Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year



This was my personal favorite cover from 2010. It's got 3 of my favorites and that fairy tale motif I love. I know some people don't like it because Wanda's in the wicked witch role in the back, but part of the appeal for me with Wanda is that she's the Fairy Tale Witch as a good guy. Since I was a kid I've had a fascination with the Witch archetype on either side of the moral divide, but especially as good guys. (And as cover artist Jill Thompson also created Scary Godmother, it's safe to say I'm not alone in that fascination.) For some reason, I just want it to turn out to be a misunderstanding, and for the fairy tale heroine to get trained as a witch after befriending her. Wanda's history is that of a fairy tale heroine (she and Pietro are very Hansel and Gretel and the Brother and the Sister to me) and her powers are that of a fairy tale witch. She's ideal for exploring feminine roles in fairy tales, as well as the overlap between folklore and modern superheroes.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recommended Reading and Food for Thought on Silver Age Nostalgia

David's got a post up today on race and comics that's damned good reading.

Lately, I've been trying to put to words my problem with the assumption that "Silver Age Nostalgia" is what's wrong with comics (and I'll probably continue to), and a few paragraphs from that post really resonated there:
I don’t think that DC is working of nostalgia at all, especially not for the Silver Age. The Silver Age, running from the ’50s up to the early ’70s at the latest, was a time when superhero comics turned soft and transient. Characters changed shape, gimmick, and styles issue to issue. The Silver Age is generally viewed online as being wacky and out-there, super weird and goofy. It isn’t known for Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and Ray Palmer so much as for that time Superman had an ant head and Jimmy Olsen married a gorilla. Jordan, Allen, and Palmer date from those times, yes, but they aren’t emblematic of those times.

If you skip across the street to Marvel, there’s an interesting parallel. Over the past ten years, several characters from the ’70s have made a return. They haven’t replaced anyone, but Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Werewolf by Night, Moon Knight, Spider-Woman, Nova, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Shang-Chi, and even Howard the Duck have made returns, no matter how completely unmarketable they may be. Does that count as nostalgia for the ’70s?

I don’t think that either situation counts as nostalgia. There is certainly someone’s fond memories of a character involved in the process, but nostalgia is a yearning for, and sometimes emulation of, the past. Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a love letter to blaxploitation films. The casting of Pam Grier, the soundtrack, and all the overt references to blaxploitation is proof positive.

If you look at Bendis’s Cage or Geoff Johns’s Hal Jordan, and I mean really look at them, you’d see how they aren’t really fueled by nostalgia at all. The stories aren’t even remotely the same. They star the same characters, sure, but casting Pam Grier alone does not a blaxploitation movie make. Johns’s Green Lantern is deadly serious and never boring. The goofy ring structures, the giant boxing gloves and baseball bats, have largely given way to airplanes and detailed rifles. It’s realistic, rather than whimsical. His Flash comes a little closer to emulating the Silver Age style, but even then, he’s taking one part of the past (the Flash Facts/science) and applying it to something new (giving us stories that let Francis Manapul show us how cool superspeed is). The characters are old. The stories aren’t.
I've been all about that when I'm complaining. The "Silver Age Nostalgia" is all cosmetic, and some of the best stuff out has been a revival of the spirit of the Silver Age, while some of the worst shit is just the Silver Age characters written in a modern age story.

I know I have more to say about that when it percolates a bit, but that's a tangent that doesn't even touch on a fraction of David's post.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Amendment to the Last Post

Yeah, I know there are comics fans who like Roy Harper. I don't particularly care either way about him, but here's the big thing: Nothing is more infuriating about Young Justice to me than using Roy. It's not because I absolutely hate Roy, or because I'm a fan of Mia (I really don't like Mia at all). It's because all the promos and the plot hints point to the idea that Roy Harper will leave the team and be replaced by a girl.

Roy Harper is the sidekick character who is the most easily replaced by a female character from the outset. There have been two Arrowettes and there is CURRENTLY one female Speedy.

Speedy is not an iconic character. Roy Harper fans are already knee-deep in comics culture. He's no more notable than Aqualad, who was judged unknown enough that they could swap him out for diversity. I actually think it was a good idea to swap out Aqualad, and would have been a better idea to swap out both Speedy and Aqualad.

Instead, because a conscious choice was made to start this cartoon series as a boy's club, we have Roy from the outset. And he is a jerk. And he is going to be replaced down the line, but because of Tradition we need to start out with a boy's club and women are not important enough to bring in at the start.

You know how the Tradition of starting with none or just one female character on teambooks started? Because they didn't think it was important to have women on the team at first. So in the Golden Age it took them 5 issues from the formation of the Justice Society to even have a backup of Wonder Woman. (Red Tornado was in the first issue, but she was laughed at by the boys and didn't formally join.) In the Silver Age, every team started with one girl (Wonder Woman in Justice League, Jean in X-men, Sue in Fantastic 4, Jan in Avengers) and it often took several issues to give her a good part (Okay, Jan was pretty cool from the outset but Wanda took the prize when she came in; poor Sue took forever to get some real cool moments) and years to add a second girl (Polaris was introduced in issue 50, I think, of Uncanny). Young Justice itself, as late as the 90s, took 4 issues to add girls even though it was launched as part of the Grrlfrenzy event.

This is not because it is good, or right, or "organic" for things to start out all-men and then add girls later. This is because the creators made a mistake early on, and acted to correct it later. The Boy's Club was a BAD thing, and they were trying to undo it. NOW we know better. We can start things on the right path. Continuing this silliness and calling it "Tradition" is wrong-headed and totally misses the point of expanding female roles as time went on.

And saying you're trying to lure boys in and "reeducate them" "organically" is bullshit.

New Young Justice Trailer.

After being bored out of my skull by the premiere, I briefly considered checking in on the next few episodes of Young Justice in case the new characters are interesting and they manage to hammer out the kinks.

That might not work out for me now.



(Via DCWKA)

Let's see, still no Miss Martian. To the Creators of Young Justice: I'm sure you consider yourselves progressive for including a physical powerhouse female character, but this is the 21st Century and we would like someone who speaks, and says something of substance when they do. Now, this is difficult if you haven't ever stopped to listen to a girl speak before but I have a solution until you can find a writer who has. Just think of what a boy would say, and have someone with a higher voice say it. It'll be a little rough, and probably not sound entirely right but it'll be a start while you do some research.

Not that the rest of this is doing very well. Prior to this preview I really only hated Speedy because he was a jerk, everyone else was just boring. In less than two minutes, Kid Flash has been promoted to hateful. You might have gotten away with the hormone-driven teenaged boy shit if the girl had been seen enough to counteract the idea that she's little more than a sex object, but she's not so you don't. He's a jerk. Also, the other boys are jerks because they didn't even roll their eyes at him. And I don't care that a villain prevented that, because who wrote the fucking villain?

Robin's been promoted to irritating. That giggle is stupid. He's like a video game character. A+LEFT to hide in the shadows, B to snicker. It's annoying as fuck, and Dick Grayson shouldn't annoy me until he's Nightwing and being overtaken by angst.

Aqualad... is actually okay in this... possibly because he doesn't have enough lines to piss me off. He's doing a little better than Miss Martian in that he actually gets to fight, though.

And Speedy's still here, oh joy. Oh seriously, why the fuck is Roy hanging out here? Is Tradition really that fucking important? We ALL see Artemis in all the fucking promos, we know that very soon the archer is going to be a girl and this asshole will be gone. Why are we watching him? Why does he need to be here in the first three episodes? Is anyone REALLY going to say "Where's Speedy?" FUCK NO! He's just as worthless as the original Aqualad, and the only reason Roy didn't get switched out from the start like Garth did is because someone on that writing staff inexplicably adores Green Arrow. No one outside of comics fandom gives a shit about Speedy, and this jackass we see on screen isn't going to change that! You could have used any reckless teen archer there! You guys just badly wanted to use Roy when Mia or Cissie would've done fine, and now you're doing some stupid story about him leaving or dying because it's "traditional" when you could have started out with this Artemis character in the opening instead. If you're gonna kill him off tragically, you could have done it in the first ten minutes of the pilot, and had room for the girls you left out.

