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My Week in Comics: Thor Almighty!

“Raise Hel, Goddess of Thunder. And let the rest be damned.”

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The big reveal has happened! Through the twists and turns of Thor #8, we finally learn who now wields Thor’s hammer – and she’s more than worthy!

The opening panel of issue 8 is astonishing: breathtakingly beautiful as Marvel’s army of females strike their battle poses as they attempt to destroy the Destroyer. I’ve really loved the depiction of women in this female-led Thor run. Never are the superheroes posed in an awkwardly sexualised manner or as skinny stick-figures, but as strong warriors. You can really believe that Thor is Thor, because she has the arms to hold Mjolnir. Athletic, not anorexic.

The story has also been consistently strong, and the anticipation building in the panels leading up to Thor’s true identity makes the reveal all the more powerful. The good news: the first trade collection of Thor: Goddess of Thunder is out NOW! The bad news: you won’t get far on the internet without the reveal being spoiled, so catch up soon!

Heroes in the Modern World

One of my favourite things about modern comics is seeing them fit into the modern world. Many of these superhero characters have been around for decades, so it’s always fun to see them adapt to the modern world. One example of this was found in Silk #4, where we see Peter Parker and Johnny Storm playing video games together. However, as Silk goes on to prove, we sometimes you can’t beat a good ol’ fashioned superhero hang-out as she and Johnny get their flame on during their first date by beating up bad guys.

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Perhaps this is what is so appealing about the new Howard the Duck series (with #3 being released this week). Howard the Duck is the modern approach to the idea of the “funny book” – a comedy adventure story which really does not take itself seriously. But its constant tip-of-hat to various pop-culture references both inside and outside the Marvel universe makes it all the more entertaining. The Spiderman joke in #3 had me laughing like a lunatic, whilst I nodded in appreciation at a Scott Pilgrim reference. It’s things like this that keeps comics fresh, and adds that extra connection with the audience.

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The Walking Dead #141

The twist between leadership styles was cleverly portrayed this issue: but who’s got it right?

“Lad culture is based upon the unscientific premise that women are genetically identical to Kleenex. It’s like creationism.”

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The first issue of Giant Days, I was unsure. Issue 2, I was willing to keep going. Issue 3: I am totally on board! This issue confronts lad-culture (and the usual female response) head on, and it is fantastic. It’s a popular trend these days for young men, or “lads”, to shame others they don’t see as being quite up to their standards on the internet. For example, girls are usually “sluts”; homosexuals are usually “fags”; and obese people are, well, usually the butt of all their jokes. And lads are usually the young men who sleep with as many “sluts” as possible, and make amazing jokes about minorities which they call “banter”. I don’t think I need to go much further in explaining how disgusting and derogatory “lad-culture” is. Luckily, Giant Days #3 does this for us!

In this issue, Esther has been on a night out, got a bit hammered, and ended up in a top-ten list on a University ‘lad/banter’ website. Humiliated, she understandably wants to crawl in a hole and die. Who wouldn’t?! And when her reports are ignored by the University as ‘harmless fun’ (which actually happens in real life – really, it’s a thing. Google it!), she loses all hope of ever regaining dignity.

Not only does Giant Days highlight the absolutely disgusting and objectifying nature of lad-behaviour, it also goes on to question that ‘fine line’ between feminism and misandry. Susan, in hope of avenging her friend, goes on a man-hating rampage, canvasing the campus about how terrible all men are because of this lad-culture.

Ultimately, Giant Days is a funny, but eye-openingly aware look at our modern society. All too easily is this newfound ‘lad-culture’ dismissed as ‘banter’, when in the harsh light of day, it’s bullying. It’s a free pass to objectify women and humiliate anyone who doesn’t fit into the ‘lad’ club – one I won’t be applying for membership for anytime soon. The fact that Universities and education systems tend to dismiss this kind of behaviour is awful: why let discriminatory behaviour go unpunished when it can lead to quite devastating effects for its victims? “It’s just a bit of fun” is exactly what Giant Days calls it out as: “Bad explanation!” But similarly, to combat this kind of behaviour, us ladies can’t go around pointing the finger at every male on the planet. It’s everyone’s problem.

The CW Sneak Peeks

The trailers for The CW’s Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow have been released, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about each of them! Admittedly, when Supergirl was originally announced, I had many reservations: they’d need to get it just right since it’s Supergirl – and that’s a big deal. Plus, how will an alien story fit in with all the very human (or meta-human) groundwork Arrow and The Flash have already established? Will it fit?

