Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Complete Wynonna Earp

By all expectations, I should hate Beau Smith. I should be his mortal enemy, dogging his every word and analyzing his every motive. I mean, you've all seen his column, right? You'd think all of that venom aimed at certain other people right now would long ago have been turned on this man. He seems to embody every stereotype of masculinity worship in existence. By all rights, I should be a fan of someone with a more liberal, enlightened bent -- like Judd Winick.

And if people were all they said they were, that's how things would be. But no, the world's more complicated than that and your plots and characters speak louder than your press releases. And as it stands, I find Judd Winick an unbearable misogynist and Beau Smith a name to make me check out a book.

Because of Kalinara's raving reviews about Warrior (a comic that is rare in Oklahoma City), I read The Complete Wynonna Earp (which was conveniently on the shelves at my LCS) while I was away. To get a feel for the writer.

While I respect Kalinara's tastes, and enjoyed the few issues of Warrior I did have access to, I never actually expected to like it this much. For one thing, the art was terrible. I mean, seriously. After the origin story, you find yourself in Nineties Art Hell for at least half the book (And I'm going to spare you the samples until I criticize them), then a tale with fairly decent cheescake, and finally some really good art. I promise, I'll do a Feminist Critique of the art in this series one day, and it's not going to be pretty for the first few issues.

I'm not going to lie to you. There's cheesecake. Lots of it. Even with the good art, Wynonna bares her belly, and we see more of her cleavage than is accidental. In the beginning part of the book, my posture peeve is in full force. She's arching her back to stick out her breasts and her butt even as she swordfights. There's skimpy clothing and any excuse to tear at it. The art steadily improves, though, and by Home on the Strange she has a decent wardobe and stands like a hero not a sex toy. The best art is in the very last story. Even then, we get those little cleavage shots -- of course, that story was so damned good I didn't notice them until the second read-through, but they are indeed there.

We could have a field day analyzing the objectification in much of the art of this book. But I only tell you this so you won't go out and buy it when you're sensitive to the artwork, and then be disappointed or even angry about it based on the artwork. I want people to read it, but it's pretty bad in the second two stories (and the fourth story, while drawn by a more talented artist, does have a number of iffy conventions in the artwork)

Writing-wise, I really had fun with the comic. The character was just that enjoyable. Part of it's the Buffy-appeal. She looks like the woman who, in a stock horror movie, would end up running away from the monsters and screaming a lot. Instead, she gets to be an Action Hero, make pithy remarks and roll her eyes at the situations she's in. Everywhere in the story, no matter what's happening, she's self-posessed, calm, and seems in complete control of the situation.

He writes her like a male action hero situation-wise. I saw one instance of being captured and tied up, and guess what -- there was a guy that happened to also. It was the second story (the Mummy one), and she got rescued by her ex-boyfriend (a mobbed up Italian guy I by no means should have liked, but did) in a sequence that reminded me of the girlfriend of a hero rescuing her captured boyfriend. I mean, she's on the table about to be ritually sacrified, he busts in and saves her (and, of course, when he undoes the mummy-wrap he leaves her mostly naked, because we're not quite that enlightened yet. It annoys the crap out of her, and becomes sort of an in-joke on Nineties Image heroines). As they escape, he keeps nagging her, bringing up the past relationship, taking everything she says as a personal jab, while she is all business. How can you not love when they do that?!

As a result, I actually got to read a book with a female main character who was never beated up in a sexualized manner (although yes, she was beaten up and captured a couple of times, it wasn't drawn out or handled in a worse manner than a similar situation in Warrior with Guy Gardner would be), or victimized, or made to seem the least bit weaker because she was female. I got to put aside feminist analysis of the story in favor of enjoying the action, the cheesy jokes, and yes, even the ridiculously over-the-top Nineties Art (my pet peeve about the posture was in full force for most of this trade, only the very first and very last stories -- by Luis Diaz and Manuel Vidal respectively -- had her posed like a proper fighter). It was like being a kid again.

And I really do like this type of female hero -- the aggressive, rough around the edges, active, and practical type, armed with a pair of guns, a tough attitude, and loads of experience hunting monsters. Add to that the non-gendered plotting, and the helpful presence of Redneck Vampires, Hillbilly Gremlins, and Mobbed-Up Mummies and you get an incredibly fun story that women can enjoy -- even when Pat Lee draws it.

Oh, and the Random Background Female Characters Phenomenon that Kalinara mentioned? I saw that too! There was a female US Marshal in Home on the Strange. And she was just there! Just standing there shaking Wynonna's hand. There was no male character to crush over, no dangerously sexualized situation to put her in, she was Just There! I was surprised.

