Monday, 30 March 2015

My take on the feminism in comics debate, part 1: Female Thor


Hemsworth after shaving
There are two recent events in comics that have me scratching my head. Events headed, or praised, by people who profess feminism. The claim here is that totally approving of these events constitutes feminism, whereas anything but constitutes misogyny.

That’s a problematic dichotomy; mostly because feminism, in my understanding of the term, is a terribly diverse school of thought. You have feminists who complain that a sexualised character is “pandering to male desires” making arguments with feminists who may celebrate a character in her “strong, independent sexuality”. Many contemporary feminists argue that abortion is a woman’s right, but the founding feminists actually argued against it, claiming that it allowed men to have their way with women without having to face the responsibility of child-raising. It’s not a uniform position.

I’ve heard two major definitions of feminism in my time; one says that it’s about campaigning for the rights of women in a male-dominated society (fair enough), another says that it’s about empowering feminine qualities (eg. compassion, emotionality; also, fair enough).

My problem is, I’m not sure that either of these comic moments are feminist, by either definition. Let's start with the older moment first;

Feminist Thor

So, apparently, the new female Thor is outselling the previous Thor: God of Thunder. That’s good, I’m proud of them for revitalising the character and shaking up the status quo in a way that allows for Thor to be an essentially new character (though her identity hasn’t been revealed), and happy that it’s selling well. Shows bold decision-making pays off.

But the internet are calling female Thor a feminist.

Really?

I’m currently on the third issue of my Thor reading, and, honestly, I don’t see how she’s a feminist. According to either definition that I’ve listed above, I don’t think she is. Has she done anything that furthers the cause of women? Not by Thor #3, she hasn’t (even if it is a woman holding the hammer, other women don’t seem to benefit any more than they did from a male holding it). Has she empowered feminine attributes? Certainly none but the physical (she clearly has breasts- but those aren’t the attributes I have in mind). In fact, in terms of attitude, she’s almost indistinguishable from a male. If it weren’t for the female figure, I would have thought the new Thor was Peter Parker.

But then there’s this scene, which I know is in issue five, which seems to “make” her a feminist.


“THERE!” you say, “She defended feminism! That makes her a feminist!”

Does it?

I would argue no, she’s done nothing with that comment to help the plight of women or to empower the feminine. Yes, I know, she let's the Absorbing Man know that it was a woman who beat him, but that does little more than benefit her, rather that women in general. What she seems to be doing is approving and supporting feminism. That makes you a supporter of feminism; not a feminist by association. And that’s fine; I consider myself a feminism supporter even though I’ve done nothing to advance the role of women. I have other problems with the above scene, but that’s another article entirely. In the meantime, can’t we just be happy about the character being female without being a technical “feminist”?

Next time… I talk about the Batgirl cover. Yes, THAT Batgirl cover.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Diversity in Comics: You're ALL wrong!

Everyone's catching the vibe

Diversity’s been a big issue for the last few years for the comics community. It’s had so many different arguments for and against it that it’s become impossible to follow either one. What’s worse is that neither of them are particularly “right”. What follows are three arguments from each sides of the issue, as well as the reasons why those arguments are plain stupid.

The “Anti-Diversities”

Why don’t they just make new diverse characters?


Know this guy? Nope, me neither.
The answer to that’s simple: There’s no money in it. You make a new diverse character, and you have to set that name up. If you want to know why this kind of thing hasn’t been done before, look at Scarlet Spider. There just isn’t that brand name there, so it’s difficult for new, diverse characters to get their foot in the door. It’s far easier to make Captain America black, or Thor female, where that brand name can support the diversity. I can hardly blame them for choosing an easier route.
... just ...

This is nothing more than pandering to the PC police!

Pc police, SJWs, the verbal minority, call it what you want; it means the same thing, and it’s rubbish. Look at the sales for female Thor as opposed to male Thor (with the former outselling the latter). You can debate the reason people are buying it all you want, it’s proof that diversity is selling at least as well with the majority as it is with anyone else. Readers want new things done, and maintaining a vice grip on the past can and will stop any enjoyment you may get from a title.

Why don’t we just make Black Panther white, huh?

Apparently, a comic about white Black Panther exists... by
Brian K. Vaugh no less... only as a joke, though.
This kind of comment has come in response to Michael B Jorden as the Human Torch. It’s stupid, because this isn’t a change to the source material, just to a movie version that doesn’t even exist yet.

Well, you say, let’s just change the movie version. But there’s a problem to that, too. Black Panther is an African. White Africans notwithstanding, the dominant race in Africa is still dark-skinned. America, the birthplace of Human Torch, is more multi-racial, the change isn’t as big a slap to Torch’s heritage as a race change for Black Panther would be.
Do I even need to bring this up?

