Category Archives: Wonder Women

We Need to Talk About Furiosa.

My weekend blogs are usually a collective of thoughts on the comics I’ve read since my last rundown, but this week I want to focus on one, and one alone. We need to talk about Furiosa.

If you follow my blog, or have read any of my past posts, you will know I was among the many who highly sung the praises of Mad Max: Fury Road (which I argued should really be titled Furiosa’s Road), primarily for its fantastic Hollywood-shattering portrayal of women: fully developed characters in an action-packed movie so scarce on dialogue – never weak or purely plot devices. You can read my full appreciation of George Miller’s return here: https://faceittiger.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/mad-max-furiosas-road/. Surely, then, my excitement that the release a Furiosa spin off comic, to coincide with Vertigo’s new Mad Max franchise series, is understandable – and one voice in a chorus of many.

Oh boy.

Be careful what you wish for.

I’d like to begin by stating that, whilst obviously trying to remain in canon with Fury Road, it does not. This is not smoothly linked in, and it’s certainly not the prequel we deserve.

The beauty and brilliance of Fury Road is that we understood the background these women were escaping from without having to actually see it. The implication was enough, and the clipping of the belts added that extra nod just to make sure everyone was keeping up. And the women, each driven to gain their freedom, were so diverse: a shared goal from unique perspectives, each bringing something different to the team. It’s surprising, then, that Furiosa #1 has completely ignored these fantastic characteristics. Most shocking of all, although disappointingly unsurprising in the comics industry, is that almost every plot point is driven by rape. And not just the implication: graphic, brutal, disgusting, unnecessary rape. The powerful subtlety of Fury Road has been completely besmirched by Furiosa #1. Let’s take a closer look at just how wrong it went.

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The Wives

When we first meet the wives, we learn that Immortan Joe has gifted them with education: books, music, history lessons. Indeed, we’re told that giving these women a teacher was his “one fatal error”, because we all know how dangerous a group of educated women can be. Anyone else’s alarm bells ringing? And we’re only on page two…

The issue of education is brought up repeatedly throughout the 40-page book, and really makes each of the wives look like ignorant little flowers that desperately need protection. Rather than pulling from the implications in the movie that each of these women were interesting and led their own lives before being captured by Immortan Joe, they rely on Joe’s kindness of giving them a teacher. It doesn’t matter that Toast knew how to load a gun, and what ammunition to pair with each weapon when the other girls didn’t; or The Dag knew a thing or two about seeds (there’s one condescending page in the comic where they’re learning about peaches, their pits, and ‘oh, wow, seeds help things grow’). These women didn’t learn things through experience and share their knowledge with each other while held captive; they’re not interesting individuals: they’re lambs wrapped in blankets. The extent of focus on education is unnecessary, and could easily have been replaced by the women swapping stories from their life before. As Ana Mardoll stated in her fantastic post on Shakesville, “to me (and I’m guessing other women in theatres), it was no ‘mystery’ as to why the women knew things; they knew things because they were people.”

But it’s okay, you know. Immortan Joe really is a good guy, because he gives them such nice things. Books, music, knowledge, water. Surely being held captive, beaten, raped, held for a man’s pleasure is much better than freedom. Pfft. Who needs free will, amirite?!

I’m not joking when I say this is genuinely the attitude the majority of characters have in this comic. Furiosa tells the women just how good they have it; Joe asks “WHERE’S MY GRATITUDE?!”; and teacher, Miss Giddy, tells them to just “Stay calm within your core. In that place, he cannot reach you.” Great, because suppressing trauma is definitely the healthy and normal thing to do. I can have a bath, so please, continue to treat me as property!

The wives are treated as idiots by both the creative team and the other characters. They’ve just to put up and shut up, because it’s a lot better than anything else. They certainly aren’t capable of surviving outside by themselves, as Furiosa venomously reminds them. Miss Giddy also confides in Furiosa, telling her that the girls need a leader since they’re incapable of surviving alone. They’re reduced to nothing more than whimpering damsels, reading about peach pits.

To make it worse, the majority of their interaction with each other is when they’re being bitchy or emotional – but not, as Mardoll explains, genuinely emotional and deep, but “girly emotional”. They’re catty and cruel. Capable lashes out at Furiosa for not protecting them from Joe, and then apologises because she’s jealous. That’s right – she’s not mad because Joe’s raping them and keeping them against their will – that would be ridiculous! She’s got the red-headed temperament and is green with envy; “The moment you walked through the door… I was filled with envy. You looked so strong. Proud and Independent. A warrior magnificent.”

Am I the only one banging my head off the wall here?! The wives have been stripped of every single trope that made them so fantastic and interesting in Fury Road, and have been turned into dribbling children who need to be wrapped in cotton wool, and whose lives really aren’t that bad because they have baths and books. And to make things worse, their motivation for change isn’t the rape, or forced child bearing, or being held against their will – IT’S BECAUSE FURIOSA HAS TAUGHT THEM AND THEY SHOULD TRY TO BE LIKE HER.

