Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daughters of the Dragon: Samurai Bullets

I finally picked up Daughters of the Dragon: Samurai Bullets by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Khari Evans. I have had this mini for a very long time but been unable to motivate myself to read it. I'd initially skipped the book based on the preview art, but people with trustworthy tastes kept recommending it so I picked it up. The problem was that each time I went to read it I found myself flipping open to a page of particularly egregious cheesecake. An unnecessary buttshot, and unnecessary cleavage focus... No crime so severe as what Benes has committed against a narrative, but still enough to make me sigh and put it aside. The faces were still distinctive and expressive, though, so I didn't completely write off Khari Evans, I just waited until I was in a receptive mood.

When I finally did get into it, I was glad I gave it a chance. The writing is FANTASTIC. The characters were so lively and likable, the pacing was perfect, the dialogue funny. I've read Misty Knight guesting in a few other things, and been fond of her for a while but this was the first time I'd seen the team together and Colleen was instantly a favorite. She's bright and cheerful and perceptive and energetic. Everything I love in a character.

The plot was engaging, helped along by the pacing. They knew just when to break it up for a humor breather, and when to open with an action scene and--most importantly for this sort of story--to end on a high note. Those last few pages of issue six were pure joy.

And when it came down to it? I even liked the artist. He does incredible expressions and hair and knows how to setup a page so the story flows, and a fight you can follow. There were a lot of butt and boob shot, but the posing and body language primarily got across their personalities and moods. The characters were distinctive, not all drawings of the same woman in different poses. The facial expressions were focused on conveying emotion rather than attractiveness. And as the story went on the T&A seemed to lessen so maybe he working on it.

I do understand that the art is referencing a style of movies and fashion, but I do think the sexualization went beyond style to the point we had a packaging problem for the story. I know back when this first came out I wasn't the only one looking at the preview art and shuddering at nipples visible through every outfit, not a bra in sight, butt shots, thong underwear, lingering cleavage downshots, cutaway fashion, faulty zippers and so on even in fight scenes. This stuff is a dealbreaker for some people, and I'd bet for more people than would rate the same touches as making it a must-buy. I know if I hadn't heard good reviews I'd never have bothered.

That's pretty terrible when you think about it, because you know that feminist comic series so many of us are asking for? The one with an unqualified passing of the Bechdel test, with female heroes and female villains, with women who have well-deserved badass reputations, with friendship between women and a optimistic ending? That almost nonexistent superhero story for women? Yeah... If that's something you want, this would be a good place to look.


  1. I'm glad you saw your way clear to checking this out, finally. Even though I was less than enthusiastic about it after reading the first issue, it soon grew on me to the point where I named it among the best of the year when it originally came out.

    True, there was some, as you say, egregious cheesecake going on- and maybe I'm not the best judge of these things, but I thought all in all it came across as more celebratory rather than exploitative, and wasn't central to the story by any means.

    Unfortunately, successive artists weren't as skilled as Evans at toeing that fine line, and the attempts to continue the series really suffered. Jury's still out on the latest, in my book.

  2. At times it really seems like the Bechdel Test needs a corollary regarding overt male-gaze-y situations. If the females are languidly lounging around in string bikinis and backbreaking poses, BUT NOT TALKIN' 'BOUT MENFOLKS and their manways, I don't know that it should pass.

    And that seems like it's a real loss. I've always wanted to like Misty and Colleen, because what I've seen of them has always been very positive/independent/insert keyword here, but they've always been drawn as having (among other things) a bad case of LaraCroftItis.

  3. I've that Evans was told by Palmiotti or someone else to turn up the cheesecake while he was drawing this but I don't know the actual veracity of that claim.

    Anyway, this was a great post -- I have similar thoughts about this series (so good but so much cheesecake) and was wondering if I was alone in thinking them.

  4. I always figured that the cheesecake was put in there to sucker guys who would otherwise have no interest in reading a solidly written feminist comic to read a solidly written feminist comic.

    As for me, my favorite bit of art is and will always be the panel when Colleen crashes Misty's Mustang into Rhino. That was way too cool for words.