Saturday, January 22, 2011

Women in Comics Wiki

Ladies Making Comics just set up a new project we can all participate in:
I went on a long strange trip last night. A niggle of an idea about a special, irregular feature on women of the Golden Age of Comics has ballooned into a full-fledged wiki focused entire on women of all comics forms (comic books, newspaper strips, webcomics, manga) throughout history. It’s extremely bare-bones right now, but I hope with your (and the rest of the internet’s) help, it can be ground zero for all information about women in comics.

I’ve already done one page, Kathryn Immonen’s, to get a feel for the format. Go add your own!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Scarlet Twilight could have used a parallax view.

I've mentioned earlier that I consider Wanda Maximoff the Parallax of this decade. Think about it. She was a Silver Age hero who suffered a worldshattering tragedy that was resolved in her storyline but used by a new creative team as an excuse to turn the character into a crazed villain and reboot the franchise. She was made powerful to an unusable extent and the resulting madness was central to a universe-changing crossover where she attempted to rewrite reality to undo the tragedy. After this, she becomes a boogeyman in the superhero community, a name dropped to conjure the dark possibilities of a trusted friend turning into an enemy.

With Hal and Wanda we have a male character and a female character having served the same purpose for the company, written in an incredibly similar character arc but handled differently in some very unsettling ways. Take point of view, for instance.

Hal Jordan as the star of the solo Green Lantern title gets a story following his point of view when he loses his mind. We follow him (the issue after he has made peace with the Coast City destruction) on his attempts to rebuild his hometown, through his painful realization that he can't sustain the illusion, through his justification for needing to gain more power and lash out at his friends, through his wild rampage until the book is officially handed off to his successor Kyle. Then, once Hal's journey into madness has been properly documented through his eyes so we all know the flimsy reason that the hero we've all read and loved for thirty years is now the main villain of the series, and his successor has been chosen, the camera goes to another character. The momentous reveal of Hal's transformation to his shocked friends and teammates in a teambook comes only after the Fall of Hal Jordan has happened in his own book, following Hal as it happened and featuring scenes that showed his state of mind as it deteriorated.

Wanda Maximoff as a member of the Avengers teambook doesn't get this treatment. Her turn towards the dark side is told through other viewpoints, by the surrounding characters speculating about her mental state. Way back when they started this womb crazy mess in "Darker than Scarlet" her memory was erased, she spent time catatonic, and she lost her sanity for a bit. Agatha Harkness, Magneto, Quicksilver and the Wet Coast Avengers provided the exposition during this when they discussed Wanda. Wanda, having no memory of the trigger for this (thanks a bunch, Harkness) was not able to express this reasoning herself, she could just say Bad Girl things and be egged on by her father. It wasn't until after this story arc concluded that she regained her memory of the children and could express the pain she'd endured in her own words.

Avengers: Disassembled is even worse in this respect. It's a mystery. Wanda's turn is the big reveal at the climax. We don't even get to watch Wanda undergo this breakdown as other characters explain, the entire matter is a secret while we follow the others. And while one could argue that we saw it in Darker than Scarlet, the entire matter was resolved in the interim. This book retconned the resolution away, and didn't show the second breakdown in detail at all. Anything in between that dealt with Wanda's feelings about her children was erased so we have never gotten the Wanda POV to this story. (Or if we have, it was in a side-book that wasn't part of the crossover that somehow I and the other obsessive Wanda fangirls managed to miss completely) For the second time we don't get Wanda's point of view, and here we don't get to see her until she's completely gone. The surrounding characters explain EVERYTHING. Dr. Strange explains her powers, her mental state and the changed continuity (contradicting all prior statements he's made about the character and erasing the resolution of the trauma that triggered this breakdown), while Wanda is offstage. When they fight Wanda, all she says is a grim "Leave my children alone" a few times. We can pity her, and we can infer where she's coming from.... But we never get to see where's coming from.

We never get Wanda's viewpoint until House of M and even then the vast majority of the story is told through the viewpoints of Magneto, Wolverine, and Quicksilver. Out of eight issues we get Wanda's point of view in one scene of issue one (before Prof. X tries desperately to suppress it for her own good, of course), and a few scenes issue seven, most notably before she takes out 99% of her species. That's not really even one issue. We get Wolverine's viewpoint steadily for over five issues.

