Saturday, January 29, 2011

He has no right to look this good.

I'd briefly considered ordering the Age of X: Alpha book this week simply because the Magneto costume design is so beautiful looking, and I am a sucker for Magneto. Still, the initial marketing campaign was very off-putting so instead O decided to slot that money towards a Chaykin-written Magneto one-shot. It is currently in the mail, but in the meantime @#$% Yeah Magneto has started posted some of the artwork and already I'm feeling good about my purchase. Check out this splash:

That is Magneto rocking the suit and trenchcoat look after he clears customs with a stolen identity. I'm told this is set when he first gets to the US, after the falling out with Xavier. Now, if I remember my X-men timing properly means that right now Xavier is scoping out Scott so it's within the past fifteen years. Magneto was a teenager in WWII, so he's coming up on 90 right now. That gorgeous man in that picture is around 75 years old.

Not only that, there's panels of him on a date with a much younger woman. I like this, because I'm particularly enamored of Magneto in a romantic setting. My reasons for this are complicated, though.

You know those terrible romance novels where there's an infamous bad guy who is a perfect gentleman to the heroine, so she falls for him? Not really the bodice rippers, mind you, but one of those where the guy treats her like fine porcelain but engages in violent behavior against every other character. It's this weird safe fantasy in love stories where the heroine is special enough that she is immune to the man's violent tendencies or he's somehow redeemed because sexism/chivalry keeps him from acting violently towards a woman.

Magneto romance stories use that setup, but his history acknowledges how completely removed from reality this feeling of safety is. Yeah, there's people like Rogue that he ended it with a bittersweet parting (I remember one where he told his life story in pillow talk to some girl he picked up on the beach and far as I know he just left, betcha this girl in this one-shot ends up okay too) but this guy has had some very bad breakups. Magda wisely realized that someone with that much power who is prone to paranoia and fits of rage is bound to lose it and hurt a loved one (like, y'know, their son) so she left. She leaves the children because she expects him to be so mad he'll kill her and take them. It's heavily implied that Lorna's mother was killed in a plane crash caused by Magneto. He attacks Astra on sight. Hell, even that bromance he had with Xavier ended on a really sour note.

And because they've done this, they've established that he is a bad guy who does bad things even to people he loves, they have a lot of flexibility when it comes to Magneto stories. They can explore his soft side and humanize him without erasing or trivializing his violent side because Magneto is such a huge, established and well-known villain that there's no point in trying to explain away his past or sweep it under the rug. It's there, and the writer has to accept that this is Magneto and he's been a pretty awful person. In the meantime, he's had enough softening and humanizing stories by this point that they don't come off as weird or insincere. Sure Vision and the Scarlet Witch #4 was probably weird when it first came out, but by now we all know just how complex this guy is. He can be the grand world-threatening villain without losing our sympathy, and he can be the melancholy, remorseful father without losing his threatening presence.

Ultimately, this what makes him such a compelling villain. His origin and subsequent actions, all of the alternate universes where he's a good guy, all the side-switching, his love life and his attitude towards his children all mean he has our sympathy. Not only that, we can relate to him. We can see ourselves in the shoes of this guy who just randomly has all of this power and ability but has given into his rage and pessimism to end up being exactly the kind of person who caused all of his pain. We can see him as a cautionary tale, someone to pity, someone to root for and someone to fear.

And we can look at a splash page like that, of him full of hope and cheer having stolen his friend's identity and illegally entered the country, and know that he's going to become a major supervillain but still smile at how happy and roguish he is, and how great he looks in the suit.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Team-up I'd Like to See

Polaris and Quicksilver

Right now, Mike Carey's hinting that there'll be Polaris and Magneto interaction this year and I do want to read that but I've seen those two together already. I really want to see her interacting with the twins, especially after House of M. That sort of story should completely change their dynamic.

