Where Sports and Comics Meet? Part 1

302315-20476-122582-1-nfl-superproCalm down everyone, Marvel is not rebooting NFL Superpro, Mark Millar has not signed on to write Kickers, Inc. (his idea of football has US scratching our heads).

#altreality

After reading my post complaining about the quality of the comics Marvel is producing, Joe Quesada got in touch with me, and dared me to pitch him some better ideas. Give me 12 hours Joe. He agreed, probably because I asked nicely. I called him back. We would make an event of it. Like the NFL draft (which happens in 15 days). I spoke with my co-conspirators, and we decided we could oversee 12 books. Four for each of us. First we would draft the teams, and then the superheroes. The draft order for each would be different. The character draft would be 7 rounds, serpentine. No character could be used more than once, and characters had to be ones that Marvel had the rights to. (Sorry, Mike, no Rom!).

Rom57.gifJoe agreed, he loved the idea but wanted to know more. Joe, I said, hold your horses, we will get there. You wanted an event, we at Planet Zeist want to give you an event. Our draft will begin two weeks from now, Weds, 4/26.

We would call it the SuperDraft, but that is for the US version of Millar’s football. No thanks.

Watch as we attempt to outwit each other, there will definitely be surprises, and we guarantee these 12 books will sell better, cumulatively, than Marvel’s top selling team books right now.

Stay tuned, superfans!

(Update: This image from the top secret combine was leaked by Instagram User QueJoeQuestionmark)

3200396-captain_america_benchpress

 

 

 

Whatever Happened 2: Electric Breakdancing Superheroics

This will likely be the last in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

Why is this the last? After this column, it won’t matter anymore. We will have broken the code. AoG Editor Mike and I have been donning the tinfoil caps researching this one. We broke the 52 Issue code of New 52, and we predicted some sort of Convergence type event.

Of course, like any Uri Geller wannabes, we are right sometimes and wrong other times. Battleworld did not end up being Nu-Earth for example. But, you gotta at least try: a defeated Clock King is still right at least twice a day.

Rebirth news has been trickling out, and Mike has every available resource dedicated to compiling this information. #wheresbluebeetle

pantyfiend_logoNot every product launch can be Qwikster or Pantyfiend.com.

Confused? These two products never got off the ground, or were kiboshed pre-launch, or immediately post-launch.

The year is 1986, what the DC Universe needs is a Hispanic, breakdancing superhero.

#relevant

Many look back fondly on the Justice League Detroit era. It sure wasn’t West Coast Avengers. (I don’t recall Del dropping any JL: Detroit lyrics).

dazzlerBut sometimes, ideas need to evolve and change.

Because, the roller-skating superhero isn’t always going to remain relevant.

Tangent: When was Guy Gardner’s haircut ever relevant?


 

Justice_League_of_America's_Vibe_Vol_1_1(Be sure to follow the links for full details!)

Vibe is DC Comics Newest Keystone Series, 2013

So, that didn’t necessarily work out too well.

Going back further, 2009.

Geoff Johns: (…)we want to turn Vibe into a pillar of the DC Universe, just like Green Lantern has become a pillar. Our goal is to elevate the Vibe Universe.

(UPDATE: see comments below, apparently the above was an April Fool’s joke: “VIBE REBIRTH article was a April Fool’s Day gag coordinated across several sites years before Vibe actually came back. The crazy thing is we were right about Geoff Johns involvement! Ha!”)

But, look at the name of that series: Vibe: Rebirth. What event slash non-event is coming up soon? Rebirth.

I figured it out.

The case for:

The power players at DC want to make Vibe relevant.

Rebirth!

Given the speculation that part of the post-Rebirth publishing will be tie-ins to the TV and Cinematic DCUniverses, well, FlashU has Vibe already. OK, it’s not Vibe, but unless they are going the Hank Henshaw as Martian Manhunter route, it has to be Vibe, right?

And of course, Vibe was featured in a Convergence series.

Acotilletta2--Luke_CageThe case against:

Vibe was approaching offensive stereotype upon his launch. He has not necessarily been written well enough to move past this, ala Luke Cage.

George Pérez: Oh, I sincerely say he’s the one character who turned me off the JLA. If nothing else, every character that was introduced was an ethnic stereotype. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Come on now!” These characters required no thinking at all to write. And being Puerto Rican myself, I found the fact that they could use a Puerto Rican character quite obviously favorable since the one Puerto Rican characters in comic that existed, the White Tiger, is no longer a viable character. But having him be a break dancer! I mean, come on now. It’s like if there were only one black character in all of comics, are you going to make him…

The facts:

Sometimes hype is just that, hype. Sometimes the ending of a TV show can suck, because the buildup is too much, or just out-and-out falsehoods. (Lost? Mad Men?) Sometimes cheese is just cheese.

