Posts Tagged ‘Wonder Woman’
“Fans come to me asking how this works or that works, and I say, ‘It’s a comic book. It’s not real.’ We already have a real world, why do you want fiction to be like that too?”
- Grant Morrison, 2010
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Golden Age comics. I know there aren’t many of my generation who appreciate this stuff, and I’m positive I don’t “get it” the way my grandparents did, but the mixture of innocence, desperation, and humanity I find in these old stories is quite compelling.
When my generation imagines old comics we think of Super Friends, but for all its glitter the times of the Golden Age were rather bleak. Thanks to Captain America and Wonder Woman we think the heroes of that first era were framed against the backdrop of WWII. This is not true. While it is true that Superman, Batman, and others came to stand for the American Way their personae were not forged in flames of war, but in the embers of Depression.
“We can do it!” Rosie the Riveter said that for the first time in 1942. Superman debuted in 1938. We met Batman, Namor, and the Human Torch in 1939. Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, and the Spirit first appeared in 1940 alongside most of the Golden Age crew. Wonder Woman is the only major character to appear after Pearl Harbor, and she also joins Steve Rogers in color coordination. All of these heroes were born into an era scarred by record unemployment and rising crime as the country completed a full decade of economic depression.
People were starting to lose hope and this, my friends, is the world Superman needed to save.
Something I love about the early days of superheroes is the lack of super-villains. Oh, sure there were a few notable bad guys like the Joker and Wotan, but on the whole super-villains were exceptions to the norm of mob bosses, corrupt officials, and street thugs. This is what I meant when I said the Golden Age comics were desperate. America thought the problems of everyday life were bad enough to need heroes.
This reveals a real sense of hopelessness deep in the psyche of that generation. Rampant unemployment. Gang violence on the rise and crime organizing like never before. Times were desperate, and the Common Man felt he was quickly losing his place in the day-to-day life of America.
See, creators like Rob Kanigher and Len Wein saw comics as fantastical tales to thrill an audience with absurdity and bizarre scenarios. Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, C. C. Beck, and Mart Dellon saw comics as a cathartic escape from the harsh reality of violence, corruption, and black-mail.
They saw comics as a weird mixture of hope and escape.
Never mind the crude drawings and clumsy dialogue. The heroes idolized by my grandfather didn’t need to fight aliens to have meaning. Superman was great because he could stop a lynching. We believed in the Green Lantern because he could expose a mob-boss who had framed an innocent man. These heroes didn’t protect us from the unknown; what they brought was hope in the face of something very real and immediate. Put another way, the Golden Age offered escape from reality simply by solving the problems of poor Americans. I cannot imagine anything sadder or more exhilarating. So, while 1938-1950 may not have produced the best art or the most clever prose, America has arguably never seen comics that had more meaning. And that is enough to make a Golden Age.
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cross posted on geek girls’ network
Geeky women feel constantly isolated, female comic book geeks most of all. Plenty of women are into sci-fi. Plenty more are into fantasy. Female gamer geeks abound in numbers that seem astronomical compared to the measly population of female Wednesday afternoon comics consumers. Some of my girlfriends read “graphic novels,” a term used mostly to make the more intellectually elite comics sound like something, anything, other than a serialized comic. Some of my girlfriends like Sandman, they like Watchmen, they LOVE Fables - but to date I’ve only converted one graphic novel girlfriend into a voracious cape & tights installment reader.
Every week, I bound into my comic shop to pick up my pull list. I have seen two other women there, ever – both employees. (I’m sure plenty of other women shop there. I just never see them.) When I make pilgrimages to Meltdown in Los Angeles, I might see one other lady in the store, but more often than not she’s someone’s mom, someone’s bored girlfriend, or she’s just popped in to pick up some “graphic novel” her hipster friends have been raving about.
(Understand, if the term graphic novel brings more readers to the medium, I’m all for it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think you sound like a snobby jerk when you say it. Are there pik-chers and words in balloons? It’s a comic. Stop kidding yourself.) Ahem.
While the influx of casual new female readers to the comics industry is a great leap forward, we still lag far, far behind in terms of week to week fandom, and even further behind when it comes to superheroes. The general female disinterest in superhero comics isn’t terribly shocking; comic book superheroes are thematically steeped in male wish fulfillment. True, movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man have made some heroes accessible on a wider cultural level to both men & women, but getting a woman to read anything other than the direct movie adaptation is still going to be a tough sell. Superhero narrative in comics has come a long way since Action #1, but it’s still laden with rock-em-sock-em, save-the-day, get-the-girl motifs.
