Category Archives: Comics

Wonder Woman, screen rants and secret histories (#SFWApro)

So my new Screen Rant column is out: 22 Most WTF Moments in Wonder Woman comics. Such as the bondage-heavy story above from Wonder Woman #4 (art by H.G. Peters).

This isn’t meant to slam Wonder Woman — as regular readers know, I’m a fan of hers, even if the execution of some of her adventures is sub-part. As I note in the article, when you’ve been published for almost a continuous 80 years, it’s inevitable some stories will be WTF. More so when they’re overwhelmingly written by men. Not that a female writer is a guarantee of good WW stories (I wasn’t a fan of Jodi Picoult’s brief run), but I’d like to think they’d do better than some of the more sexist stuff in the later Kanigher run.

(Peters art again. This is a bad guy using Washington’s image to preach misogyny)

It wouldn’t have been as good a column (and I do think it’s good) without THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN by Jill Lepore, a book about how WW creator William Marston’s personal life and views (polyamory, submission and dominance, feminism) influenced his creation. While I was aware of much of this, Lepore shows I didn’t know as much as I thought. For example one angle of Marston’s menage a trois was Olive Byrne, niece of birth-control activist Margaret Sanger. And the birth-control movement frequently invoked women-in-chains symbolism to represent the burden of unwanted pregnancy (my wouldn’t that outrage the religious right today?). Marston’s WW stories likewise showed Wonder Woman bound, then breaking free — although as Lepore notes, sometimes the bondage is just kink. It’s an excellent book, though I’m not willing to write off the post-Marston Wonder Woman as much as Lepore does.

Check out the article and enjoy. Art below by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. All rights to all images remain with current holder.

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Southern cops, British cops, Lumberjanes, gods and Grail quests: books read (#SFWApro)

Although I’m not a fan of crime comics, SOUTHERN BASTARDS: Here was a Man by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour was pretty good. A military veteran, son of a small town police chief, returns home to bury his father. When he discovers the high school coach is also the local head of organized crime, he can’t quite resist trying to clean up the mess; suffice to say, it doesn’t go well.

WHO KILLED SHERLOCK HOLMES: A Shadow Police Novel by Paul Cornell is the third in his Shadow Police urban fantasy series about a squad of London detectives who’ve reluctantly found themselves tasked with monitoring London’s supernatural underworld. In this book, they find a series of Sherlock Holmes actors getting whacked, plus the spirit of Holmes himself is found stabbed to death in 221B Baker Street. So who is the killer and what exactly does he gain by replicating murders from the Holmes stories? Cornell does a good job showing the squad growing into their roles, and resolves one plotline from the previous book (the other, the Smiling Man taking over the afterlife, will presumably be the series’ big arc). While the Holmes stuff is fun, and Cornell clearly knows his stuff (though I’d disagree with the idea of Holmes as an agent of order) I do wish he’d done more with the idea of how many variant Holmes are out there (everything from supervillain Holmes to drug addict Holmes to gay Holmes). Still, the book is definitely a thumbs up from me.

LUMBERJANES: Beware the Kitten Holy is the first volume in the series (by multiple writers and illustrator Brooke Allen) about a group of young teens at a Lumberjane summer camp who discover there are some strange things in the wood, from three-eyed deer to Jekyll/Hyde Boy Scouts. I’m definitely not the target audience, but even so I found it delightful lighthearted fun. And that’s always nice.

Commercial Suicide, the third volume of THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE is apparently filler to compensate for artist Jamie McKelvie not being able to collaborate with writer Kieron Gillen this time out. So rather than following up on events at the end of Fandemonium, we get spotlight issues covering the various gods (“What idiot let Sekhmet loose? Especially sober!”). But don’t worry, this is good filler, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

EXCALIBUR by Sanders Anne Laubenthal (cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights remain with current holder) is the only Grail fantasy set in Mobile, Alabama, involving a Welsh archeologist (who’s also Arthur’s descendant) hunting Excalibur, a local scholar going on a Grail Quest and Morgan leFay and Morgause, who have their own agendas. This blew me away when I originally read it, first for the novelty of the concept (inspired by the legend of a Welsh colony on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico), second for introducing me to the idea of Morgan as a Celtic priest and one of the good guys. Even without those surprises, this still works well, with poetic language, a distinctive setting, and good fantasy elements (though the Otherworld is very Tolkienish). It is a little odd that the most outrageous declarations — yes, I’m the real Morgan leFay! — never startle anyone, they’re just accepted. But it still works (though it’s annoying the female lead, for all her talk about wanting more out of life, ultimately can’t do more than choose a man to marry). A shame Laubenthal died before working on more books in the same setting.