But the trailer looks promising, rom-com soundtrack aside. The work the CW has done on Arrow and the Flash has been brilliant, so I look forward to seeing how they handle Supergirl. Provided it stays more “I can stop the bad guys, lift aeroplanes over my head, and stop Earth from being destroyed” rather than “Golly, how do I juggle work, clothes, saving the planet, and boys?!”, we’ll be onto a winner. I’m on board for the pilot, at least!

As for Legends of Tomorrow: it may have a ridiculous name, but it looks anything but! A ton of fun bundled up into a TV series! A gigantic team-up on a small team! Because “sometimes the world needs a team” – or as close as it can get to one. And, Hawkgirl has landed– yay! Our heroes (of sorts) are teaming up to take on Savage. I can see a lot of bumps in the road to a smooth team-work approach, but I really can’t wait to see the story unfold, even if miniaturised Atom does look a little like a Lego man…

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My Week in Comics: Avengers Assemble

The moment has arrived. The follow up to 2009 smash hit blockbuster has officially landed in cinemas. Grossing $44.8 million at the international box office in just two days, Age of Ultron is already a hulk-sized success, so it’s no surprise that this week the majority of comics’ news is centred around the Marvel super-group!

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

My past week has focused almost exclusively on the return of the Avengers. As the team assembled in London this week for the international premiere, my sights were set on getting a glimpse of the stars in person. (Not as a creepy stalker: see previous post on fandom here: https://faceittiger.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/embrace-the-fandom/.)

On Tuesday night, I scored a ticket to the filming of the Graham Norton show, which promised Avengers star guests. Of course, I was front and centre – and I wasn’t disappointed as Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Elizabeth Olsen settled themselves on the infamous red couch. Straight from the premiere at Shepherd’s Bush, the trio were in good form, and shared some fantastic stories. We were in the studio for well over 2 hours, but you can see the cut version now on iplayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05s769y/the-graham-norton-show-series-17-episode-3.

There have been a number of heated talking points around the Avengers’ various press junkets this past week. From sexist slurs to unprofessional and inappropriate journalism, it’s all been covered, making the Avengers a bigger talking point than just a new movie.

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Let’s begin with the area that bothered me the most. The sexism. May I begin by pointing out that Black Widow has once again been left off all the Age of Ultron merchandise? There are no toys, no t-shirts, no lunchboxes. She’s a big part of the movies, and even has a more independent storyline in this instalment (with rumours of her own film surfacing once again – yes please!), and the only major female connection girls have into the MCU Avengers franchise. So why is she not being included? There’s a market for it – a loud and proud one – so why is Black Widow being pushed to the side in favour of Iron Man, Cap, and Hawkeye (seriously – HAWKEYE.)

This leads nicely into Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans’ ignorant response regarding Black Widow in an interview earlier in the week. The pair were asked about Black Widow’s new relationship in the movie, and how surprised the interviewer was that it wasn’t with Hawkeye or Captain America, given their close relationships in past movies. Renner and Evans responded in a juvenile manner, explaining that Johansson’s character is a “whore” and “slut”, laughing the question off. Now, press junkets must be boring. I can’t even imagine how tedious it must be to answer the same questions repeatedly throughout a press tour around the globe. So, yes, I understand how having a laugh probably eases the monotony of this. But – these people have a responsibility. Particularly when you’re embodying Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in one of the biggest franchises of our time. It’s not okay to speak about women – or anyone – like that. They need to remember they are role models and real life heroes for so many people.

Their comments were particularly damaging considering what I’ve already stated about Black Widow’s underrepresentation. It’s only further highlighting the problems we have with the representation of women in media, particularly in comics and film. It seems Johansson’s character can’t be defined by her ass-kicking ability, her dark history and how she’s overcome it, or her independent character. Nope, it’s about men and who she’s dating. And the response didn’t even acknowledge the fact that she’s her own person: an independent woman capable of making her own choices that don’t need to be justified to anyone. I have to admit, I wasn’t overly surprised Renner was involved in this, and his insincere apology has only furthered this opinion on the actor. But Chris Evans is a different story. A strong actor who interviews well (this incident aside…) and comes across favourably in social media, Evans is one of the last men on earth I want to be upset with. He’s Captain America for goodness sake! He has since apologised for the comments, and seems to understand how damaging they can be. Want to read more? There’s a fantastic article on Nerdist recapping the incident and its impact which you can read here: http://nerdist.com/yes-jeremy-renner-and-chris-evans-black-widow-comments-are-problematic/