The writers have well and truly created women who can barely tie their own shoes without guidance, never mind fight for their own freedom. They can’t think for themselves, apparently can’t survive themselves, can’t educate themselves. Urgh, I can’t even…

Furiosa

Oh my goodness, guys. We’re about to learn the back story of one of the most kick-ass women in cinema history. I bet it’s good! Okay, here we go, time to find out what happened to her to make her into the badass monster she is today. Ready?

Oh.

She was raped.

Great…

The creators have seriously missed an amazing opportunity. This could have been the chance to explore just what makes a female heroine, who is adored by male and female audiences, so intriguing, so mysterious, so awe inspiring. But no. I wish I’d been at the creative round-table:

‘So, guys, what motivates women? Where did Furiosa come from? How did she become a war-rig driver? And what about robo-arm?! The possibilities!’

“She used to be one of Joe’s wives, she was raped, and why not hint that she’s probably barren – so a rejected wife?”

‘GENIUS! We know how well that kind of approach worked out for Whedon!’

I held my head in my hands for a good ten minutes after reading Furiosa’s backstory reveal. I can’t get past the poor plotting. It’s like being presented with the Golden Ticket to Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but cashing it in to buy a life supply of advent calendar chocolate. But even then, surely Furiosa should have been more determined to help the wives rather than encourage their compliance? The narrative is weak, the writing lazy, and the opportunity wasted.

Their Bodies

One of my biggest problems with Furiosa #1 was the way in which pregnancy and women’s bodies were treated. On page three, we’re treated to a very graphic vaginal exam, in which the panel is framed by female legs. I’m sure this seemed like a fantastic creative idea, but as a woman who is now being forced to look through the eyes of an abused woman in a hugely intimate scenario with three slobbering guys in my vision, it’s unbelievably insensitive, and kind of insulting. Way to make a woman into a literal framing device, team. *slow claps*

We learn that these exams are so Joe knows when peak ovulation times are, which suggests his raping of these women is to repopulate with his teeny army of warlords. Haha, what suckers we are! They pulled us in with that trick, didn’t they?! It seems that the women are required to regularly ‘perform’ for Joe, and Toast’s disgusted sigh of, “where he puts it, there’ll be no babies” tells us that it’s as much for pleasure as it is for repopulation.

The list goes on and on with where the creative team totally missed the mark here. The girls are angry that Joe decides it’s finally time to rape Cheedo – the girl who is so young, she’s not ovulating yet – because she’s the only one not “infected by your poison”. Way to exploit the guilt felt by victims of sexual abuse, guys. There’s an attempt at abortion with a coat hanger which is overly graphic. Abortion is compared to war – I don’t think I need to expand on the idiocy and insensitivity of that. The writers can’t seem to grasp that, sometimes, women don’t want babies. Again, Mardoll brilliantly summarises the situation; “The movie narrative felt inclusive to me of differences between the wives: whether they wanted to abort or adopt out of their current pregnancy and have children, they were united in not wanting to bear warlords. Now the comic has twisted that to be a statement about a specific child, making the women’s flight for freedom just as much about ‘protecting’ that child from warlord-training as it was about making reproductive choices on their own.” And she’s right – in Fury Road, the women wanted total freedom: of their bodies, of their minds, of their choices – and they’d do anything to get it. In the comic, they are 100% objects. Their bodies, their minds, and their children and choices belong to Joe.

The Creative Team

The narrative structure of Furiosa #1 is almost an ironic paradox. When we come in to the story on page one, we’re met by a male storyteller, recounting the events of their tale to a captive audience, acting as an uncanny mirror of the comics’ entirely male creative team expressing the experiences of a female centred comic to their readers. I’m not saying men can’t write women – there are so many examples to shut that kind of argument down immediately. However, it’s important to remember that Miller was so desperate to get his sense of how women would respond in certain situations right in Fury Road, he enlisted the help of Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) – and it certainly worked in everyone’s favour. So why not do the same for the comic?

In investigating unique female voices further, it’s necessary to draw upon genuine female experience. By ignoring the female voice, the creators of Furiosa #1 have resorted to the lazy writing tropes that have haunted women in comics – and blockbuster media – for decades, and that’s what completely destroys this comic. For example, as I stated already, rape is used repeatedly as the motivation for the plot to move forward, as well as providing “character development” (if you can call it that). Shall we count the excuses? 1. Furiosa is enlisted as protector of the women after Rictus attempted to rape Anghard; 2. Furiosa doesn’t stop Joe from raping the girls on page 10, because he’s the boss, and he’s giving them a nice life, right?!; 3. Furiosa’s a badass because she was raped herself; 4. Furiosa holds the girls back once more from Joe during the Cheedo incident; 5. Furiosa finally decides to help the girls, after seeing them repeatedly raped and abused. That is FIVE excuses in FORTY pages – technically, thirty-eight pages. That’s more than once every ten pages!

The handling of characterisation is so poor, it’s embarrassing. Gone are the women from the screen, replaced by whimpering idiots who need to be led. And even when they do begin their escape, it’s not as the team we saw in the movie, but as bubble wrapped ornaments, bullied by a condescending Furiosa. Theron’s depiction of Furiosa was determined and hard, but never cold nor hurtful to the girls. She was maternal rather than monstrous: a militant mother on a mission, and hugely likeable. It took me a long time to snap out of wanting to shave my head and drive around the desert. But here, she’s just as guilty as treating the wives as inferior idiots as Joe and the comics’ creative team are.