The Big Two have attempted to market to women in a million different ways over the years. (Don’t get me started on Marvel Divas again.) We’ve had Wonder Woman shoved down our throats so much that we’ve choked on her. Writers like Greg Rucka and Gail Simone have certainly brought her out of bondage – literally – but at the end of the day she is fundamentally un-relatable for most women. Wonder Woman is steeped in male wish-fulfillment fantasies just as much as Superman & Batman are. A writer might be able to rise above that over the course of a single arc, but the truth remains that until we finally find the ret-con that works, Wonder Woman is still a reactionary warrior, a man’s woman. We don’t relate to her, no matter how much they play up the COMPASSION aspect, no matter how much they de-power or over-power her, because she’s not one of us. We need women we can relate to, women that fill a FEMALE superhero wish-fulfillment fantasy, not a warped version of the male one.
Which brings me to the modern Bat-family. I couldn’t relate one bit to Cassandra Cain, the until-recently Batgirl. Cass was socially handicapped and functionally illiterate, thanks to growing up in near-complete isolation. For Pete’s sake, she fought crime in a fetish suit. Her mouth was literally zipped shut in the thing. Even as Rucka and then Simone tried desperately to guide Diana out of the sub-dom bondage subtext, Cass Cain embraced it heartily. Cass Cain was a trained assassin at the cost of severe childhood abuse and some serious Daddy issues, she’s an over the top, beyond screwed up problem for Batman to swoop in and solve. And when Bruce died (sort of) Cass just gave up, passing the cowl to Stephanie Brown, once Robin, once Spoiler and now, something entirely new.
Stephanie’s Batgirl is the most relate-able since Barbara, if not more so, at least as far as so-called “regular women” are concerned. She’s young, she’s in college, she’s kind of a screw-up. True, she’s also a product of the hit-or-miss nineties comics industry, but Steph is just…normal, unlike most women in capes. The first arc of the new ongoing Batgirl book dealt with Stephanie desperately trying to grow up, to see something through and gain the blessing of her forebear, Barbara Gordon. And when she did, I wept. You see, I was kind of a screw-up kid too; I spent most of my early twenties desperately trying not to be total screw-up and generally failing miserably at it. Not everyone was a big mess of young adult flakey-flix, but the need to overcome, to be better than what you’ve been on a realistic human level – as opposed to trying to learn to read and be a little less traumatized by your assassin upbringing? That’s relatable. That’s interesting. That’s a story women who don’t read comics just might pick up. If they knew it existed.
At the other end of the Bat-spectrum, we’ve got Kate Kane, the awesome, punk rock, redheaded, kick ass grown up holy crap-I-want-to-BE-HER Batwoman. And oh yeah, she’s a lesbian. Of course, her sexual orientation is more a matter of fact than a matter of narrative. Batwoman is not an after school special. Kate is the cool senior girl we all wanted to become when we were freshmen. She’ll throw an elbow and kick you into the wall, and she’ll do it in full body armor with her boobs covered up. She’s got awesome hair, badass tattoos and sweet red stomper boots. While Kate gets ground support from her Colonel Dad, she doesn’t need the him or the Oracle in her ear to tell her to watch out for marauding frat boys. In a way, Steph is what we were, and Kate’s who we wanted to be.
Too bad neither one of them actually has POWERS. Even Marvel let the ball drop here. While Marvel technically has more high-profile powered women than DC, most of them are, as Wonder Woman, completely unable to connect. Storm was a princess turned orphan turned queen, Jean is so over-powered they had to turn her into a metaphor for PMS, Emma connects a bit, but only because she’s totally that one girl we ALL hated (admit it, you still know the first and last name of the first girl who told you she was better than you.) The Marvel women we DO relate to on some level, we relate to in the most depressing ways. Rogue is a runaway who hurts everything she touches, we might relate to that on some level as well, but there’s just no happy ending for her – be it in marriage or gratuitous sex or just, you know, being able to be close to ANYONE she loves physically.
And Kitty? Mommy and Daddy loved her so much they sent her to the special school where she could learn to be more specialer. Her biggest problem was that her boyfriend died for, like, ten minutes. And when it comes to Sue Storm, you kind of expect Reed Richards to start humming “Under my Thumb” at any given moment.
Granted there are slightly more obscure female characters that might resonate more with some women, on some level – but when it comes to solo titles, women aren’t buying female-hero helmed ongoings because, for the most part they (a) don’t exist or (b) don’t speak to women. At all. This is beginning to turn over a bit with Kate (+Renee), Steph, and Jessica Drew all heading up their own books right now, which is great – except most women have never even heard of these hero identities, much less the women under the cowls. And the Bat & Spider prefixes don’t help, unfortunately, most women hear _____Girl or _____Woman or Lady _____ and lose all interest.