Look, I'm a Silver Age nostalgia fan. I love the Silver Age, I read the old comics, I actually feel a lot of my favorite characters could do with a revival of their Silver Age personalities and elements... and I can't fucking stand what you've put on screen. You have the perfect place to play with the mythos here--a cartoon series where you can streamline major comics stories and can blend the best of the Silver Age, the 90s comics, and whatever new stuff you want to throw in--but you INSISTED on launching this with Roy Harper, Dick Grayson, and Wally West because it's traditional? Stop treating childhood wonder like something you can recreate with a fucking checklist!

Fucking nerds, I swear.


ETA: Addendum.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Allegory and the Amazon

I complain a lot about the the portrayal of the gods in Wonder Woman, and while the "Rise of the Olympian" storyline by Gail Simone has some openings for discussion and possibly complaint (I'm not sure how the Hawaiian culture views death for their gods, myself I'm generally against killing off gods but maybe Hawaii is like Scandanavia and gods die cyclically) she did one big thing right:

She used Zeus as her big antagonist, and she kept him in character.

I've blogged this before, but I was incredibly disappointed and pissed off by how Perez handled the Zeus-Hera relationship. He's always been a trickster when it came to sleeping around, and she's always been reactive and quick to blame the woman involved. In the Perez run, Zeus just comes down to Themiscyra AS HIMSELF and asks Diana for a roll in the hay, and when she refuses he makes her fight a whole bunch of monsters. Hera goes to her room and cries until Athena and Co talk her into standing up to him. (Oh, and if I recall correctly this mess leads to going to the center of Paradise Island where rapist Heracles is holding up the Island as penance, and Diana's gotta help him out and Hippolyta forgives him and suddenly he's a nice guy because even Perez after MAKING a rapist Heracles portrayal can't stand to have Heracles be a bad guy.)

Anyway, it fucks up the Zeus and Hera relationship in a way that strips Zeus of his trickster aspect (which is actually vital to his realm of patriarchal power, because this entire marriage is representative of how institutionalized sexism in the way women are raised and related to deceives women into supporting the patriarchal order against other women) and Hera of her personality. This is done in order to set up something that could be EASILY set up with having them act in character: Zeus just nods at the refusal, then comes back to annoy Diana in some sort of animal disguise. Hera catches him, blames Diana, orders her to fight monsters and Zeus and Hera have a giant fight on Olympus that leads to the goddesses offering their support to Hera when she stands against Zeus's violence, and convincing her to take back her rage at Diana (who by now has gotten to the climax of her quest because this sort of thing takes a while even when you have Hermes on your side), because really the whole thing is Zeus' fault.

That "Challenge of the Gods" storyline was also, I believe, where they established Pan was killed for the Millenium crossover, and it had a lot of brooding Hermes. Damn, the more I think back on it, the more I hate Perez's run.

I'm digressing again. Sorry. (I just really hate how Perez handled the gods.) So Gail Simone decides to use Zeus as a bad guy in "Rise of the Olympian" and the subsequent storyline. To this end, she has him decide that he's going to reward the Amazons and Diana by creating a race of equal men to replace them. That way they can retire, marry, and have lots of babies. Because that is seriously what Zeus thinks all women aspire to. He makes them in much the same way, animating clay using the souls of deceased warriors, with one exception. In a scene that occupies a strange gray area between a duel and a mugging, he kills a deity from another pantheon (who is the father of Pele, who is described as the goddess of violence when this particular shit hits the fan) and uses the heart to create Diana's equal: Achilles.

This is the aspect of her run I'm having trouble getting over. Surely a god can survive without a heart, but later Pele is very upset he's dead. And Simone never brought the guy back! Still, it's vital for how Achilles turned out and it does not seem, what with the stakes they had, like something Zeus would sweat over. It's got really good symbolism, because we have misguided Power embarking on needless destruction (of someone who seems to represent pure goodness and creation) and all the rationalization involved, with both the good and the bad results played out in the next couple storylines.

We also have an old white god killing a Pacific Island god and using his heart to make a blonde white dude. Which is in that area of horrible racial implications and colonization symbolism that I'm not really qualified to examine. This is brilliant or problematic, or both. The text certainly underlines that it is a horribly wrong thing, and the consequences of this action are visited on Diana rather than Zeus. I'm still against killing gods, but I'd say this is a correct portrayal of Zeus as a bad guy. He doesn't murder other gods much in classical stories, because gods don't die in those stories, but he does a lot of casting gods into Tartarus and gods trade body parts like MRE components.

What I find so incredible and compelling about this story is that throughout the whole thing Zeus is attempting to be benevolent, and missing the point completely. This is perfectly in character with the old time Zeus who considered himself the father and patron of all heroes, and it really supports his role as the personification of power and male-dominated establishment. He's convinced himself that acting in a sexist way is doing women a favor, much like chivalrous sexists do. When Diana and the Amazons react badly to this, he gets angry that his gift is unappreciated and out comes the pushiness.

Right about now Perez fans are asking how this is different from what Perez wrote. Well, back then he was dealing with Diana as a love interest and acting as the philandering husband. His relationship with Hera changes everything there. It activates the Trickster aspect, because 1) he does want to avoid a fight with her, and b) he doesn't want to ever piss her off to the point that she'll leave again. (There's a story where she does and he stages a fake wedding to attract her back. When she goes to the ceremony out of curiosity, she sees he's marrying a lifeless statue of her and is humored back into the relationship.) Perez wrote Zeus as the personification of patriarchal power in a way that minimized Hera's influence in the pantheon.

Simone wrote a story where Zeus approaches Diana as a hero, but a female one that he thinks will want to retire and have lots of babies. She weaves sexism into the assumption in a way that avoids contorting Hera's relationship with Zeus (by having Zeus perform an action that won't piss off his wife) and shows that Zeus does see Diana as a valued hero rather than just a potential fucktoy. She tells a tale about how a powerful sexist man can acknowledge an individual woman's accomplishments and claim to value femininity while still screwing over women with his assumptions.

She also tells the reconciliation story between men and women with Achilles, who is actually a pretty damned noble guy at heart from the beginning. He gets his position as the leader through Zeus's sexism, but eventually this gets reconciled and they all team up in the end. I actually really miss Achilles, he was a really good male counterpart for Diana. Fucking reboot.

Still, the real topper to all this divine symbolism is Diana standing up to Zeus, punching Patriarchal Power directly in the face. Funny thing about that essay, I really hate when the gods are made petty and bad for no good reason other than the writer wants to make Diana better than them. (And it happens all the time, see Perez and even Rucka's self-hating Athena.) Thing is, Simone did some great staging here when she picked just which gods Diana would tell off. Ares is the personification of needless violent conflict and Zeus is the personification of patriarchal power so it makes SENSE that Wonder Woman would conflict with them. They represent the exact energies that she is created to combat. She reveres Wisdom (Athena), Motherhood (Demeter), Sisterhood (Artemis), Inner Peace/Truth (Hestia), Diplomacy (Hermes), and Love (Aphrodite), but she rejects War (Ares) and she has some serious problems with Power (Zeus) from time to time. I think if Simone's run had gone on without a time fuckup, we'd have seen some very interesting things come from pledging herself to the Violence of Nature (Pele).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Character I Can't See Enough Of: Squire



I read Knight and Squire #1-3 and I can't say I was too impressed with the plot of any of the issues, but I'm going to buy it more. Why? Because there was one really enjoyable element to this mini, and she gets a lot of panel time.



No matter how weak the rest of the book is, Beryl just makes me smile whenever she does anything. This is a really great, really bright character and Cornell is capturing that in all her scenes, even if the rest of the book isn't really his best.



Squire's one of those characters that got a really solid start, though. She was the viewpoint hero in the first JLA: Classified arc, and I think she's meant to be a young teen in that. Certainly she's got a childish quality to her, though that could be the incredibly over the top situation or just her role in the story.