URGH!

Reviews and Responses

If the content of the comic didn’t make you angry enough, the response by the creative team and DC/Vertigo has been just as sickening.

When contacted by Rebecca Vipond Brink, asking for a comment on the Furiosa #1 issue (in all senses of the word), DC responded with “Thanks for reaching out, we appreciate it! We have no comment to provide and are declining the request.” In other words, “we couldn’t care less.” Great – thanks for caring so much about change, fan response, and female representation in comics, DC!

To make matters worse, when called out on Twitter, Furiosa #1’s co-creator Mark Sexton responded with:

“Best answer is that the use of institutionalised rape by Immortan Joe is not only central to the story but without it, the story could be viewed merely as a bunch of young girls whining about being kept in relative luxury by an older man who’s concerned with their safety. Not really much room for dramatic tension there…!”

Erm… Am I missing something here? It’s okay to keep people captive as long as you’re not raping them? Well, alright then. I’m sorry, Immortan Joe – you are a stand-up guy! Please, continue to lock up women to your hearts content!

Sexton has totally missed the point here. We all knew rape was a part of the back story. We’re not idiots – give your audience some credit. But it does not have to be the root cause of everything. It does not have to be the sole reason these women are fighting for freedom. It does not need to be the reason Furiosa is a mysterious soldier. It does not need to be shown so obviously, and played upon FIVE TIMES. It does not need to be the reason for appointing Furiosa protector of the wives, and it certainly doesn’t need to be the motivation for her finally helping the women.

In Furiosa #1, these women have lost themselves, reduced to little more than wombs and a robotic arm. I am so disappointed in the rich pool of opportunity which has clearly been ignored, only for comics to return to the static state of using women as little more than plot devices – but that’s where the problem lies: it’s a comic about these women – using them as plot devices in their own story doesn’t work. It makes it dull and even more infuriating that thought hasn’t gone in to establishing strong backstories in which these characters can be defined as different, interesting individuals.

I, for one, will be boycotting the book from here on out, and am disappointed that Vertigo agreed to print it in the first place. I would urge those of you with any interest in a Furiosa comic, and in learning more about her backstory, to stick to the fan-fic online and keep the fond memories of the powerful, developed women of Fury Road fully intact.

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She-Hulk

It ain’t easy being green, but Jennifer Walters certainly pulls it off with considerable style and grace.

A Harvard law graduate and prestigious attorney, Jen in her human form was already an undoubtedly powerful force in the Marvel Universe.  However, following a shooting by notorious gangster Nick Trask’s goons, Walters needed an urgent blood-transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner.  This procedure was not only life-saving, but life-changing.  Now infused with gamma-radiated blood, Jennifer Walters became She-Hulk!
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Whilst it would be nice to think Jen’s character emerged from the public outcry for a powerful She-Hulk, she was originally created following the success of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ live action television series of the ‘70s.  In an ownership-of-rights race between Marvel and CBS, Stan Lee rushed to create a female Hulk character and, in February 1980, The Savage She-Hulk #1 hit the comics’ stands.

Unlike Bruce, Jennifer learned to maintain her personality and control her rage (to a degree), particularly once Morbius the Living Vampire helped her to develop a serum which allowed her a greater sense of control over her hulk transformations.  This ultimately turns Jen from the ‘Savage’ She-Hulk into the ‘sassy’, as she finds her confidence in her new lean, green alter-ego; using it to unleash her unruly wild side.

To a female reader, this is perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of She-Hulk comics; Jennifer Walters completely rocks her She-Hulk persona.  In a society where so much – perhaps too much – pressure is put on women by magazines, commercials, film, and television to try and achieve that “ideal” look of a perfect, beautiful woman, it’s great to see a character completely embrace their identity.  She has no intent of hiding her green skin and unruly mess of hair; what she’s got, she flaunts!  Walters also stands out, particularly in recent years, for being depicted with an athletic body form.  Yes, there’s the purple-lycra leotard, however, Shulkie definitely looks like she’s clocked in the hours at the gym.  It’s such a refreshing take in the comics world, where many of the female characters still look like they have a tiny waist and ballooned chests thanks to the magic of plastic surgery and eating disorders (looking at you, Wonder Girl, Starfire – the list goes on!).  Walters has been put through the paces throughout the years regarding her transformation; her initial change understandably caused distress, but whenever her ability to turn into her green alter-ego is taken away from her, she is devastated.  It’s apparent that Walters chooses and enjoys spending most of her time in her liberating She-Hulk form.  So ladies, next time your hair’s out of place, or your make-up’s run, or you’ve got a spot that ONE day you needed to look great – just think What Would She-Hulk Do?  You’re right – she’d own it.