Pink trade paperbacks and Sex & the City with tights rip-offs aren’t going to bring women around on Wednesdays. Comics only recently became remotely socially and intellectually acceptable for dudes, it’s going to be a while before boys don’t double take when they realize that, no, I am not messing around, I really do know way, way, more about Wolverine than they do. Marvel’s recent Girl Comics is a step in the right direction, celebrating not only female characters but also female creators. The only thing is – why do we need to get our own special book? Why aren’t female characters and creators just standard issue? Women will start reading comics in droves if we can ever get the word out that, holy crap, some of these are good. At this rate, we’ll all be reading comics projected onto the wall by the implants in our brains by the time female creators are standard issue instead of rare & novel. But to get there, we need well written, relate-able, at least vaguely plausible female ass-kickers, not gimmicks and women desperately trying to fulfill male fantasies while kicking half-naked through the air.
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A new decade has begun, and with it, High Five! Comics will soon be unveiling our special “20 (Or So) Best Comics of the Decade” event (take THAT, Siege). But before we reveal the big list, we’ll start with a series of supplementary entries from HF!C’s contributing writers about those comics we each individually loved, but that didn’t quite have the mojo to make the final ranks.
Today, Jonny talks about some of his personal favorite books from the last decade.
It’s been said that Wonder Woman is the least relevant character in the DCU. Comic fans have consistently loved her as a concept, but this love was born from a feeling that she should matter rather than feeling that she did. While she gets credit for being the most significant Golden Age lady-hero and the certainly the longest running, we forget that her stories have rarely been interesting and have been largely antithetical to feminism. DC wanted her to be important, but they never knew how to make her important. This led to so many decades of reinvention that it eventually became offensive. All of that changed in 2002 when Greg Rucka did a 3 issue mini-series called Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia. The success of this little story landed Rucka 31 issues of in-continuity Amazonian drama that gave us something we’d always wanted. While it may be disappointing that it took 61 years and a dude to find something interesting about the alpha-female of comics, the important thing is that it finally happened. And what a delight that was.
In the 1980s Alan Moore effectively turned the comic industry on its head with a body of work so glorious and enthralling that he could have retired in 1987 and remained the guru-god of comics the rest of his life. We never forgot that (and neither did he) but the fact is he kept writing. And in a decade fraught with Moore-shite like Promethea and Lost Girls it’s refreshing to know that Alan was still capable of churning out great stories that proved to be radically different than his previous dark works like Watchmen or Marvel Man. Dystopia be damned! Tom Strong showed that the Father of the Dark Age was able to stay relevant 20 years later and still write stories better than most of his contemporaries in the naughties.
Ok, so the title sucks. You know what other title sucks? “The Beatles”. Ok, so it’s steam punk. Well, Wolverine wears yellow spandex. Now that we agree a title and theme don’t always discredit art let’s talk about what Warren Ellis has done with his crew of 12 twenty-somethings and the world they destroyed. FreakAngels made my list for three reasons. First: it’s damned good. FreakAngels has a large cast of cantankerous, bickering characters, it has a great setting, and a story that really does make you beg for more. Second: this has got to be the best story you can get for absolutely FREE on the internet. Third and most important: FreakAngels has acknowledged modern technology and been among the first of it’s kind to embrace digital media. Way to go Warren.
A comic featuring characters licensed by TV-land was something I never thought I’d get behind. As a rule licensed works are lame, soul-less, and trite. And yet I cannot deny how fun the BOOM! Studios’ line of books is. Most of their licensed catalog is enjoyable, but Muppet Robin Hood takes the cake. Maybe it’s my undying love of the Muppets, or just my admiration for any publisher turning out this many kid’s comics that don’t suck, but I couldn’t resist thiscaper. Kermit Hood, Sweetums Little John, and Fozzy Tuck are here in a work that should have been a movie, and made me giggle just as much as their variety show did when I was a kid.
See Brendan’s favorites that didn’t make the cut here.
So, you’ve gotten yourself some powers and established a secret identity, but if you’re gonna be a real superhero, you’re going to need an ass to kick. I mean, after a while, using your superpowers to take down petty criminals will start putting the cops out of a job. And we all know how productive bored cops are, right? When it comes to getting a foil, some guys have it lucky. All they really have to do is put on some Spandex and break up a bank robbery or two (see: the Flash’s entire Rogues Gallery). Chances are pretty good, however, that you’ll have to put a lot more effort into it. And remember, the first step to finding your mortal enemy is to always make sure that it was totally an accident!
(1) Reunite with your childhood enemy! Seriously, it doesn’t matter how much time passes, that one kid who hated six-year-old you is definitely going to resurface the second you slap on some tights and make a headline or two. It doesn’t matter which one of you was taking lunch money from the other, he still hates your guts. And since you ended up being a good guy, he’s pretty much destined to knock over liquor stores until you show up and give him a fight. O’Doyle rules!