I know Mike will be thanking me if Vibe is part of Rebirth and Mike’s DC is brought back. And although I have a pretty decent track record of predicting some of this stuff, as of right now, there is no indication Vibe will be featured.

Whatever Happened To… The Flaxen Femme Fatale

The latest offering in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence), and are gone now.

This week’s character is a bit of a black (or should I say blonde?) horse: the Blonde Phantom.

Originally created for Timely Comics (marvel’s predecessor), Louise Grant came into being in the mid-1940’s as an attempt to increase female readership. The Blonde Phantom released a few years after Wonder Woman made her first appearance, and offered stories within the vein of noir, a somewhat darker response to Timely’s other leading ladies like Millie the Model and Venus (who headed romantic comedy titles) and Namora and Miss America (who were in more straight superhero books). The Blonde Phantom echoed Quality Comics’ Phantom Lady, and is occasionally viewed as, on some level, the inspiration for the first Black Canary, as Louise was a mild mannered secretary in her day job who fought crime at night with her expert martial arts skills and a sexy ensemble.

Purportedly, the Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee and artist Syd Shores as a direct response to Wonder Woman’s popularity, although Al Sulman also claims to have been her originator, and the writer who was behind All Select Comics, the title in which she debuted (which was immediately renamed Blonde Phantom Comics after her first appearance).

As with other Timely titles aimed at women in the 1940s, the series only lasted about 2 years, but there were a number of crossovers and interactions between all the ladies of Timely. Blonde Phantom Comics eventually changed title and format to become an anthology series of romance strips titled Lovers.

But Louise Grant’s adventures as a crime fighter didn’t end there…

The case for:

–       Louise Mason (nee Grant) was a major supporting character in John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk.

–      The only character other than Shulky able to break the fourth wall in Sensational She-Hulk, Louise acknowledged her storied history, as well as how aging works for comicbook characters in a charming and unexpected way. Not only did her inclusion in the series inspire some of the storylines in Dan Slott’s She-Hulk run, but with the success of characters like Deadpool and Harley Quinn, this bender of reality could find huge success in the current comics atmosphere.

–      Millie the Model dressed as the Blonde Phantom for a cosmetics company concurrently with the release of the actual Blonde Phantom’s first appearance. That kind of kismet is pretty rare and special.

–       Mark Mason and Louise had a reverse Clark Kent/Lois Lane relationship; Mark was in love with the Blonde Phantom and though Louise was a bit of a bore. This subversion of the classic superhero romantic trope could resonate strongly with a modern comics audience.

–       Women are the majority audience for comics now, and with the success of oddball titles like Harley Quinn and female-led crime and mystery stories like Black Widow, Pretty Deadly, Spider-Woman, Sex Criminals, Elektra, Poison Ivy, Bitch Planet, Catwoman, and the upcoming Vampirella revamp, the Blonde Phantom could easily find a niche on the waterfall racks.

–       The Blonde Phantom is technically a female legacy character, with Louise’s daughter Wanda briefly donning the domino mask. Wanda was last mentioned in 2007’s the Initiative.

–       Howard Chaykin’s Avengers 1959 miniseries teamed up the Blonde Phantom with her old friend Namora, as well as Nick Fury, Sabretooth, Kraven, and Howard Stark, and was instrumental in defeating the Spider-Queen and Dieter Skul.

–       A native of Hoboken, New Jersey, experienced in legal proceedings, and an expert detective herself, the Blonde Phantom would fit right in with the current new and different Marvel universe pretty well (she could team up with Patsy Walker’s new company, or offer an old school perspective to Kamala).

–       With Marvel going back to their Timely roots, featuring Millie the Model in Secret Wars and giving romance comic star Patsy Walker her own solo title, Louise Grant doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched heroine to return to the pages, young or old.

 

 

The case against:

–       Louise has a lot of history, and last we saw her she was definitely not how you would imagine a superheroic leading lady: older, heavier, and not as interested in fighting crime.

–       Despite her most recent appearance only being a few years old, the 2011 mini series Avengers 1959 did not solidify her relevance in the Marvel U.

–      With the introduction of paralegal Angie Huang in the most recent She-Hulk solo series, Louise’s most successful niche was filled by someone else (with apparent supernatural powers).

 

The fact remains…

There’s still a chance Louise (or Wanda) could find success. While the Blonde Phantom doesn’t represent something wholly unique to modern comics (as a white, blonde woman), Louise does offer up an older perspective, a chance to show more body diversity a la Valient’s Faith, and a chance to have some real commentary on the condition of comics without it coming from a nutjob like Deadpool.

I could easily see Louise playing a Jarvis-style role to a younger woman who’s just starting out in the superhero business, or a woman who, while a veteran of the cape game, needs smart and sarcastic support…

Say, maybe Spider-Woman needs a secretary-slash-nanny?