Confidence isn’t the only admirable aspect of Walter’s personality.  She’s hugely intelligent, working as a successful lawyer, even being approached by the magistrates of the universe to work on a case.  But she’s also compassionate, aiding minorities in their cases, helping to rebuild towns she may have destroyed, as well as specialising in Superhuman Law (let’s face it, the collateral damage has to be fixed somewhere!).  Her position as a lawyer has been skilfully examined in Charles Soules’ latest take on She-Hulk in the Marvel Now relaunch.  In Issue 4 (out yesterday!), we see Walter’s internal conflict in agreeing to take on a case for Dr Doom: we all know he’s a big bad in the Marvel Universe, but even they need help sometimes.  Her conversation with Matt Murdock highlights the moral difficulties superheroes as lawyers face: their heroics need to stretch further than the average vigilante’s.

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Shulkie also has a fantastic sense of fun and wit about her.  This is particularly evident through her breaking of the fourth wall.  She’s very aware that she is a comic character, often approaching the audience, as well as jumping out of panels and across pages of adverts.  This tongue-in-cheek style really compliments the other aspects of She-Hulks character.  While she can be taken seriously in big story events, her She-Hulk persona is all about embracing the wild side.  She-Hulk comics are bright and colourful, and usually one of the most fun ones on offer.

So, there we have it.  A character who embraces her flaws, ultimately realising that they are her real strengths.  She is potentially one of the most realistic female superhero characters around; okay, the green complexion, superhuman strength, and height probably won’t be achievable for everyone, but with a bit of self-confidence, anyone can channel their inner-Shulkie.  She’s also incredibly intelligent and respected in the Marvel universe, proving anything can be done with a bit of hard work.  By acknowledging both her human and superhuman personas are a part of her, Walters is able to be the strongest person she can be; herself.

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Mad Max: Furiosa’s Road

Since first seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, I have not been able to get it out of my mind. Now, after multiple viewings, a week of blaring nothing but the soundtrack, and raving about it with anyone that will listen, I’ve talked myself out of shaving my head and driving a war rig across the desert, and have finally been able to put my thoughts into coherent words. Spoilers lie ahead!

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What a lovely day!

The latest Mad Max sequel/reboot is a full-throttle triumph, kicking into high gear and keeping its foot on the accelerator until the credits roll two hours later. A beautiful piece of cinema which is only heightened by breath-taking live-action stunts and a rocking soundtrack, Fury Road hits you like a sudden adrenaline rush, becoming everything you want in a summer popcorn movie, and then some. Behind the fast cars, the stunning scenery, the outlandish explosions and high-flying stunts is real depth. After two viewings, I still barely feel as if I have scratched the surface. But what I can tell you is there are lessons to be learned from this blockbuster.

Who killed the world?

Mad Max: Fury Road would surely have served better being titled Furiosa’s Road, because that’s exactly what it is. George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the future is Imperator Furiosa’s story – Mad Max is merely along for the ride. In fact, his one big heroic action scene in which he confronts and kills the Bullet Farmer happens off-screen as the audience stays with Furiosa and the girls.

Charlize Theron steals the show as Imperator Furiosa: the one-armed badass on a mission of redemption. Lesson One: George Miller knows how to write women – like they’re people. Usually in action movies, the heroine is either hyper-feminised: running in heels and firing weapons without a hair out of place; or masculinised until it may as well be a guy in drag. Not in Fury Road. Instead we have a whole host of amazing characters who are surprisingly fleshed out in a movie with such a lack of dialogue.

Furiosa is not held back by her femininity. Instead, it pushes her forward: it is her source of power. In a world where everything has died, where warlords rule the roads, she cares about making a change; about pursuing a non-barbaric life. Her mission to rescue Immortan Joe’s wives and take them to the fabled Green Place is not only a maternal drive, but it is one which longs to create new life.

This is true of all the women in the movie. Their hope and capability to start again keeps them driven under extreme circumstances. It’s a responsibility. From their ability to have children – which “will not be warlords” – to their carrying of seeds. New life lies within these women, and they’re capable of making it happen. They just need to win the world back from the warlords.

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It’s repeatedly asked throughout the movie: “who killed the world?” The answer? Toxic masculinity. (That is: a harmful patriarchy which is violent, unemotional, and sexually aggressive). This is clear from the nature of the movie itself: the thrill the warboys get from brutal kills, the excessive violence, the extreme explosions. Joe’s son, Rictus, expresses anger by firing bullets repeatedly into the air rather than communicating. Indeed, it’s interesting that male characters, including Max, are muzzled during the movie, and many communicate in little more than grunts. Perhaps a comment on the modern day approach of attacking first and asking questions later. Max himself recognises his place in this new world. At the end of the movie, Max doesn’t stay with the girls at the citadel. Why? Because he knows he doesn’t belong in their new world of creation, growth, and renewal. His “world is one of fire. Of blood.”

It’s incredibly refreshing for a movie to portray a variety of women, each representing different things, but are definitely more than just a body to ogle at. When the wives are originally revealed, unclipping their belts, freeing themselves from Joe’s ownership, an unnerving sense of ‘here we go’ settled over the room. Eye-rolling ensued. Max is going to have to save them there bimbos. But no. Fury Road gives a big middle finger to typical action movie tropes before darting off in the opposite direction. We know the terrible circumstances these women are running from without having to be shown. You don’t need to abuse women on screen for entertainment: the idea should be – and is – bad enough. There’s no relationships or romance, only compassion and respect. These girls are completely competent in handling themselves, stepping up when it’s needed. Because that’s what Fury Road is about: survival.