The “Pro-Diversities”

White males have 100% owned comics until NOW!

Actually, 100% is an overstatement. Black Panther was created in the 70s, Batgirl as far back as the 60s, Storm was on the X-Men by the 80s- there was diversity before 2010, and to pretend there wasn’t is ridiculous. There’s no simpler argument than that. It’s silly to blame the straight white male for a lack that never existed.

The only way to bring diversity into comics is to race change!


The only way?
Okay, earlier I said that this was the easiest way to get diversity into comics. By no means did I say that it was the only one, or even the most effective. My advice? Bring non-white, non-male characters into the foreground without changing the race of established heroes. Make Black Panther the leader of the Avengers. Let me be clear; the Avengers- not the Mighty Avengers, not the New Avengers, not the East Coast Avengers, but the actual, adjectiveless Avengers! In the same way, the Justice League doesn’t really need Batman or Superman on the team; why not pass the reigns over to Cyborg or Batwoman? Why not get the best writers on these diverse titles (a Grant Morrison-led Mr. Terrific; you’re welcome, internet)? There are plenty of great ways to bring diversity to the front of the big two beyond a palette swap!

There’s nothing about Character X that is particularly white

Hey, Look: A black Spidey
that isn't Peter Parker!
I most recently saw this from Dan Slott when discussing a black Peter Parker for the MCU. And I can sorta see where he’s going. There’s nothing particularly white about being a science geek, poor, or down on your luck. If Spidey only existed in prose novels, that argument would be fine. After all, in Hollywood’s version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Ford Prefect was cast as a black man and it was fine.

But this is comics. They’re a visual medium, and Peter Parker has always been portrayed white (and yes, this doesn’t bother me with Johnny Storm for some reason; no idea why). To say that this doesn’t matter is to ignore the creative input of the artist, and hold the writer up as the only contributor to the comic storytelling process. That’s bad for artists and bad for the industry as a whole. To be totally honest, people saying the above bolded comment should be ashamed.

So there you go; my attempt at being reasonable while putting hopefully everyone to shame rather than just the ones I agree with.

Who do I agree with?

Guess you’ll never know.

New Warrirors Volume 1: The Kids Are All Fight (Marvel NOW!) Review


New Warriors Volume 1: The Kids Are All Fight

Chances bloooowwwwn,
Nothing's freeeeeee,
Longing foooooooorrrrr,
Used to beeeeeeeee!
Writers: Christopher Yost

Artists: Marcus To and Nick Roche

Collects: New Warriors #1-6 and material from The Amazing Spider-Man #1

Background Information:

The New Warriors are HARDLY the most popular superhero team in the Marvel universe; they destroyed the entire of Stamford, Connecticut which started the super-hero Civil War.

In the real world, they’ve never exactly been front-and-centre of Marvel’s going-ons, and therefore, haven’t earned much mainstream attention. As such, a fresh start was entirely plausible for the team. All you need to know for this book is that Kaine Parker, Spider-Man’s clone, has taken on the role of Scarlet Spider and is hiding in Mexico.

Review:

Y’know, sometimes Marvel just makes me mad.

We’ve had, in Marvel NOW!, what; eight Avengers titles? Nine X-Men ones? We’re set to have three Inhumans books, and somehow justified three Wolverines?

Yet New Warriors, one not directly connected with any of these gets cancelled? It’s not even bad; which is more than I could say for schlock like Uncanny Avengers (at least, if the first volume is anything to go by). Oh well, that’s Marvel for you.

Still does whatever a Spider-Man wouldn't
If you want to get technical, The Kids Are All Fight spins out of Infinity, but it’s hardly central to the story. The High Evolutionary, an odd man in a metal suit is out to destroy all altered humans- mutants, clones, inhumans, atlantians, cosmic, magical or scientifically-altered people and demigods are all on the chopping block to the evolutionaries. Naturally a team consisting of exactly one of each of these kinds of people (excluding magical) forms: Justice, Sun-Girl, Faira Sar Namora of Atlantis, an inhuman named Haechi, Speedball, Nova, Scarlet Spider and Hummingbird. Their mission is to stop the mass genocide of multiple races.

I’ll be honest; I bought this one because I thought it was going to be a continuation of Yost’s Scarlet Spider series, and to a certain point, it is. That said, it’s more of a team book than anything else in Marvel’s line up. We flit between multiple characters, and get a really good taste of what their all about. Yost is, in my opinion, an underrated comics writer. He’s given each character a very distinct personality and his dialogue is fun to read. What makes him better than most industry heavyweights, however, like Brian Michael Bendis, is that his character development doesn’t come at the expense of action, but rather because of it. Fights change these characters and it’s great to see in The Kids Are All Fight.