Sometimes it’s the interviewer, rather than the interviewee, who can get it totally wrong. Yes, I’m talking about channel 4’s interview with Robert Downey Jr, conducted by Krishnan Guru-Murphy. Now, warning signals tend to go off whenever Guru-Murphy’s involved. A terrible “journalist” who seeks to provoke rather than investigate, he appears to be increasingly relying on controversy to remain relevant and, well, on TV rather than actually doing a good job as a reporter. From provoking Tarantino on his use of violence in movies (when he should have been talking about Django Unchained), to questioning Richard Ayoade about being a black man in the British entertainment industry (when he should’ve been talking about Ayoade’s book), he frequently strays from the topic at hand to provoke and annoy his interviewees. Tarantino famously “shut his butt down”, and Ayoade handled it very well, flipping the interview onto Guru-Murphy, clearly making him uncomfortable with his own journalistic “style” – or lack thereof. Perhaps he’s gunning to be the Katie Hopkins of Channel 4. But, next on his hit list was Robert Downey Jr. In the press room to promote Age of Ultron, Downey Jr gladly answered questions about Iron Man and his relationship with the character. The interview was going well, and Downey Jr was perfectly polite and responsive to the questions. But then it turned, Guru-Murphy hulked out – but not in a cool, green, building-smashing giant way. In a completely idiotic way: a way that he knew would get him thousands of hits on youtube (it’s interesting to note Channel 4 have disabled comments from being posted on the video).

Now, what I find totally, completely and utterly inappropriate about this is not that he’s questioning Robert Downey Jr about his difficult and dark past – a topic which has been covered a zillion times before. But the fact that he wanted to pry into his family life, asking if he still blames his father for his drug and alcohol abuse. That’s not investigative journalism, or professional etiquette in the slightest. That’s poking a bear with a pointy stick in the hope it attacks. RDJ was totally right to walk out. He wasn’t rude or unjustified. The actor has pulled himself out of a difficult place and really made something of himself. He’s secured himself in a successful franchise, and started a family. He regularly does charity work, and he supports independent films to aid rising stars of the industry. If you really need to reopen the scar which has been picked at for years now, ask him how he feels about the change he’s made in his life and how he’s going to continue to improve. Provoking him by asking how he feels about his relationship with his father is unnecessary, irrelevant and unprofessional – particularly when he’s there to talk about the film.

But there are occasionally moments of brilliance in times of interviewing crisis. Cosmopolitan magazine (Yes, I was shocked too) decided to flip the table when talking to Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson this week, and it was great. They both entered into the spirit of it, and I think Ruffalo’s embracing and accepting of the idea was fantastic, fully acknowledging inherently sexist habits in celebrity interviews. Hopefully this will open the doors to a world where both men and women can answer the thought provoking questions, and no one will ever be asked again “who are you wearing?!” – because, really, who cares?

But the controversy doesn’t stop there! Nope, Age of Ultron has kicked up a storm! Some loud voices are angry at a comment made by Iron Man during the movie as he tries to lift Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. He refers to “reinstating Prima Nocta”, and the ‘mewling quim’ doors from the Avengers have been reopened and JOSS WHEDON IS A HORRIBLE SEXIST PIG!

No. Let’s calm down.

First of all – let’s have a show of hands of who, off the top of their heads, knows what Prima Nocta means? Who, as soon as the words slipped from Tony Starks’ mouth as he joked with his friends, stormed out of the cinema, cursing Whedon and his family?

Not being one of these people, I googled the phrase when I saw people were unhappy about it. Apparently best known for its use in the absolutely 100% historically accurate movie Braveheart, it refers to the practise of a nobleman being with a peasant woman on her wedding night instead of her new husband. These traditions have been referred to throughout history, but it’s disputed as to whether or not it was ever actually a real law, leaning closer to the ‘it’s not real’ camp.

Regardless, it was referenced in Age of Ultron, and voices have cried “rape!” It seems very unlikely to me that Whedon, the openly feminist writer and director who has created some of the most kick-ass women in film and television history (Buffy, hello!), would deliberately celebrate the idea of reinstating laws where a nobleman could take a peasant woman against her will on her wedding night. It could well be a poke at the idea Whedon didn’t know what ‘mewling quim’ meant when he wrote it into Avengers Assemble, using an old-world term of phrase that sounds impressive, but is incredibly tongue in cheek. It could be a reflection of Iron Man’s arrogance – and the fact he’s a notorious playboy. Or yes, it could be a throwaway rape joke that shouldn’t be there. Words are powerful and have meaning, but taken in the grander scheme of things, this has gotten a little out of hand. Rape jokes are not funny, and completely unnecessary, but in context of the film, that’s not what this is. It’s possibly people looking a bit too far into something which isn’t there. The lesson: don’t take Braveheart as gospel truth.

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It’s not all Avenger news this week though! Let’s take a look at what else has been going on.

Netflix’s super series, Daredevil, has already been signed for a second season! Hopefully we won’t have to wait until the other Hells Kitchen shows have aired to meet the bigger bads in Daredevil’s world!