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My dead heroes Screen Rant article is live (#SFWApro)

Specifically heroes who died and came back within a few issues, or just one issue. That includes Warlock during his early religious allegory phase, Superman, Iron Man, the Metal Men and Spider-Man.

Art by Herb Trimpe (Warlock) and Ross Andru/Mike Esposito (Metal Men). All rights remain with the current holders.

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Clowns, mutants, pirates: books read (#SFWApro)

CITY OF CLOWNS by Daniel Alarcon and Sheila Alvarado (cover by Alvarado, all rights to current holder) has a journalist who recently lost his father reflect how his father’s life of petty thievery, and his not-to-secret second family by another woman, have shaped the journalist’s own life. Well done, not really to my taste, though.

XMEN: World’s Apart by Christopher Yost and Diogenese Neves has Storm struggling to balance her duties as Queen of Wakanda with her responsibilities as a member of the X-Men, a struggle made worse when the mind controlling Shadow King takes over the Black Panther. This is well executed but lost points for the use of the Shadow King, one of my least favorite mind controllers.

A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by VE Schwab starts well as female pirate Delilah Bard singlehandedly captures a rival pirate ship. And I like the setting in different alt.Londons that are linked together, some with magic and some without. Unfortunately I lost interest after the swashbuckling opening — from that point on there’s no real tension as everyone just wanders about thinking of life and exploring London (up to about page 200 when I gave up). And choosing Alucard as the name for one pirate really distracted me — characters who use the name are invariably Dracula (spell it backwwards) yet this guy doesn’t appear to be any sort of vampire (as Lin Carter says, don’t just throw recognizable names into a story). A shame the body of the book wasn’t as awesome as the beginning.

All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Before Captain America: 17 Other Heroes Who Were Secret Villains (#SFWApro)

As you may know, Captain America has been revealed as a closet Hydra agent all along (not that I think it will last). My new Screen Rant column looks at the long list of heroes who turned out to be villains under the cowl. We have the Cobra in the Shadow pulps, Moonstone in Captain America, the Thunderbolt and as shown above, Nighthawk in an issue of Daredevil (image by Gene Colan, all rights remain with current holder).

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Libraries, bloggers, corrupt bankers and a knightly wordsmith: books (#SFWApro)

THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE is an uninspired graphic novel from Audrey Niffenegger in which a book-loving woman encounters a mysterious bookmobile that contains every book she’s ever read, and nothing else. And years later, she finds it again … Niffenegger clearly things she has Things To Say about reading, but I wasn’t impressed by this enough to try figuring out what they are. As I didn’t care for the author’s Her Fearful Symmetry either, I wonder if Time-Traveler’s Wife is the only thing of hers that’s going to click with me.

I didn’t care at all for Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim so perhaps it’s not surprising I don’t care for the author’s SNOTGIRL: Green Hair Don’t Care (art by Leslie Hung). The story of a struggling fashion blogger whose a hyper-allergic mess in real life felt like an overly cute version of pretty much every recent TV sitcom about struggling twentysomethings. That isn’t a good thing.

GREEN ARROW: The Death and Life of Oliver Queen by Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt ties into DC Rebirth not by bringing back the pre-Flashpoint Green Arrow but by soft-rebooting the bland Flashpoint Ollie (art on his first cover by Dave Wilkins, all rights remain with current holder) into the radical activist version. Which is a great idea, as is bringing back the romance with Black Canary, but story is a flop. I can’t see why Dinah is so down on Ollie using his money for philanthropy (which she implies makes him a hypocrite as he’s rich but helping the poor — no, it doesn’t make any sense). The money laundering underworld bankers are adequate villains, except the story treats “bankers who arrange financing for criminal and terrorist activities” as if it were some breathtakingly new idea. To say nothing of the uninspired nomenclature (a problem for other writers too) — seriously, the bankers fire-burned killers are called The Burned?

