The Original X-Lads (and one little lady in drag)
Marvel 1602 #2
Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, Richard Isanove
The Original X-Lads (and one little lady in drag)
Marvel 1602 #2
Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, Richard Isanove
“You’ve gotta ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
Ultimate Spider-Man #37
Bendis, Bagley, Thibert
Arvell Shaw Tears It UP (How High The Moon Bass Solo)
If you have ever loved a bass lick or are a musician who is due for some good old-fashioned humble pie, you need to watch this…
Happy Other Mother’s Day
It is not difficult to find yourself or your beliefs in iconic heroic imagery. That’s one reason why comics culture consists of so many people who like to play dress-up at conventions. (Also, why sports fans wear warpaint and replica jerseys to ball games… What is “nerd”? But I digress…) We see ourselves in superheroes or, at least, what we believe, what we want and what we want to be, what we admire and what we aspire to be. As a kid, I wore my Superman pajamas (cape and all) underneath the suit I’d wear to church on Sundays because there is something universally badass about morphing. “Ha! You think I’m just some kid but, underneath this facade, I am Superman!” Deception works in so many stories too. The Power Rangers. The sword fighter who reveals in mid-battle that though he had been fighting left-handed … he’s actually right-handed! OMG! Or Goku and Picollo dropping their weighted clothes when battling Raditz! OMF’NG!!! Deception is badass. And I believe advantageous deception is metaphorically entwined with cosplay culture. I could be normal. I could be me. Or maybe you’ve underestimated me. Maybe I have underestimated me. Hell, I could be just like the totally badass splash of Nightwing above. He is, after all, the fantastical embodiment of the values I hold dear…
Oh … umm … Why is Batgirl falling doggystyle through Gotham City? If we dissect the above splash of Batgirl (from Batgirl #5, February 2012) into the rule of thirds (one of the earliest design principles you’ll learn in any photography or graphic design program … i.e., it’s basic and DC artists know this stuff) the focal point of the image is Batgirl’s ass and V-JJ. Face down. Ass up. I get that Batgirl is an acrobatic superhero but artists make choices and the way artists choose to showcase Nightwing (another acrobatic superhero) and his skills suggests power and not sexual submission like the way in which artists portray Batgirl.
Even in the most balls-in-your-face drawings of Nightwing—like the Nightwing #1 cover, Sept. 2011 (see below)—Nightwing’s face is the focal point of the image. Nightwing (below) is moving toward the reader from a position of power or advantage. Batgirl (above) is fleeing the reader who predatorily stalks her from above, staring down omnisciently at her penetration points. My point in this comparison is to show that the above splash of Batgirl was not simply an innocent depiction of an acrobat performing a stunt and misinterpreted by a disgruntled audience. These artists are professionals and they have purposely chosen this pose to serve a purpose.
Writers make choices. Artists make choices. Editors make choices. DC is choosing (supposedly) to reach out to new, female readers while suggesting (for lack of a better term… maybe proclaiming on high) that the apex of feminine worth (here I go on worth again, see previous two posts) and heroism is rooted in sexual submission and objectification. In short, DC misrepresents and devalues women—mothers, daughters, sisters—and womanhood. DC has chosen to portray an iconic heroine (a role-model for little and grown girls alike) as a sexual object. If you love comics and respect the art and want to see it develop into a deeper and innovative literary medium, this overtly sexualized image that DC has crafted for girls to gaze into and see themselves should piss you off.
Complex civil rights, jurisdictional, and nat’l security dispute? F*it let’s box!
Will Eisner is the one comics guru whose legend and legacy may outshine even Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. He all but created the masked vigilante with his long-running series The Spirit. And he wrote the very first graphic novel, A Contract with God, and even coined the term “graphic novel” when pitching ACw/G to publishers. Yet, even he once (at least once) called superheroes shallow (in his instructional book, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative). Pains me so! But he has a point. Superhero comics, as the community at large recognizes the genre, have simple plots with base conflicts, like death and enslavement. Writers may try to spice it up and add depth with apocalyptic implications or interstellar overlordship, but that still boils down to death and enslavement. These simple conflicts are often dealt with through simple means. (Note: by “simple” I mean “not a lot of thinking involved”) Force meets force. Superheroes fight and, often, that’s all superheroes know how to do. (The Avengers vs. X-Men saga = case in point … the absurdity of this showdown is laughable.) Superhero comics often come off as soap operas with fisticuffs. So, pains me as it does to say, Eisner may have a point. However, it is a point that I feel is only valid in the most general and shallow analysis of the superhero genre—more so if considering the entire body of graphic literature. (But I’m not going there in this post. Let’s stick with superheroes.)