In All-New X-Men, Iceman (Bobby Drake) has officially come out! This has obviously caused some outrage and confusion amongst X-Men readers and fans, but the character’s sexuality has been in question since the late 1980’s. Exploring the internet, the outrage is evident: many are convinced it’s a marketing ploy, some believe it is exploiting sexuality to sell more issues, and others believe it’s the devils work. But it’s encouraging to see some embracing the change and celebrating the fact there’s an openly homosexual character in a popular comic book. Long-running comics like the X-Men pass through so many different hands of writers, artists, editors, and producers that change will happen; good and bad. I don’t believe it’s an event to sell more issues, but to reflect our changing times and how diverse and tolerant the Western World is becoming.

Marvel has also announced that they have officially teamed up with Telltale Games for a 2017 release! More news will be coming soon!

HAHAHA – Don’t Make Me Laugh

Jared Leto’s new look as the Joker in upcoming film, Suicide Squad, has officially been released. The internet doesn’t quite know how to feel – and to be honest, neither do I. The Joker has had so many changes and inconsistencies over the years, it’s difficult to say “that’s not the Joker”. His constant state of flux is a large part of his appeal. But it’s not the Joker. It’s an embarrassing attempt to be edgy. Yes, I understand at this point he will have been through years of mental and physical struggles, and yeah, he’s crazy. But who is dumb enough to tattoo the Joker – stick moving pins in and out of his skin?! I can’t really see him sitting in a chair for a few hours, or picking out fonts to have ‘Damaged’ scrolled across his forehead. I also don’t see him as believing himself to be damaged. If anyone with dyed hair and tattoos is a psychotic criminal, we should probably all be locked up. Although it’s clearly a reference to Brian Bolland’s art in The Killing Joke, it doesn’t work. Nope. I’m not a fan. But I’m reserving full judgement until we’ve seen the trailer.

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The Dark Knight Returns – AGAIN

It was announced yesterday that Frank Miller will be returning to DC for a third instalment of his Dark Knight books. Frequently hailed as some of the greatest Batman comics, fandom is abuzz with excitement to see what Miller does next. The Dark Knight III will be released Fall 2015

Drop Outs and Sign Ups

When DC manage to take a step forward, they end up backtracking about 20 steps, particularly in their movie franchises. Wonder Woman’s Emmy-award winning director, Michelle McLaren, dropped out of the project for undisclosed reasons. She has been replaced by Patty Jenkins, so it’s a relief to see a woman is still in charge of the first female-led superhero blockbuster. However, McLaren’s departure is concerning. Hopefully this switch of director means we’ll still see Wonder Woman on the big screen in 2017.

Keen to keep DC on their toes, Marvel has found its writers for Captain Marvel in Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out). They’re determined to have strong female voices resonate throughout every aspect of the film, which is very pleasing to hear. Rumour has it Angelina Jolie is forerunner for the 2018 female led-features’ director.

REVIEWS

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4

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If you’ve not picked up Squirrel Girl yet, you’re seriously missing out. It’s so much fun, I even enjoy reading the Previously page! Yes, it’s silly, but it’s also fantastic. There’s real heart behind the nuts. This issue confronts the ridiculousness of gendered language, as well as the meaning of being a hero (okay, that second one is in, like, every supers book…). But where else can you find a fun, family-friendly, female led superhero comic, where the heroine in question can defeat both Galactus and Thanos – and doesn’t always need to punch people into oblivion to do it?! Smarts, not scars. That should be her slogan!

Thor #7

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Why are you reading this instead of Thor? Stop – go pick it up now!

I particularly loved the final page of this issue, where Thor Odinson has rounded up the mightiest heroes he knows, and it’s the women of the Marvel universe. I need it as a poster to display proudly on my wall. I’m so excited for issue 8 – where we finally learn her identity!

What I particularly love about this new Thor is the fact that she is confronting the idea of being a strong female superhero, and why she constantly has to justify it. Why shouldn’t a woman be worthy of holding the power of Thor? It’s also great to see that she’s consistently drawn as muscular and athletic. I would kill for her arms. But she’s not scrawny, or scantily dressed. She’s how a female God of Thunder – or anyone who throws a heavy hammer around while beating the bad guys – would look.

Giant Days #2

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BOOM!’s new book, Giant Days, finds its stride in this second issue, which I enjoyed a lot more than the first. Confronting the horrific realities of Freshers Flu, the comic is genuinely funny and has a great dynamic. It’s a very real look at female friendships, whilst all the characters have their own independent struggles. I think this is a book which will grow more in each issue, and I plan to keep reading. The art is fantastic – a nice change from a lot of the styles in popular comics today. BOOM’s creator owned line is growing to be very strong, and I look forward to seeing what else they throw at us.

