So I was set in a panel at New York Comic Con when Matt Fraction, addressing the lack of female leads in Marvel Comics pointed out one of his own. The Fearless, which stars Valkyrie and Sin as protagonist and antagonist. And he was right, I hadn’t realised. And with Wonder Woman, Red Hood And The Outlaws and Catwoman all out from DC Comics, how about something a little comparative?
Also, reviews carried out on an Omni Sumo Chair, delivered free from the company in question, so that I may find a chance to plug it? Well, here goes.
I didn’t find Catwoman #1 quite as offensive as many. True there was silly sex, yes there was blatant physical objectification, and a whole shed load of violence (that seemed to get passed over by many critics) and I wouldn’t be comfortable giving it to my eldest daughter, despite their love of the character. But there was also so much to love. That cartoony style that seemed to suggest both Kyle Baker and Darwyn Cooke, the way cats were shown as they were thrown around the basket, how Catwoman would hide in around rooftops, how the panel to panel storytelling reeked of good design, and playful use of black, in many ways it was one of the more accomplished books of the new 52, if with rather a lot of silly distractions which harmed the book.
But there’s no letting up here. The first three pages are straight where the first issue ended and the first page is Bat/Cat sex. Rocky Horror lips in orgasm, sex and violence entwined, fingers, teeth, digging into flesh, each widescreen panel emphasising the action, and the text explicitly comparing this to a bar fight. With a semi-naked Catwoman curled up on top of a smug topless Batman. It’s utterly in your face, trying to shock, telling you “you thought last issue was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet.” And indeed we haven’t. For every masterful restrained page, including one that indicates the changing time and the way people move, there’s Catwoman in a long blonde wig putting it out there to get attention. For every smudge on Bruce Wayne’s nose that comes and goes as the personality on his face changes, there’s the woman beaten to death but left in some macabre twist of a sexual pose, and the violence that spills out.
And in storylines, this is about a woman who puts on uberconfidence and succeeds in playing off all those around her, until consequences catch up. Which some will see as a punishment for her sexuality, for her manipulation, for her very womanhood. And frankly that may be intended, it’s a disturbing final scene – and you know, just maybe it’s meant to be. This is sex, entwined with violence and that’s never going to end well. But just because it disturbs, doesn’t mean it’s bad. And as a comic book, this is a beautifully told pulp thriller with all sorts of gender reversals in the process.
You don’t have to like Catwoman as a comic, but I think accusations of misogyny, passive or active, are misplaced here.
As for the strange shapes she contorts herself into, whether in mid air or across Batman’s massive chest, I was able to slightly emulate on the Omni Sumo chair. But then I fell off.
Wonder Woman #2 is also all about sex and violence. The acts are divorced here, however, and sex is mostly used here for its intended purpose, that or recreation. But it doesn’t make things any less messy. The ending to this comic was publicly spoiled by DC and Brian Azzarello in the public press a week or so ago, but its fits in with the narrative so well here. Because this is a hardcore story about gods, goddesses and the world their actions affect. Stan Lee always used to say that superhero comics were just modern Greek God myths, Azzarello makes the two mesh incredibly successfully without dulling down either. There are no explanations, there are no attempts to make this book fit into a world that has Green Lantern in it, this is about gods on Earth, and their offspring. It’s hard, it’s beautiful, it’s bold and crass, decompressed, given space to let the grandeur shine. And a full cast of women so that none becomes a tokenistic representation of an entire gender, even as it is underpinned with a moment that mirrors the feminist ideal of sisterhood that can collapse under the pressure of human nature. You attack yourself.
I was certainly gripped. As sounding as that Omni Sumo cahair gripped me in place. Now, Red Hood And The Outlaws got in the neck last month for the portrayal of Starfire. Well, just as Catwoman nailed its colours to the mask, so does Starfire here, portraying women as a series of extreme figures, the wizened old crone, the seductive air stewardess, the massively obese gangster with an unfortunate reek, suddenly Starfire doesn’t seem so odd, surrounded by these beings, and at last she’s got some clothes on for a couple of pages until they come off.
In comparison to these creatures, Talia, the daughter of a megalomaniac supervillain and multiple murderer, with her own peculiar criminal history, comes off as remarkably normal. Shame then that she’s not around for long, she’s written as a reluctant participant in proceedings, fulfilling duty rather than being a hero in her own right, which makes for a far more entertaining continuing presence. She wasn’t even supposed to be here today.
There is fun, bouncy, occasionally obscure storytelling, characters which bounce off the page creating a line up of characters somewhere between Dick Tracy, Bill Sienkiewicz and Sam Keith. But somehow the men do seem to come off better, in the Young James Bond fashion. It’s just that kind of comic.
At least they managed to fix the colouring on Red Hood’s crotch on the cover. And kudos for the Death In The Family reference…
Ad then there’s The Fearless, Three writers, two pencilled, two writers and a host of covers. An attamept to keep the Fear Itself crossover going for another year in some Michael Moorcockian quest to collect the hammers that were inconveniently lost after the events of Fear Itself. And both Valkyrie and Sin committed to tracking them down, to keep them out of the hands of humanity. Two women against the world and against each other.
Sex really doesn’t come into this comic book whatsoever. A slight possible attraction between War Machine and Valkyrie count only be hinted at, this book quite clearly, or at least so far, has nothing to do with gender whatsoever. Valkyrie has her sisters, that’s the way of things, this is about war, and warriors, and those who do what they must, who are driven by the desire to fulfill their purpose, no matter who stands in there way.
So why is it so dull? There are explosions, there are fights, there is purpose, there is a sense of history, there is certainly characters set in opposition but…
It’s just not a very good comic book. It feels bland, . Now this is an introductory issue, and it’s playing off a wodge of continuity just dumped on it by Fear Itself to deal with but… I found it hard to care with this issue. Having the preview in Fear Itself may have been a mistake, the physical space between Sin and Valkyrie may have affected my reading experience. Sin’s story, interspersed more with Valyrie may have stood up better as an individual issue, I may have been more ready to see parallels between the two driven deities.
It’s not just the women though. The men are dull as dishwater as well. Captain America standing around, War Machine mostly standing around, it’s not helped by the artists being Mark Bagley who I confess I have found boring in the past, and Paul Pelletier, who does a not-quite-Jim Lee style. And, you know, there’s an actual Jim Lee comic out this week instead. It doesn’t stand up. Perhaps I shouldn’t have read it coming off Red Hood And The Outlaws, but if that was like American Pie, this felt like a box ticking romantic drama starring Jennifer Anniston. And given the choice I go for the pie.
While sitting in this Omni Sumo beanbag chair. Yum yum yum.
Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics, London, who are hosting Big Questions graphic novelist Anders Nilsen talking to Guardian cartoonist Tom Gauld tonight at 7pm. And was read sitting on an Omni chair.
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