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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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!
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.
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:
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.