March 29, 2008

Super Lawyer Aqua Conference

That's the real punchline to the joke "What do you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?," according to my friend the brilliant comedian Andres du Bouchet.

And I'm pretty sure that if they had such a thing, Mallory Book would be a perennial keynoter.

Mallory's spectacular showing in She-Hulk #27 reminded me why, love her or hate her, she's such an exceptional character in mainstream comics--a regular, non-powered human woman who routinely rescues or undermines superheroes and villains through sheer will and brains. Not only that, she does it within the context of her profession as an attorney, all within a set of laws that she shrewdly navigates and exploits. She's no vigilante, rogue bandit or maverick of the night who "lives by her own rules"--she doesn’t win battles by doing any old crazy thing her imagination cooks up to manipulate people. Yeah, she gets creative with the system's technicalities, takes on morally reprehensible clients and flattens others' will like a freight train, but she does it without tech-armor or eye-beams or telekinesis.

And yes, Mallory's character is problematic. She's the stereotype of the smart, ambitious woman who got where she is by being unrelentingly assertive (although that’s probably not the phrase most people would use). She's the reason certain people hate Hillary Clinton, who unwittingly represents every snippy know-it-all girl in chemistry class who had to raise her hand twice as fast and be twice as smug in order to be acknowledged as the smart one. She resents the hell out of people who get fame and recognition that she feels they didn't earn--people like Jennifer Walters, whom Mallory thinks gets way too much credit as a lawyer because she also happens to be a massively strong and popular superhero. Mallory Book is that ice queen who supposedly confirms that incredibly successful women must be miserable.

But she is also the woman that sweet, tragic Awesome Andy was deeply in love with--so much that he refused to keep her under the spell that was causing her to return his affections. She was horrible to him when she came to, of course, because Mallory Book is not ok with not being in control--but her pride isn't so spiny that she couldn't swallow it soon after for a paralysis-overcoming declaration of love for the Two Gun Kid (I've never quite figured that one out, by the way, because come on, the Two Gun Kid? I’ll admit I don't even know his history beyond the recent She-Hulk appearances, but that name is about as sexy as Mr. Fantastic).

In She-Hulk #27, Mallory swoops in to undo the arrest of a man who was tragically unlucky enough to get caught in the middle of one of She-Hulk’s conflicts. She saves Jen’s ass—that being the ass of the strongest woman in pretty much the universe—by coming up with a story that gets the case dismissed in about ten seconds. When Jen thanks her for the unexpected favor, Mallory says it was no favor, that “I came to see you squirm, watching me do what you can’t anymore.” Of course Mallory probably didn’t have entirely vindictive motives, but she’s not about to let Jen know that—all she wants Jen to focus on is that Mallory can do this and Jen can’t, now that she’s disbarred. Big strong green goliath, can't even file a little motion, can't save the day. Jen has a lot of self-esteem issues, and while becoming She-Hulk helped her deal with a lot of them, her successes as a lawyer, even a small, mousy one, had a hell of a lot to do with her overall confidence. And that’s why Mallory Book in all her sour, litigating glory can be stronger than the strongest woman (and most men) in the world.

Let's just hope she doesn't get caught in the path of a cosmic ray or dumped in a vat of radioactive waste, because yikes.

March 28, 2008


I don't really think it's necessary to add more commentary to the whole marvel_b0y nonsense (a supposedly disgruntled low-level Marvel employee who may or may not be a marketing stunt), but if a commenter on this post is right and the prankster is Brian Bendis, let me just add my unique nuanced analysis that is just the most stupidest thing ever. Bendis is obviously the guy who put cupcake frosting in the weird girl's hair in junior high and she didn't notice ALL DAY and dude it was SO HILARIOUS.

March 26, 2008

Korg's Requiem

In the same way that different kinds of music offer different strengths--a beat, a care for harmony, an emotional ideal, a suitability for drunken scream-along--different kinds of literature speak to different strands of storytelling. Poetry rides on language, journalism relies on compellingly credible narrative, theater is big on character. And superhero comic books, to my mind, are for story lovers. Also for art lovers, but in terms of getting from point A to point B, the magic of comic books is in moving a reader through a great story with brilliant efficiency. When I say "efficiency," I mean it in the best sense--the best comic writers can develop a character magnificently through carefully chosen words and actions that don't wander around through internal monologues or lengthy descriptions. Not that those can't be fabulous in novels, but I read comics because I want to know what's going to happen in this crazy universe, dammit, and throw in some clever dialog that makes me laugh when you get a chance.