She Can Fly: They’re Here, Queer, and Kid Friendly

Media informs, and is informed by, life; but if media presents itself as afraid of something, often, so too will society.

This is why the presentation of LGBTQ+ characters in pop culture is so important. The world perspective is shifting, with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same sex marriage and the increase of queer (and to a lesser extent, trans) characters in prime time television, yet there’s one facet of pop media that seems hesitant to present gay characters at all, let alone in a positive view: kid’s content.

Personal opinions aside, it is so important for kid’s shows and books to include “non-normative” characters, because the landscape of the world is changing. From race to gender to sexuality, presenting diverse characters in all-ages, kid-friendly, and young adult content offers new perspectives and world views to children who may be cloistered in an area that is overwhelmingly homogeneous.

Some argue that gay characters in kid’s media will brainwash children into “becoming gay;” others insist that animation and comics have had a “gay agenda” since the introduction of Spongebob and the Teletubbies in the 90s and early 00s. One pastor even created a “study” in which he insisted that Pokemon cartoons and video games cause a number of individuals born between 1985 and 1999 to become gay (due to the phallic and yonic shapes of the pocket monsters, among other reasons).

In this atmosphere of hysteria and misinformed fear, some comics and cartoons intended for children continue to test the boundaries of what is “acceptable” for children to consume, and do so with grace and aplomb.

Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless introduced one of the first gay characters the really caught my attention. Raven, the eponymous Pirate Princess, likes girls. Raven’s moments in Princeless with Adrien, the main protagonist, are quiet, but significant. Raven dances around the subject, and there’s never a moment where it is stated that she’s a lesbian, but a clear attraction is shown between her and Adrien, with it potentially being mutual. These moments, however quiet, represented a huge shift to me, not only for the comics industry, but for all-ages content in general.

UntitledAnd with Raven now starring in her own comic, the presentation of gay characters is advancing. The Pirate Princess builds on this core of Raven’s character; not just that she’s gay, but also that she’s strong, smart, caring, brash, and obstinate. Raven is a fully realized character, not just some caricature. Young gay women can relate to her both as an adventurous pirate and as a romantic character, who, though confident, is ultimately unable to say the things she wants to to the people she loves. Each issues, Raven grows and matures a little more, and I suspect there will be a time where Raven openly comes out, whether it be to her all-female pirate crew or her pirate king father.

Around the same time Raven was introduced, it was revealed on the fifteen minute Cartoon Network show, Steven Universe, that fan favorite Crystal Gem Garnet was actually a fusion of two Gems who were deeply in love. Much like Marvel’s mutants in the 90’s could be read as an interpretation of the plight of gay individuals (with the Legacy virus seen as analogous to AIDS), Steven Universe uses fusion, the combination of two or more Gems, as a way to comment on the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in today’s society. Fusion represents a deep physical and emotional relationship, and the show handles the gay interpretation of this very literally: “Can you please unfuse?” One character, a reformed villain, asks of Garnet, “you’re making me incredibly uncomfortable.”

(An interesting aside: Gems are also non-binary, meaning they are neither female, nor males, although female pronouns are used almost exclusively to refer to them, something which is essentially addressed within the show itself.)

In the Jem comic, Jerrica’s younger sister, Kimber, is now gay. Everything that was established about her character in the original show, her fun loving attitude, her annoying, little sister personality, and her boy craziness, are there, the only thing that’s changed is that Kimber likes girls, not guys. Kimber’s relationship with Stormer, of the Misfits, is one of the biggest aspects of the comic’s first arc, and promise to continue to be a large part of the story.

Other kid’s content are pushing to be more inclusive: the Shezow cartoon revolves around a boy who becomes a superhero by turning into a girl; Adventure Time has a (not-established-in-the-show) prior romantic relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, the Vampire Queen, which is being toed at in the popular tie-in comics, as well as confirmed in an interview with actor Olivia Olson (and purportedly the show’s creator, Pendleton Ward); but some shows struggle, like Gravity Falls and Clarence, both of which fought to feature romantic, same-sex background characters (and sometime lose that fight).

bunnyinthehallway_by_sadwonderland_by_sadwonderland-d98xu2eWhen I spoke with M. Alice LeGrow, author and artist for a number of all-ages titles released through Action Lab, at New York Comic Con this year, she mentioned that while working on her upcoming series, Toyetica, she had an initial struggle with two male characters who ultimately presented themselves to her as gay. When she brought this up to her editor, looking for advice or guidelines on using gay characters in the comic (which, not even released yet, has already been optioned for dolls, cartoons, and a possible film), their response was “Steven Universe is a thing now. Make them gay. No one cares.”

This sort of positive support, the idea that gay characters are no longer a taboo, is huge.

