Monday, September 26, 2011

"She did wha-?!" Women and Sexuality in the DCNu

Ah, where to begin...

So as everyone at this point knows, DC has served up two of their "NEW 52" titles, Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, with a big heaping side of controversy. Depictions of both Catwoman herself and the alien ex- slave Starfire (formerly of the Teen Titans) have been met with a big, fat, resounding "whawhaWHA?!" all across the internets. While in some cases I agree with certain points, my first, and biggest, reaction is:

Come on, guys... grow up.

And no, I'm not really talking to Judd Winnick (Catwoman) or Scott Lobdell (Red Hood), I'm talking to fanboy (and girl)-ism in general, and the thousands upon thousands who rely on tv and pop culture to define their dreamy, romanticized notions of love and sex.

I dunno if you guys realize this, but the weekly "will they or won't they" of Lana Lang and Clark Kent isn't really how most relationships in the real world play out. Or - god help me for even bringing this up - the hyperromantic, saccharine-sweet stylings of Edward and Bella (you know you've watched them too). Things don't work like this, not in my experience. And the older I get, the more I come to realize that art in general really tries its hardest to warp our collective sense of love and emotion (and, by extension, our own sense of self-importance). For the most part, when someone writes a story about a relationship, or sings a song about a relationship, they not only write their own idealized version of what they relationship is (or isn't), they write it from their highest emotional peak, making things seem incredibly immediate or important. Songs and tv shows and movies about love and relationships (and sex) rarely ever deal with the normal, daily, mundane aspects, instead choosing to focus on the highest, most emotional times.... and here we sit, soaking it up like emotionally-dry and brittle sponges. We get it into our heads that this is how relationships SHOULD be... the mystique, the excitement, the constant adrenaline rush...

... and, let's face it, the innocence. I think that on some level each and every one of us misses that feeling of youthful purity we used to have when it comes to relationships, and we spend a lot of time trying to recapture that in couple's therapy. But why? Why not let people - and relationships - mature a little?

And therein lies the point of that little tangent I just dragged you down. It seems to me that every time I comic tries to do something "mature" people freak out and complain (until that "maturity" becomes the norm, in which case people start to expect it and criticize others for NOT having that, but that's a different rant). Now, I'm not saying that everything DC has done has been "mature" by any means.... I'll get to the Starfire issue in a minute. For the moment, I wanna talk about Catwoman.

So, in this new, rebooted DC universe, Batman and Catwoman are doing their little dirty dance across the rooftops of Gotham every once in a while, and every once in a while they fall on top of each other naked. Oops. How dare they?! It's not as if they are two consenting adults with a mutual attraction or anything. They're comic book characters! And comic characters just don't DO that!

But ya know what, I don't even think that's the issue here. I think the problem people are having with it is - like I mentioned above - the lack of "innocence." The whole "will they or won't they" flirtation aspect of their relationship is gone because, well, they "did" and we got to see it. Full-on. In color. Personally speaking, after decades of watching primetime television, I'm kind of sick to freaking death of "will they or won't they." After countless episodes of shows like Smallville, Bones, Castle (yeah, I saw an episode... don't act like you didn't), and many, many shows that I can't even think of at the moment, I'm starting to crave some real, mature relationship drama. I'm tired of wondering if they're "going to"... I wanna see what happens after they actually DO. Maybe I'm just getting old, but that's what's interesting to me now.

All of this plays back into the larger issue of erasing years of continuity and essentially de-evolving established character relationships which, again, is a different issue. That's something I'm really annoyed with, to be honest, but in this case it's nice to see that we aren't simply going right back to the way things were when I was 10. Bats and Cats have a more mature relationship which, while it negates some of the youthful innocence and fun of their old interaction, also opens the door to some newer territory that hasn't really been explored yet. So, in that respect, I applaud both DC and Winnick for their bold choice in that regard.

Just please, please, Judd... don't drop the ball now that you've carried it down the field a bit.