Of course, the big character dynamic with the twins was set up in a lackluster way by Chuck Austen in Uncanny X-men. Prior to that, I don't remember her really dealing with Wanda (I'm trying to put together the issues of Exiles where AU Wanda and Lorna were together) but she's had a lot of contact with Pietro. They were on X-Factor together, and later they both worked in Genosha for Magneto. Sadly, I think he left before she found out they were related because Austen has her dropping the news on them after her initial post-Genosha breakdown, during the build-up to that dreadful Wedding storyline that I hope Wanda wipes from reality in Avengers: Children's Crusade #5. It bugs me a bit that we didn't see a significant team-up between Pietro and Lorna during that.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see the sisters together, but Pietro and Lorna were on a superhero team together before they found out they were related. They worked closely for a while, and I want to see how this discovery affected this. Not only that, Quicksilver is an extremely family-oriented character, and Polaris has a running plot about trying to discover her true self. These characters should want to have a relationship and talk about this revelation, how it's affected them, and just generally about the family.

Lorna is the innocent member of the family in the House of M family fight fall-out, but she was also pulled into the family substantially for the first time by the twins during this. Having been present at the climax in HoM#7 she should remember Wandaworld, her father's fit, and have some words for both the twins and Magneto. That's a mess of emotions on her end. There's huge dramatic potential here and honestly, the best time to do it is during this period between Secret Invasion and Children's Crusade while Pietro is sane but miserably alone and disconnected from his family. (When Wanda gets back, Pietro won't be nearly so starved for sisterly approval.)

Sadly, Brevoort's formspring answers suggest there is no interest in developing this in the Avengers books, and the X-books for years have focused on Magneto and Polaris over her relationship with either twin. I have my fingers crossed Peter David will do something in X-Factor, though.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I for one can't wait for Amazon Princess Blush

On Youtube, Temptalia has a two-part review of the Wonder Woman MAC cosmetics line packaging. (Via Lulubonza)

This stuff has been all over Tumblr and honestly I keep getting more excited for it. Using Wonder Woman to sell makeup is actually a really great idea and I am shocked that we don't see this more often.

I know, I know, I should be on about false patriarchal beauty shit but I'm not really anti-makeup. It's like fashion, the industry is problematic and the pressure to conform is ridiculous but for a lot of women this is an art form. We wear our creativity.

Besides that, one of the big problems we have with getting a decent Wonder Woman story is the assumption that she is a character made to appeal to the men, a part of a boy's genre in a boy's medium that should be packaged and marketed for the straight male gaze above all else. This idea is what makes people cringe at the idea of a kid-friendly Wonder Woman cartoon for little girls, or cutting down on the horrible sexualization in her art, or just really putting some effort into a female-friendly take on Wonder Woman.

Cosmetics and fashion are forms of self-expression overwhelmingly dominated by and marketed to women. Wonder Woman being used to sell cosmetics is THE concession in the "Who does Wonder Woman appeal to?" argument. This is DC admitting that Wonder Woman is character designed to appeal to women. I want some of this makeup, but if I don't manage to get any of the limited items I can take some solace in that it sold that much better than expected, and that we have such a successful example of the Wonder Woman brings in women's money rule to throw at DC.

Besides, check out the names of the items.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sidebar Addition: The Paper Mirror

The other link I added to my sidebar besides the infamous Rule is a piece by Cathy Leamy called the Paper Mirror. That this is so unknown and unreferenced is absolutely criminally. I'm not sure where she got the title, but I really think the phrase "Paper Mirror" should be in regular use when we discuss diversity in comics. It describes exactly what many of us have been trying to say in letters and message board conversations and thirteen-paragraph blogposts.

Sidebar Addition: The Rule

Over at the top of my sidebar I added a link to the Rule from Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For. The Bechdel Test is downright mainstream by now, and I see tons of people explain and use it as a conversation opener without ever linking this comic.

Go read it if you never have. I'll wait.

I'm always a bit irritated to see people use the test without linking the comic, not because I feel credit isn't properly given--the cartoonist's name is the test name--but because it's a weaker way to get the point across. See, as good a conversation starter as the Bechdel Test might be, it pales in comparison to the comic itself. The comic itself is not effective because it sets down some sort of litmus test or even a way to analyze movies for the futures. It's effective because it puts forth in a simple punchline Hollywood's pathetic limitations when it comes to women. You react just like the characters. You laugh at the joke, then you sigh because it's true. No blog post with bullet points can get this kind of disappointment across as well as the second to the last panel.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More Poor Marketing

Young Justice preview clip from DC Women Kicking Ass.