Comics historically have been afraid of labeling characters, often opting to leave it up to the readers’ discretion to see between the lines (see trans character Sera and her “paramour” relationship with Angela over at Marvel Comics; neither of them has been directly labeled as gay–or, in Sera’s case, trans even–and in interviews, editorial staff remains cagey, at best, when asked up front about the sexuality of characters). Even in the modern landscape, where presenting non-cis, non-hereronormative characters is becoming more and more accepted, only a few characters are actually labeled (Batgirl’s former roommate openly stated she was trans; Iceman is one of the few characters officially labeled as “gay” in the pages of the current Marvel Universe).

When you speak to many members of the queer community, they often emphasize the importance of labels, especially the importance of labels in canon text. It’s wonderful that Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner acknowledge in an interview that Harley Quinn is bisexual (or, at least with Poison Ivy), but the weight of that information is lost on people who don’t read comics interviews. However, if Harley’s sexuality were openly stated within the pages of the comics, that would be entirely different. It effects a much larger (though still small) audience, and opens up the possibility of coverage from bigger news outlets.

The increase of queer characters, especially in kid-friendly media, is amazing, but the next step is to no longer mince words about the sexuality of these characters. One day soon, they’ll be here, queer, kid-friendly, and open about it.

She Can Fly: All-New, All-Different, All Right Here

All-New, All-Different Marvel Now promises to provide a variety of content: some new, some old, some unexpected. Here’s a small taste of what readers have to look forward to starting next month, with new #1’s being introduced post-Secret Wars, and continuing on into the New Year!

Books include the first female-led title with an all-female writing and art team (Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat!), one of the first Native American led comic titles (Red Wolf), and a callback to one of some of our AoG staffers’ favorite Marvel events (Contest of Champions). Each title is said to encompass a different, unique tone that will compliment the characters it stars. If you’re looking for referential comedy to Marvel’s origins, try Kath Leth’s Hellcat. If you want a serious, Western vibe, go for Nathan Edmondson’s Red Wolf. And if you’re looking for big, dramatic battles that include the whole Marvel Universe, look no further than Al Ewing’s Contest of Champions.

Thanks to our friends at Marvel for the images, provided via press release!

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She Can Fly: Rock Me, Amadeus

Amadeus Cho is one of my top ten favorite comic characters of all time.

From the first time I saw him, a spunky, sassy brat in the pages of Incredible Hulk, growing into a powerful young man alongside the Incredible Hercules, and even into the pages of the somewhat disappointing Prince of Power mini, his brief (slightly baffling) crossover with the Savage Wolverine, and the few issues of Hickman’s Avengers he appeared in (which, may I say, still hasn’t been clarified why Cho joined up with the Illuminati, aka the guys who sent his best friend into space because they were scared of him), I’ve been an avid, and verbal, fan of Cho.

And now Amadeus Cho is finally getting his own solo series; something I’ve been wanting for almost a decade.

But Amadeus Cho is also the Hulk now.

While the classic Hulk, Bruce Banner, and Amadeus Cho come from similar backgrounds (in that they are both skinny, non-brutes with big intellects), the Hulk traditional represents the “man versus self” struggle between the intellect and the animal. In a way, ascribing the physical power of the Hulk—along with the requisite “monster” status that comes with the transformation—potential negates all that makes Amadeus Cho a really incredible character.

See, part of what makes Amadeus so special is the fact that his power isn’t flashy. He doesn’t have wings, he can’t read minds, he’s not strong or fast or durable. Instead his powers are internal; he can visualize the patterns of the world, identify the variables and possibilities in any situation, and then twist them to his advantage. He’s even on the top ten list of smartest characters in the Marvel Universe (he was number 7, pre-All-New All-Different, and Axel Alonso says he’s now the 5th or 6th smartest—here’s hoping he knocked Hank Pym and Tony Stark down a peg).

His powers, although they were beautifully rendered in the Incredible Herc, are not something that anyone else in the pages can see. In a way, because of this, he becomes more relatable. He’s a smart guy, but he has to rely on those smarts, and only those smarts, to save him from brutal, rough, and scary situations.

Also, the way in which Cho’s view of the world is shown as starkly different from everyone else’s can be interpreted as an interesting analogy to the developmental spectrum, touching on the concept of how the brain works on a level that’s rarely seen in most popular media.

In an interview I did with Greg Pak last year at New York Comic Con, Pak admitted Cho, in theory, comes off as a bit of a cliché—the smart, Asian kid—but that he tries to write Amadeus as more than just a flat trope. And Pak has succeeded greatly at making Amadeus Cho into a fully fleshed out character, who feels like a real human, teenage boy.