I’ll admit, the first story arc in this series is much better than the second, which feels a lot like filler, and doesn’t add a whole lot to the team. There are some funny moments here, which I appreciated, but Yost ignores some of the bigger mysteries surrounding the group in favour of this, which I found annoying more than anything.

There’s no way you’re going to write home about anything in this book’s artwork. It’s fairly standard fare that does its job well, but nothing more. I can’t think of a single moment in New Warriors that made me stand up and say “THAT looks awesome”. That said, it’s hardly ugly. You’ll notice the distinct lack of Greg Land in the credits.

Yep, it's a fun book.
All in all, New Warrirors Volume 1: The Kids Are All Fight is an entertaining volume, and it’s a crying shame that Marvel is calling an end to the series while keeping the awful Uncanny Avengers going. It gets a three out of five Wolverines.

***

+ Nice balance of characters.

+ Action and dialogue blend well.

- Last story arc is less impressive.

Alternate Option: Scarlet Spider: Life After Death
Another Yost gem.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Justice League Volume 4: The Grid (The New 52) Review


Justice League Volume 4: The Grid (The New 52)

The guy with the Mohawk is dangerous...
Man, remember the 80s?
Writers: Geoff Johns

Artists: Ivan Reis and Jose Prado

Collects: Justice League #18-20 and 22-23

Background Information:

Since their first volume, the Justice League has lost a couple of key members. Green Lantern has decided that he needs to leave the team and Aquaman has left for the sea, leaving the league short a couple of guys.

What’s more, or what’s more important, is the history of Pandora. Every issue one that came out at the New 52’s launch has featured the strange woman in the background somewhere. Reading each issue #1 became akin to a game of Where’s Wally/Waldo (depending on where you live), and this volume will deal with who she is directly.

Review:

All these guys... and they got Element Woman.
Some writers I just don’t “get”.

I mean, Geoff Johns writes a mean Aquaman, an character-defining Green Lantern and I’m chomping at the bit to read his Superman run. His Justice League run though? Spasmodic is the highest praise I can give it. Origin was fair, Villain’s Journey was disappointing, but Throne of Atlantis was excellent. The Grid represents probably the lowest point in Johns’ run. Only five issues long, with mostly filler material before launching into Trinity War, and to be honest, it’s filler I could do without.

Okay, if you really want to know the story, the League has decided that it’s time to open membership to other members. Enter a female version of the Atom (cool), Firestorm (also cool), Zatana (very cool) and… Element Woman (the hey!?).

Let’s start with Element Woman, shall we. I can appreciate DC trying lighten their tone- they’ve been rather dark and grim in the early parts of the New 52- but Element Woman, a purple-haired, blue skin, clowny-kinda girl who’s skin has a rather “rusty” texture, seems a little too much in the other direction and doesn’t really fit. More to the point, I’m not really sure what her powers are, I know she can change the elements in her body, but I’m not really sure what that means. Johns definitely doesn’t give her much opportunity to use her powers. What is more baffling is that the league picked her over Blue Devil, Black Lightning, Black Canary and Vixen- all better choices.

Not to be outdone, Element Woman then becomes the narrator of a whole issue, and isn’t effective in doing so. This is partly because, until now, Justice League never really had a narrator, at least not a superhero as one. The whole thing comes off as Johns trying to force Element Woman down our throats.

This. This is why they shut down MSN messenger.
There is, thankfully, one positive to this volume. Johns takes some time to add some extra drama to Superman/Wonder Woman’s relationship- there’s now a legitimate reason to be concerned about these two together. I won’t spoil it, but it paints Wonder Woman as something more that an ornament for Superman, which I liked. It doesn’t, however, justify the whole volume.

The volume ends with two issues from the Trinity War crossover that I wish wasn’t there. Some of the Villains Month issues would have been far wiser, or maybe, heaven forbid, issue 21!? Instead, the tie-in issues spoil the crossover, giving the beginning and ending of the whole thing.

This is one to skip in favour of getting the Trinity War collection (which in itself, has its flaws, so get the paperback). It gets one and half out of five Element Women- Seriously, why?

* ½

+ Wonder Woman/Superman’s relationship made into interesting drama.

- Element Woman.

- Trinity War issues spoil the actual event.

- Mostly filler-content.

Alternate Option: Justice League: Trinity War

By no means perfect, but better than this mess.