While I didn't take to the boys in the pilot, I had some hope I'd like Miss Martian. Sadly, I haven't had a chance to see the second episode and from it's promo added to this one I'm not sure why. I mean, look at this. They are on a "stealth mission." Martians have telepathy, invisibility, intangibility, and shapeshifting. They are sneak-machines. Miss Martian has all of these cool powers she can use in a scene like this.

They decide, instead of showing us how cool her abilities are, to take a second to tell us she likes Superboy's ears. In the last promo, Kid Flash talked about how attractive she was. This is clearly the most interesting part of the character to the writers. When given thirty seconds to showcase their team, they decide twice to focus on Miss Martian's romantic aspect. I've seen one image of her flying and maybe having blown something up, and that is only after they spent more time having Kid Flash talk about how hot she is.

So, with all the powers that a Martian has, which is everything Superman has plus telepathy and shapshifting... the coolest thing they think Miss Martian does is crush on Superboy.

This promo, and the other one, send a pretty clear message that this character is boring as shit and I shouldn't a half hour on the off chance that I might like her.

"But Raaaaagnell! You shouldn't judge a TV show by it's advertising!" Well, why the fuck not? This is what THEY think is the most enticing footage from the next episode, why should I assume there's anything different in the rest?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Link: Most Memorable Moments of Marvel Women Semifinals List

I owe you guys a "How a return to magic-based powers can actually save the Scarlet Witch as a hero" post, but it's getting late in my timezone. Instead, go read the list of Most Memorable Moments of Marvel Women at Girls Read Comics Too, and let them know if you want to do a writeup. Some nice ones made it, too. Jan walking out on Hank when he hits her, Storm beating Callisto, Valkyrie's "I do NOT hate men, Sub-mariner, I merely KNOW I’m as GOOD as they are", Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix Saga and so on.

No Wanda, but on the bright side that means no "No more mutants."

Also, I don't mean to brag but--Wait, yes I do. Two of those are ones I suggested, the Jan Van Dyne and Valkyrie moments.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Defending Quicksilver (Hang on, this is a long one)

I've been meaning to blog for a while on Quicksilver's mental breakdown, mainly to answer fans who think that there's no fixing House of M, Son of M, and Silent War without a Skrull or possession explanation. Really, there's a number of points in the storyline that a writer can seize on and use to exonerate him without pulling in a new mind-controlling villain into the mix or saying it was an imposter. I don't know if Bendis or Hine put them in there on purpose, but they're there and I think Peter David at least saw a couple.

In the first place, the already accepted explanation for his complete breakdown is a pretty fucking good one. In House of M he's portrayed as a good but extremely foolish man. Bendis is actually sympathetic to the twins. He makes Pietro play the villain not by setting things up to get everything he wants (like he could), but by setting up a place to hide his sister and sacrificing his own happiness. He gives his father the benefit of the doubt and convinces his sister that Magneto could be a good guy if he had nothing to be afraid of. He gives up his own independance and becomes the obediant, adoring son his father has always demanded. The end result? The old man crushes him to death, he gets resurrected by Wanda (which, judging by Hawkeye's odd behavior afterwards, probably has a temporary effect on the brain chemistry) and awakens the next day to discover that his sister has left him, taken his power, and taken the powers of 99% of his species.

Thing is, I have run into fans that don't think this is enough. That's okay, because there's quite a bit more going on here.

I actually like the first issue of Son of M, because they play this up really well. He's dejected, miserable, powerless, blames himself for M-Day, and when he finally looks past himself to realize just how much harm he did when he was trying to help he finds it so painful he throws himself off a building. Hine really manages to put forward just how depression he's in at the beginning, so when Spider-man's tirade puts him over the edge to self-harm it doesn't seem out of nowhere or a sudden attempt to get sympathy for the character. It seems like this is a person who is that depressed, albeit because of his own actions.