I worry that a Cho suddenly being imbued with the strength of the Hulk will negate the presentation of how his intellect works. I worry that having to be angry to tap into his power will change Amadeus from a happy-go-lucky genius (despite the death of his parents and younger sister) into a raging monster driven by revenge.

The book is being sold as a Hulk that embraces his identity, and has fun being big and green. Does this mean that Amadeus Cho will be intellectually in control, like the Doc Green iteration of Hulk? Will anger not factor in to his strength level? Will we finally get to see a Hulk who is embraced as a hero, rather than shunned by citizens and supers alike?

I’m definitely going to read Totally Awesome Hulk, and with a team like Greg Pak and Frank Cho (an artist who, despite his “hey you feminists, get off my lawn” attitude online, I still deeply love and appreciate), I suspect I will enjoy the title. I hope that Cho’s tenure as the HulkH, however long or short it may be, will embrace what makes Amadeus unique as a character, not just in the Marvel Universe, but in modern comics in general.

Cause if Marvel does wrong by Amadeus Cho, that would make me angry. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

She Can Fly: On Writing (and Borrowing) Race

As is the cyclical temperament of comics news, there often seems to be a thematic nature to topics covered by the media; sometimes it’s harassment in the industry, other times the use of religion or sexuality. More often than not, some aspect of the conversation rotates around the presentation, and representation of gender and race.

Race has been the most recent hot button issues, and not without good reason. Both Marvel Comics and BOOM! Studios (among others) have been dealing with harsh criticism, the former for the upcoming hip hop variant covers for a number of #1’s for the All-New All-Different Marvel, and the latter for a title about racism in the Southern 1920s that’s created by two white men and has been heavily critiqued online.

Mark Waid is one of the two creators behind BOOM!’s Strange Fruit, set in Mississippi in 1927, alongside JG Jones. The first issue was released earlier in July and caused a bit of an uproar online. Many questioned if it was right for two white creators to be writing: could it be considered appropriation? Are these men able to do justice to a story so mired in a cultural heritage that neither one possesses? Still others asserted that the first issue of Strange Fruit, and likely the story as a whole, is less about the black (superpowered alien) main character and more about the white men around him, and in that lies the greatest fault of the series: it’s a story being told by people who have never had that kind of racial life experience. Some journalists who reviewed the first issue negatively even said they were blocked on Twitter by Waid after attempting to converse with him about the series.

In an interview at SDCC, Waid responded to some of the controversy:

We’re in a social media era where there are so many people who didn’t have a voice for a long, long time, and suddenly they have a voice, and they’re eager to use it, and that is awesome…What I say about this is not what’s important. What’s important is what other people who don’t have the privilege that I have want to say. That’s what’s important, and I have to listen. And I would be lying to you if I said it’s easy, but I’m willing to try.

Waid has thus far gracefully avoided the accusation of his blocking reviewers on Twitter, as well as any direct acknowledgment of the critique of JA Micheline of Women Write About Comics, who later stated, “it’s black people who suffer when white readers think that racism is only enacted a certain way.”

But it’s not just the more independent publishers that are facing criticism regarding their handling of race when it comes to creators and content. Many online have cited Marvel’s hip hop homage covers as tone deaf, when you consider the fact that no black creators (a statement that is actually factually inaccurate) were involved in any of the titles. When this point was raised to Tom Brevoort on Formspring, Brevoort essentially responded that the two were unrelated:

Anonymous asked: Can you explain why Marvel thinks that doing hip hop varients is a good idea, when absolutely no announced writers or artists on the new Marvel titles, as of now, are black? Wouldn’t correcting the latter be a much better idea than the former?

Brevoortformspring answered: What does one have to do with the other, really?

It’s there that the intrinsic problem lies: hip hop is historically a huge part of black culture. Hip hop would not exist if not for the specific racial cultures from which it was born.

One fantastic opinion piece by CBR’s Joseph Illidge offers up that this blindness to such an iconic part of specifically racial culture is derivative of the fact that Marvel’s upper management never had real personal experiences with hip hop as an art or culture. Hip hop is not a genre of music that only one race or culture can enjoy, but it is something that has to be experienced individually to be understood (as with all music).

And, yes, white rappers are a thing (as are white jazz musicians), but they exists as artists who are referencing those who came before them with sincerity and love. Most rappers, race-regardless, cite artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, NWA, Public Enemy, and Run DMC (to name a very, very few) as their inspirations and a driving force behind creating art. While there still is an aspect of appropriation to consider—it’s a fine line that many artists tread, and some may continue to wonder how Miley Cyrus twerking is appropriation while Nicki Minaj is not—the overall issue really seems to be that Marvel’s hip hop covers, regardless of how much one might appreciate the artistic aspect of them, seem to be missing that sincerity and that love of people who have a closer connection to that music.