She's playing Kyle Rayner for this storyline. See, the first arc of JLA: Classified was after they switched out Lanterns, and John Stewart is no wide-eyed newbie so Morrison had to bring in a younger character so he could keep his team formula. So he tied it to the plot, and gave us Batman and Squire scenes with a classic "sidekick escapes" setup. Beryl's own superteam, the Ultramarine Corps, have been taken out by Gorilla Grodd. She's the youngest, least powerful team member and used to being paired with an older hero and she's all they have to get help. She contacts the JLA for help only to find that everyone but Batman is in another universe. It's an overwhelming situation, and she has just the right amount of concern and awed wonder without coming across as out of her depth. She has the smartass teen role, but it never devolves into obnoxious whining or losing her cheer.



I pretty much decided the second she landed on the UFO that she was going to be one of my favorites.



I'm not sure exactly what trait makes her so appealing, there's just something in her personality combined with her skills and concept. I love how Beryl is extremely low-powered (she seems to have gone from a communications expert to having communications powers), but still manages to succeed in the end. She's so bright and optimistic and gets along with anyone she deals with. She's just plain delightful. AND she can save England from Evil using social networking.



Also, there is something about that costume. I hate yellow, but on her? That whole Robin color scheme works.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

If anyone's looking for a fight, I'm up for it.



So much of female comics fandom has migrated from livejournal to Tumblr, which is a service which makes it damned near impossible to anonymously troll someone because the basic conversation revolves around reblogging and posting your statements on your own blog, and they reply on theirs unless they have a special plug-in. Like cloned dinosaurs and challenged misogynists, the Trolls will always find a way, and items from that troll-fallen tumblr account keep making their way via reblogs to my own dashboard. I know one person who's been trolled at least three times this week from there.

In the meantime, there's stuff that doesn't seem so much like trouble-making as it just seems like someone is scared to be the one person in their circle who doesn't agree with the rest, but does want to see if there's a circle where their opinion is the dominant one. It seems very... weak-willed, perhaps?

Either way, I find the whole thing disgusting and made the above image for an email joke. The text is small, but I had a lot to say. And now that I can no longer ruin Christmas, it's the best time vent in public: with my Fan ID attached, on my own blog, in my own space on the internet, where anyone who wants a fight can come get one.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Links

Here's some holiday reading for those of you bored enough to check out this blog today:

This is a really awesome charity idea, and I think we should all pull something similar next year.

Colin Smith writes up "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot", the Deadman and Kara Christmas story that really deserves a reprint.

I heartily recommend anyone read the classic Invincible Super-Blog review of Tarot #41, for an in-depth look at #5 on his Naughty List.

Bully and DCWKA have been posting holiday Wonder Woman this month.

I did my Dispatch today, and it is surprisingly full of positive links (mostly due to DCWKA's Memorable Moments showdown.) Anna got the Manga links last night.

Comixology has a holiday section today (at the site and on the iPad app) and a few Marvel specials are for sale, and this year's DC Holiday Special is free. Also, the free preview of the Larfleeze Christmas special has that cookie recipe that's been going around Tumblr:



And, if all of this is old or uninteresting, Ty Templeton posted this little story on his blog last year, and it's one of my absolute favorite Dark Seid appearances in history and should be read every Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas



I found this one on sale fairly cheap, and it was bigger than mine so I bought it but every time I went to decorate it beyond the green ribbon it looked wrong. I like the minimalist bit with it. So, I set up my little tree behind it with the traditional pin-ornaments.

My Year in Fannish Favorites

I'm going to go ahead and steal this meme off Caroline like I stole the blog every day this month idea off of her.

Your main fandom of the year?

As every year... Superheroes. Though while I was deployed I read a ton of pulp sci-fi, Classical mythology and King Arthur fiction.

Your favorite film watched this year?

I didn't watch many movies that I can remember this year, actually. The one I watched most was Sleeping Beauty but I'm not sure 50 year old movies count for this meme.

Your favorite book read this year?

I haven't finished Swamps of Venus yet, so I'm going to have to go with Black Amazon of Mars (aka People of the Talisman) because it was a chance find that keyed me into a pulp short story writer I hadn't known of before. It sent me on a month-long search for Leigh Brackett writing credits, and I just love her solar system stories so much.

Your favorite album or song to listen to this year?

Ever since I got back from Afghanistan I've had The War For Infinity in my CD player. If anyone else has been listening to that one, he just did a commentary for each of the songs on Tumblr.

Your favorite TV show of the year?

I don't watch too much TV. While I was away I watched all of Stargate Atlantis, Seinfeld and every bit of 30 Rock that's on DVD now, but Fringe has seriously kicked the asses of everything else. This season has been amazing.

Sometime I will get off my ass and blog everything I love about Peter and Olivia.

Your best new fandom discovery of the year?

Leigh Brackett takes this without breaking a sweat. I fucking love Munseys and all the old writers I've been able to find on there.

Runners up? I discovered Mage, Madman, and Incorruptible via the Comixology app on the iPad.


Your biggest fandom disappointment of the year?

I had to devote a whole post to this one.

Your TV boyfriend of the year? Your TV girlfriend of the year?

Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv on Fringe as Peter Bishop and Olivia Dunham. As a couple.

Your biggest squee moment of the year?

Greg Rucka replied me on Twitter and Gail Simone commented on my Tumblr. I know comics fans are supposed to be blase` about creator interaction, it happens all the time, but for me I still get that fangirl thrill from it.

The most missed of your old fandoms?

I really miss the Green Lantern books from last year. That Blackest Night build-up was the best, and it wasn't just plain anticipation of an event. Those stories are fun and introduce so much potential.

The fandom you haven’t tried yet, but want to?

Adam WarRock's an artist I found through comics, and his is the first rap album I've ever listened to. I'd like to hear more of the good stuff, but not sure where to start.

Your biggest fan anticipations for the New Year?

I've been out of X-men because this Utopia stuff doesn't really appeal to me, but "Age of X" looks really damned interesting, and X-men was the franchise that got me into superheroes. I am just dying for an excuse to get back into it.

I can't wait for the Batwoman series to get started.

Steve Rogers will eventually be Captain America again. I freaking love Bucky, but I sincerely think this trial stuff will end with a handoff back to Steve. (Fingers crossed Bucky goes back to the superbly designed Winter Soldier identity.)

I've been complaining about Young Avengers: Children's Crusade, but I really am counting the weeks until it kicks into gear and Wanda starts acting like herself again. Avengers Academy #9 is supposed to have a lot of Quicksilver, and it's based around my favorite student Finesse going off to find her real father.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Airing of the Grievances

I was doing a meme of Caroline's called "My Year in Fannish Favorites" when I came across a question so big it deserved a post on its own: Your biggest fandom disappointment of the year? There were so many fuck-ups to choose from just involving Marvel and DC, and as it is Dec 23rd and I have been watching Seinfeld all day I thought I'd go ahead and give this one it's own post.

So this year Marvel and DC have disappointed me in the following ways:

First, there's Blackest Night. The 2009 lead-up to Blackest Night was fucking gold. Rage of the Red Lanterns, Sins of the Star Sapphire and the BRILLIANT Agent Orange storyline are still some of the best Green Lantern stuff I've ever read. I even like that fucking FCBD story with Barry and Hal at Bruce's grave. The crossover itself sucked shit. I stopped reading when I realized that the White Lanterns weren't going to be recognizably as horrible as the Black Lanterns, and Johns lost the potential moral of the story, but not after being horribly dismayed by:

Hal's prominence over Kyle in Blackest Night. After two crossovers that centered on Hal and Kyle, suddenly it's Hal and Sinestro. It's like a crossover trilogy bait-and-switch trick (and Marvel pulled this shit too).

Katma Tui wasn't actually coming back to life, she'd just be a Black Lantern for a couple issues.

Soranik bringing Kyle back to life by way of Miri's ability to manipulate love energy rather than her impressive medical skill.

The massive WHAT THE FUCK of Wonder Woman being the Star Sapphire while the Atom is an Indigo Lantern. No, Greg Rucka could not save that.

Then when we get to Brightest Day they kill off the better Atom, and bury him in a matchbox. So cheerful.

Beyond that, they put Judd Winick on Power Girl, which used to be one of my favorite reads.

Stephanie Brown is still Batgirl (yeah, I said it), Cassandra Cain is still not back.

I was horribly let down by the entire Flash series, which I am still picking up for Manapul's art.