Archie vs Predator

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Well, this is a cross-over I didn’t believe until I saw it sitting on the shelf. It works, in a very weird way. Archie and the gang win a holiday to a tropical island, and accidentally bring home a Predator – literally. The idea and execution is so ridiculous that it’s fantastic. The Archie element is like a teen soap-opera from the 1940s, but the addition of Predator makes that a little more bearable and intriguing.

My only concern with AvP is that I sincerely hope it’s a parody. Having never read Archie comics, I don’t know how the usual group dynamic normally reads, but I pray it’s not like this. If it is a parody, AvP does a great job at portraying the stereotypical tropes found in the horror genre when a group of young friends go exploring together, only to run into danger. The guys are slick and sleazy, and the girls live to impress them and dress in amazing clothes. This is funny – if it’s a joke. But what troubled me is that it may not be. Archie comics could be about this world of couples, where the girls only live to impress the guys and the guys chase whatever girl looks prettiest. If that’s the case, it should have stayed in the 1940s when that was the American dream. Even when you’re fighting monstrous space creatures, your audience needs to be taken into account, no matter how crisp and clean your stories are.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2

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Another re-imagining of a classic series from Archie comics, but very different from AvP, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a chilling old-school horror/folklore feel to it. It’s creepy and reads like a Grimm fairytale. Similarly, the art style is anything but the clean lines you’d expect from Archie. Instead it’s scratchy and distressed, harking back to EC horror comics of the 1940s. This isn’t a recreation of the Melissa Joan Hart series I watched growing up as a child, but rather a dark tale of witchcraft and devilry. It almost read like an old romance comic that had gone wrong, warning the dangers of a woman scorned. I found Chilling Adventures of Sabrina neither good nor bad, but intriguing. I’m interested to see what direction they take with it long-term. Plus, you can’t fault anything with sassy Salem the cat!

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My Week in Comics: Hot-Titles and Head-Desk edition

Spiders, and Squirrels, and Ducks – oh my!

Sorry, readers, I’m still gushing about Spider-women! This week, I picked up Silk #2, and I think I’m going to end up completely in love with this series. For those who missed #1, two is a great hopping on point, with the backstory being quickly recapped before plunging into the action. Silk is shaping up to be a lot of fun, but also an exciting read. Her attempt to find her family is intriguing, and I’m dying to know who’s watching her.

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Something I particularly liked about this issue was the exploration of that return to ‘home’ after a long time away – where everything’s familiar, but nothing’s the same. That unusual space between teenage years and adulthood, where home’s still home, but it’s not really anymore. The places stay the same, but the people change – even the ones we used to be so close to. Perhaps I’m exactly Marvel’s target audience with this one, or perhaps living so far from my own home currently helped this resonate particularly strongly with me, but I completely connected with Cindy’s sense of feeling like a stranger in her home-town.

Stacey Lee’s art is still absolutely stunning in this issue, and the writing is very clever. We see how smart and strong Silk is as she fights against giant robot monsters in the sewers; but also how shy and awkward and human she is when she bumps into an ex-boyfriend in the street. I feel Cindy Moon is going to grow into a compelling character – and the humanisation is a key element for achieving that.

Similarly, Spider-Gwen #2 is reaching that all-important human:superhero balance. Gwen is really struggling to find where she fits – and to make things worse, Spider-Ham is on her case.

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What I particularly enjoy about Spider-Gwen is the character and plot development. It’s not a battle-filled book where Gwen’s kicking and punching her way through NYC, taking down the villains in one fell swoop. Instead, fight scenes are kept to a minimum, and we really get to know Gwen. This is so important and refreshing in a superhero book, where there’s usually a BLAM on every page turn. By getting to know Gwen, and how she’s feeling and what she’s thinking, we genuinely care that she’s upset about the happenings with the Mary-Janes, and disappointed in herself when she’s knocked out of the sky by the Vulture, or sorry when she approaches her father for help. Likewise, the slow-burn lets us get to know her father better as he straddles that fine line between leading the spider-hating NYPD and parenting his spider-hero daughter. Spider-Gwen is a clever book, and I believe it’s one worth sticking with.

My favourite new release of the year so far has been The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. And quite surprisingly so. All things considered it should be unbelievably cheesy. I mean in a world where a guy turns into a huge hulking, well, hulk whenever he’s angry; or where spider-folk are swinging all over NYC; or where a team of shape-shifting, mind-reading mutants routinely save the world – squirrel-powers don’t really seem like something to shout about. But I’ll certainly shout out loud about how much I’m adoring the Squirrel Girl series!