But every once in a great while, as I'm trucking along with a planet-saving or moving call-to-arms or second-tier goof-balling, a series of panels will come out of nowhere and stop time. That happened this week with World War Hulk Aftersmash: Warbound #4, a title I'd almost given up because it's confusing as hell and frankly irrelevant to much of what's going on elsewhere. These random-ass aliens, having come to Earth with the Hulk to beat down a few self-important superheroes and failed, are now running away from the government and have all these weird powers and don't really belong anywhere. They find themselves in the middle of some big gamma-ray chaos with Hulk's superest super-villain, and for some indecipherable reason, one of them (Heroim) begs another one (Korg) to kill him because apparently Heroim's power is causing all the problems. Whatever whatever confusing, and then this (click to enlarge):

I'll confess, this sequence brought me to near tears--because it was unexpected, because it revealed so much about a character's private thoughts that had not been at all evident before, because it tells us without any awkward bullshit that there is an entire race of men who, through a ritual of deep friendship, reproduce homosexually. Events in World War Hulk had shown Korg to be earnest and devoted, with an intense sense of responsibility, but this was heart-rending and, in my view, extremely elegant work by Greg Pak and artist Leonard Kirk.

What happens after this is a cliffhanger involving some sudden giant robots that didn't do much for me action/suspense-wise. But I'll read the last issue, not because I give a crap about the robots or the gamma dome of death, but because now, finally, I really care whether the aliens get home safely, away from earthlings and their talent for ignorant judgment.

March 19, 2008

Captain Momentum

Many thanks to When Fangirls Attack for linking to my topless Wonder Woman post below--a start-up blog needs that kind of love and I hope people will come back. I'll try not to go (too many) days without posting, or suck. Today of course is Wednesday, but I work all day (except on my lunch hour, when I eat cheese sandwiches at my desk and write filler blog posts), so I'll be one of the slower ones to get to this week's haul. My other warning is that I'm one of those ignorant assholes who thinks Jim Starlin is just silly, so you may have some Death of the New Gods mockery to look forward to/hate me for.

March 18, 2008

Bloodthirsty Skrulls=suckers for romance

According to Newsarama, funnyman and Bendis-bud Patton Oswalt has already been allowed to read the first three issues of Secret Invasion. According to him, it's one big flaming ball of "Holy shit!"ness, and hopefully that won't mean "Holy shit, this is even more of an atrocious injustice to years of Marvel continuity than I imagined in my wildest nightmares, and that's saying a lot!" Anyway, one of Oswalt's teasers is this:
As it stands right now, someone’s holding a possible key to stopping the Skrulls, and it’s the LAST person in the Marvel Universe you’d want with that info. And no, it’s not Dr. Doom.
My fiance suggested that it might be Mephisto, and my first response was "oh god I hope not, I think people are pretty tired of Mephisto right now." To which he countered "Well, it would be pretty awesome, if the Skrulls said 'We'll leave you alone... but only if you put Spidey and MJ back together.'"

It's up to you, Bendis. Give love a chance.

March 14, 2008

Humble (/insecure) request

I recently started this blog to write about something I love, but also to connect with other comics fans. I know that people are starting to wander over here via reciprocal links or my comments on other sites, so I'm asking with Krypto-the-Superdog eyes if you will please leave a quick hello and introduce yourself in the comments*. Please tell us:

1) Where you live (or general region/hemisphere if you don't like to share that info with strangers)
2) Who your favorite character is, if you have one
3) Lemon cookie?

Thank you!

*Even if you think I'm a too-easily appeased feminist for liking Darwyn Cooke's Wonder Woman so much.

March 13, 2008

Raving topless Wonder Woman is my hero

Part of what has made for this blog's slow start is that I don't want it to be a chore--I want it to be a place where I just run with things that hit me from the week's comic reading. And frankly, while I'm enjoying a number of stories right now, there hasn't been much in the "omg ha!" department lately. But then Wonder Woman and Black Canary infiltrated a Playboy club circa 1962 in Darwyn Cooke's Justice League: New Frontier Special, and I kind of can't stop doing whatever it is that's part-giggle, part-secret handshake, part-Celine Dion chest thump.