Now, did Catwoman #1 really need to be so gratuitous? Eh, maybe not. But it depends how you look at it. This is a comic where the main plot point/reveal is a down and dirty, fetishistic sex scene between two costumed "super"-people. So, assuming we don't have a problem with that in and of itself (and after my awesome, eye-opening explanation you don't have a problem with it anymore either, right??), do you really want a scene like that to sneak up on you at the end of the book and assault your face like that? No, probably not. Especially if you were considering reading said comic book to your kid. So instead, Winnick does us a favor by parading Selena around in her underwear on the VERY FIRST PAGE. This isn't just gratuitous T&A, folks.... this is Judd's way of warning us about what's to come. This is his way of saying "parents, take your kids out of the room because they're gonna be nasty superhero boot-knockin' later on." And for that, I kind of thank him.

As for the Starfire issue, well.... I'm really not sure there's any "good" defense for that one. Another reviewer made an interesting point, though: that maybe, just MAYBE, by making Starfire an amnesiac sex toy Lobdell is actually thumbing his nose at male fandom in general... his way of saying "you didn't want her when she was a strong, supportive woman, so here ya go, here's your inflatable alien warrior sex doll, ya buncha horny jackasses." I kinda like that explanation. Also, I'd like to point out that neither Jason, nor Roy, makes any effort to resist Kori or take the high road. Both of them seem to take her up on her offer without so much as a peep of protest, or even a weak "hey Kori, you're my friend, this isn't right, you're re-enacting your past as a slave through your friends and maybe this isn't healthy for you, so I'm gonna have to say no to the whole sex-thing." No, Roy doesn't really say that at all. So it begs the question.... who is that scene in question REALLY making a statement about? I mean, really, wasn't anyone else even SLIGHTLY disturbed by how quickly Roy took her up on the offer? I'd like to think that if my hot alien friend wanted to have meaningless sex with me as a way of acting out a behavior that was forced onto her as an intergalactic slave, I might say "um, no, look, I care about you and I want you to be healthy in the head, so instead of sex let's go see that therapist over there."

Yeah... I'd like to think that.

On the other hand, maybe we're all intellectualizing this a bit too much. Maybe Lobdell just thought he could sell more books by tossing in some hot inter-species sex. I prefer to think that he's really taking the high road and trying drive home a real message. Or maybe I'm just justifying my own inner fanboy. I'll let you be the judge.

So, do I think that turning Kori into the group slut is a good idea? No, not really. Do I think there could be a reason behind it besides just fanboy fantasy fulfillment? I think there could, and a genuinely hope there is. I will say this though.... Lobdell already has a sizable hole to dig himself out of with that one.

But come on, if we're gonna talk about comic book character sexual objectification, can we talk about the MEN for a minute?? (you know you want to)

Comic-book wise, I "came of age" in the 90s, and all of us who lived through that know exactly what that means. When I was younger I even wanted to be a comic artist. Like most of us I didn't get very far with that particular dream... but I produced a few pieces here and there that I'm kinda proud of. That being said, looking back I've noticed that every male figure I've drawn over the course of my life has essentially been a shirtless mass of muscle with a line across each bicep to give the vague impression of a shirt sleeve. It's kinda disturbing when I look back on it, and I place the blame squarely on Rob Liefeld. I mean, seriously... for as accomplished as my art actually got, I never really learned to draw cloth of any kind because apparently superheroes airbrush on their shirts before they leave the house, even in their civilian identities.

The point I'm trying very hard to make is that, yeah, DCs moves can definitely be construed as objectifying to women, and possibly even sexist, if you wanna look at it that way... but for every woman objectified in comic books over the past few decades for their sexual potential I can show you 5 men objectified for the wish-fulfilment they represent.

Who DOESN'T wanna date a hot warrior woman, and be able to spray-paint his shirt on? OR dress up in a cape and do it on a rooftop with a former prostitute?? Come on, it's the American Dream, baby.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Few Things Here & There (AKA I'm A Slacker)

So I am a is certainly hard to argue that as it pertains to this blog lately.  Last blog is dated August 29th and I said I would come back THAT WEEK to deliver my thoughts on "Captain America: The First Avenger". Yeah, it's September 19th right now as I'm starting to write this.  That is definitely slacking, and to add to it, the Blu-Ray/DVD is apparently slated to come out in a month (October 25th according to  So I started thinking I should just wait until that release comes out, re-watch the film, and THEN finally get around to delivering my thoughts on what was my 2nd favorite comic book movie of 2011.  Then the question became, what to do with this blog as I sat down to write it this evening?  Sometimes I plan, sometimes I don't, sometimes I don't have the slightest thought in my head until I open up the page and just start typing. 