And of course, Wonder Woman's relaunch which has been an incredible miss for far too many reasons to list here.

Over at Marvel, they lost one of Magneto's kids.

A lot of people have asked Tom Brevoort on Formspring about Lorna being Magneto's daughter, and he pretty consistently said he thought it was forced and unnatural. He also, early on, stated there were no plans to bring her into Children's Crusade but I can't find that link. It makes me a little sad that they're ignoring this rich mine of soap opera drama, and it makes me a little worried that someone's going to retcon it away again and Lorna will become the Power Girl of the Marvel Universe.

They squandered numerous opportunities to bring Jean Grey back to life.

Second Coming and Hope Summers didn't really do it for me.

They let Greg Land do the covers to their Women of Marvel issues.

They continue to hire Greg Land.

The Massive Fucking Lie told by Quicksilver wasn't resolved by the finale of the series he told it in, and instead they decided to carry it over to another series. All of this, of course, is giving me the impression that there is no plan to exonerate Quicksilver for Son of M in Children's Crusade, because I find it so hard to believe they're dragging such a thing out when someone has a clean mind control explanation up their sleeves.

The topper, though, was that Scarlet Witch wasn't the big reveal in Seige. Instead, for the final of a trilogy of company crossovers (and Marvel did admit that Disassembled and House of M led to Seige) where Wanda was the centerpiece in the first two they decide to give SENTRY the sendoff. And this is not just "Fuck the Sentry" (But seriously, fuck the Sentry).

They dropped a lot of hints about a big surprise world-threatening villain, and a heroic redemption and such so we were down to Wanda or Bob. I was really hoping that Marvel would use that crossover to fix the mess Bendis made of Wanda Maximoff but no, the actual cleaning up for this character is to occur in a maxiseries rather than a company crossover like they fucked her over in. Yes, Heinberg is going to write a much better story, but he's going to take 9 issues bimonthly to do it and it is a side-story that other books won't tie into. That is how Wanda will be returned to sanity.

The thing is, it took THE ENTIRE MARVEL LINE to turn her into a villain and code her as baby-crazy. Every book was hijacked by House of M, and every fan reading and every writer writing got Crazy Wanda into their brains, but a single writer and a book that ties into nothing is supposed to undo that? Fucking Marvel. All those fans who read those crossovers but aren't fans enough of Wanda to read Children's Crusade, how many of Marvel's next crop of writers will be coming from that group? How long before someone decides that Womb Crazy is the real characterization, because that's the characterization she had when THEY started reading? What the fuck, seriously? That's like writing obscene lies about someone in a phone booth right where someone's eyes are looking during a call, and then instead of blacking it out you write "Not really, she's a nice person" on the inside of the handset. It's not hidden, but you certainly expended more effort making sure someone would look at the lies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

March looks like a Marvel-heavy month for me.

Okay, one thing really stands out right away in the Marvel Solicitations:
AVENGERS ACADEMY #10 & #11
Written by CHRISTOS GAGE
Pencils by SEAN CHEN (#10) & TOM RANEY (#11)
Covers by MIKE MCKONE

The return of the Wasp? The return of Korvac? It’s two book-shaking issues in one month – and issue #12 guest-stars the Avengers! First it’s a “day in the life” of the students, with special guest instructors Protector and Dr. Strange! Then Thor, Steve Rogers, Iron Man and more assemble as one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ most powerful villains storms the school as Korvac comes back! Enroll in AVENGERS ACADEMY now and find out why ComicBookResources.com calls it “one of my favorite new series to come along in a while.”
32 PGS. (each) /Rated A …$2.99 (each)
But... WHICH Wasp? I'm torn. I'm already dying to have Hank back in wings, but I'm considerably excited at the slim chance this means seeing Jan again. (In the meantime, Gage has said that February's issue #9 will be "pretty Quicksilver-centric". That one is Finesse meeting possible Papa Taskmasker, so it makes sense to have Pietro on hand for damage control.)

I am definitely getting 3 of these Captain America specials, but I'm not sure about this whole... .1 thing.

Is that Dust on the cover of X-men: Legacy? All in all, this whole Age of X thing is appealing to the Age of Apocalypse fan in me, and Carey DOES write the only X-book I still read. Beyond that, Marvel's metaplot "Fear Itself" actually looks intriguing so far. Immonen and Fraction, not a bad team. And according to Gage's twitter this even is primed to tie big into the Avengers Academy developments I've been watching like a hawk.

DC's got me a little less enthusiastic. Batwoman #2 and Jimmy Olsen #1 seem the most interesting to me right now, along with Morrison's Batbooks.

This Generation Lost tease has completely failed to peak my interest, but it's got me annoyed for pretty much the same reasons it has DCW irritated. It's like back when I dropped Daredevil a few years back over a Milla death tease in the solicit. (I wish I could find the post, I think it was on Newsarama, maybe mostly an argument in the comments.) They're letting us know that they hear the concerns, but rather than make an effort to fix anything they're going to just try and play on our anxieties. It's really dismissive and insulting, and just makes me want to leave them alone a few years until they work out their issues.

I might drop the Green Lantern books for this War of the Green Lanterns thing. It's just not grabbing me. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, has me with the cover:



It's good they've realized there's really only one opponent who can match her.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Bechdel Test

We've been having a fascinating conversation on Twitter, and I'd like to ask you a question.

I'm sure most of you know the Bechdel Test, presented originally in comic form.

Basically, the one character states that she will only see a movie if it has three criteria:
1) It must have at least two women in it...
2) ...who talk to each other...
3) ...about something besides a man.

It's been used for a few years as a tool for analyzing the treatment of women in stories. It's not a hard and fast rule, as some excellent work fails, all heterosexual romance fails..etc... but some really horrible work passes.

Anyway, there's a film critic who thinks she's found a "way around the Bechdel Test" with a lesbian relationship, and those of us who think like me--that the observation was in just how female characters revolve around male characters--giggled at this. Clearly, I though, she has spectacularly missed the point of the original comic.

But then I discovered that a number of rather intelligent people have been interpreting it to be about love lives, and therefore would fail a story in which the only female-female discussion is a lesbian talking about her girlfriend with another female character.

Now, we're talking about a conversation piece that started as a joke in a comic 25 years ago. You can't exactly say there's a set of hard and fast rules here, but now I'm wondering what the prevailing opinion is. For simplicity, I'm going to present this with a story scenario such as we would run across in our comics.

Scenario: Kate Kane and Stephanie Brown run into each other on the rooftops of Gotham City and Kate tells Stephanie about her history with another hero. This is hero either Renee Montoya or Bruce Wayne. Which subject leads to this comic passing the Bechdel Test?

Click here to answer the poll please

Happy Thoughts for the Holidays: The Six Most Fascinating Women of the DCU

Gail Simone asked a question on her tumblr:
Who are, to you, the most FASCINATING DC female characters?

They don’t have to be heroes, or fighters, or any particular label. But which female characters do you find the most fascinating?

I answered with a quick list on my Tumblr, but I think something like this deserves a little elaboration. I came up with six off the top of my head:

Iris West II/Impulse II -- It's no secret that I love speedsters, and really Wally and Linda's daughter has had my attention since she was just a Kingdom Come Easter Egg. Now she's in continuity, as a little girl speedster with a superhero father. I want to see more of her, in any timeline.

Katma Tui/Green Lantern -- She will always be compelling to me beyond her status as a Green Lantern or her romantic entanglements for this scene:



She built a MACHINE to measure the strength of her own devotion. What kind of mind does this?

Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire -- Carol's a Silver Age love interest who dumped the hero because she got promoted above him, then developed a secret identity to woo his secret identity. And that identity is now retconned to hosting the embodiment of love, and wielding pure love as a weapon.

I don't care what they do to their costumes, or what icky issues about relationships the writers let spill into the page. That concept will always be interesting.

Queen Hippolyta -- I would be so very happy if when this WW reboot is over if they kept Hippolyta as the WWII Wonder Woman somehow, and had her alive again. First off, her dynamic with Diana is one of the things that makes Wonder Woman unique as a hero. Most major heroes seem to be orphans. Diana's mother is still alive, breathing, and used to getting her way in all matters without any questioning. Diana, on the other hand, is a deeply independent woman.