Just as the stereotypical roles of women in action movies veers into the unexpected, the tropes of the male action hero are also confronted. Max is not the lone soldier, punching his way through a world alone. He can’t be. His solo escape attempt failed. In this world, survival is the only objective. Gender, race, class, sexuality – none of it matters. Instead, it’s people helping other people escape from unthinkable circumstances. If Furiosa needs to use Max’s shoulder to steady her gun, so be it. Get the job done, no matter what.

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The Anti-Seed: “Plant it and watch something die.”

In a post-apocalyptic world, where little but sand and salt are left on the earth, bullets are in ample supply. The destructive nature of humanity takes hold, and the power-hungry thrive. Fury Road acts as a warning. Who killed the world? We did.

It’s no surprise the higher up the power-chain you see in Fury Road, the more grotesque people are. The literal fat cats. War destroys beauty. But it also makes beauty valuable, hence Immortan Joe’s pride in his wives. These girls will help him father healthy male heirs whilst being his prized possessions – one even has all of her teeth!  Their value is particularly well demonstrated when Splendid uses her pregnant body as a human shield. She knows Joe will not sacrifice his favourite wife, particularly as she is carrying an heir. This idea is paralleled in the warboys, who are portrayed as being ultimately disposable. As one anonymous warboy dives in front of a bullet to save Immortan Joe, his body is shaken from the car, and his sacrifice goes seemingly unnoticed. He is deemed less valuable than Splendid, or any of the other wives.

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I cannot fully express my admiration and adoration for Mad Max: Fury Road, but I do believe it has opened doors for a new wave of action movie, and that’s a great thing. We may now see the rise of the realistic female action hero; a new portrayal of how men and women can work side by side, no matter their gender, for a common goal. Fury Road has blasted right through the expectations that men won’t go and see female-fronted action movies, or that they’d hate every second of it. And it disproves that women just don’t like that kind of thing. Well, Hollywood, I for one would much rather sit through Mad Max: Fury Road multiple times a day than Pitch Perfect 2 just once (I imagine it’s just more laughing at the fat one, but it’s okay, cause she laughs at her being fat as well, right?!). Who killed the world? We might. But there’s still time to save it.

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Agent Carter

I was rather sceptical about watching Marvel’s Agent Carter, given that it was heavily promoted as ‘Peggy’s life after Cap’. Perhaps I was afraid I was going to be offered 8 episodes of sulking and crying, with some other soldier swooping in and showing her it’s okay: there’s still a fella out there for her! But with all the Age of Ultron backlash, I was determined to find something out there that Marvel had gotten “right”. And boy, have they got Agent Carter right!

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I instantly fell in love with the series. Instead of being everything I feared it would be, it was everything I was hoping it would be – and then some! Yes, we pick up Peggy right where Cap left her, and of course she’s upset. But this dame ain’t got no time for wallowing, see. We’re whirled straight into post-war 1940s America, where the boys are returning home and the women are being pushed out of their jobs. The one and only left clinging onto the SSR, in hope of making some kind of difference, is Agent Peggy Carter.

Agent Carter tackles a lot of the issues post-war America faced, particularly focusing on how the people were effected: everyone, not just the women. Injuries merely scratch the surface in this show, as Marvel delves deeper into the impact of emotional trauma and mental stress that soldiers faced in the warzone: seeing their friends die, killing – and all for what? It’s brave for a television show, particularly one led by a female, to focus on men being afraid, or startled, or upset by their experiences. But it only adds to the power of the show. It’s okay for boys to be upset, to feel frightened, or to need help. It’s not weak – it’s human.

Similarly, the show focuses heavily on the consequential return of women to the home as men return from war looking for work.  As Peggy continues to boldly walk into work every day, she not only faces the challenges of being an agent, but being a woman in the workplace. Instead of being given assignments, she’s told to make the coffee or get the lunch order; to do the paperwork and maintain the files. She’s reduced to little more than a secretary despite her capabilities. But it’s not only in the workplace that we see these changes – it’s also demonstrated in post-war accommodation for single women who no longer lived with family in women’s hotel, The Griffith. The ‘independent’ women living within these walls were anything but. Governed by an old crone who dictated their visitors, commanded their eating hours, kept a close eye on all of their actions and comings-and-goings, it was incredibly difficult to be your own woman in the 1940s. Luckily, the girls in Agent Carter have that fun rebellious side, mimicking the naughty adolescent behaviour you’d likely see in a classroom as children sneak sweets in class as their headmistress’ back is turned.

“No man will ever consider you as an equal… It’s sad, but it’s true.”

My biggest admiration in regards to Agent Carter was how apt, appropriate and relative it was. Despite being set in the 1940s, much of the message felt rather familiar. As Peggy battled daily to be taken seriously, to do something right, and to live her own life, she was continually undermined and ridiculed. Despite her amazing abilities as an agent, she just could not break that glass ceiling.