That said, Marvel’s move with the hip hop variants is a money making one, which begs the question, can you market and sell culture? (The honest answer may be yes, as even hip hop itself is often based on selling product—records, clothing, drinks, identity—nowadays.)

Furthermore, in the light of these situations, some may wonder something like: Why doesn’t Kelly Sue Deconnick get flack on a title like Bitch Planet? A subversion of 70s exploitation films that features primarily women of color, Bitch Planet is penned by a white woman, who, while she does represent a minority (albeit a white one), does not have that experience of the racial culture she is writing about.

Except, Deconnick has taken measures to engage in dialogues about her work:

Deconnick is engaged in a dialogue with her artist, Valentine De Landro (a person of color), the women who write essays in the back of each Bitch Planet issue, including activist Assata Shakur, writer and editor Danielle Henderson, and opinion editor Megan Carpentier (many of whom are women of color), and the fans of the comic, both male and female, and of various races.

Unlike Brevoort or Waid, Deconnick appears to engage in critique, and responds to it through various social media platforms. While the women of Bitch Planet may not all be white, the story is entirely about them, and not focused on their oppressors (which seems to be the major complaint about Strange Fruit). The women are presented in a way that respects their identity—they are show with different body types, different skin colors, and different personalities—while still pointing out the struggles they face, and the flawed system in which they live.

Bitch Planet pointedly works to involve people of color in the book. A comic book, at its basest, is the sum of its parts; and while projects like Strange Fruit and Marvel’s variants seem to lack parts that connect with the characters, or culture, that is being presented, some might argue that the stories and art are being presented respectfully and offering exposure to something that isn’t always seen in comic books, presented by a party of privilege.

The debate is an emotional one, and, ultimately, there is no easy or hard-and-fast rule to who has a right to tell the story, or create the art, that they want to. However, it’s important to take into account the significance of culture and race when it comes to art. “I do it to support the art/What good is learnin’ from some record/When y’all only listen to 15 seconds?”

She Can Fly: Eat Nuts, Kick Butts

Or why Unbeatable Squirrel Girl fails as a Squirrel Girl comic, but succeeds as a superhero comic.

Squirrel Girl was a deeply underrated, fascinating character. I use the past tense because Squirrel Girl can no longer really be considered “underrated.” Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, now on its sixth issue, has sold incredibly well. So well that the first and second issues have both simultaneously just released an unusual third reprint, with the third and fourth issues now on their second reprints. But this Squirrel Girl…is she really Squirrel Girl?

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has so many nods to canon and continuity, from Squirrel Girl’s origin as a 13 year old who wanted to be Iron Man’s sidekick to her history of unusual and off-panel defeats of some of Marvel’s greatest villains, yet it blindly ignores previously important facets of Squirrel Girl’s character throughout the ages: Squirrel Girl was part of the Great Lakes Avengers, Squirrel Girl was the nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Squirrel Girl was already attending college in the Bendis penned New Avengers series (in which she also had had an unspecified relationship with Wolverine). Ultimately, the pieces of canon that writer Ryan North (and, to a lesser extent, artist Erica Henderson, who has included subtle nods to canon, such as a poster of Doreen’s longtime crush, Speedball) chooses to ignore are the items that made her fully fleshed as a character. Yes, Squirrel Girl still retains her unusual power and unexpected victories, but many of the traits that made her more defined as a fictional “person” have been blatantly ignored.

However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; Henderson and North are reforming Doreen Green, and creating a new Squirrel Girl. Even visually, very little of the original Doreen Green is retained in the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series (she has more pronounced buck teeth, is no longer a brunette, and no longer has her inexplicable mime-inspired eye makeup), but the same could be said for the Squirrel Girl that Slott used in Great Lakes Avengers  in comparison to her original incarnation (her eye makeup changed, she lost the big buck teeth, she become older and more conventionally attractive).

Even the tone of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a derivation of more “traditional” Squirrel Girl comics. North focuses on comedy, and surrounds Doreen Green with equally wacky characters (Bass Lass, Koi Boi, Chipmunk Hunk). Normally, this would be a disservice to the character: Squirrel Girl, in a way, is a lot like Deadpool. When she is surrounded by typically serious teammates or a seriously toned title, she becomes a unique focal point that brings levity and breaks up the monotony of an otherwise dark series (think Cable and Deadpool). But, if she is surrounded by similarly goofy archetypes, then the uniqueness and “specialness” of her can easily be lost; the thing that separates her from other characters, and allows her to offer a different perspective on the tone of the series, no longer exists.