This is a woman who talked the gods themselves into letting her have a kid without going through all the annoying dating motions. This is a Head of State, and a full-working one not a figurehead, who is still a devoted mother.

I think the most sriking thing for me is that the Golden Age Wonder Woman traits--the passionate lover and fighter--that I adore so much are very prominent in Hippolyta. Not only that, Hippolyta's the one who, unlike Diana, can let those traits take her too far in battle and in romance. She's my favorite Wonder Woman supporting character, and if they wiped the cast clean of everyone but Diana and her and started over tomorrow I wouldn't really be pissed off.

Kate Kane/Batwoman -- The majority of Gotham heroes aren't just Bat-followers, they're downright Bat-worshippers at times. Whether they get along with Bruce or not, most of them seem to pin their every move on what he approves of. Catwoman, for a long time, was the only one who seemed immune to this Awe of Bat. Then they gave us Kate.

Batwoman, though, is not a follower or a worshipper of the Batman. She was inspired by him, but she's driven by a greater need to serve than emulating him./ That's what made the point when she first saw Batman in her origin tale so compelling. Someone attacks her, and she beats the crap out of him and when he's subdued she looks up to see Batman standing there and smirking at her. He'd been meaning to help her, but it was completely unnecessary and the fact surprised him enough that he had to stop and watch. He does, however, help her to put two and two together and realize that she can do the same thing--to her he's the bat that flies through the window. It's their entire relationship right now. He thinks she needs help, or needs him, but ends up watching in surprise because all she's ever needed from him was an idea.

More than any other character in the DC Universe, Kate is like Bruce. She's a perfect female counterpart. She has more than just the cosmetic similarities of a childhood tragedy and a ton of disposable wealth, she has the same reaction to that tragedy, she has the same drive, she even freaking FIGHTS like him. Think of the predatory aspect to Bruce in the Arkham Asylum game. Dick doesn't have that when he fights, Babs never had that, Helena doesn't have it and none of the younger set have it. Kate, though. Kate has it. She's like a freaking demon when she hits up the underworld. Red and black and pale as a fucking ghost, she's cultivated that manner that makes a criminal scared shitless not that she'll kill him, but that she'll wrap him in darkness and drag him to hell not if she catches him (because the second she's there he's caught) but just if she wants to. That's what keeps Bruce scary as hell without killing anyone, he just seems supernatural. Kate's got that feeling, possibly even moreso because she'll grin while she's after you.

Soranik Natu/Green Lantern -- Soranik was immediately interesting to me because from her first panel in Recharge #1 she had an obvious, unique role in the GLC. When you introduce the Chief Surgeon during a medical operation as your new Lantern, you pretty much guarantee that even if she's out on her first day with no training, and the only rookie on a mission with veterans she will still have something vitally important to add to the team.

It got better when they revealed that she did not want to be a Green Lantern. Being from Sinestro's homeworld of Korugar, she had a perfectly good reason to. By this time, Sinestro's long since been overthrown and replaced Katma Tui, and Oa's had time to make Korugarians aware that Lanterns are not MEANT to be evil. But knowing in your head and knowing in heart are two very different things, and no matter how beneficial a Green Lantern presents themselves to be Korugarians are going to be rightfully skittish and good many of them are distrustful of this organization at the root. She's got no reason to love the GLC, or admire them, and she knows joining will make her a pariah in her community. Her stated protest that the ring is "cursed" is what really intrigued me, though. She's a surgeon, and later on in the book they establish that she has a clear, logical mind, but she's still a superstitutious person to a point. Sinestro went bad. Katma Tui died across the universe from her homeworld. Bad things happen to people who wear that ring.

And of course, she swallowed her fear and took on the cursed and hated job of being a Green Lantern. Then later on, she gets romantically involved with Kyle Rayner, a guy who is 0 for 3 in surviving ex-girlfriends. She takes a cursed job, and a cursed man. I can't help but love that.

Then they make her concept better by revealing that her Dad is Sinestro. This is not just like finding out your Dad is Hitler. This is like being a German girl who was raised by the resistance and grew up DURING World War II and finding out your Dad is Hitler. It's actually rather disappointing in hindsight that they've focused on her relationship with Kyle rather than this insane bombshell of a revelation. She's the most fascinating woman in the DCU to me right now, and that's not an exaggeration.

In other positive-blogging Tumblr news, I wrote up a memorable moment for DC Women Kicking Ass. Flash Fact: the guy in the comic book store showed me that very moment to sell that book to me. Got me to buy the whole series.

Happy Yule, Everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Their suits even match.

I've been really enjoying Brubaker's Captain America run, especially the inclusion of Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow. I've been really fond of reading both her and Sharon Carter through the entire thing, but it's been disappointing that despite the fact that the costumes look like a big setup for a teamup, the two women haven't really spoken two lines to each other. (Maybe in Reborn. I think that was just briefly, though.) Natasha's talked ABOUT Sharon, of course, and they sound like good friends off-panel, but Brubaker didn't take that step to ever really have the two get together and hurt bad guys for an issue or two or five or an entire series based around the concept. And the "Year of Women" sadly went by without a Sharon and Natasha story. Seems Marvel just hadn't gotten around to it... until now.
We're also doing "Captain America And the Secret Avengers" which is primarily focused on Sharon Carter and the Black Widow, both of whom are important characters in Cap's orbit. It'll give them a little more spotlight and screen time than they usually get.
We're also getting a Falcon one-shot and a one-shot with Peggy Carter (by Kathryn Immonen)



Via fyeahwomenofcap, the solicit:
CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE SECRET AVENGERS #1

Written by KELLY SUE DECONNICK

Pencils & Cover by GREG TOCCHINI

Steve Rogers’ black ops femme fatales go on the hunt for a rogue assassin! The Black Widow & Agent 13 join forces to stop an under-aged assassin from taking her revenge on a killer of a headmistress. Fierce fisticuffs, death-defying duels and good ol’ fashioned espionage ensue as everything comes to a head in the Big Apple where the gals go in guns blazin’ against…teenaged versions of themselves?!

40 PGS./One-Shot/Rated T+…$3.99


Not a big Tocchini fan (really didn't like his going out of his way to show us the downview of female breasts in his Ion run), but I will take him for this special.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I have bigger worries with Thor.



I'm going to level with you all right away, Thor was a tough sell on me from the beginning. While most of the people weighing in on the matter of Idris Elba as Heimdall--including, officially at least, the extremists themselves--refer to the characters in Thor as mere characters or even cultural icons, I'm not going to dance around it. I actually subscribe to a neo-pagan religion. Thor and Heimdall aren't just a name from old dusty poems or creations of Kirby, they're genuine spiritual figure for me. And while they are many different versions of the old myths and legends, and there's a big emphasis on discovering the essence of the Divine by parsing these different legends and seeing what has the most human truth to it, the Marvel version of Thor was a bit too far afield for me. I had the worst trouble getting past the beardless blonde Thor, even after differences like that were explained away by some generational or post-Ragnarok thing I still can't confidently repeat.

I managed to get a good jumping on point with JMS and I've read his run, some miniseries and some Silver Age reprints. I was impressed with the basic characters of Thor, Balder and the Warriors Three (who weren't in the original myths but seem like the sort of people who would have been so I love them) but had trouble getting past the treatment of the goddesses. The Asyniur (and Freya) were a really appealing part of the Norse pantheon. Fewer of their stories have survived, but this was genuinely a group of amazing goddesses that get sadly ignored at times. And in the Thor franchise, they continue to be ignored. I don't think I've seen Skadi or Freya--which is ridiculous because Freya is... Freya. It's insane to dismiss her. Valkyrie seems to be the only Valkyrie flying around.

Frigga's portrayal is what really annoys me. She's been consigned to the background and we never see her handmaidens. In the meantime her signature story, her story of motherly love that ends in the tragic death of Balder, was centered instead on Odin in the Silver Age. It's possible this has been retconned to a Frigga-centered story again but since we never see the Queen of Asgard say more than two lines I haven't seen it mentioned.