from Superman: Red Son
In my last post, I kept skirting around the issue of worth. What is worth reading and how writers define the worth of their readers through the worth of their characters. In this post, I want to specifically focus on superhero comics worth reading (deeply) and worth acclaim. I could easily name dozens of superhero comics that address complex problems but I’ll name three in this post to keep it short: 1) Superman: Red Son, 2) The Dark Knight Returns, 3) Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?. Yes, violence exists in each of these comics but violence for the sake of violence is not the point in any. You’ll read simply violence if you blow through the plot but you’ll miss how the authors and artists wrestle with nationalism, child rearing through external stimuli (such as mass-media), civil liberty and equality, conservative vs. liberal justice, human and cultural evolution, pop morality and so on. All three of these comics are worthy of acclaim on par with Moore’s Watchmen and Gaiman’s Sandman (see how I slipped two more in there ;->) and graphic literature as a whole (even superhero comics) should be approached as serious pop-culture artifacts, as uniquely American and a unique aspect of Americanism, and as testaments to how we perceive … well … everything (from homeland defense and foreign policy to racial injustice to domestics and metaphysics). In all, worthy of study—to be enjoyed and to be understood, analyzed, and argued.
“But you don’t have to take my word for it. Read it for yourself!”
In Supergods, Grant Morrison suggests that, for a large chunk of the American population, superhero mythos—through comic books, movies, video games, action figures, or any accessible medium—represent our earliest moral teachings. That is, we learn justice—right from wrong and good from evil—from stories and characters in superhero lore. Superhero mythos is, in a sense, an American religion—not to say that kids grow to worship fictional characters (though I’m sure that does occasionally happen) but in the sense that superheroes provide for youth a shared moral code and understanding of the greater world and cosmos. And I find it important to note that these god-like superheroes have established this shared moral foundation for several cultural generations (depending on how you choose to define them—the silent generation, baby boomers, generation x, millennials, and AO). Comics teach us so much and superhero themes and motifs have been so thoroughly entwined in American culture that I do not believe they can be ignored as valued means of spreading ideas and morals, nor should they be taken lightly as just kid stuff (especially as the strictly kid-safe sections at comic shops are shrinking to make room for titles produced for more mature audiences). But don’t take my word for it. Read for yourself!
Long time no post. Let’s get to it…
DC “Building Worlds”
The DC Universe: An alternate reality in which even extraterrestrials are American
While Marvel clumsily regurgitates the Phoenix (see AvX Saga) in a trite and ill-scripted attempt to kill Jean Grey just one more kami-damn time (vicariously through Hope Summers), DC is attempting to reinvent and re-imagine their pantheon in a way that is simultaneously vintage pulp and modern hyper-fantasy—vast, mysterious and refreshingly relevant (at least in subtext … I probably just slipped into an abyss of rhetorical analyses that I am not prepared to tackle in this post … sorry!).
… Bad Joke … Long Sentence … *Shrug+KamiSaysMeh*
I am loving the current going-ons in superhero comics, especially in the DC Universe. However, if there is one aspect of this “building worlds” stuff that DC’s public relations folk have spit about lately which I feel Marvel dominates DC (WARNING: General, overarching, analytical and relative statement to follow…) it would be representation. It takes all kinds to “build worlds” but DC is still a white boys club that privileges heteronormative, metropolitan (better read as New-Yorkian) lifestyles. (And, to be fair, Marvel is too. Fair is boring. I want to write about DC.)
I hate the word: token. (As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee!) I get that token is often used sarcastically and I admit that I find myself jokingly sputtering this slur on occasion but maybe tokenism shouldn’t be taken so lightly. A token is prized, like the token dame in crooner movies or the token minority in sitcoms and teen and horror flicks. To prize is to objectify—another means of possessing and dominating people, ideas, and culture akin to sexualization and other forms of discrimination. Tokens, in the metaphoric sense, are prized for representing a specific minority demographic (old, indigenous, trans, et cetera) but are devalued as individuals or (in the case of graphic literature) characters.
For example, consider the token Native American. The writer wants a strong character, so s/he brainstorms what makes a strong Native American. Images of the painted, bare-chested warrior rocking a leather loincloth and a feather poking out of his flowing black locks immediately manifest in the writer’s mind. What is often not considered is that even the concept of Native, though arguably PC, is problematic—as is American Indian, or Indigenous Peoples. The umbrella, catch-all term Native American attempts to lump numerous nations, governments, traditions, bloodlines, histories, and (in short) cultures together as one, unified thing—just like assuming female, gay, or Latino is one tangible thing that accurately defines an individual. It is simply wrong. (Read that how you want—wrong as in inaccurate or wrong as in immoral. I say both but decide for yourself.) The writer who relies on tokenism inevitably stretches the character to represent all individuals in a given demographic. So, the writer has created a thin character—shallow and dependent upon stereotypes and historical anachronisms.