Squirrel Girl started, not as a joke, but as a desire for writer Will Murray to bring the levity of the Silver Age back into dramatic early 90’s comics; Don Slott expanded on that concept and made her into a substantial character that had comedic aspects, but also criticized the grim-dark atmosphere of the modern comic industry (and doing so by breaking the fourth wall); Brian Michael Bendis retained her optimism and enthusiasm, but highlighted her a young woman figuring out who she is and what she wants to be. Treating Squirrel Girl as a “joke” character negates the entire point of her character and creation. North and Henderson aren’t actually making Squirrel Girl a joke, they are simply embracing the idea of humor and joy in comics and presenting something disparate from modern “adult” comics fare.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is an incredible all-ages superhero comic, something that Marvel, up until recently, has kind of lacked in their main line. Ultimately, the title is not about the Squirrel Girl I discovered and love; it’s about making an odd character accessible to the massed. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a comic for anyone. You don’t have to know continuity, but the nods to the Marvel Universe make it fun. You don’t have to know Squirrel Girl as a character, but the creative team pays homage to her history, while inventing a new interpretation of her. Titles like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Groot are tapping into a demographic Marvel had primarily ignored, and is offering a jumping in point to kids and adult alike who are more interested in quippy Whedon-style content akin to the MCU, than the dark realism that has been so pervasive in the comics industry since the 90’s.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl ultimately isn’t a comic about Squirrel Girl; it’s a comic about being a young woman navigating life. It’s full of friendships, humor, and unbelievable heroics. While it may not feature the version of my favorite furry-tailed heroine that I love the most, it features a character who is relate-able and accessible to everyone. When comics are accessible, that’s something worth celebrating about; and anyway, you can’t beat Squirrel Girl!

 

She Can Fly: Great Expectations

While Avengers: Age of Ultron had a record setting first weekend, just $19.7 million behind the first Avengers in terms of all-time opening weekend rankings, the movie has also faced a lot of outcry, specifically about its handling of female characters.

This is nothing new, the first Avengers doesn’t even pass the Bechdel Test (it barely passed the “sexy lamp test,” to be frank), but the level of outrage, directed specifically at Joss Whedon, is definitely something (semi-)new for the creator.

The issues with Avengers: Age of Ultron all started with an interview with Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans just before the statewide release of the movie. In the interview, with Digital Spy, Renner and Evans are asked about their characters’ potential romantic connections with Black Widow. “She’s a slut,” Renner causally replied, which caused Evans to laugh uproariously and agree. The two of them continued by calling Black Widow a “trick” and a “whore,” while implying that she has slept around with all the Avengers as well.

They both retroactively apologized, although Renner’s apology came off as significantly less sincere, and more of a “sorry, not sorry” mansplanation of his very funny “joke.” Renner even went on to later talk about the outrage directed at him on the late night talk show Conan:

Mind you, we are talking about a fictional character and fictional behavior, Conan, but if you slept with four of the six Avengers, no matter how much fun you had, you’d be a slut. Just saying. I’d be a slut. Just saying.

But the problem is, the movie does the exact same kind of slut-shaming that Renner and Evans did in their interview. Black Widow’s sexuality has always been weaponized in the comics, but in Avengers: Age of Ultron her sexuality is not something that she controls or owns herself. Instead, Captain America is the one to talk about her sexuality, with the implication being that either he has seen her sleep with other people for the purpose of “the mission” (“I’ve seen her flirt”).

Beyond that, Black Widow’s role in the film is to be the Hulk’s glorified babysitter. There’s little to no chemistry between the two characters, and the moments between them feel forced, with Banner suddenly becoming a goofy schoolboy to Natasha’s bizarre southern-accented bartender roleplay–something that felt extremely out of character for her. Their romance is forced and off-note at best, and add to that Dr. Helen Cho getting mind controlled and Scarlet Witch playing the stereotypical broken Whedon waif, with a hearty dose of implied Ultimates-inspired twincest, you basically have the trifecta of poorly handled “strong female characters” (not to mention neither Widow nor Witch are seen in any merchandise for Avengers: Age of Ultron). At least it was Quicksilver who “died” to provide the female equivalent of man-pain for his sister.

Perhaps the most offensive decision in Avengers: Age of Ultron was the exchange between Bruce Banner and Black Widow about infertility. The hamfisted monster “subplot” of the entire movie was eyeroll-worthy in and of itself, but when it was revealed that the only reason Black Widow considered herself a “monster” was that she can’t have babies, that was truly the breaking point.

Yes, the only real progression Natasha’s character has in the second Avengers movie is that she was forced to have a female vasectomy in the Red Room in order to become a more efficient killer. This scene has so many layers of uncomfortable, poorly handled subtext: people unable to produce children are “monsters;” women can’t become strong unless they can’t give birth; women can’t be truly happy without having babies. Whedon’s shoddy writing is disappointing, but no surprise; it’s his absolute lack of awareness about how his writing can be interpreted that’s offensive.