That, of course, is still much better than what we're getting from Children's Crusade, where everyone except Wanda tells the story of how Wanda lost her sanity. Iron Man, Magneto, Quicksilver, Wiccan, and Dr. Fucking Doom have all told us about Wanda's life and her mental state, while Wanda stands there clueless and powerless. We're coming on the halfway point and she's still a total amnesiac.

And yeah, there's an argument that this is all over being in a teambook rather than a solo book, that this is to preserve suspense and that sexism has nothing to do with this difference, but with this being such an important matter for the metaplot of the Marvel Universe, with Wanda's behavior being so vital to rebooting two major franchises.... Surely they could have spared an issue or two during one of these crossovers to spend some substantial time inside her head after the reveal? Walk through Wanda's delusions with her? Show how wanting her children back led to destroying her adopted family?

Disassembled was ridiculously massive. House of M had 5 full issues of "Getting the band together." Children's Crusade is on issue four and they just now got to giving Wanda lines. These stories are dragged out to an amazing degree, but when it comes to exploring the complex mind and emotions of a woman suddenly everyone's into compression and it's sufficient to have a man come in and give his expert opinion of "bitch crazy."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad

In honor of my father's birthday, I once again present my favorite superhero cop, Jim Hammond the original Human Torch. Here is Jim's first week on the job as recounted by Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler.

Yeah... That guy didn't really cause him much more trouble after that.

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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Marvel Women Most Memorable Moments

Girls Read Comics Too has the first couple polls up. They feature instances of women doing stuff rather than being powerless and clueless while heir fathers and sons fight to save them for coming on five issues now.

Marvel Marketing Pisses Me Off Again

Play along with me, readers, as I list the ways that the Avengers: Children's Crusade #5 solicit pisses me off. Can you guess all six?

Pencils & Cover by JIM CHEUNG
THE SCARLET WITCH WAR IS ON! Latveria becomes a battle-ground as Magneto battles Doctor Doom — and the Young Avengers take on the Avengers — to determine the ultimate fate of the Scarlet Witch. But the mysterious reappearance of the time-traveling Iron Lad unleashes Wanda’s reality-altering powers upon the timestream itself, changing the game, and the Marvel Universe, forever.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

To be fair, I do like some of the things Heinberg is doing (though honestly, I think everyone so pleased with the last issue just has lowered the bar so much that if Wanda's not actively murdering people they consider it a good thing) but the way Marvel is pushing--and in other places not pushing--this series and Wanda's storyline annoys the living fuck out of me. Everywhere they tell us that Wanda is "criminally insane" and responsible for a more effective genocide than her father could have dreamed of. Every indication is that if they do bring her back, they aren't going to fix any of the real problems she caused and give her a real redemption. And everywhere I look there is no foreshadowing and hell, no reference at all to this storyline in any of the surrounding books, as though there is no intention that it will change anyone's opinion on Wanda in the future.

Now we get this solicit, which contains the following implications:

  • Battle lineups don't include Wanda, she's just the toy being fought over. For the fifth issue of the third event in the seventh fucking year, she's just a toy being fought over. I really don't see the need for a clever meta-commentary about this for a character who was an active decisionmaker from 1964-2004, with one fucking exception in the 80s so they could retcon away those kids you brought back (apparently so they can decide her fate for her).

  • "Reality-altering powers" I foolishly thought we were through with this "Wanda is a Nexus Crawler" bullshit. Billy gets magic, they have always treated it as magic, and Pietro's experience with Cthon was treated as magic too. Why are not okay with the magic explanation again? What was wrong with a soft retcon? I mean, they retconned out all the previous interaction with Dr. Strange with Disassembled? Why not just fucking forget those two pages? Or we could find out that was an imposter rather than Dr. Strange? Or mind control? Why do we have to go back to the exact problem that Bendis invented to make her unusuable as a hero to begin with?

  • Iron Lad releashes Wanda's powers upon the timestream. See Problem 1. Once again, she doesn't get to make decisions, someone else makes them for her. At issue 5, we really should be past the sort of shit that makes No More Mutants look good.

  • The cover does a thing I really hate, and it's not just a Cheung thing but something that has been bugging me on and off for years. Wanda and Pietro look like they are very different ages and different levels of attractiveness. Funny how whenever an artist does that, it's always the female twin who looks hotter and younger?

