Tag Archives: WonderWomen

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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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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Death of the Endless.

Very rarely is death one of the more popular aspects of, well, anything – but Death of the Endless (of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Sandman’) is perhaps one of the most charming characters to frequent the comics page, ultimately making her an all-time fan-favourite.

Death first graced the pages of ‘The Sandman’ in issue 8 (‘The Sound of Her Wings’), and despite her fleeting appearances across the complete volumes of Gaiman’s work, she quickly became cemented in fan popularity, which ultimately led to two of her own mini spin-off series.  Death of the Endless directly confronts the typical Grim Reaper characteristics presented in popular culture, being portrayed as a kind-hearted, nurturing young woman.  A stylish character sporting a silver ankh and Horus eye-tattoo, Death subtly reflects the gothic feel portrayed throughout The Sandman series; and her soft features and caring personality ironically contrast the negative connotations of death.

The second eldest of the Endless siblings, Death often appears in The Sandman to act as a confidante to her brother, Dream.  Whilst it is evident she adopts and adores the role of maternal sibling, Death is undoubtedly the most powerful of the Endless.  An immortal, omnipotent power, she is respected and feared throughout the universe.  She is the only one of her siblings able to intimidate the Furies, and it becomes apparent that she is the only one unbound by the ancient rules.

Undoubtedly, Death’s most poignant power is that over life and death.  It is believed that she appears twice in a lifetime: once at birth, infusing the body with life; and again at the time of death, where she passes the soul to the appropriate Death Gods.  One of the most appealing aspects of this character is her ability to take her job seriously; she finds no joy in what she does, but accepts the responsibility of the difficult role.  In response to the development of her character, Gaiman stated, “I didn’t want a Death who agonised over her role, or who took a grim delight in her job, or didn’t care.  I wanted a Death that I’d like to meet, in the end.  Someone who would care.  Like her.”

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This is perhaps what makes Death’s character so appealing, explaining why she often graces the ‘best comic book character’ lists.  The distinct irony of her appearance and personality completely contradict everything she personifies.  She is not a terrifying skeleton draped in a hooded cloak, carrying a scythe, grinning manically at you as time runs out.  Nor is she someone who completely disassociates from her duty.  Instead, she’s comforting and compassionate; becoming mortal for one day a year to remind herself of the significance and weight of her job, and the impact it has on humanity.

Death is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and poignant comic book characters.  But she does not abuse her power, nor does she carry a distasteful glee or unsettling distance from her responsibility.  Her kind and caring characteristics make her an uncanny, yet comforting figure; more angelic than demonic; a friend rather than something to fear.  So my advice to you this week?  Read (or reread!) ‘The Sandman’, and don’t fear the reaper.

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Gail Simone

Hot on the heels of the Batgirl controversy, now seems as good a time as any to focus on Gail Simone’s fantastic contribution to comics!

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The first comics penned by Simone were Bongo Comics’ ‘The Simpsons’ publications, where she regularly contributed to ‘Simpsons Comics’, ‘Bart Simpson Comics’, and ‘The Simpsons’ Sunday strips.  Her work on these stories propelled her into the mainstream, being snapped up by Marvel for a run on ‘Deadpool’, which was later relaunched as ‘Agent X’.

Simone’s Marvel run was, however, short-lived, and she moved on to DC Comics where she wrote some of her most celebrated stories.   She began her time at DC by taking over the much loved ‘Birds of Prey’ series, where she added The Huntress to the all-female super troupe.  Simone’s presence within DC clearly made an impact, as she progressed further, taking over writing for ‘Action Comics’, while continuing with her other projects, such as ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Villains United’.  Her work on ‘Villains United’ led to the creation of a mini-series entitled ‘Secret Six’.  This mini-series proved so popular that it was later announced as an ongoing series, much to fans delight.

Simone is highly notable for being the longest-running female writer of our favourite Amazonian Princess Warrior, ‘Wonder Woman’.  Simone was announced as the new regular writer of the title in 2007, where she began with issue #14.  She continued with the title through to 2010, where she left after the special 600th anniversary issue, turning her focus back to ‘Birds of Prey’, where she relaunched the series and remained its regular writer until June 2011.

It was at this stage Simone turned her attention to Barbara Gordon and ‘Batgirl’, which began it’s (New 52) run in September 2011.  Simone immediately broke new boundaries in this title by introducing Alysia Yeoh, the first key transgender character in mainstream comics, grounding the series in contemporary times.  Comic fans embraced Simone as Batgirl’s writer and, in December 2012, demanded her unfair dismissal by Brian Cunningham be reversed.  After only 12 days, Simone was back in the Batgirl writers’ chair.

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Simone’s talents do not stop at DC, however.  Over the years, she has contributed towards various publications, from ‘Killer Princess’ to ‘Welcome to Tranquillity’ to ‘Red Sonja’.  And her work has not been unrecognised.  In 2009, she was welcomed into the Friends of Lulu’s Female Comic Creator’s Hall of Fame; and she has twice been nominated for ‘Outstanding Comic Book’ at the GLAAD Media Awards for her work on the ‘Secret Six’ titles.

However, for many, Simone is most recognisable as the feminist blogger who coined the term ‘Women in Refrigerators’ (a Green Lantern reference I’m sure we’ve all heard of by now).  In 1999, Simone and some friends retaliated to the unfair treatment of female characters in comic books, and listed all the fictional women who had been “either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator” as a plot device in comic books, hoping to uncover just why women were being viewed as collateral damage in the first place.  The list circulated the internet, even making its way to the inboxes of major comic creators.  ‘Women in Refrigerators’ received a mixed response, remaining relatively controversial today.  Many questioned Simone’s ‘feminist agenda’, whilst simultaneously opening up the all-important discussion regarding the portrayal of women in comic books.

One of the most poignant responses came from Comic Book Resources’ content editor, John Bartol, who wrote an article entitled ‘Dead Men Defrosting.’  This argued that second or third-grade characters all had the potential to be killed off, regardless of gender – particularly male sidekicks.  However, Bartol noted one major difference: these male sidekicks always had the opportunity to return.  Robin and Bucky were two notable examples at the time, but I imagine re-examining the situation today, the list would be much longer.  Bartol argued that following the alteration or depowering of a female character, they were “never allowed, as male heroes usually are, the chance to return to their original heroic status.  And that’s where we begin to see the difference.”

So, not only is Gail Simone one of the most popular comics’ writers today, with a long history of developing strong female characters under her belt, acting as a huge inspiration for girls with their eyes on the comics’ industry; but she is an important figure in fighting for female equality, for creators and the creations.  ‘Women in Refrigerators’ certainly opened many minds and doors, allowing the treatment of fictional female characters to be questioned, developed, and changed.  And whilst we may still have some miles to go, I imagine the only character of Simone’s comic past to be found in the refrigerator will be Homer Simpson, in search of an ice cold beer.

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