The last time that happened I wrote this: Cornucopia of Comments, and covered the upcoming Event books for 2011, price points, and digital downloads (legal or otherwise). Coincidentally, all three of those items are still viable as "Flashpoint" just wrapped up, "Fear Itself" is winding down, the New DC 52 launch brought up the pricing question again, and digital downloads became a topic once again as part of that New 52 initiative.  So I decided I would touch on some of those topics AND touch on the comic-related things that have occupied my time.


"Flashpoint" was a bomb. I say this without having sat down to re-read it as one whole story, I say this without perusing the books prior to typing this, I say this solely based on the impact it had on me as a reader, and based on what it was intended to do as the set-up for the New 52.  As a long-time fan of Andy Kubert I can say the art was beautiful, the intial foundation of the story was intriguing, and the part of the story that pertained to parents & children was by far the most intriguing aspect. 

Unfortunately that was a small part of the story when all was said and done, only really played out in Thomas Wayne's desire to help Barry so he could bring Bruce back & in Barry's actions regarding his mother that somehow started this whole mess in the first place.  The problems came in every other aspect of this story: the Atlantis-Themyscira war, the Resistance, the tie-in books, et al.  How in the hell Barry keeping his mom alive causes Bruce to die, Kal El to become a test subject, Aquaman to turn into a bloodthirsty tyrant, and all the other fundamental changes to the DCU is not something ever explained in any fashion.  I certainly see how events could unfold like that, but it feels like an attempt by Johns to give Barry's existence as Flash such an importance as to rival Superman's impact on the heroes of the DCU.   The war means nothing in the long run, none of the tie-ins mean anything (I did actually read them all) and only the "Batman: Knight of Vengeance" book by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso was the least bit entertaining on its own.  It had nothing to do with the core story, didn't pretend like it would continue into Flashpoint #5 like all the rest, and served only to flesh out the character of Thomas Wayne seperate from the events that brought him to FP.  Hell, as a story it was better done that FP itself. 

The other big issue with FP was how it bridged the gap between the old DCU and the new, or rather how I feel it failed miserably to accomplish that goal.  The entire regenesis of the DCU was dumped into 2 pages that quite frankly didn't make any damn sense. Take a look for yourself:

Mystery woman says "The history of heroes was shattered into three long ago..." so go fix it Barry. The problems I have this page can be summed up with two numbers, two storylines: "52" & "Countdown".  Aren't there 52 Earths in the Multiverse? Wasn't it clearly established that the Wildstorm-verse existed on its own Earth (Earth-50 according to Wiki)?  Vertigo is even more confusing given that John Constantine now exists in both DC-proper & in the Vertigo line.  In the New 52 he's a young guy, in the Vertigo line he's older & married, so does this mean Vertigo-Hellblazer exists in the future? Does it exist on a seperate earth?  Does this mean I'm worrying too much about a fantasy world where there really aren't rules except those we (fans & creators) impose on them?  I just have questions, and I'm hoping they get answered in time as this story unfolds.  Because really, given the set-up thus far, it certainly seems like his will unfold into a long form mega-arc of some kind as Barry Allen eventually remembers his mission of fixing time as the mystery woman (who may or may not be the one from the FP issues of Booster Gold) stalks everyone in sight.

So that brings me to whole endgame of "Flashpoint" and my thoughts on its evolution so far: the New 52.  From "Action Comics" to "Detective Comics" to "Animal Man", it has only been two weeks of new #1's and it has been a mixed bag.  I haven't read them all, nor do I have any desire to, but what I have read has largely been enjoyable if not leaving me with a few questions about how this whole reboot/reset/restart works.  Simply based on the #1's I have read so far, it seems that the Bat-Family (save Barbara Gordon) and the GL-Verse are picking up exactly where they left off in August.  The main differences in Bat-Land are that Bruce is once again the only Batman & Batgirl is once again a Barbara Gordon sans wheelchair.  The only differences in GL-World, based on the two books released thus far, are...nothing.  Any reader could make guesses as to why it is that the brand that DC's Chief Creative Officer captains has apparently suffered the least from the New 52...