Now, does that mean Wonder Woman, for being the only female in the Justice League, and Cyborg, for being the only African-American (grr… another problematic term) in the JL, are weak characters? Not at all. Writers can and often successfully write characters that represent demographics other than their own. They do so by developing the character first and not its skin color or genitalia. I think Wonder Woman and Cyborg (as far as superheroes are concerned) are solid—many would and many do disagree. Still, it irks me that DC keeps spinning this “building worlds” mess and yet Cyborg and Wonder Woman represent the greater share of DC’s headlining diversity—so much so that they have become tokens of the Justice League and often the entire DC Universe.
Why is this (why this is) a problem without an easy fix…
Let’s say, for the sake of fairness, DC splits up their characters based in the fictional DC United States (Gotham City, Metropolis, Coastal City, Central/ Keystone Cities, etc.) according to the actual 2010 Census. So, 72% of these superheroes will be white, 16% will be Hispanic/ Latino, 12% will be African-American, so on and (roughly) half men and half women. Problem solved? Not exactly. DC PR folk can stand atop the Statue of Liberty, broadcast through all media simultaneously, and proclaim to the modern world, “Look! We have black people! We soooo get you, black people!” and that doesn’t prove a thing. To have (playing on tokenism here) is not inherently to represent—much less to represent accurately, respectfully, or even well (as discussed above). It’s a numbers game, yes, but it is more importantly a matter of respect and quality. But boys read comics! White boys that live in their parents’ basements! Yep. Girls read comics too (seriously, there’s a whole website devoted to it http://girlsreadcomics.com/) as do many other individuals who do not represent established misconceptions of the supposed geek culture.
Not DC characters but… BAHAHAHA!!! (by KevinBolk)
So, when DC repurposes Starfire as some warm and animate blowup-fuck-doll-jizz-receptacle and omits strong female leads (and roles) like once-Batgirls Cass Cain and Stephanie Brown, readers will feel disenfranchised (because they are), get pissed, and the blogosphere will buzz. And all we can do as readers is hope DC and Marvel listen. AND remember that we are thinkers, loud thinkers, with mouths that bitch and moan and praise and beg for more. To produce great escapism is to develop a world worth escaping into. But it goes further than that. Literature has always shaped the world we know and shaped what we know of the world—how we understand our roles as self-aware beasts, spinning out of control through a dark and speckled void. Literature has always shaped thought. But readers are not passive absorbers, we participate.
And, who knows, maybe DC is listening. In May, DC will replace six not-so-stellar New 52 titles with six new monthlies. Among them are World’s Finest (starring the Huntress and a modest-er Power Girl… that is, she is no longer just tits with stems … see above) and Earth-2, starring the Justice Society of America—specifically (SHOCKER!) Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. But maybe there’s room for some diversity in Earth-2 and not just the numbers game diversity but real, worthwhile diversity—characters worth reading.
Ganke says, “Fuck what’s cool. I’m Ganke.”
Sorry for such a surface overview of what is a deep and stubbornly well-rooted problem but, if you have read this far, you’re probably ready to get done with it. So, things to take away from this mess: Objectification is not okay. Though ideas may begin in fantastic or hypothetical realms, they tend to manifest themselves in our so-called real world (maybe not in the overtly perverse Frederic Wertham “Seduction of the Innocent” sense but it still happens—authors like Milton, Dickens, Dawkins, Austen, Locke, Montesquieu and Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give credence to this notion). Readers are not passive thought and pop-culture receptacles. However, if you are a literary receptacle, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG! Read good comics, follow good blogs (DC Women Kicking Ass, Blah Blah Witty Comment, Women Write About Comics, Superheroes are for Girls, too, por ejemplo), and always raise hell about the things you love no matter how “nerdy” … fuck what’s cool!
Iconic Pop Art from Wolverine (1982) by Chris Claremont, script, and Frank Miller, pencils.
Tab Benoit “When a Cajun Man gets the Blues”
MY GAWD! I was born and raised in Texas but I swear I can hear hints of my father’s coonass upbringing in the bright twang of that old tele and honey gruff of Tab Benoit’s voice. Great tune. Good message. Check out Hurricane on the Bayou for more Tab and friends. The song begins around 1:55 but he says a few things worth hearing before then.