The Superior Spider-Man Volume 5: The Superior Venom (Marvel NOW!) Review


Superior Spider-Man Volume 5: The Superior Venom

"I think it says... SUPERIOR!!!"
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage

Artists: Javier Rodriguez and Humberto Ramos

Collects: Superior Spider-Man #22-26 and Annual #1

Background Information:

Otto Octavius, the former Doctor Octopus, has switched bodies with Peter Parker. Peter has died inside Otto’s body and now Otto is the Superior Spider-Man. He’s determined to carry on Peter’s legacy but do it his way.

His way means fighting crime like a super villain. He has henchmen, an island lab and a robot servant. Long story, short, this is a very different Spidey to what you’re used to.

Review:

The must recurring theme in The Superior Spider Man has been Otto’s skewed idea of what being “superior” actually means. Last volume saw Otto fail spectacularly and this volume is not much different. But where Necessary Evil’s plot felt lacklustre and pointless, The Superior Venom is far more entertaining, far more significant and, most importantly, far more “Agent-Venom-Featuring”.
There! See?! Even HE says it!

In this volume, Otto has found himself bonded to the Venom symbiote. Tricking himself into thinking he can control the black piece of globular doom, Otto dubs himself the “Superior Venom” and goes about terrorising criminals in a way that New York has never seen him do before. Naturally, this earns him negative attention from his family, his workmates, and his allies.

If there’s one truly effective villain in Superior Spider-Man, it’s Otto’s pride. It’s been the cause of his downfall more than the Sinister Six, the Jester, the Spider-Slayer, or any Goblin has ever been. Seeing Otto’s pride get the better of him so many times in this series, and in Superior Venom, it’s at its best.

Seeing Agent Venom here is also great; I quite like Flash Thompson as Venom. I was introduced to him in the Venom issues that tied into Spider-Island, got a second taste with Minimum Carnage, and got very disappointed by his under-utilisation in Thunderbolts and seeing him here is great. Flash is an anti-hero-turned-hero these days and that lines up quite well with Otto’s hero-turned-anti-hero vibe. What really excites me, though, is Humberto Ramos’ art. Ramos’ art can look a little outlandish when applied to completely human characters like Mary Jane or even Peter; his cartoony “jangliness” sometimes looks silly on these people. On Venom, however, Ramos’ body designs only accentuate the “alieness” of both Agent and the Superior versions of the creature
SUPERIOR... um... superior... uh... FIGHTING! I'm really
grasping at straws here.

It’s not all great, however. The Annual Blackout story is underwhelming at best. I didn’t know who blackout was at the beginning of volume, not sure I really know at end, and not really sure that I care. The issue offers some interesting Otto/Aunt May drama, and makes references to Otto and May’s almost-marriage (which I surprised Slott didn’t refer to before- kinda the elephant in the room), but the issue has no relevance to the rest of the series. Odd, since previous issues had told such a tight tale, but there you go.

Superior Venom could have done just fine without the Annual, but it’s still a VERY fun read. It gets 4 out of five globular dooms.

****

+ Agent Venom

+ Otto vs Otto’s ego

- Blackout is… meh.

Alternate Option: Scarlet Spider: Life After Death

Another dark and gritty version of Spider-Man  

Friday, 20 February 2015

Batman Vol. 4: Zero Year- Secret City (The New 52) Review


Batman Volume 4: Zero Year- Secret City (The New 52)
Mask includes bat-eyebrows.

Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Greg Capullo

Collects: Batman #21-24 and Batman Zero Year Directors Cut 1

Background Information:

Since the mid-80s, the definitive Batman origin story was Batman: Year One. It was referenced pretty heavily in Batman Begins, found its way into the DC animated universe, and became Batman’s “official” origin story, even though it was never really part of the DCU.

With that in mind, it’s impressive that a book like this even exists. A book that dares to try and compete with a story so iconic, so readily canonised in the minds of so many fans that to look on it even with indifference is an act of heresy, was likely going to be dismissed at best, burned in effigy at worst. Good thing the book was written by Scott Snyder, a man who, looking at his previous Batman work, can do no wrong.

Review:

Writing Batman’s new origin is no simple task. You’ve got to answer to multiple masters, all of whom claim to be showing the “real” Batman- the animated series, the Nolan trilogy, almost anything written by Frank Millar; it’s a difficult job, but Snyder has handled it brilliantly, paying homage to pretty much each version of Batman’s origin.

