. For example, her goal is to weaken, rather than pummel Superman into submission, and we're reminded of something we've always known: it's really hard to keep a lie from Batman.

So, a nice paradox drives the narrative: the dragon fattens itself on betrayal and falsehood, and Diana must engage in large, heaping measures of both in order to frustrate the prophecy and save her friends. Like all good fairy tales, Diana's quest in League of One puts both her body and her heart to the ultimate test.

And although the pages in which Diana is subjected to the dragon's fire near the end of the book are finely wrought and quite stirring, I found that a series of panels early in the story carried equal resonance and weight. Before we're told about the prophecy or almost anything else, Moeller takes a few pages to establish Diana's character. Though he makes use of a simple concept, it's finely implemented, and delivers one of the book's dramatic high points.

Here are the panels in which Diana willingly subjects herself to the power of her own lasso.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Unpleasant News

Comic artist Lea Hernandez's home has been destroyed in a fire, and her friend and collaborator Gail Simone conveys the details at Newsarama.

Ms. Simone also provides information about how donations can be made to Ms. Hernandez and her family.

Update: Additional information is available at Ms. Hernandez's LiveJournal.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day, 2006

From The Adventures of Carrie Giver #1 (TR Rose Associates).

Last month Jennifer Contino interviewed Theresa Funiciello and Diane Pagen, the writers of Carrie Giver at The Pulse.
THERESA FUNICIELLO: ... I have cared for my own child as well as a dying parent in my own life and know that both are work, even though the paid market system ignore both as having any economic value. A full comprehension of the role of caregiving in society would change many, many things.

DIANE PAGEN: Carrie Giver is influenced by the thousands of women we have talked to who have felt that society pats them on the head for their caregiving but doesn’t acknowledge its enormous economic value (or make economic policy that rewards it). Because of this insistence that caregiving is a warm fuzzy thing that falls outside the "market", women, especially mothers, are always behind men weathwise. Professional women who step out of market jobs to give care as well as low income women who feel they are the best chance for their kids so choose to stay home are given the shaft in this economy every day. Carrie is therefore a mix of many women. She’s like Wonder Woman in that she definitely is not about to kill anybody, but she is an advocate for large scale policy change that will help millions at once, rather than just saving individuals.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sex and the Multiple Man

Jamie Madrox has delivered a Churchillian anti-Registration speech. It's all over the news. He's provided Pietro sanctuary in Mutant Town, and faced down the X-Men when they came calling for him. The newly-decisive multiple man has inspired his teammates. They're proud of him. He's the man of the moment. In celebration, the X-Factor crew justfiably ties one on.

Add a suave, libidinous Madrox duplicate to this combustible mix in X-Factor #10, and you get trouble. The morning following the speech, soon after Madrox has re-integrated the Hefner-esque duplicate back into his body, this is how Siryn bids him a good day:

Peter David and Renato Arlem, the artist, do a good job of setting up the land mines that Madrox's dupe has scattered across his relationships. Here's the tail-end of Monet's interaction with Jamie:

In case you haven't figured it out, Madrox has stumbled into some serious trouble. As he begins to take in the effects of his dupe's actions, he meets up with Layla Miller, the third female living in the X-Factor house:

(Phew! Statutory rape averted!)

What's interesting is that, in a meta-narrative sense, Madrox has landed the male fantasy tri-fecta:

(1) "Madrox" beds all of the (mature) women with whom he works. (And, even better, they will almost certainly fight over him in the future!)

(2) Madrox is (reminded again that he's) destined to marry Layla Miller, the third female in the house.

(3) Since the serial loving was actually performed by a dupe, PAD has provided Madrox with a big old get out of jail free card. We're talking absolutely guiltless hi-jinx with co-workers and friends.

If we work out X-Factor #10's calculus of pleasure, Siryn and Monet are certainly the big winners. The negative results of their unwittingly sharing a night with Madrox's dupe are in the future: there are soap opera-ish developments in store for them both. (X-powered catfight, anyone?) But for now, they're feeling pretty good.

Madrox is the total loser, here. He's experienced absolutely no pleasure, and is set up to catch all of the pain that'll result from the "Hef" dupe's unrestrained amorous activity.

One last thing to add: although the the pursuit-of-pleasure equation works out totally in Siryn's and Monet's favor, the fact that they were, in the final analysis, each seduced by an oleaginous dupe doesn't say a whole lot for their perceptive powers.

Reading this issue set me thinking along counterfactual lines: in what different directions might the plot-lines in this title develop if Siryn (or Monet) were the leader of X-Factor Investigations?

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