Squirrel Girl is the strongest character in the Marvel Universe, so really, she deserves her own comic for that status alone. (It’s true – it will all be covered in an upcoming Wonder Women, so stay tuned!). But there’s something about Ryan North’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl that just makes this book so truly fantastic that I have to wonder why it’s taken until now for her to have her own solo series.

First of all, the story is genuinely compelling. Squirrel Girl (aka. Doreen Green) is starting college, has recently moved in with her fantastic roommate, Nancy (and her cat, Mew), and is determined to have a lovely time in normal-world education. But, unfortunately, duty calls at the most inappropriate times, and Doreen and her army of Squirrels – led by Tippy-Toe – must save the day! Again, we see a protagonist battling to balance the two halves to their life. Where Squirrel Girl steps out from the shadows of the (many) other super-books like this, is the humour. The world is going to end, and I’ve never had so much fun!

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I have full-on belly laughed a couple of times whilst reading Squirrel Girl (now on #3). The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither does Doreen. She’s so excited to be a hero and part of the hero universe, it’s great – her enthusiasm is infectious, and I always have a smile on my face after reading an issue. North adds little remarks at the bottom of each page, which breaks the fourth wall to a degree, allowing you to laugh alongside the creators, feeling very ‘in’ on the joke. The Deadpool villain cards are a fantastic touch too. Erica Henderson’s art suits the books’ style perfectly – cartoony, but not cheesy or cringe-worthy; gentle but distinct.

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What I especially like about Squirrel Girl is it plugs that gap in the market for the happy-go-lucky, slightly clutzy, but incredibly brilliant superhero for all ages. Anyone can enjoy this book. It’s a great comic for young readers jumping into the comics pool; enough action and humour are added to keep the interest of teen readers; and enough subtle references added for adult readers to be entertained the whole way through. And Squirrel Girl is a great role-model, sometimes fighting with her smarts instead of her fists, stepping away from the inherent violence occasionally found in supers-books. Oh, and did I mention, she has a squirrel-a-gig?

Squirrel Girl gets a solid 5/5 nuts from me, and I whole-heartedly recommend everyone add it to their pull list.

Another new Marvel release which doesn’t take itself in the slightest bit seriously is Howard the Duck. That’s right – the old quack’s back, and he’s still grumpy. I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Again, it had all the potential to be cheesy and embarrassing, but it was highly entertaining, and I’d be interested to keep reading.

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The tone was very tongue-in-cheek. It’s as if (writer) Chip Zdarsky was very aware that the book would have to be as sarcastic and scathing as its protagonist if it is going to work. Confirmed: Shulky is a Swifty; the montage page was fantastic; and the various harks back to Howard’s history all raised a smile. In fact, I laughed out loud – which I feel takes skill in a comic book, compared to film. Not to give too much away, in case surprisingly positive reviews have sparked an interest in picking it up yourselves, but: Howard’s back in business. He’s returned to the private detective game and, you guessed it, has already got himself in trouble. Hot off his Guardians cameo, the book could prove popular with older readers (I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re aiming for – this duck ain’t no Daffy.) It’s so much fun, and I’d recommend shaking your tail feathers down to your nearest comic store and giving an old bird a new chance.

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BOOM! Shake the room.

BOOM! are releasing a lot of great stuff right now. It all kicked off with the smash-hit creator owned series Lumberjanes (which, if you haven’t read – get off this blog and read it now! Right now!). So, I was interested to take a look at two of their newest titles this week: Giant Days and Help Us! Great Warrior!

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Giant Days is a really fun book about three friends battling their way through the adult world of university. Visually, it’s utterly charming. Lissa Treiman’s art and Whitney Cogar’s colours are a pleasure to look at – incredibly detailed, but not distractingly so. Simple, and subtle. But there’s something about the book that feels very real. Perhaps reading it alongside talking ducks didn’t help, but the themes and tone of the book felt like, well, life. We’ve all got that clumsy friend who can be a bit of a drama queen; or the awkward crush we’ve run into when we’d really rather never see them again. In fact, Giant Days felt like a John Hughes movie – or the beginning of one anyway. Let’s hope it can hold the stamina!