Hine paints a sympathetic portrait of a man becoming a monster, but he doesn't ever call back to the fact that Pietro's a good man. He just has the events unfold and gives us Pietro's view of himself and others during this time. That's actually what ends up ringing false. Pietro is believable in a sickening way when you've been reading him up to this point, but if Son of M #1 was your first exposure to the character you'd think he was always self-centered and short-sighted rather than suffering from an incapacitating bout of depression and that this was him finally getting the results his actions were going to lead to. Crystal's statements, and part of why I hate her so badly in this, suggest that he always had a selfish dark streak and that that was what dissolved the marriage and none of her actions or even her awful uncle screwing them both over. She's an ex-wife who's bad egg of a husband has returned looking for her, and she's strong to tell him off. We're supposed to empathize with her as the virtuous partner. Luna comes off as innocently not knowing how bad her father is. Because we've read Quicksilver, we know he was a real good guy and a good father and husband who tried his best but Hine never lets us see the man Pietro was before M-Day. /He doesn't explain how a good man like Quicksilver be responsible for House of M--leading us to conclude that Pietro was a bad man (or that he has been retconned to be a bad man all along)--or explain how a good man would be driven to stealing those crystals, leading us to conclude that Pietro's nature is supposed to be a selfish bad man being revealed for once because he's lost his power.

It's really skillfully done, the mood and the pacing and the voice all support the story and character, but there is absolutely nothing even acknowledging that he hasn't always been selfish and ruthless. We have to add that ourselves as readers. There are, however, a couple of things in House of M and Son of M together that hint that he's losing it for an external reason.

There's the mood in the first issue of Son of M. There is a great cover where the artist shows everyone as moving superfast while Pietro's standing still, but inside there's a different problem. Pietro's not upset everyone else is moving fast. He's upset that he is moving slow. We know from years of characterization that Quicksilver's powers aren't just running, that he actually perceives and thinks at a greater speed than anyone else. That's why he has a patience problem. He has time to get bored in between words. If he lost all of his powers, everyone else would seem faster like on the cover. He wouldn't be able to keep up with conversations or events, everything would confuse him because it would just be going at a much greater pace than he's used to. Instead, he understands everything that's going on around him, and he perceives himself as going at a snail's pace. He doesn't see other people as going faster, he even asks how they can stand being so slow!

Whether through a stroke of brilliance or a major mistake on Hine's part (*it seems natural to paint someone as being constantly aware of their lost power but really, if he is used to having 5 times as long to process everything, he shouldn't be able to hold a conversation or react at the just slightly too slow speed he's shown reacting at), Pietro's powers are only halfway gone. FYMaximoffs on Tumblr speculated that he hadn't really lost his powers in M-Day, and was just suppressing them out of guilt. Myself, I'd been thinking that Wanda really wanted to depower her brother (thinking it would help him because as much as he loves his powers he's had a lot of social difficulties from them) but messed it up and only got it partly right, fucking his head over even more. The idea he did it himself from the trauma makes more sense, and I prefer it a lot. Whatever caused it, his powers are partially there and causing him to lose his sanity. He's lost his family and he knows it's his fault. He has only one skill, being a superhero, and he can't perform that job anymore. Then Spider-man comes along and tells him (I am not exaggerating) he has no reason to live.

Once he gets to Attilan? Hine actually establishes that someone up there fucks with his mind. This story actually excuses him for his idea to steal the Mists. The Inhumans punish the bad guy and ignore that his brain was fucked with for the umpteenth time when talking about how horrible Pietro is (like they do whenever Maximus fucked with his head, I hate the Inhumans so much), of course, but the writer does put it in there.

And this wasn't Maximus. There is yet another psychic who thinks Pietro's mind is his to mess with so he can achieve his own goals--really, why have we not had a story where someone addresses that psychics (Professor X, Moondragon, Maximus, and now this Videmus dude) don't seem to care about Quicksilver's sanity or rights? Is it the high-speed brain, does it come off as a buzzing that annoys them and they have to stick their hands in there and stop it? Marvel needs an alternate universe where there are no telepaths and as a result all of Magneto's children (and a number of other characters) are in fine mental health. And Magneto needs to see it so he can stop taking his kids to Charles Xavier rather than real therapy.