Sometime in the next few years, I'll sit down, and reread it critically from an all-out Feminist perspective, and maybe share my thoughts then, but for now I'm really, really glad I bought this trade. And I hope he writes another Wynonna Earp story (and that the art continues to get progressively better). We need more female characters like this.


  1. You know, I've always seen Beu's writing in his column as his eternal quest for a girl that can stand up to him, not one that will wimper and bow down to him. He seems to want a girl who'll out drink, out shoot, and out smart mouth him. It doesn't supprise me that his writing in comics is the same way at all.

  2. droviousso -- I can buy that, actually. My mother tells me something similar about my father. She says he ended up with her rather than any of his other girlfriends (they were both playing the field, actually), because she didn't follow him around like a puppy and would get another date instead if he wanted to do something she didn't.

  3. I think there's a certain breed of macho writers who aren't misogynists per se, but who look down on "girly" qualities; i.e., it isn't women that they hate, it's certain "feminine" traits they despise. They're just as likely to sneer at girly men as frilly women. And it may seem like a subtle distinction, but it's an important one, because their respect is based on behavior, not biology. We've just "conveniently" gender-typed certain behaviors in our society.

    So when these writers create female characters they like, they imbue them with the same "masculine" traits which they give their male characters. They make `em as tough, rough, and capable as the men: women who can throw down with the best of `em. Meanwhile, the stereotypically "feminine" female characters typically end up in secondary roles: relatives, love interests, damsels in distress, background window-dressing, etc. The message tends to be: when trouble rears its head, grow some balls and take it head-on - regardless of whether you're a man or a woman.

    And while I'm not familiar with Beau Smith's work, I shouldn't be at all surprised if he falls into that category of macho writer. Honestly, "hot chicks who kick ass" is a pretty old adolescent male fantasy; it's just sometimes an adolescent female fantasy too. I mean, who doesn't want to look good and break heads? :-)

  4. I think there's a certain breed of macho writers who aren't misogynists per se, but who look down on "girly" qualities; i.e., it isn't women that they hate, it's certain "feminine" traits they despise. They're just as likely to sneer at girly men as frilly women.

    I'm not sure Smith is really that sort of writer though. I mean, in Warrior, the guest appearances with Kyle Rayner (who's about as metrosexual as you get in the DCU) went pretty well, I thought. Kyle was treated relatively respectfully while at the same time not being warped into a more aggressive persona.

    In general though, he does seem to fall into that category. Which is definitely a nice change of pace. :-)

    And I really have to hunt down Wynonna Earp.

  5. All right, I actually dug up and read the first issue of Wynonna Earp last night. I happened to find it in a quarter bin a while back, but never got around to reading it - largely because, well, the cheesecake factor made me assume it wasn't actually good.

    [So why'd I pick it up? Hey, I'll buy almost any first issue for a quarter. I'm just a comics man-slut that way.]

    I think what's noteworthy about Wynonna is there's nothing noteworthy about Wynonna. That is, Wynonna acts just like a male hero would in that situation: the self-assured manner, the tongue-in-cheek quips, and of course the ready violence. The closest to a "girly" moment she has is fretting about getting zombie guts off of her boot - after she's kicked through its torso - but really, who wouldn't worry about their footwear stinking after something like that?

    The only sexually charged moment, I thought, was one panel in the midst of the fight:

    Zombies: "I WANT AN ARM!" "I WANT A LEG!" "I WANT A BREAS-!"

    Wynonna: "Don't say it." *BOOM!*

    Which is clearly a gag about how much meat there is on Wynonna's bones, as it were, but the moment passes quickly. Besides, she shoots the zombie in the head anyway. :-)

    When Wynonna's backup arrives, first he addresses her with respect as "Marshall," deferring to her command, then he jokes with her; but he jokes with her the same way he would with a male collegue, not with the flirty sexual tension we usually expect to see in comics with such a buxom heroine.

    And Wynonna's attire is fairly practical, relative to the standards for this sort of comic: no battle bikinis here. My goodness, she's even wearing a jacket! At the end of the first issue, when she's lounging around in her hotel room, it's not as though she's suddenly decided to wear lingerie for the audience's benefit - she's just sportin' a t-shirt, same as any normal person.

    In short, despite her busty physique and the cheesecake artwork, Wynonna comes across as "just one of the guys," here to do her job. She's meant to be sexy, but she isn't treated like a sex object. And maybe someday, we won't feel the need to comment on such characters anymore because they'll be pretty darn ubiquitous. :-)