One episode I found to be particularly poignant in subtly reflecting the portrayal of women was in the second episode, throughout which the popular radio show: The Captain America Adventure Program was frequently ‘aired’. In it, Betty Carver (Peggy’s pop-culture portrayal) was a weak, whimpering woman: the damsel in distress the media so often enjoys portraying ladies as being. However, during one broadcast, as Captain America beats up the Nazis to save Betty, Peggy is busy beating up the real bad guys in real time to save the world. The parallel yet paradoxical nature of this scene was incredibly effective. We see the real woman pitted against what the media wants us, the audience, to perceive as real. And it’s through this power the media holds over us that our preconceptions of gender are born. But here we see the reality, head on confronting and contradicting what we’re supposed to believe – and it’s amazing.

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“There’s a difference between being an independent woman and a spinster.”

There is no love interest for Agent Carter. Her heart belongs completely to Steve Rogers, and he’s sadly on ice. But that means Peggy is not driven by love, or trying to impress a boy. And how refreshing that is! Instead, she’s determined, driven by her desire to honour Captain America’s memory, do the right thing, and uphold democracy. That’s not to say heroines don’t need a partner to be awesome. Let’s just look at Black Widow in Age of Ultron (yes, I went there. And I think the above quote is particularly apt in that argument!). But to not be solely driven by the desire to impress a mate is so rarely seen in film and television, particularly those targeted at a female audience, that it added a whole new dimension to Agent Carter.

Any hints of objectification are also absent. The show is so classy, I could see my face in its neatly polished shoes. Hayley Atwell is absolutely stunning, and it’s amazing to see that she has a figure. Not just a stick in a dress, there are actual curves which accentuates the gorgeous style of the 1940s. I aspire to one day pull off wearing a skirt suit like her! In the one scene where Peggy is caught changing, there’s no creepy lingering on her body, or a close up of her backside, or anything remotely sexualised. Instead, it focuses on her battlescars. Women can be beautiful with ‘imperfections’, and they don’t need to parade around half naked! So many healthy life-lessons!

One of my favourite aspects was the stereotype-swaps in the series. Two of our leading male protagonists, Howard Stark and Jarvis, donned the typical roles of women in TV series. In Howard, we found the damsel – the man needing to be saved. Of course, he also embodies the ‘slut’, but that’s the Starks for you. And in Jarvis, we have the whipped house-wife with a strict routine of cooking and cleaning for his wife before they settle down and listen to their radio shows before a prompt bedtime. He even knows how to sew buttons. The bumbling butler stereotype has been done before, but Jarvis in Agent Carter presents something truly different. And although he may take on the guise of the ‘weak’ house-wife figure, he also emerges a hero, empowered by his adventures with Peggy, proving anyone can be a hero as long as they’re fighting for the right thing.

I would urge every person reading this to please watch Agent Carter. Watch it yourselves, pass it to your friends and family, show it to your children. Only eight episodes long, with a second series on the way, it is vital this show gains and maintains the support it deserves. Not only is it a thrilling adventure series about spies and secret agents, but it’s potentially the strongest piece of work Marvel has created for the television or movie theatres so far. A charming show with class, style, and sophistication, its characters are more than punching bags: they’re complex – the men and women – showing the difficulties and trauma caused by war. What this show does for everyone is open doors. It’s okay to be upset, or need help. It’s okay to be a man, and it’s okay to be a woman.  There’s been a lot of outcry online recently about how poorly represented women are in the Marvel cinematic universe. Well, here she is. Agent Carter is right at the other end of your remote control. A woman who is strong, in control, and a role model to anyone: I’d say Marvel have got this totally right.

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Fiona Staples

This week let’s take a look at Fiona Staples, the multi-award winning artist best known for her ground-breaking work on Saga.

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Penciller, Inker, Colourist.  Staples has been actively involved in every aspect of comics’ art since 2005, where her project Amphibious Nightmare was published in an anthology collecting the very best of 24 hour comic day.  Her back-catalogue has since grown to an impressive collection.  After meeting Andrew Foley through Maple Ink Comics’ message board in 2006, she worked on her first series, Done to Death, a clash between vampire and hunter, published just as she was graduating from art school.  Staples also became part of the illustrator team behind the Trick r Treat graphic novel adaptation, as well as working on The Secret History of Authority: Hawksmoor with Mike Costa, and Button Man for 2000AD.  Finally, Staples has worked on North 40 with Aaron Williams and on Mystery Society with renowned horror writer Steve Niles.

Staples’ background in these sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and adventure stories undoubtedly set her in good standing for her most notable work to date; Saga.  Niles introduced Staples to Brian K Vaughan, which sparked the beginning of a hugely successful creative relationship, beginning with issue 1’s release in March 2012.  Co-owning the series, Staples was granted the opportunity to design all the characters, spaceships, and alien races, providing a huge sense of creative freedom in the comic.

An advocate for digital production, Staples has mastered the blend of traditional and digital techniques, hand-inking her characters before finishing the image on screen.  Her full-colour images are greatly inspired by anime and the worlds portrayed in video games.  And with the vast, detailed environments created in Saga, it’s no surprise she finds colouring digitally preferable!  However, Staples hand-letters her narration and paints the cover of each issue, creating a unique sense of freedom and elegance for each comic.  It is not only the covers and narration which escape the use of modern technology; we can see in the book itself Staples’ attempt to steer clear of traditional sci-fi tropes, as our protagonists travel in a wooden rocket ship, and much of the resemblance of traditional architecture and buildings in her scenery is certainly not accidental.  By mixing the traditional with the technological, Staples’ artistic style has helped to create a completely new fantastical world which defies the usual genre stereotypes; ultimately adding weight to why ‘Saga’ is one of the most popular sci-fi comic series today.