*Ahem* Back to the original subject, Secret Invasion also establishes a Skrull presence in Attilan. As a result, I look at this and see even more people manipulating Quicksilver in addition to the rogue telepath he connected minds with, the brain moving too fast thing, the depression, the trauma of having been killed by his own father and been brought back to life by a woman with the power to make things go horribly wrong, and then the mental stress of either having a witch use him as a power familiar to focus a spell that changed reality/history and then one that changed the whole multiverse or having to help mentally guild an ultra-powerful reality warping emotionally unbalanced mutant in creating a coherent reality. (Oh, did I mention that I think the Scarlet Witch basically used him as her cat when she cast the House of M and M-Day spells? Well... more on that in the "Ways a clever writer could save Wanda" post I'll probably get to before the next issue of Children's Crusade.)

So that takes care of everything from M-Day to the to the Terrigen Mists. He was losing his sanity and getting desperate, so he tries what he can to get his powers back. What he can try is to expose himself to a dangerous chemical that warps his physical body, has undocumented effects on the human/mutant mind, does nothing to solve his problem of his brain moving faster than his body, and triggers a power that has an even greater detriment to his sanity: Time Travel. Pietro's very first use of time travel is to meet his horrible future self, a future self who tricks him into murdering someone and exposing himself to that drug more. From this point on, he takes it more and more and gets worse and worse until he gets thrown into detox for the Quick and the Dead, goes through withdrawal and his natural powers come back completely. It's pretty obvious that all of his actions from that point onwards were to be attributed to the Mists. I'd argue that the actions leading up to it can be excused as temporary insanity, too, because of the trauma in House of M #7 and the disconnect between his perceptions and his actions.

This brings us to House of M. Nothing can save the character from that, right? Well... Maybe Magneto can.

In House of M #1 Magneto finds Pietro at his sister's bedside and demands to know why he's there. That little question is glossed over but it is the oddest thing for Magneto to say. This is Quicksilver of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch here. Also known as Pietro "Is my sister going to be alright?" Maximoff. Now, I didn't read Excalibur but if Wanda is ill, why wouldn't he be there? We know as teenagers she used to get sick when she used her powers too much, and he used to take care of her during that. He's been playing nursemaid for her at least since they were 13. The thing to question here is that he hasn't been at her side constantly, rearranging the bedding, bringing her water and chicken soup, reading to her, doing anything that can possibly be done to care for a sick person. The only explanation for that question is that Magneto's already made it clear that he's not supposed to be there, probably to prevent Wanda from accidentally hurting him.

But Pietro's in the room in House of M #1, and this can't be the first time he's been there. And maybe... it's not the first time Pietro's tried to help Wanda control that power. I mean, it wouldn't be the first time he's applied his will to a mystical situation to try and help her (see "Nights of Wundagore", which is either magic or a result of Wanda's power by the Bendis retcon so it applies either way) and they probably couldn't have created a world so intense without having practiced first. Maybe whatever caused Wanda to lose her sanity got passed onto Pietro and amped up the stress level, leading to his own actions in that miniseries. If they go by that hateful idea that those powers cost Wanda her sanity, can you imagine what they did to the guy who's not built to have them? If it's just magic getting out of hand it makes even more sense that he was affected. And if she's being possessed or affected by some external source then that's probably been passed on to him by the opening of the miniseries too.

My point is, for a clever writer (or even just one with eyes) there's no reason to completely retcon out the past few years to save Quicksilver as a heroic character. His actions in Son of M were terrible, but there was major external interference causing it. Any combination of the items I mentioned above could be explored in a scene where someone questions Quicksilver's return to the Avengers and you can use him cleanly afterwards.

Crystal, on the other hand, would benefit greatly from all of us forgetting this miniseries ever happened.