When he's not Batman, he's not always great at this.
So Gotham’s middle-to-upper class are being manipulated into joining a gang led by a man called the Red Hood. Red Hood’s been having some problems though; a vigilante, a man with a deathwish, it would seem, has been foiling a large part of Red Hood’s plans. No prizes for guessing, but that man is Bruce Wayne. Bruce has been successful thus far, but needs to be something greater.

It doesn’t sound like much of a Batman origin story, I know; there’s no death of parents, being the major difference. But by not letting the readers see Bruce’s mother and father get shot, Snyder does a couple of things that allow for Secret City to be truly great. Firstly, we’re not retreading already familiar ground. Secondly, by not doing so, we can inject our own story of their death. You like the Nolan one? Great! That’s what it was- totally. You like the Burton story? Sure, that’s how it went down! Certain that the death happened after a night time screening of The Mask of Zorro? Of course it did! It’s a level of freedom for the reader that I really wasn’t used to, and I loved it.

That said, there are some scenes that you just don’t leave out. Snyder was wise enough to keep the classic Bruce Wayne line; “Yes father, I shall become the bat,” and keep the gravitas of the moment. That said, he’s injected a new life into the story, grounding it in the tech-fiction that has characterised Snyder’s run so that the whole thing feels fresh. Aside from this Year One excerpt, Snyder also inserts references to The Killing Joke- which I won’t spoil for you. It’s nice references like this that make Secret City near-perfect for new readers- a smorgasbord of samples from the character’s history given a new context, and it works wonderfully.

Sure, there are nitpicks; the fact that this collection is shorter than most is a bummer, as is the fact that this is another Joker story. Death of the Family was great, don’t get me wrong. But that, along with this, along with the current Endgame story arc happening in the floppies, and I’m concerned that we’re going to “Jokered-out” by volume 7 of this series. But they’re small concerns and really don’t hinder your appreciation of the book.

Oh, and side note; Red Hood’s helmet is not a hood, and looks like a giant tablet.

Hey, look, homage!
The art here by Capullo continues to look great, but he does something here that distinguishes Secret City from the other volumes in this series; he uses colour, and a lot of it. The fact that the first scene in the book features Batman in the day should be sufficiently telling of just how different this book is.

Alternatively, maybe Capullo’s just running out of black, grey and brown paint, but the affect is nice, nonetheless.

Secret City is fantastic, there’s no other word for it. It gets a four and a half out of five giant tablets.

**** ½

+ Pays homage to so much.

+ Actual colour in the art

+ Origin somehow avoids retreading.

- Didn’t we just get a Joker story?

Alternate Option: Batman: Zero Year

Something for the gruff old traditionalists.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Thougts of Recentness


Yep, another brain.
 
Okay, so thoughts of the week isn’t realistic. Here’s a collection of thoughts of recentness, instead.
And let’s face it; there are only two pieces of news here:

The words “The New 52” are ending… and that’s about all.

He won't destroy the DCU, but he WILL get rid of three words in the top corner of
your comics, and THAT'S the victory that matters!
 
Okay, haters. You win. The New 52 is ending.

HA! SUCKED IN!

No, it really isn’t. We’re just not calling it the New 52 anymore.

I gotta admit, there’s a lot here that I’m excited for. Cyborg, Dr Fate, Batman Beyond and Black Canary are all books that sound great, but for me, the most exciting thing is We Are Robin.
The most fresh and exciting thing on DC's new
menu.
The idea of what will hopefully be a teenage team emerging as people inspired by Robin is really interesting, and I just can’t go past that cover art.

That said, what isn’t there gets me concerned. It looks like we’re not getting a return of Nightwing, which was what I wanted out of DC more than anything. And is Kyle Higgins really not on any of the post-convergence titles? That’s sad, it really is- I’ve been loving Higgins’ characterisation in each of his titles that I’ve read and it’s a shame to see him leave DC.

Marvel can include Spider-Man in movies now

Spider-Man's now-permanent position in Marvel continuity.
Honestly, I know everyone’s excited about this, but personally, I’m not. I know that Spidey becomes the emotional centre of Civil War, which should equal a (somewhat) more faithful adaptation, but I never saw Spider-Man’s comics as being subservient to The Avengers. I don’t want a Spider-Man movie that’s nothing more than a two-hour ad for Infinity Gauntlet- I just don’t. I’d honestly rather have another Amazing Spider-Man 2 than see a movie purely designed to get Spidey into the Avengers (that should give you an idea of how unexcited I am about this). He’s not a bit-player, and to see him play second fiddle to Iron Man would just be insulting.

Yep, I’m anticipating hate comments, but I really don’t see how sharing Spider-Man with Marvel is going to result in a better Spider-Man franchise (Sony still has creative control, after all).