Of course there are some canonical goddesses who get speaking roles like Hela. Now, Hela as I originally saw her in my childhood reading was half-black and half-white. (Not racewise, I mean like those dudes in the original series Star Trek racial harmony episode.) Most of the sources describe a duality: half black and half white, half hag and half beautiful woman, half skeleton and half person, or half dead and half alive... either way, she's split down the middle like Two-Face and it's a damned powerful image. Even if they'd just decided black and white, they could still do the Beautiful death goddess but no... THIS was the first time I saw Hela:



I can deal with Kirby's green-clad fully-human-looking goddess (especially since she has such a cool headdress), but this shirtless shit has been the norm since JMS rebooted Thor. Every use of her, especially as a wicked plotter rather than the morally neutral indifferent Death Goddess (because comics writers hate Death Deities), makes me cringe. The Goddess of Death holds secret conspiracy meetings in her nearly nonexistant nightie. Fucking seriously. And Gillen had her running around in a draping halter top! And look what they have on her profile on their official site. (She rules one of the coldest of the 9 realms! WHERE IS THE REST OF HER SHIRT?!) It's a complete surrender of any mature examination of death in favor of Sexy, Sexy Danger.

I've allowed my recent issues to pile up due to the complete massacre of source material that occurred with the Disir. Now I'd always been under the impression they were the spirits of female ancestors who protect your bloodline and fall under the realm of Freya Vanadis, but it seems Straczynski and Gillen had other ideas. Seems they're creepy soul-eaters cursed by Odin who devour divine essence. Freya could not be reached for comment, because I still haven't seen her in any of the Thor comics. (Honestly, it is in-character for a love goddess to run around in a chainmail bikini but instead you ignore Freya and tart up Hela. I do not understand Marvel.)

That said, I have hope for the Thor franchise because I've read two volumes of Walter Simonson and his handling of Sif was nothing but pure joy. Shame JMS decided to toss her into a comatose body for several years.

My point is that eventually I managed to get away from desiring dogmatic adherence to the Eddas in favor of seeking a genuinely respectful portrayal of the gods. I do think for the most part they manage that with most of the gods and some of the criminally underused goddesses. Original characters (rather than twisting a persona into a story they aren't suited for) help a lot. There's some serious missteps, usually with the goddesses, but in general they treat them as an honorable society that's worthy of reverance and manage to capture the same personalities.

As a result, I'm actually rather optimistic about Idris Elba as Heimdall. Not just because I started laughing my ass off when I first heard (though I have been giggling about this impending freakout since April) but because they might be able to pull this off.

Don't get me wrong, I still feel that so-called Chromatic Casting ignores the real problems and probably isn't the way to make up for a history of white-washing in the film industry, but in this case I'm not exactly annoyed. We don't know the full story here and it could actually be part of the plot, (Like JMS having the Asgardians wearing mortal lives after Ragnarok.) If not, well, he's being played by an accomplished actor and so long as he doesn't get the same treatment Gillen gave the Disir I should be happy.

Of course, I might just be falling prey to some white liberal guilt, or prioritizing offense about gender over race, or maybe I just like annoying white supremacists.

Actually, it's probably just the last one. I still crack up whenever I think what their faces must've looked like.

ETA: Comics Alliance issued an apology for "where we suggested their gods were concocted by drunken medievals." Kind nice of them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

This may be the least subtle symbolism in the history of comics




...but really, who can not smile at a superheroine lifting a fridge off of her back after she's been clobbered with it and using it on the enemy? I mean, the only thing that would've made it more over-the-top is if her husband was literally in there at the time instead of just figuratively.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Phil Hester talks Wonder Woman

Newsarama:


Nrama: How do you hope to approach Wonder Woman's character?

Hester: I see her as the personification of honor in a fallen world

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why I'm Pissed Off at Paul Levitz

I and others have seen a number of comments suggesting that the anger Paul Levitz's statement engendered was based solely on a misreading of his statement, and that by drawing attention to a couple of qualifiers any reasonable person will cease to be upset at the sentiment. On the contrary, I believe that these commenters are the ones who lack understanding in this case, but that may be because none of use have chosen to spell it out directly enough for them.

So, Levit'z statement:
I’m not sure that young women are as interested in reading about superheroes. The fundamental dynamic of the superhero story has historically been more appealing to boys than to girls.


For emphasis, let me repeat the part that has pissed people off:
The fundamental dynamic of the superhero story has historically been more appealing to boys than to girls.


Now, as many of you have noticed the words "no" and "never" do not appear in conjunction with "girls" or "appeal". I have noticed that too. That is because yes, I and most everyone else I've spoken to understands that he didn't say "Superheroes will never appeal to girls, and there are no girls who read superheroes." He merely implied that we were insignificant.

Either way, the words "no" or "never" are not the irritating parts of this quote. Nor is historically, though it is actually quite infuriating because there've been arguments that historically the genre had a lot of cross-appeal that has been squandered away in the past few decades. But that's not it either.

Allow me to present the rage-inducing part of this quote to you in bold:
The fundamental dynamic of the superhero story has historically been more appealing to boys than to girls.


We can argue back on forth on what precisely constitutes the fundamental dynamic of a superhero story, but the specifics such as costumes, secret identities, heroes, superpowers, villains, individualism and so on don't matter in this discussion. Only one aspect matters to this argument, and that is this: sexism.

There's a terrible strain of sexism coded into superhero fandom and industry culture: it's evident in the way women are drawn in comparison to how men are, how women are posed in comparison to how men are, the way women are dressed in comparison to how men are, the stories women get versus the ones men get, the prominence of female characters (well, lack thereof), how female characters are marketed, how male characters that appeal significantly more to women than to men are not valued either, how homosexuality and gender issues are (not) handled, how female characters are treated for the sake of male character's stories, how powerful female characters are cut down, how female characters are reduced to their sexual relationships and sex appeal to the straight male reader, how women are dismissed as a marketable demographic, how complaints of sexism are dismissed down to what artists are chosen to go with what characters.

And there's a philosophy in the female-dominated areas of fandom that states that this sexism is there, but is not in any way fundamental to the genre. It's excess fat that can be trimmed off without any loss of substance, that in fact trimming this unhealthy fat sexism will improve the quality of the product.

When someone like Paul Levitz suggests there's something fundamental in superhero stories that women find distasteful, he pisses a great deal of us off. Because what women find distasteful is the rampant sexism so obvious from the first moment a dramatic angle is sacrificed in order to highlight a superheroine's butt or bust, and that is in no way part of the fundamental dynamic of a superhero story.

I can only speak directly for myself, of course, but I can attest that a lot of the women who are annoyed about this also subscribe to the two part theory that "sexism is rampant in superhero comics, but sexism is unnecessary to superhero comics." Maybe, yes, there's a couple who didn't see the qualifiers and are backing off, but I'm pretty sure a few more have pointed out that they're pissed off at "fundamental" in there. There's probably even some who haven't quite realized exactly what bothers them about the statement, but know that they find it spectacularly offensive. Whatever it is exactly, I'll bet they're as unlikely to be pacified by an adverb as I am.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Highlights of this week's order.

I ordered my comics this morning. It'll be a week, maybe two with the holiday, until they come in but I'm looking forward to a few things:

1) Avengers Academy #7 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone -- I am devouring this book every month, I love it. I badly want more Pietro and Finesse (out of the students, so far I'm most impressed with Finesse and Reptil), but Hank's becoming a favorite right now so I'm happy to see an issue might focus on him. I will be a little sad, though, if Hank gives up the Wasp identity to take back the Giant-man one. I liked that he was stepping into Jan's shoes, very few legacy heroes are a male character taking on a female character's identity while there are tons of female derivatives and female successors to male characters. I'd much prefer to have Jan back as Giant-woman and Hank remain in the Wasp identity.



Plus, it's the only good costume he's ever had.

2) Superman #706 by G Willow Wilson and (I believe) Eddy Barrows -- I think the walking storyline (like the WW storyline) had a good idea, but I hate the way JMS wrote Clark. I took this chance to order it and see if another writer can do a better job. Also, I've been hearing so many good things about Air but didn't find out until it was all gone. (Waiting on a trade now.) This'll be a chance to check out this writer.



3) Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars by Beau Smith and Enrique Villigran -- I've been waiting on a new Wynona Earp story since 2006, and finally one's arrived! I discovered this character through the Complete Wynonna Earp a few years ago and I absolutely adored it. I'm going to take the liberty of quoting my old review because I've already said what I'm looking forward to the most with this:
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.
I can't wait.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Everyone knows why I'm reading Avengers Academy anyway.

Yesterday's Talking Comics With Tim was an interview with Avengers Academy writer Christos Gage. Of course I dove in hoping for information on one of my favorites, and I wasn't disappointed:
O’Shea: With Avengers Academy–while the students are the core of the series, it’s the instructors that offer almost as much interest for me. For example, I love your use of Quicksilver. Was it your idea to have him in the cast, or how did he get added? Are there certain eras of Quicksilver history that appeal to you and fuel your approach to the character?

Gage: I asked for Quicksilver because I thought he fit in perfectly with the theme of the instructors being Avengers who have flawed, checkered pasts. Avengers Academy is meant to be a place of redemption for student and teacher alike. Just as the best counselors for people trying to stay off drugs are recovered addicts, the Avengers Academy teachers are people who’ve been down some tough roads and come back. Quicksilver was a teen villain, then a teen hero. He was raised to be a terrorist and grew to be an Avenger. My favorite point in Quicksilver history is when he first joined the Avengers…he did this incredibly heroic thing in terms of breaking from Magneto, and putting himself out there in front of a world that hates and fears mutants…but the whole time he was constantly backseat driving and second-guessing Captain America, of all people! Now that’s what I call cojones. Quicksilver is so much fun to write because he gets to say all the snarky things I want to say to people who irritate me, but don’t want to get smacked in the mouth for.


Two things here, number one that yes, that point in history is absolutely one of the best things about Quicksilver. He'll give even Steve Rogers shit. The prototype for Horrible Boss in his life is none other than MAGNETO, a man he has worked for multiple times (a man who repeatedly showed a willingness to just leave him to die even after they found out they were related, a man who actually killed him once--long after they found out they were related), but that doesn't make him grateful just to be treated like a person. He'll let anyone no matter how good (or how bad, because he was always the guy standing up to Magneto in those Silver Age X-men) know when he thinks they're going in the wrong direction or just not acknowledging him enough. I believe it leads back to sincere trust issues, but even then it really takes some nerve, and I like to read people with some nerve.

The second is the one the part I think a lot of fangirls will take issue with:
Quicksilver was a teen villain, then a teen hero. He was raised to be a terrorist and grew to be an Avenger.
I remember a panel was being passed around on Tumblr a few months back where it states that he was trained by Magneto. Thing is, I absolutely love this idea because as I said yesterday about the children of supervillains, the harder it is to break free of the parent the more heroic it is. I actually like the idea he had a few years to indoctrinate the kids and the twins still sabotaged and then left him. It shows a great deal of strength to begin with that they left this incredibly terrifying person, but when you make it that they left him after several years of training because putting the stuff into practice was too horrible it seems like a feat of Herculean strength. Not only that, every time Pietro and Wanda stood up to him it wasn't because they were shocked by the new revelation of what sort of people they'd fallen in with, it was because they still managed to hold onto their values despite being trapped in the group and cut off from the support network that taught them those values.

I do get the feeling, though, that we're witnessing a slight retcon. I think they are slowly being retconned to join Magneto at a younger age than originally intended. I like this, again, because it emphasizes the character strength it took. I used to use they'd just simplify the Maximoff's origins and have them raised by Magneto all along, but I can't help but notice that losing their mother at birth and being passed from Bova to the Franks to the Maximoffs to the streets (or rather, hillsides) to the grip of Magneto finally to a decent life in the Avengers seems to fit their attitudes somehow. They kept getting bounced from place to place and only had each other. (I would like the Citadel of Science "stasis while waiting for a proper family to adopt" explanation traded for a retcon that their mother was a time-traveling mutant, which would nicely explain why neither twin has powers even approaching their father's and truly simplify their origins--but somehow I doubt Marvel will ever realize that there's a really easy way to explain those powers right under their fucking noses.)

I'm optimistic about Gage in a way I'm not about Heinberg. After how Maximoff twins have been handled since Disassembled I really appreciate that a writer thought about their history so he could concentrate on actually portraying the sort of person the character was originally created to be. I would a hundred times prefer that to an in-depth metastory that continues the cycle of weakness to explain how the cycle started. (You can do your explanations and excuses while you're portraying the character as actively heroic, thank you.) They've been pretty much destroyed from all sides in two consecutive crossovers, and ever since then the plots, flashbacks and expositionary dialogue has only served to underscore them as a woman who couldn't handle her powers or not having the family she wanted and a man who couldn't handle losing his powers or losing the family he had. Even now when the lie storyline presents Quicksilver as someone who couldn't own up to his own deeds and had to take the easy way out, Gage's emphasis on his past as a villain and how he broke free of that mitigates the impression and really makes me expect that his coming clean will be a major revelation that's used to advance the overall story arc in AA. And while I'm waiting for that, and for Wanda to finally get repaired, it's still a relief to see at least one of them handed to a writer who recognizes the strength of will that was present in the Silver Age over the plot-induced madness.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Links

Oh yeah, two notable things. Kalinara and I started a thing this weekend, and WFA did a titanic update today.

If I am by some strange twist of fate still the first place you look for steady women in superheroics commentary, may I suggest DC Women Kicking Ass and Fantastic Fangirls? Let me to draw your attention in particular to the recent Silver Age Women post on FF, and the Lois Lane tag on DCWKA. (And another nudge for the Most Memorable Moments poll.)

And as long as I'm linking, I wish I had more reading time because I badly want to go through the entire archive of this blog. This guy contrasted All-Star Superman with JMS's Earth One to throw light on Superman and his supporting cast. Then he tore into Second Coming like nobody's business and righteously battled the problematic undertones of Kingdom Come. And that's just the stuff I've had a chance to read, that blog looks packed with persuasive and potent ponderings.

From Bond Girl to Bond Villain

Anyone who's paid too much attention to me might have realized that I adore when the children of supervillains become heroes. These characters, whether the sorts who were raised right and later found out the truth (the Maximoffs twins) or those who suffered from a dysfunctional, twisted upbringing (Cass Cain) have a particularly compelling story to them. These characters become heroes when they discovered a reservoir of moral strength that allowed them to make the most difficult decision any person in the world can make and break from their upbringing, their loved ones, and even at times their entire cultural makeup in order to make the right decision. These themes of discovering moral clarity, overcoming the fear of loneliness, and aspiration to be a better person can be repeated in some many different ways for the same character and still represent step-by-step self-improvement and true heroics. The character can be constantly moving forward without being stuck in a cycle. And while every subsequent attempt to make the right decision is just a little easier than that first break (allowing for the occasional slip-up, which lets them go through a moral crisis and find that internal strength again) they continually better themselves, their families and the planet with every step forward. These character exemplify the idea that it doesn't matter what your forebearers did, your life and your destiny is your own. They are paragons of independence, defying both nature and nurture to demonstrate that someone can calibrate their own moral compass and still have it point in the right direction. The children of supervillains can become the truest kind of heroes, agents of virtue and change and hope arising from the darkest of background and defending those ideals against the most ingrained personal interest--belonging to their own family. They have an incredibly inspirational concept.

There's another story pattern that can be incredibly compelling in this same vein, that of Reforming the Evil Love Interest. This one is compelling because not only does it have a person turn their back on their entire world, but they do it for the sake of a single other person. A lot of people love this story, and adore characters trapped in this story cycle because it ties the inspirational aspect of leaving everything you know and love for an ideal with romance because the ideal is love for another person. I find this pretty compelling too... when it's a single story and not a cycle that continually repeats itself. This brings me, of course, to a character think I should love but I very decidedly do not, Talia al Ghul.

As I said before, a lot of people like the Reforming the Evil Love Interest narrative because it's a compelling narrative, and they don't mind reading it over and over and over again. It carries with it the same courage and strength required to be a child of a supervillain who turns on their evil parent, and in many cases--such as with Talia--the two concepts are married and the inspiration to turn their back on their entire world comes from meeting one good person.