Anyway, while "JLA" may not have been the strongest launch book as far as long-term reader opinion seems to go, I for one feel like it was quite the right book for new readers.  It's got Jim Lee art, can never go wrong with that for my money, and a decent script depicting Bats & GL at their infancy of their relationship.  This is a book about HOW the Justice League comes together, about HOW the DCU is formed in this brave new world, and I am extremely interested in seeing how it unfolds, especially with Darkseid apparently looming as the big bad.  As for the rest of what I've experienced, I must say "Action Comics" had an energy & life I haven't experienced from a Supes book in quite some time, and given that I don't have any strong ties to the character, I feel like I'm on the ground floor of something good. "Detective Comics" shocked me, not just due to its cliffhanger ending, but due to the fact that Tony Daniel's run on "Batman" towards the end was not very good.  He still has some issues with pacing, occassionally his stories feel like there are panels missing, but his first 'Tec ish was a pleaseant read that has me looking forward to more.  "Batwoman", "Batgirl", "Green Lantern", "Red Lantern", all exceeded my expectations.  Can I possibly put into words how great it is to have JH Williams III art back in a monthly?  "Animal Man" & "Swamp Thing" were books I picked up based on the reputations of the writers (Jeff Lemire & Scott Snyder respectfully) and was blown away by the quality of the two books. On the downside, "Green Arrow" & "Grifter" were just bad, "Batwing" and "Suicide Squad" I am still up in the air about, as is also the case with "Resurrection Man", "Stormwatch", and a few others.  It has been a good start overall, and I am quite intrigued to see how this all plays out in the coming months.


So here we are 6 issues deep into FI, one issue to go; this story certainly has a stronger core book than FP, and it DEFINITELY has some stronger tie-ins books than FP, but on the whole thus far, it too has seemed like a bloated mess.  There are certainly parts fo FI that I dig, there is a definitive sense of everything going to hell with each issue, and it certainly feels like Cap is quickly watching it all slip away.  Matt Fraction has done a fine job of building elements of the larger story, but I've felt like that is all he's doing: building parts.  He introduces a Hulk element, but to get any resolution you have to go read "Hulk vs Dracula" or "Avengers", same can be said for every single one of The Worthy (who are appearing in every single book printed simultaneously).  That too makes for a bit of a pain because while it is kind of fun to watch Juggernaut's path of destruction from East Coast to West as he breaks away from The Thunderbolts & The Raft and ultimately ends up fighting the X-Men.  It's an interesting read, but can be quite confusing given that the issues are being released at the same time.  Each issue of FI, if read without the benefits of the tie-ins, seems like it has gaps in the story, as if major plot points are absent from the story because they went down in "Invincible Iron Man" or "Avengers" or "Journey into Mystery".  And even more sad to me was that the death of Bucky felt unimportant, so off-handed that I honestly that it was a faux death like Superboy in "Infinite Crisis", a tease before the real death that would go down an ish or two later.  I don't mind there not being a mourning moment because our hereos are in the middle of a war, that can be saved for an aftermath issue, but I hate how blase the entire death scene felt.  I am a huge fan of Bucky as done by Brubaker in recent years, I loved him as Cap, and this death just didn't have a weight for me.  That made me sad...

All that being said though, I can't help but feel a sense of anticipation for the final issue of FI given the fashion in which the most recent one ended.  Steve Rogers is a bad-ass, even in the face of ultimate doom, he is a general who you can't help but rally behind.  I want to see Cap go toe-to-toe with Sin and annihilate her.  Obviously she survives this ordeal given her appearance in the post-FI solicits, but that doesn't mean Rogers can't lay a beating on her on behalf of Bucky.  I want to see the Stark-armored hordes of Asgard go to war with The Worthy and for Thor to take his hammer upside the head of his, well his Uncle I guess it would be.  This truly looks like the big battle at the culmination of an action flick and I want to plop down my...whatever the hell Marvel decides to charge us for this double-sized final issue to see how it all comes crashing down.


In addition to "Fear Itself", Marvel also has the balls to run another giant crossover within the Spider-Man world that also has it's fair share of tie-in books.  "Spider-Island" may not have the sheer volume of books that FI does, but it is certainly giving it the old college try.  Since most books are wrapped up in FI in some fashion, Marvel just decided to put out a slew of mini's & one-shots to go along with SI 2011 (see now there's two SI's in Marvel's recent history with Secret Invasion, damn).   Can't say much about it, only reading the main ASM book which has been a fun read I guess, just find it ridiculous that Marvel is running two fairly large events simultaneously.  All I can say is that the humor of everyone having Spidey powers got old pretty quickly and I'm already tired of The Jackal.