Help Us! Great Warrior! was recommended to me by my lovely friend (and great artist: lettydraws.tumblr.com) Letty. Originally a web-comic by Madeleine Flores, HUGW follows a cute little warrior who maybe doesn’t have all her heroic priorities quite in check…

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I loved the web-comic – I spent a morning at work scrolling through, giggling to myself (ahem, I mean, totally hard at work, doing work things.. It was research, I swear!). The strips were adorable and funny – and also great for young girls in particular. It held the message that: yes – girls – they can be brave, and awesome, and sexy (for a bean-thing…), and heroic, and beautiful, and cute. Everything in one little package. So I had high hopes for the comic release. I love the art – it’s quirky and bright and fun, so I knew that wouldn’t be a problem. However, I’m not sure if it translates as well in full comic-format as it does as a web-comic. The humour and charm of the web-comic is still there, but it felt like there was something missing. For me, in the web-comic, I enjoyed the fact Great Warrior loved being a Great Warrior while being adorable, and slightly lazy. However, in the comic itself, it seemed as if she was actively avoiding her responsibility: she’s switched from ‘I believe in myself and I am awesome!’ to ‘I’m not sure I can do it’. And while this might be an ‘origin’ story of sorts, where she learns to believe in herself, I was hoping she’d at least have a little more gusto in her first two issues. The humour’s still there, and she’s certainly got the determination in there somewhere – it’s just going to take more than dropping a bite of cake to unleash her beast in print form. Perhaps it’s one for the trades.

The Walking Dead #138

Carl – get back in the house!

Space Princess

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Continuing the venture through space with Princess Leia #2 proved to still be an entertaining thrill-ride. We’re learning more about Leia, and her character is just awesome. She’s smart and educated, but a determined warrior willing to see any mission worth fighting through to the end (I don’t want to spend my life that way. Humoring people and frowning at problems and “arriving at carefully measured decisions”… Ugh. I want to be in on the action). And the ice princess illusion begins to melt in this issue. Flashbacks reveal Leia’s history with her father. She feels like she has failed him for being unable to protect Alderaan. But it seems like there may be more to Leia’s past that we’re yet to learn. I’m intrigued to see where exactly Marvel are taking Leia and her new-found friends in this series. So far, it has been promising, but primarily setting up for bigger events. I can’t wait to see what exactly the big event could be.

Erik Larsen and the “Vocal Minority”

Sometimes things are going along swimmingly in comics. And then one week, everything goes wrong, and we seem to take about fifty steps backwards. This week was one of those weeks.

Erik Larsen, the writer of Savage Dragon, and co-founder of Image Comics, took to twitter earlier this week to discuss his dislike of new costumes for super-heroines in comics currently being released by the big two. In case you missed it, his greatest hits of ‘foot-in-mouth’ included:

“I’m tired of the big two placating a vocal minority at the expense of the rest of the paying audience by making more practical women outfits.”

“Simply put – these aren’t very good costumes. They’re bulky and clumsy and unattractive.”

He particularly singled out Ms Marvel (16 year old Kamala Khan) and her new outfit, completely disregarding the fact that it’s appropriate wear for a 16 year old Muslim girl. He preferred the blonde in the bathing suit and stripper heels. He also argued that superhero comics aren’t meant to be realistic. True, but they can also appeal to a much wider audience. We’re no longer in the 1990s.

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Now, I can understand why a portion of the comic-buying audience would want to read books with hot young girls in skimpy little outfits, or tight fitting leather – it’s in every part of pop-culture. But – Larsen’s views are outdated on so many levels.

First of all – the big two really really aren’t selling out to a vocal minority. No way. Take a look at the sales figures for NYT bestselling book Ms Marvel, for Spider-Gwen #1, for Captain Marvel, for Batgirl. If a vocal minority is demanding women dress in practical armour instead of underwear, it’s certainly speaking to a huge audience. I deliberately looked in the letters pages in the back of my female led single-issues throughout the week and I found as I expected – just as many male readers write in praising the works as female readers, if not more for some issues. So, this aspect of Larsen’s argument is invalid.

Secondly, fashion changes, culture changes – Larsen’s argument firmly plants him in the outdated sector of the comics industry. An old man desperate to return to the boys club. Ms Marvel’s awesome costume suits a 16 year-old girl and reflects her cultural identity; Captain Marvel’s full-bodied suit works for her being a fighter-pilot, and is probably preferable for the cold-airs of space; Wonder Woman’s armour is surely safer than hotpants and bare legs; Spider-Woman’s jacket and jeans are better than body paint. These changes reflect the demands of the readership, not a vocal minority. If we followed this so-called vocal minority on the internet, One Direction would be leading the country, joined in parliament with UKIP; funny videos of cats would be projected world-wide every hour on the hour; and we’d all be eating marshmallows and jellybeans for breakfast, with a big ol’ dollop of hatred and bile on the side. The internet lets anyone speak, and yes some speak louder. But sales, fanmail, reviews, and praise speak a heck of a lot louder, and the comics’ fandom is screaming!

If you want to read more about Larsen’s idiocy, there’s a very detailed response from The Outhouse here: http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/news/131014-erik-larsen-returns-to-twitter-speaks-in-interview.html

The Batgirl Cover Controversy

Poor, poor Raphael Alberquerque. I really love his art, and I actually admire him as a person (even more so after this mess…) But he’s had a tough week.