  • April? Issue 4 was out in January. You can't even keep to a bimonthly schedule here after you put this fucking special off for over two years?

  • Changing the Marvel Universe forever. I know, I've been wanting this to have a confirmed effect on the rest of the line... but they found a way to tease that and annoy me too. I would not put it past them to be serious here, and using the opportunity of another Wanda appearance to implement some M-Day or One-More-Day-style change they've been aching to shove in there. Something that, like M-Day, they plan to pin on her CRAZY Nexus Crawler powers that she can't control and can never redeem herself properly for, because they want to make it permanent. So, nothing real changes about Wanda (she's still a crazy weak woman who can't control her powers and needs her male family members to care for her) but they get to use her as an excuse for whatever shitty change they can't blame on Mephisto now.

    Shit. This is how Storm and Black Panther aren't going to be married anymore, isn't it?

  • (ETA: Okay, that last one might not be so bad, but that still won't change the first five problems with this solicit.)

    Monday, January 17, 2011


    Found and shared this on Twitter (via) earlier today, the famous story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr convincing Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek:
    “I hope you will get the story right this time, because for some reason, no one has ever gotten this story right,(laughs). I, after the first season, because my heart was still on Broadway and the performing arts part of me, the musical performing arts of me was yearning to leave. I never intended to be an actress other than in the theater. So for me, TV and movies, that was something to help me get from here to there. And so it was a shock for me to be cast in Star Trek . A shock and a joy. I was performing in England at the time of the inception of the show and my agent tracked me down in Paris and told me that they were doing a show called Star Trek, assuming that I’d know what that was. Because I’d been in and out of the country for so long.

    Now I’d known Gene Rodenberry since he’d given me my first TV starring role in a show that he’d done called the ‘The Lieutenant’. And he was one of the first people of that stature that gave me encouragement. He called my agent and said can you find Nichelle, because I need her for a role in this show and wherever she is, get her back here because I want a woman head of a department on the bridge. He changed the role from a man heading communications on the bridge and he wanted a woman of color. He wanted me and I came back and got the role. So the first year went by, and I enjoyed doing the role, to me at that time it was very challenging [laughs] but I played my role to the hilt, being the head of communications and all that and by this time the show had aired and I was starting to get notice and on the side I’m singing at places and people are hearing me and calling and I’m thinking, “Oh this is my big break! I have to leave this little show and go do it! I was thinking Broadway here I come!'
    The rest here.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    I don't understand Marvel sometimes.

    Remember 90s X-men? Remember this guy?

    Joseph. He showed after Magneto was "killed" in the whole Onslaught mess, and everyone assumed it was the old man de-aged with bonus amnesia. And for a while he was on the X-men as they milked the whole distrust the stranger who strongly resembles our worst enemy for all it was worth. During this, he got romantically entangled with Rogue, and it worked nicely because it had the positives of the romance with Magneto, where a guy actually treated Rogue like a worthwhile person (fuck you and your bullshit macho entitlement attitude Gambit) without the negatives of him really being a hateful old man and the main villain of the franchise. (Though again, directed at Gambit, when your biggest romantic rival is the main villain of the franchise and that guy actually treats her BETTER than you do, you suck.)

    As time went on, Joseph proved he was a genuinely noble soul and real hero in his own right, and the people who thought he was Magneto began to think Magneto could have been a good guy if only the psychic airline had lost his baggage. Then two things happened (and as 90s X-men went I'm not certain which came first): 1) Magneto came back, and 2) We met Mommy.

    See, Joseph was just a clone of Magneto, created by his mad scientist ex-girlfriend in order to kill him.

    Yes, that's right, Magneto has a good-guy clone-son and an evil mad scientist ex-girlfriend who wants to kill him... and Marvel is not using either of them.

    It's weird, too. Astra is a really, really horrible person, but I really like her. She was apparently in the Brotherhood pre-Uncanny X-men #4, but left for ideological reasons or because Magneto wasn't screwing her or because Magneto dumped her or all three. The falling out was apparently over greed, Magneto wants to rule the world and establish his demographic as the one in power, she wants to rule the world and get rich. It was amplified by the sexual tension they had. She is incredibly fixated on how she felt about Magneto and how attractive he still is and how he either turned her down or dumped her, to the point that her preferred method of killing him is to clone him and tell the clone to call her Mommy. Because despite the fact that she knows he's a jackass and she wants to kill him, she still thinks he's one hell of a man.