Not much to find in the way of numbers for the Same Day Downloads that have accompanied the New DC 52 books in the last 3 weeks (starting with JLA), but according to DC their App peaked at #4 for the top grossing Apps & they're very  happy with the business they've done.  I find it to be a wonderful idea on DC's part to get new books out the same day digitally & in print.  When the time comes that I have a cell phone that's actually capable of doing apps, I believe I will check this out at least once to see how I like it.  If you're interested in DC's endeavors with the digital downloads, here: DC Digital Downloads.


This is one of the many things that have occupied my time over the last couple weeks and distracted me from writing, hence why I picked it as the initial image for this blog.  I don't think it is an easy thing to sum up what this book is about because it really is all over the place. Covering various topics throughout the range of comic book history from "Watchmen" to "Dark Knight Returns" to "Marvelman" to "Seduction of Innocent" to "New Gods" to "X-Men" and a great deal more.  It's a real stream-of-consciousness look at comic books through the eyes & thoughts of one of the medium's most unique authors.  It can be a difficult read at times, he kind of jumps around in time when one topic (say the New Gods) leads him to another (like Final Crisis) even if they are decades apart, but all told I very much enjoyed the read.  The looks at Grant's personal moments, the things that have shaped him as an author...while not new to any devotee of his...are interesting nonetheless and possible the most interesting parts of the book.  You can feel Morrison's love the medium pour from the pages though, and it is that love that has me very intrigued about books like Jim Starlin's "Warlock", the Kree/Skrull War, & Alan Moore's "Marvelman".  I'd say creating interest in a reader to go find material that is fresh to them is an accomplishment in itself and thus "Supergods" is a job well done.


My birthday just passed and I was gifted the 1st trade of Matt Fraction's "Casanova" by the same friend who gave me Warren Ellis' "Crooked Little Vein", "Red", and "Fell" to read.  I blew through it pretty quickly and I must say that I'm pretty impressed by it.  To date, I had only read Fraction's "Uncanny X-Men" run, as well as "Fear Itself", but had heard good things about this book.  I was quite excited to sit down & read it, and was not disappointed.  The story is out there for sure, dealing with alternate dimensions, odd sex dolls with downloadable personalities, patricide, and well...I guess it's not that odd for comic books after all.  Anyway, the art by Gabriel Ba enhanced that feeling of eccentricity and I am certainly going to look into picking up any other "Casanova" material that is available at the moment.  I recommend you do the same: Casanova Vol.1 on Amazon


This one is another book, written by Andrew Hickey, and it's an analytical look at Grant Morrison's "Seven Soldiers".  I'm only maybe 1/3 of the way through the book and while it's an interesting read, I think it needs its own annotated analysis.  In just the first few chapters I have been exposed to references to String Theory, M-Theory, Freemasons, Adam & Eve, Newton's Theories, Arthurian legend, and a ridiculous amount more.  I've only gotten to the chapter about Zatanna's section of the mega-story and I'm already overwhelmed with the references in this book. It's good, it's educational, but I certainly am going to need to spend some time on Wikipedia to grasp some of this information.  A related adventure is what we call it around these parts.  If you're interested in Seven Soldiers or Grant Morrison, this one may be of interest to you: An Incomprehensible Condition on Lulu


So I bought "Thor" on Blu-Ray and I just want to say that my opinion of the movie has slightly changed upon viewing it a second, and third, time.  It has moved up the list to my 3rd favorite of the summer super-hero movies, surpassing "Green Lantern".  I guess I will have to wait until I re-watch that to see if my judgment holds up, but I think it's safe to say that "Thor" will maintain it's new slot.  I don't think I gave enough credit to the quality of the story initially, but in repeat viewing, it felt more like its own movie, and less like a set-up piece for "The Avenger" flick next year.  The acting was good, the supporting cast was a bit more fleshed out than I initially felt, and I think I can get into the Jane Foster/Thor dynamic a little more now.  Now I just need to rewatch "X-Men: First Class" to reaffirm how awesome it was in the first place.

Well, thanks for riding along while I revisited some topics and shed some light on what's been occupying my time in comic book land.  Looking forward to this week's New 52 books, and the next edition of Schism from Marvel.  Hopefully once that's all said and done I can stay on the ball and review it too.