If you don't know, JL:NFS is a set of stories following up on the recent release of the Justice League: New Frontier animated film, which in turn is based on Cooke's 2003-2004 graphic novel DC: The New Frontier. It's an alternate take on the formation of the Justice League, set primarily in the 1950s. I'll confess to still having the original graphic novel in my to-read pile, but the new movie is HOT. Seriously, goosebump city. Anyway, the first (maybe only?) issue of the new series(?) came out last week and compiles several mini-stories about the New Frontier versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and a few others.

So in this one story, Wonder Woman, who of course was raised on an all-lady paradise island of warriors, finally has it up to here with male-dominated society and its objectification of women. She expresses her rage to Black Canary, who kind of laughs it off with a "here we go again" response. Now at this point, I'm a little annoyed because is seems like Diana's rant is sort of a lunatic feminist caricature, whom even Black Canary can't take seriously. But then I'm thinking well, hold on, someone with WW's background would be livid about 1962 gender imbalance, and would be full-on second-wave and then some (but in 2008 she'd be totally cool with everything, right?). Anyway, set off by a copy of Playboy and the growing popularity of Hefner's gentlemen's clubs, she convinces Black Canary to join her on a little field trip to persuade club patrons in Gotham of their wrongdoing using the lessons of Amazonian love. And if that doesn't work, by beating them "until they cry for their sainted mothers."

I don't want to give a panel-by-panel recap, but I will mention that after an angry dude tries to chase her away with a blow torch, Diana rips off her smoldering breast plate and clobbers him with it. And incidentally, she's having a blast. I adore Gail Simone's current Wonder Woman series, but even her purposeful, compelling Diana isn't exacting social justice with her burning bra in a gleeful, topless fury. Cooke has her doing things like leaping from the stage into the crowd of men screaming "Hola, dogs!" I love this Wonder Woman, I want her to babysit my future children.

It's the final panel, however, that earns Darwyn Cooke a good solid hundred, hundred and fifty points in the struggle to satisfy feminist comic book readers. As the heroines are leaving and the bunnies stand there dumbstruck next to a pile of pulpified men, Black Canary laments that no one will know what happened because Diana beat up any reporters that might have been in the room. Then one of the girls says "Whatcha doin, Gloria?" to the bunny next to her--a bespectacled redhead who is scribbling in a notebook and winking at the reader. OMG, HA!

Now here's what I think is the best part about that, in a comic book industry where females are often ambivalent about their fandom. If I had to wager, I'd say that a statistically significant percentage of people who read this book don't know that Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny in the 1960s for a seminal article about the enterprise's treatment of women. Or if their sainted mother told them once, they forget the details. I could be wrong, but I've seen the Newsarama message boards, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility. What's impressive is that Darwyn Cooke's kicker for this story--in a mainstream DC superhero comic--was a wink-nudge, unexplained cultural reference where women are the insiders who would most appreciate it. Sure, the whole story is all girl-powery, and that's great, but boys who read comic books are happy to see the hot ladies kick some ass in any context, really. The Steinem thing, however, takes the earlier burning bra metaphor and makes it more than a humorous Wonder-Woman's-boobies plot device. And of course there are many men, like my own, who got the joke completely. But I don't think they got the shiver of appreciation that I did. Giggle handshake chest thump.

March 6, 2008

Cultural Anthropology 101, Spring 2078

Good morning class, I trust you all had a nice semester break, particularly those of you who went on the senior trip to the sun and sand of Northern Michigan--it's nice there are some places temperate enough to expose the skin to outdoor air, eh? Hope you stayed sober enough to remember to put on the ol' SPF 1200! Hur hur.

Anyhoo, now that you're safe back here in the University Dome, I thought we'd pick up where we left off in our discussion of turn-of-the-century literature and what it can tell us about the culture of the time. All literature is best understood in the context of its moment in history, of course, although some works, for example Ulysses, Wuthering Heights, Bridget Jones's Diary, The Da Vinci Code, etc. have a timelessness that establishes them in Western canon. It can be harder, however, to interpret and appreciate the everyday fiction that is steeped in immediate cultural references, references that would have been perfectly clear to readers at the time but which are now dated and obscure.

For example, we will look today at the graphic periodical Kick-Ass by Mark Millar and artist John Romita, Jr., which debuted in February 2008 with an issue absolutely filled with up-to-the-minute pop cultural references that undoubtedly made for knowing humor, albeit for no more than a few years after its publication. Comic books (what you know today as "sequential screens") of that age were not all culturally cryptic--some going back as far as 150 years are dominated by straightforward action sequences that, despite quaint language and an awkward-to-read physical paper format, are relatively comprehensible to the modern reader. But while the references in Kick-Ass gave it a remarkably short shelf-life of relevance, investigating them can help us explore the tastes and interests of society at that particular instant.