    For his part, he thinks she's a greedy soulless monster who cares nothing for her own people and is sworn to kill her on sight. He has called her deluded, so she may be a stalker-bad-guy rather than an ex, but I don't trust Magneto not to have taken a lover from his early cult when a woman was so readily up for the position. I mean... he was kinda creepy around Wanda sometimes (though not as bad as Xavier with Jean) and she was underage, his daughter, and completely repulsed by him. Astra's good-looking, older, and--even now that she hates his guts--really freaking hot for him. Also, he certainly seems to hate her a lot more passionately than he hates anyone else who's left the Brotherhood.

    Also, I love the way they talk. Magneto is very lofty and formal, Astra is disrespectful, flippant, rude, and colloquial. She calls Joseph "Joey", and continually makes comments about how attractive Magneto is, comes on to Nightcrawler, reduces everything to it base level and constantly mutters about the shoddy alien tech that she's stolen and is using to attack him. Oh, and when she doesn't get to kill Magneto or take over the world by taking advantage of human gratitude, she says this:

    I can't believe no one wants to use this character. I mean, how many supervillains, crazed parents, or psychotic ex-girlfriend/stalker characters have this much fun playing just one of those roles? She's having the time of her life being all three, and even stops to shake her fists at the heroes at the end!

    But sadly, no one seems interested in her or her poor kid. Joseph dissipated after throwing all his power into the magnetic field of the earth to fix damage his old man did, and Astra was apparently "taken care of" off-panel by Apocalypse sometime. Really, they should bring both back, Rogue deserves a better love interest and Magneto certainly deserves more enemies.

    That's probably the main reason I like her. There's an ex-wife/ex-girlfriend stereotype that writers love to play with, where the hurt woman dogs the poor innocent guy all over the place. Usually, this woman is very unbalanced and the wrong was completely out of proportion with result. Basically, it's always Carrie Fisher chasing the Blues Brothers all over Chicago so she can kill both because Jake left her at the altar. He's a jerk, but she's going way overboard.

    With Magneto? He's responsible for how much horrible misery? Beyond the whole genocidal maniac thing, just look at his personal life. His first wife left him because he killed a whole bunch of people in front of her. He lost his temper and crushed his own son to death once. He is the worst possible scenario of that smooth guy who gets you on his side and then reveals that underneath he is--to quote his daughter--just this horrible person. You can completely side with any woman who says "He treated me like shit and he needs to die" even if she's as objectively awful as Astra.

    Maybe that's it. They don't really want that stereotype to be someone that you even slightly side with, and if the guy in question is Magneto you know he did something horrible to her. Personally, I want Marvel to make a thing of this. I want this to be a Magneto problem on multiple fronts. Because not only do we have Astra in limbo, we also have his good-natured selfless wife Magda.

    Now, Magda is not established as being anything more than a baseline human, but her two children have radically different powers than their father and it wouldn't be too much for suspension of disbelief if an old lady speedster showed up some day. (Wanda's powers are established as having been fucked with by Cthon, so I'm figuring Pietro's the one displaying the natural X-gene.) Also, no stretch of the imagination to find reasons Magda might think her husband needs to be stopped or even killed for the good of planet, or at least her poor kids.

    Beyond that, we have Rogue, who ends up fighting the old man a lot as part of her job description. She generally thinks nicely of him as a lover, even when she knows he's a bastard politically, but her major romantic interest talks like she's a piece of trash he found on the curb so it might be a comparison thing.

    Dig even deeper to find Lorna's mother, who is human and dead but that's never stopped anyone in comics. She can show up like Carrie Fisher and launch rockets at him and it shouldn't cause too much confusion. People might not even wonder about the details until it's revealed she's Lorna's mom.

    And don't get me wrong, I love Magneto, he is my favorite villain specifically because he can be portrayed so sympathetically, has moments with genuinely good intentions and will organically cross to the good side from time to time. It's just that given the qualities he has displayed as a friend, an ally, a leader, an enemy, and a father, I wouldn't be surprised if every woman he ever slept with ended up trying to kill him or at least severely inconvenience him. At the very least my Dream X-book is that three of these four women team up to attack Magneto.

    With Bova as their Jarvis.