This distinction has not gone unnoticed.  Staples, Vaughan and ‘Saga’ have received huge critical acclaim, and been nominated for many awards.  In 2013 alone, ‘Saga’ won nine awards ranging from Eisner’s to Harvey’s to Hugo’s; two of which were awarded directly to Staples for Best Artist and Best Colourist.   And the nominations continue to roll in, with Staples being nominated for Eisner awards yet again this year.  The competition is tough, but my fingers are crossed for her!

Consequently, Staples is now one of the most recognised and respected artistic names in the comics industry, and rightly so.  Her constant hard work has allowed her to participate in a variety of projects.  Her variant cover art for the big companies like DC and Marvel are highly sought after, and her participation in the new Kickstarter Archie Comics series has been hotly anticipated by fans.  Her distinct style has ultimately led to her being part of a creator team producing one of the most popular fantasy comics of our generation, and this undoubtedly is due to the presence of her own creative voice.

So there we have it; a talented woman who has made a strong name within the comics industry; recognised by both fans and critics.  Who say’s girls can’t like comics too?!

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Black Widow

Rounding off an Avengers-filled week, I have decided perhaps the best woman to round the week off would be one of Marvel’s most recognised but perhaps underappreciated assassins.

Natasha Alianova Romanova: the Black Widow.

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She has earned a prominent place in the Marvel universe, being present in the most major storylines, as well as working alongside (and sometimes against) Hawkeye, The Avengers, Daredevil, Thunderbolts, and (of course) SHIELD.

Her past is an interesting one which has been greatly explored.  Born in 1928, she was orphaned in Stalingrad before being taken in by Taras Romanov.  She trained with a variety of organisations, such as the Black Widow Programme and the Red Room Academy, where she honed her special skills which make her such a deadly assassin.  She was given a variation of the Super Soldier Serum, giving her peak human strength, a toughened immune system, and slowed her ageing.  Despite her extensive training to become a powerful killing machine, Natasha also dedicated some of her preparation time to ballet; reminding us that she’s not completely lost to violence.

The brain-child of Don Rico, Stan Lee, and Don Heck, Black Widow made her first appearance in the comics world in ‘Tales of Suspense #52’ (April 1964), where she was introduced as a soviet spy sent to kill Iron Man.  She acted as one of Marvel’s deadliest human villains for some time, until her past was slowly unveiled.  With Hawkeye’s help, Natasha discovered she had been brainwashed into becoming the Black Widow.  It was this feeling of betrayal from her homeland which influenced her decision to stop fighting against the West, and to fight with them.

A lot of time has been spent discussing and exploring Natasha’s conflicted past, with various Black Widow publications considering the fine line between her actions as foe and ally.  Consequently, her dark history is one of the better known and most examined in the Marvel Universe.

However, I would argue that perhaps the most successful interpretation of Natasha is Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s current Marvel: Now – Black Widow series; which focuses on Natasha’s present and future, as she acts to compensate for her past, rather than dwell on it.

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For a character which is firmly cemented in the world of Marvel, Edmondson and Noto skilfully spin a thrilling web of espionage which allows the reader to become more familiar with Natasha and her life today outside of the high-flying company of the Avengers.  As someone who feels the Black Widow traumatic backstory may have been slightly overdone, my hopes weren’t high for this series; but I’m glad to have been proven wrong!  The series is very grounded and reveals Natasha’s true strength. As Edmondson explains “Her world is real; her apartment is small.  She dangles on steel wire outside of Dubai hotels, she doesn’t have a jetpack.”  Indeed, if this series has proven anything, it’s that Natasha is definitely able to keep up with her superhero comrades in action without needing their special powers.

In this new insight into Natasha’s life, we see that she is driven by atonement in order to amend her villainous past.  It is evident that each of her choices carry a great weight from her dark past, ultimately adding a great sense of humility to her character.  We discover that she is a loner, as she retreats to her apartment after her fast-paced missions each night only to be greeted by a stray cat which appears to have adopted her.  However, she is not depicted as miserable in solitude, but as strongly independent with her eye focused solidly on her own mission of redemption.  Series Editor Ellie Pyle lately stated “we have no immediate plans to see any of the once or future men in Black Widow’s life…this is NATASHA’S book.”  This solidifies Natasha’s independent role: she doesn’t need rescuing as she’s perfectly capable of doing things herself.

Visually, the series is stunning.  Noto’s style suits the book down to a tee, providing very elegant and beautiful art in a tale of missions, murder, and mystery; ultimately reflecting Natasha’s character.  Noto attempts to use different styles throughout, varying depending on the location and action taking place.  It is definitely one of the most visually pleasing books out there at the moment!