Criticism of Joss Whedon purportedly led to the writer/director to delete his entire Twitter account (again). Many bloggers attribute Whedon’s decision to “rabid feminists” offended by “one little old-timey rape joke,” but Whedon denied this, claiming he deleted his account for work purposes, saying in a statement to Buzzfeed News:

Believe me, I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter. That’s something I’m used to. Every breed of feminism is attacking every other breed, and every subsection of liberalism is always busy attacking another subsection of liberalism, because god forbid they should all band together and actually fight for the cause.

I saw a lot of people say, ‘Well, the social justice warriors destroyed one of their own!’ It’s like, Nope. That didn’t happen. I saw someone tweet it’s because Feminist Frequency pissed on Avengers 2, which for all I know they may have. But literally the second person to write me to ask if I was OK when I dropped out was [Feminist Frequency founder] Anita [Sarkeesian].

But Whedon’s statement doesn’t provide much assurance. If anything, it speaks to the likelihood that he can’t (or won’t) handle criticism of his work. Yes, many of the people, both women and men, criticized Whedon for the inclusion of a Prima Nocta (literally “first night,” referring the a warlord’s right to take the virginity of any woman who married) joke in the scene where Tony is attempting to lift Thor’s hammer (which, interestingly, replaced a completely different line that was seen in the October 2014 trailer for the film). Yes, many people criticized Whedon to the level of death threats and name calling (something, it should be noted, that creators like Kelly Thompson and Anita Sarkeesian deal with almost daily–only often with the addition of rape threats). But frankly Whedon was, and should be, criticized.

Joss Whedon frequently claims to be a feminist (although now he says he “regrets” ever calling himself a feminist because “suddenly that’s a litmus test for everything [I] do”), but his actions don’t back up his words. This is just another case of Whedon claiming to be a positive force for women in pop media, while offering up only extremely poor and unvaried representation of his female characters, and covering it up with defensive statements about “bad” feminists.

All’s Fair in Love & Comics: Going to the Chapel

Can superheroes have a successful marriage and still be superheroes?

This is one of the most frequently used storylines within the superhero genre. At their core, cape comics are essentially soap operas “for boys,” with the relationships the hero has and makes often getting significantly more focus and page-time than any other aspect of the comic (especially fights). Marriage often doesn’t end well in comics, but it’s usually something both characters involved sincerely want to do.

But about halfway through the tenure of the New 52, right after Kate Kane proposed to her girlfriend, DC put a kibosh on marriage. The New 52 had already revamped almost all the preexisting DC character to make them younger, darker, and often not even heroes yet, as well as erasing some of the most prevalent and long lasting relationships in comics. With this new editorial decree, the only substantial relationship that remind in the DCU, pre Convergence, were Superman and Wonder Woman and Aquaman and Mera.

Now that Convergence is out, DC’s made almost a complete about-face-turn in how it handles marriage and relationships:

In Convergence, when the dome goes up, all the capes lose their superpowers. While a few heroes remain heroing in their own ways, almost every character ends up coupling off. Not just Lois and Clark or Diana and Steve, but Blue Beetle and Fire, Babs and Dick, Dick (of a different universe) and Starfire, Harley and some police officer, Steph and Cass or Cass and Tim, Peej and her nosy reporter friend Andrew Vinson…

What this actually implies is not clear. Perhaps, losing the adoration of millions leaves a void that each character strives to fill. Maybe it’s a commentary on how love is irrelevant until you are no longer invulnerable. Maybe it’s derivative or a dull premise and weak storytelling.

In some instances, the relationships the characters are in are plausible, and the canon of the era had already paired the characters off. Others seem completely out of left field, with the characters rarely interacting solo with one another or downright disliking one another.

While Marvel’s Secret Wars has yet to start, and who knows how that will effect character relationships, the company tends to try at presenting marriage as something feasible, even for superheroes. For every failed Jean Grey and Scott Summers (and Scott and Madelyn Prior and Scott and Emma Frost), there’s a Sue Storm and Reed Richards. For every MJ and Peter Parker, there’s a Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

There are new relationships and marriages, too, like Northstar and his boyfriend, Kyle, wedding in what was the first gay marriage shown in superhero comics, or the engagement of Kitty Pryde and Star-Lord (which promises to be a significant plot point in their Secret Wars series). What’s really interesting about that relationship is that the engagement came AFTER Kitty Pryde became a cosmic-level hero.

It’s not that one company handles relationships or marriage better than the other; it’s the fact that DC’s staunchly maintained “no commitment” rule was dropped and replaced by nearly every hero and bit character becoming involved in a romantic relationship, whereas Marvel seems to embrace the idea that, even if relationships are ultimately unsuccessful, they are still one of the most important aspects of superhero comics. Relationships are the most efficient and compelling way that a character can be made grounded and realistic: it’s not the powers that make someone a hero, it’s their love for humanity.