(2) Make an ex really, really bitter! We all have those exes that we really wish we could forget. Problem is, they really, really don’t want to forget us. Somehow, they will come across a crazy power source and, dammit, if they can’t have you NO ONE WILL. The list of these cases goes on and on: Star Sapphire, Lady Deathstrike, Star Sapphire, Elektra, Jean Loring, and Star Sapphire! Sorry, super-ladies, this rules does not apply to you (whoa, whoa, don’t blame me, blame the industry).
(3) Get a double! Whether you get replicated via shadowy government agency, alien abduction, or the workings of a mad scientist, there’s a good chance somebody will try to clone or otherwise make a copy of you (or make a robot double of you.) I mean, who wouldn’t want a superhero of their very own? Except that’s not how comics work, like, ever. Most likely, they’ll end up with your looks, your powers, and the moral compass of a complete bastard. Then you gotta deal with at LEAST two issues of everybody thinking he’s really you and you’re a jackass. BONUS HINT: Fix this problem by taking the fight somewhere public. As soon as the first stereotype of an Irish patrolman rubs his eyes and says, “I’m seeing double!” your dignity will be restored.
(4) Foil a drug smuggling ring! Or any mob-based crime, really. The world is full of mob families, gang lords, and drug kingpins trying to make a quick bajillion dollars. These are the kind of guys who beat up old dudes for protection money and you’ll be damned if you’re gonna let these guys claim that this is their town! And when you take them down, they won’t handle it well at all: “Nobody makes a mockery of the Blah-Blah Family / Gang and gets away with it!” Let the years and years of fistfights bookended by “I’m just a businessman” speeches begin!
(5) Accidentally kill someone’s relative! Kill, indirectly cause the death of, whatever. Look, there will always be collateral damage in fights, there will be always be villains who won’t give you very many options, and, at some point, somebody will die. When this happens, their kid/sibling/second cousin twice removed will blame you. Look what Harry Osborn did when he saw what Spider-Man accidentally on purpose did to his dad! Actually, speaking of Harry…
(6) Alienate Your Best Friend! Bad news. Once you don the cape and tights, your best friend will try to kill you. I know, it fucking sucks, but it’s the way it works. One too many philosophical disagreements? Accidentally destroy that laboratory you built him? Take the last beer out of the fridge? Well, great, now you’ve done it. And the worst part is, chances are pretty good that he knows everything about you and will be your worst enemy. On the plus side, it makes that “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” thing one a little bit easier to manage!
Now go forth and kick ass!
The absolute best thing about the new Long Beach Comic Con was the MASSIVE artist’s alley, which took up most of the exhibition floor. We picked up a couple of little sketchbooks and went ’round collecting cool sketches from artists we like – some big names, some little ones. Check ‘em out (and click to enlarge)!
Getting your mom into comics might very well be an impossible task for a lot of people, but here at High Five! we’re always trying to drag others down with us. Here are a few valiant ideas for getting your mom into comics.
Is your mom into 24? CSINCIS Las Miami? Or even just Law & Order? Then give her Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country *, starring Tara Chace, designated Minder Two, spy extraordinaire for her royal majesty the Queen of England. She’s a british lady spy, and no one writes strong female characters quite like Greg Rucka. Pick up the Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 from Oni Press. Tara Chace could kick Jack Bauer’s ass and STILL have time to go to the bathroom. From there you could probably get your mom involved in Rucka’s Wonder Woman run.
Or maybe your mom is more into the fantastic. Did she like The Princess Bride? Or Labyrinth? Or really any of those weird 80s fantasy movies? Give her Fables. Fables is the story of fairy tale and folklore characters exiled in New York. The first two trades are a bit all over the place, but once Willingham and Sturges got this book going, it rose above it’s premise and became totally awesome. I’ve found that Fables is generally a good entry point for anyone – new readers already KNOW the backgrounds of these characters, there’s no sense of being overwhelmed by decades of continuity and in-jokes.
What about a Star Trek mom? I know people have Star Trek moms, cos I was at a buddy’s graduation party once and I made a joke about Romulan ale. Then his mom bopped over to me making Romulan jokes and I spent the rest of the party talking to her. Oddly enough, I’m going to recommend you take her straight to the super-heroes. Green Lantern: Rebirth. Geoff Johns sets up a great big space opera in this title, and it’s still running to this day. It’s damned good, and I’ve seen new readers who’ve never even HEARD of Green Lantern convert to DC after reading this title. This book pretty much requires a mom that was already a total geek.
Of course, all of these options assume that your mom is already at least a little bit of a media-junkie. If your mom isn’t really into TV or movies, you might be out of luck – some moms are just never, ever gonna read a funny book.
*Queen & Country #1 for free! You’ll need a program to unzip & read it.