A mysterious woman through and through, the Marvel universe has developed a compelling character with a dark, flawed history; portraying her conflicted journey over the years, ultimately allowing readers a detailed knowledge of her difficult character.  It’s exciting to now be able to look into her future as an independent warrior woman who can take on the toughest of challenges and foes in a mission of atonement.  As Edmondson argues, “The Avengers need a secret agent, and SHIELD needs a bad ass.  She’s the only girl for the job.”  Truer words have never been spoken.

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Hillary 2016

Wonder Women isn’t all about comics. As the superheroes teach us, heroes come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, capable of anything. So this week, let’s do something a little different.

Three days ago, Hillary Clinton announced her bid to run as President for the Democratic party in the upcoming US elections – the first person to announce themselves as a candidate. Now, I’m not going to claim to be any kind of expert on American politics or, in fact, any kind of politics. I’m not. I am, however, very excited that the notion of a female president is being considered and – in many cases – celebrated. Clinton’s become the real-life Leslie Knope breaking into the boys club.

Before beginning, I should note that being a Scot living in London, completely uninvolved in American politics, this is merely an opinion piece, celebrating women breaking boundaries in male-dominated areas. The quality of policies, the candidates, and the final vote is for America to decide on polling day.

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With her campaign set to kick into full-throttle in May, Hillary Clinton has already received an overwhelming response to her candidacy – most of it positive – from across the globe. Whilst her policies are mostly underwraps for now, she’s made her stance on a few key points perfectly clear. She wants further recognition of women, children and families in the United States – to help and encourage their growth in various ways; and she wants to reform the traditional means of US political funding, which means distancing herself from the wealthy elite of the US and planting herself firmly amongst the people. A clever move, given the unjust nature of America’s government. One of the most significant things a person of power can do is demonstrate that they’re on your side; that they’re human. And I think Hillary could pull that off.

Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.

This obviously isn’t Clinton’s first step into the political limelight. A well-known name and face for many years, her political career has been ongoing since 1992. And although she first entered the White House as First Lady, this didn’t stop her from becoming politically active herself. During Bill’s first term as President, Hillary fought to establish the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has reportedly halved the number of uninsured children in the US. (Although why a country like the US would need their children’s health to be insured is another matter for another time altogether.) In 2000, she was elected to US Senate, becoming New York’s first ever female senator. Her response to aid the public and, most importantly, the victims of the tragic 9/11 attacks were a remarkable feat in a country where handouts are rare, but she ensured money was raised and help was given to those who needed it. During her time as NY Senator, Clinton fought to provide better healthcare, and aid small businesses in rural areas. She’s served aside Obama during his presidency as Secretary of State, and has been active in campaigns for human rights throughout her career.

As a woman in power, Clinton has attended events across the globe. Perhaps most notable was her speech at the UN Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing in 1995. This speech sparked global movements for women’s’ rights, inspiring healthy feminist activism, and tones of Clinton’s speech remain noticeable in today’s fantastic UN Women’s rights campaign, He For She. Women’s rights is everyone’s problem and everyone can help.

For my generation, Clinton is probably most recognisable from facing off against Sarah Palin in the 2008 presidential campaign. This is perhaps why I’m so keen to focus on Clinton and her campaign this week. Not to promote Clinton and her ideologies. But to examine the response to that campaign. In 2008, not one but two women wanted to be president. Their ideas were at the opposing end of the spectrum, but there was one element they could undoubtedly agree on. The bias coverage of their candidacy in the media. Two women striving to be in positions of power – nay, already in positions of power – were being openly mocked, ridiculed and objectified by reporters across the globe. The more power women gain, the more backlash there seems to be. Why?

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Cynicism at the ready with the Hillary2016 Campaign everydaysexism Bingo Card.

Throughout their campaigns, Clinton and Palin were not taken seriously. Reporters looked at their aesthetics rather than their political stance and substance. Their outfits were scrutinised, they were considered as emasculating their male company and competitors, they were deemed emotional whenever they were passionate in a speech. This is where gendered language becomes dangerous, and why it needs to stop. Rarely is a man considered bitchy or whiny or sexy or giggly. I’ve also never seen a political debate where a man’s been asked what he’s wearing, or told it was too frumpy. We all know that if politics was based on appearance, Ed Miliband would not be in the running to be Labour PM in May! But Sarah Palin was undignified by the media, whilst Clinton was considered a ‘ball-buster’. It seemed they couldn’t be equally masculine and feminine, they became hyper-feminised – the polar extremes of “what it means to be a woman.”

And this is important. When we do this to women in power, particularly via the media, we create a message for the younger generation that is incredibly damaging. “Sure you can be President, sweetheart, but you gotta stay slim, dress nice, and just nod along with whatever policies your puppet master gives you. Don’t think for yourself.” By dictating our idea of the “norm”, we’re only pushing ourselves further back. Instead of condemning Clinton for running for President; blaming her for being emasculating; questioning her femininity; or dissing her outfit, we should be celebrating the fact that she believes in herself enough to take a stand. She has ideas, and she believes in them. She’s confident enough to stand up in front of every person on the planet to aim for the biggest hot seat in the world – not just once, but twice. That is amazing.

Over the next few months, it’s down to the people of America to decide whether or not they want another groundbreaking presidency. But when polling day comes, remember to judge Hillary Clinton on her policies, not her gender.

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