Kick-Ass, as I'm sure you know because I assigned it for the break, snicker, takes place in "our world" of the time--that is to say a world with superhero stories but without actual super-powered beings, as our earth was before the genome advances of the 2030s. The protagonist, an average teenager and comic book fan, takes it upon himself to emulate his fictional heroes and fight crime in a costume. Throughout, we encounter the cultural references that would pervade the mind of an adolescent boy of his time, upon which I will now shed the light of my years of historical and anthropological research:

"That wasn't me, by the way. That was just some Armenian guy with a history of mental health problems who read about me in the New York Post."
Founded in 1801, the Post was what was known as "the paper of record," defined as the pinnacle of American journalistic standards until the print newspaper industry shuttered under the Google Acts of 2017. The Post was particularly known for its concise headlines, lauded for summarizing breaking news with an accuracy that often precluded the need to read the actual text.

"I liked Scrubs, Stereophonics, the Goo Goo Dolls and Entourage. Snow Patrol, Heroes and the movies of Ryan Reynolds."
Scrubs: A critically acclaimed television (non-web broadcast) show about the medical and personal drama of a hospital staff--again, before the genome advances. It starred popular actors George Clooney and Zac Effron.

Stereophonics: "Phonics" was an educational program that focused on teaching children to read through sound association with letters. This program, when delivered via stereo headphones (iBuds) was known as Stereophonics.

Goo Goo Dolls: An acclaimed rock band formed in 1971 in New York City, associated with the early punk rock era. Members included David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, and a major hit was 1982's "Hot Hot Hot."

Entourage: An electronic mail program developed for Macintosh personal computers to mirror Microsoft's Outlook.

Snow Patrol: A 2002 family film starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and a team of trained Siberian Huskies.

Heroes: Long sandwiches, sometimes also known at the time as "Subs" or "Hoagies." You know them as "Toyotas."

Ryan Reynolds: The director of Snow Patrol.

"Kick in my bedroom door and you would probably have found me downloading my favorite television show or jerking off to my biology teacher."
In the late 20th and early 21st century, content on the internet was stored in a separate location from someone's personal computer or device--the OmniServer was not yet in place. "Downloading" was the method by which content was transfered for use. "Jerking off" was a slang term for "being overly complementary to for personal gain."

"Galactus as a dust cloud? C'mon man, that costume's a classic. People would have pissed themselves if they'd seen him on the Baxter Building in that big purple helmet."

A reference to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a film adaptation of the Fantastic Four comic book series. The character Galactus was an ultra-powerful mutant, able to control metal with his mind, and known for wearing a large purple helmet.

"Man, I still can't believe how good Whedon's X-Men is. This stuff makes Buffy look like shit... and I say that as the world's numero uno Buffy maniac."
Wil Whedon was a child actor, known first for his role in the 1986 film Stand By Me, who later starred in the X-Men film franchise as well as the television show Buffy the Teenage Witch. Before the Spanish language was outlawed, "numero uno" was the equivalent of the slang term "who wants pizza?" meaning "absolute".

"Does everything have to be about money? Jesus man, why do people want to be Paris Hilton and nobody wants to be Spider-Man?"
Paris Hilton was an accomplished singer who worked her way from poverty to pop superstardom, writing her first hit song on a napkin in a coffee shop as a divorced single mother on UK public assistance. Spider-Man, of course, was the fictional superhero character who inspired the current real Spider-Man to splice his DNA with a spider's as part of the second wave of genome experiments.

"I didn't do a lot of crime-fighting in those first few weeks. But there was a lot of posing on the roof and balancing on walls as I got used to the wet suit I picked up on eBay."
eBay was an online clearinghouse for paraphernalia from the films Bad Boys, Armageddon and Transformers one through eight, among others. This protagonist may have been inspired by a character from one of those films, and took pains to procure an appropriate costume.

"I was feeling so good about myself I hadn't even looked at internet porn for close to seven weeks."
Yes, this is a bit like saying "apple apple juice"--but there used to be other avenues for obtaining porn.

So as you can see, despite the tediousness of such research, close investigation of historical cultural references can greatly aid not only in understanding a text, but in understanding the world from which our own society developed. If there are any questions, please feel free to fly to the front of the class. Don't be shy now.