For a good story about corrupt bankers, we have John Le Carré’s SINGLE AND SINGLE the story of Oliver Single, former lawyer for his father’s extremely dirty bank. Years ago he walked out on Dad and blew the whistle on him to the British government. Now, though, “Tiger” Single is on the run from very angry Russian mobsters over the loss of their money, so Oliver’s back in to try and save Dad and bring the mobsters down. This comes off as Le Carré reworking the father-son issues of A Perfect Spy for a happier ending; good, although the plot largely vanishes midway through the book.

MALORY: The Knight Who Became King Arthur’s Chronicler by Christina Hardyment appealed to me as I love Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, but lost me early on. Apparently there’s not much definite material about Thomas Malory for Hardyment to work with, so what we get is a constant stream if “it’s quite possible Malory did this” or “Malory might have done that,” which is something I’ll accept in small doses, but here Hardyment’s pulling Malory’s entire life out of the air. Equally annoying, she tries to reverse-engineer his life from his work — Malory wrote about pure romantic love, so obviously he couldn’t possibly have accepted an arranged match. Very unimpressive.

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When they said Captain America was a Nazi OMG they weren’t kidding! (#SFWApro)

When Captain America debuted, he punched Hitler in the face (art by Jack Kirby all rights remain with current holder). Now he’s a Nazi. More reaction here.

Nick Spencer’s current run on Cap grabbed a lot of attention last year by revealing that Cap has been a Hydra agent his entire life, and a loyal Nazi (for the record Hydra was not written as a Nazi organization in the Silver Age, but a straight knockoff of James Bond’s SPECTRE. Which doesn’t affect the current debate, but is worth mentioning, as I keep seeing people who should know better say that it was Nazi from the start). This got more attention when Spencer insisted this was not mind control or an imposter, etc., it was real! And it turns out it was, in a sense: a reality altering Cosmic Cube has retroactively made it real.

Only now Spencer has gone a step further and revealed that it’s more than a retcon because the entire MU is a retcon: Captain America’s treachery won WW II for the Axis, but an Allied Cosmic Cube created the good Cap we know and the happy ending. So Captain America really was a Nazi, just not in the not-real continuity we all thought was real.

First off, I haven’t read the books.

Second off, even though I know it will be undone eventually, I still think the outrage is justified. Even if it’s retconned later, the stories in which Steve murders and betrays America for the Reich happened. They won’t vanish when reality is fixed. As Repeaters points out, even if you erase the bad things you do, you still did them. So yeah, turning Cap into a Nazi icon is uncool (the first link above suggests it’s a satire on fan reaction to Sam Wilson becoming Cap. I don’t believe it’s anything so subtle).

But it will be fixed. No amount of declaring “This was the really real reality” will actually make it so. A year from now or whenever, it will turn out that reality was just another overlay on the original reality and we’ll get back to normal. Even if Spencer keeps the MU the fake reality, someone else will restore it, much as the efforts to make Peter Parker a clone and his supposed clone Ben Reilly the real Peter flopped with fasn.

The point of my post, though, is that what this teaches is us is how hard it is to set up really life or death stakes in comics these days. To believe there’s anything that won’t be undone or retconned away, any character that won’t get resurrected no matter how dead they are.

As I said Sunday, when Crisis on Infinite Earths came out, there’d never been anything like it. Wolfman and Perez (and everyone else who contributed ideas or plays for the “post-Crisis” universe) really did set out to make serious major changes, actually kill major characters, and they succeeded. But as DC and Marvel kept churning out big Earth-shattering events, the changes became routine. As characters got resurrected, or legacy heroes had to give their identity back, it was harder to take all the big talk seriously. Claims that, for example, Final Crisis would be incredibly serious — look, they killed Martian Manhunter in the first issue — only elicited yawns, at least from me. Likewise, the Batman: Superheavy protestations about how Bruce Wayne can never, ever, ever, ever become Batman again aren’t intriguing, they’re just annoying. There’s nothing that can stop Bruce from resuming his identity.

Likewise Spencer isn’t really raising the stakes, he’s just creating an extra hurdle to Cap getting back to normal. It’s a plotting challenge, not a cosmic dilemma.

I was going to draw some broader meaning from that for writers, but I can’t think of one right now, so I’ll leave it at that.

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