DC commissioned Alberquerque to do a Batgirl cover, celebrating the Joker’s 75th anniversary. They wanted Barbara (Batgirl) and the Joker to be depicted together: a homage to Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke – the Joker menacing, lipstick smeared around her mouth in a Joker smile, with a gun pointed downwards over her shoulder… and for Barbara to look scared. The result looked something like this:

Batgirl #41 joker variant DC Comics withdrawn, art by Rafael Albuquerque

Alberquerque delivered what DC asked for. But the issue lies in that it shouldn’t have been asked for in the first place.

For starters, it’s incredibly unlikely that male superheroes would be presented in this way on the cover of their book. What are the odds of Bane grasping onto Batman’s shoulder, a walking stick in one hand and a smirk on his face while Batman stares helplessly at the reader, tear in eye. I imagine they’d both be in battle positions. Or at the very least, a captured Batman would look determined, angry, and strong; not helpless, distraught and tormented.

For those of you thinking, ‘ah, it’s not that bad’, let me add some context. In Moore’s The Killing Joke, the Joker takes photographs of a naked, paralyzed Barbara and sends them to her father, Jim. Any way you cut it, that’s sexual assault, whether (the heavily implicated) rape happened or not. To then commission a cover for a comic marketed particularly towards a young audience which alludes to this particularly traumatic era is just wrong. It’s inappropriate for the younger readers; it’s distasteful for Bat-fans who understand the reference; and its offensive to the character of Barbara. We’ve watched her overcome so many obstacles following The Killing Joke: becoming Oracle, learning to be Batgirl again. To depict her as helpless and distraught at the hands of the Joker implies that she hasn’t been able to escape from the events of her past. And true, it’s probably something that will stay with her til the end of her days – but it doesn’t define her. She’s not Batgirl because of this. She’s Batgirl in spite of it. She returned to it, and she’s probably a lot stronger. To imply that a traumatic event like this makes the victim weak is insulting, and demeans the trauma and those who have come through it on any level. And can I stress again, this was to be a variant cover for a book marketed towards teenage girls.

I strongly admire Raphael Alberquerque’s response, translated from a Brazilian interview here:

UOL – Do you think your cover was misunderstood?

Rafael Albuquerque – I think the cover has brought up many interpretations. But in the end, the problem is not the cover itself, but the comic where it would be published. A series aimed at the teenage female audience should not have a cover like this. Regardless of the question of who is right or wrong, the cover that I did do not serve its intent.

UOL: The classic comic “Batman: The Killing Joke” showed 25 years ago a much greater violence against Batgirl than your illustration. You think people criticized your cover without knowledge of the original material?

RA: I do not know. I think those who know the “Killing Joke” got the point. But again, young people aged 14 to 17 years does not have the obligation to know, and I think both myself and the publisher, even unintentionally, were wrong in thinking that the image would be appropriate.

UOL: The cover was dropped by your request, but did you ever receive any pressure by a department or person at DC Comics in this sense?

RA: No. I took the initiative. I see many people commenting on freedom of expression and that I gave in to pressure. I have always defended minorities. I think is the right and moral thing to do. I do not think a comic that aims to raise women´s self-esteem should have an image that may suggest otherwise. In another comic, maybe that image made sense. Not for the current Batgirl comic. Freedom of expression also means not saying what you do not want to say, and it was exactly the right that I exercised here.

UOL: Nowadays we see the content of comics being increasingly questioned regarding issues such as excessive violence and sexualisation of women. Do you think these questions are valid? Do you think that even if valid, these questions may be exaggerated and hinder the creative freedom of artists and writers?

RA: I think these questions are completely valid. In a general way, the industry has always been sexist. We are used to it and now we live a moment of opening of this industry. It is important that we review our values and our positions. I think, regardless of individual standings, dialogue and respect is essential for the industry not end up divided. Respect is my main flag here.

UOL: What would you like to be the legacy of this case?

RA: I think, despite one’s position regarding the cover, either prioritizing feminism or freedom of expression, it is important to learn to listen. Empathize with those who have a different opinion from yours. Put yourself in the place of other and consider what is being said. Discussion on the Internet tends to turn into childish tantrums, on one side or the other. That’s what makes people lose interest in things. I think criticism is always welcome. But respect for those who do, for those who publish and for those who disagrees is what validates criticism. Freedom of expression cannot be limited only to what you like or want. Freedom must come with responsibility.

I hugely admire Alberquerque for his honest and thoughtful response. It shows that there is hope for progression in comics, and the media as a whole. Most are sensible, it’s that vocal minority we’re yet to fight past.

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