Except that Talia doesn't really DO that until what... five or six years ago? And she was created in the 70s? Her typical behavior pattern was that she'd act against her father to save Batman, but afterwards she'd return to the old man. Repeat over and over and over again. He's her father, he loved her, she loved him, and on some level she felt that his actions were to be excused. In fact, for loyalty to her father, she would commit any number of murders, thefts and even betrayals (short of directly causing his death) of her "beloved" Batman. As I've said, I really enjoy when a supervillain's kid turns on them, and it requires a tremendous amount of moral fortitude to do so, and proves to be the ultimate act of independence. But Talia never really turned on her father for the principle of it, she only occasionally got in his or his allies' way to prevent them from getting rid of Bruce. For it to be a true test of courage and strength, it pretty much has to be a one time thing. You go against your parent knowing you can't go back, you can't waiver between two people all the time. You are on your own from that point on, and what you just did is worth being on your own. You don't just save the life of the guy you wanna fuck and then go back to live comfortably with Daddy, performing atrocities in his name when they don't affect someone you personally care about. That doesn't make you a hero, or even an antihero. It just means you're a villain with the hots for the hero.

I don't like Talia. A long time ago (after a while of kind of liking her figuring eventually they'd lay this story cycle to rest) I realized she just wasn't a really admirable person. After I learned that, every time I saw her I knew exactly what the story was going to be and I simply didn't like the al Ghul family league of assassins/eco-terrorism/melodramatic love drama elements enough to sit through the same theme of potential reformation from what was actually a rather self-interested motive (she wanted Bruce, but didn't seem to give a shit about anyone else's life) followed by choosing the safe route of home and family to the unexplored and potentially difficult life of morality that I prefer my heroes adhere to. After so many times watching this, I really grew to hate the character on sight. Eventually she went against him, but not in a way that changed my assessment of her personality. It's telling that it wasn't until after her father tried to match her with a guy she didn't want that she got sick of his shit and tried to be a good guy for a while. Kudos for being her own woman there, but it's not really the heroic selflessness of a principled stand against the head of an organization that destroys lives every day--especially after you've spent years witnessing firsthand the misery he creates but kept bypassing the opportunity to tell him to fuck off and become a real hero. It's more the heroic selfishness of leaving a situation that's simply not good for you personally, having stayed in a situation that hurt other people until things went from comfortable to frightening. I think she's a very selfish person, in matters of love and ethics, and that's not a good thing for a hero or even an antihero.

And yes, I know there are those of you who say that every character can be redeemed, and every character has potential and with Talia... you're absolutely right.

Something happened in the last decade to this character. They killed off her father. The put her in charge of the family business. They introduced her son, and detailed the horrific lengths she went to to continue the family line with the man she'd personally chosen.

They broke the cycle.

They made her an official full villain.

I fucking love it, especially when Grant Morrison writes her because he doesn't mince the melodrama. He doesn't bother with the "I love you, but alas we are on other sides of the law" narrative that bores me to tears. This is a woman from a twisted family with a very twisted sense of what constitutes a family. She considers Batman her husband, and so will act to keep him alive and safe, but she is not a good guy at all. She will protect and nurture her son, and when he leaves her (as she NEVER left her father) she attempts to manipulate him back by threatening to disown and replace him. ("Why can't you just love me for me?" "It's not me" and it wasn't her father either. She's withholding her approval until he proves his loyalty just as he probably did to her and created the behavior pattern where she constantly returns to his side at the end of the story.) She will, in all likelihood, make him very miserable for the next few years trying to get him to return to her side of the family.

And so many people say they despise Morrison's version of the character, that she's not even a character but I don't see that at all. She's not one-dimensional, she's just as complex especially when it comes to her interpersonal relationships--she's just free of all the bullshit that makes me hate her. He's completely broken the cycle on this character, and she's gone from Bond Girl to full-fledged Bond Villain. I'm actually happy for her, it's quite a promotion.

As for the real thorn in fandom's side, Batman's statement that he was drugged when Damien was conceived? In a genre where 95% of female characters but just maybe 2% of male characters have been sexually harassed, threatened or assaulted... the biggest macho fanboy fantasy character in history has a sexual assault in his backstory and it hasn't hurt his standing in the slightest. It's still the male hero way, like Starman and Green Arrow, without the same lurid graphic depiction of sexualized violence that accompanies flashbacks of female characters. I think the imbalance there makes this far less offensive to me than if we'd had Oracle drop this memory. Don't get me wrong, Batman's wistful reaction is beyond fucked up and one of the things that Morrison annoyed me with, but I don't feel Talia is the character who suffers from this. She's a Bad Guy, after all, and I've never found her someone to sympathize with. I understand it really pisses off those of you who feel she should be a sympathetic hero, but I don't feel this character works as a hero or even a protagonist. Her heroism works on whether one person (or two, now that Damian's around) is in direct danger or not. If he is, she'll be a good guy, if not she's just her father's daughter. I do love her as a cold, corrupt villainess, though. Like I said, she strikes me as a very selfish person and that's a good thing for a villain.

My feelings on Talia are particularly worrisome for two reasons, though:

1) She is a character type I can only think of seeing in women. She's the chief henchwoman who falls for the hero character type, most often associated with spy thrillers like James Bond. It's a bit hard to untangle such a judgment from innate feelings about gender, and I'm having trouble thinking of a male character who boils down to the same concept for the "gender swap test" of prejudiced attitudes.

2) She is one of very few Middle Eastern women in comics, and the family politics and her position as a good guy or a bad guy are tied up with how the Western World views Arabic women. (Man, it does not help that her father was a terrorist but he's not religiously motivated at least.) It may be better that she stayed to run the family business and didn't just leave being an accessory to her father to try and become an accessory to Batman, or it may simply be another example of the Dragon Lady of the East archetype, particularly with her villainy so wrapped up in her family. I'm not really sure on this part. Though please don't try to defend the character based on cultural pressure to stay loyal to her father and family, because cultural pressure is something that makes a moral decision to value life more difficult, and therefore makes choosing to save lives so heroic.

Anyway, here's the rundown:

Talia al Ghul
Also Known As: The Cause of Shirtless Batman Fighting
First Encountered (By Me): Batman: the Animated Series
Franchise: Batman
Core Concept: Evil Love Interest
Writer Responsible For My Distaste: Every writer that has ever tried to pass her off as "not really a villain, but a tragic woman torn between loyalties"
Character I Want To Read That She's Attached To: Batman (and I don't really like to see her Dad pop up either when I'm reading Batman)

Best Character Trait: Brave
Worst Character Trait: Selfish

Similar Characters That I Like: Like I said, I adore the children of supervillains who break away from their parents Cassandra Cain in particular showed a moral strength and an empathy for the rest of mankind that's unheard of in her life up to that point when she ran away from her father after her first kill. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are recurring favorites of mine because of their constant struggle against their father--especially in the face of prejudice from the rest of the world. Damian Wayne is stuck-up little jerk, but he chose his father's more difficult path over the easy villainy of his mother and grandfather. But the thing is, these characters took the high road as soon as the exit presented itself, they didn't continue along Bad Guy Highway past exit after exit until they could actually SEE the dead end. These are characters marked early on to be heroes, and their family ties make them more compelling as a result.

Catwoman may be my favorite example of the "Reform the Evil Love Interest" thing, but it may be because she's not particularly evil or even selfish. She just doesn't feel confined to society's rules, whereas Talia's lawbreaking comes from conforming to her family.
I do recall another similarity, though, back in Devin Grayson's Catwoman run. Selina is approached during the story by a teenaged boy and an adult man. She spends much of the story thinking about family, and ends up arranging for both the man and the boy to be sent to prison (I forget which one she framed, or if it was both) and declaring that she wants a family, but on her terms. The issue ends with her peeking in on her new family in their prison cell. It was dark and humorous (and there was something in both the man and the boy's behavior that makes you side with Selina, but I forget exactly what it was), and it does remind me of Talia's possessiveness of both Bruce and Damian. She wants the family on her terms, so she's basically decided that Bruce is her husband.

Could I ever like Talia? Not as a good guy. She's aces as a psychopath, though.