Category Archives: Gender

‘I.D.’ is a wonderfully composed tale regarding identity

ID2Emma Rios is one of the most talented creators out there that has proven her worth at both the writing (Mirror) and illustrating (Pretty Deadly) side of the comic book world. In I.D., Rios handles both the words and art, confidently presenting a story that is thought provoking and emotional with a respectable amount of research put into it; due in additional thanks to Medical Doctor Miguel Alberte Woodward whom writes a back essay to add more into the reality of the topic at hand. I.D. is about three individuals, Noa, Charlotte and Mike, whom apply for an experimental procedure in which your brain, mental capacity and self are maintained as you are placed within a different body. Through the five chapters, originally printed in Island Magazine, the three characters discuss and question their own motives towards making this process a reality.

What immediately jumps out in terms of the visual style of the comic is Rios’s use of a contrasting palette of warm, glowing, hues of red. As much as the story digs a little bit into questions regarding the binaries of gender, whether it is intentional or not, using red instead of playing with black and white, creates a sort of neutral space for the words and images to breath out from. Rios consistently does a great job at creating a tone and atmosphere that is melancholic but also slightly unnerving and tense at the same time. Whether it’s the rain dropping outside the coffee shop where Noa, Charlotte and Mike discuss their reasons into wanting a new body or inside the apartment of Charlotte, Rios puts purpose behind the easy flow of pages. She sketches out wider, detailed frames to settle in on the three characters, utilizing the space to capture their unified journey, and closer, sometimes round panels to focus in on particular sections of dialogue or pointing at the various body parts (eyes, mouths, ears, noses, etc.) as if these are partly what makes each of them insecure.

“Well, it’s obvious none of us feel very proud of who we are.”

“I disagree. Hating your body, or your life, doesn’t mean you hate yourself.”

ID3These quotes are taken from a statement made by Mike, commented back by Charlotte. Questions of having pride in yourself can change on a day to day basis. When the pride of realizing that your true self is inside you but not reflective of your physical self cannot possibly be put into the proper amount of words unless someone identifies directly with wanting to or having gone through a physical transition or an acceptance of ones true self. And, what Charlotte responds with is something that she appears to take on as an attribute to her reasoning into wanting to make this body transplant. She is a writer and is the most cryptic into her reasoning. She continues to make remarks that appear to reveal her own insecurities regarding the nature of the transformation: “Being unhappy with what we are, or have, may sound frivolous but is inherently human. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s our restlessness.” Restlessness may be the wrong way (or perhaps right way) to describe feeling trapped in a false vessel but what these statements made by Charlotte reinforce is the strength in which Rios writes these characters as three-dimensional human beings who are far from perfect, and that is totally okay.

The fact that all three are, for the most part, sure that their true selves are not reflected on the outside is perhaps the most truly felt from Noa. She plain and simply admits that she is a man. She is upset at being weak and how her metabolism won’t allow her to be the man she really wants to be. After storming off from a heated discussion within the coffee shop, she barges into the women’s bathroom; Rios leaves a single panel to focus on the symbol on the bathroom door. These signs and symbols for gender pervade society and tend to ignore other identities that aren’t considered ‘traditional’ or a ‘patriarchal norm’. Rios doesn’t dig too deep into this conversation but her imagery and dialogue does point towards this consistently relevant topic of how and where identity can be influenced.

Another moment that shares Noa’s confidence in making the transition is when her and Mike begin questioning Charlotte’s motives towards the body transplant. The conversation goes like this:

ID4Mike: “I wonder if just being bored, or lonely, is enough to do this…”

Noa: “It’s better than suicide.”

Mike: “Perhaps…didn’t think of it that way.”

Noa: “I did.”

This establishes not only the unfortunate conclusion that many come to when it comes to people questioning their identities (as a mental illness) and Noa having gone through a potential slew of mental battles, but most importantly that Mike didn’t think of the alternative as being suicide. It is a sad realization that this thought carries over to our own reality. It’s this thought, or lack of, that doesn’t get through to people. Sometimes the mental battles become too much; whether it is the shame imposed by others, the mere costs to transition, or the hypnotizing by various institutions, these are but a few of a fair list that many individuals can come up against. What Rios really captures here is the sense of unity and togetherness from three albeit different personalities with three different reasons that confide in each other to solidify what matters most: the confidence in accepting who they really are.

This wonderfully well-crafted story by Emma Rios is also notable for its taking place during a demonstration that takes place outside one of the comic’s settings. Its presence is felt through a select few frames showing outside the coffee shop but at one moment (minor spoilers) the physical fight that takes place between a few of the demonstrators and police gets brought inside. The police threaten Noa, Mike and Charlotte, physically assaulting the three. However, instead of cowering away or witnessing one of the characters run away, the three, together, fight back and manage to escape to live another day. This moment really encapsulates a strong theme in I.D. in that what may appear as a mental, individual battle on the inside, is something that can be shared and understood to strengthen ones identity. Many battles are lost but the war is won as a collective. Just look at the support that went on behind the LGBTQ community recently through the hashtag #QueerSelfLove that trended on Twitter. As much as I.D. provides more of a futuristic setting to body transitions, there is also a comfort being addressed in finding a way to love yourself just the way you are. Judging by the phenomenal response to #QueerSelfLove, love will reign over hate.

Written and Illustrated: Emma Rios
Technical Assistance and Back Essay: Alberte Woodward MD
Flat Assists: Roque Romero
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Who is the alien in Star Wars?

The universe of Star Wars is a place teeming with life and full of living beings, all of them extraterrestrial.

There are no exceptions. From over here, down on Earth, Luke is as alien as Yoda, just like every other character in the saga, human or not.

star wars 001

But are they aliens to each other?

More to the point, who is the alien among all others?

In a universe such as that, in which many and distinct races share the same galaxy, obey or defy the same set of rules and believe (or not) in a Force which binds them together, the idea of what it means to be an alien gets a little foggy, to say the least.

To make things easier, let’s say that the alien is not the one who comes from outside, but the one who is pushed there and remains there. It’s not about “who got here first?”, as the story of our own worlds and their native people has already made perfectly clear. It’s all about protagonism. Who among all is least important? Who remains under the shadows of all others?

To try and answer that question, I came up with a list of six candidates to the role: the human, the non-human, the sith, the woman, the monster and the droid. I’m always up for an excuse to rewatch all the movies anyway (and you should be too, with The Force Awakens right around the corner).

Which reminds me: this list does not include the expanded universe and all its glorious books, comics, games and merchandising, and relies exclusively on the six feature films.

1st candidate – THE HUMAN

star wars 002

Let’s play it safe and take race into account first. In a universe rife with shapes, sizes and bodies of all kinds, wouldn’t the humans play the role of the intruder, aliens in a world that doesn’t belong to them and reaches far beyond the view they have of themselves?

Not if we’re talking about status (and its doormat the privilege) and who bosses whom around.

The old trilogy shows us the human being in its prime. In Episode IV – A New Hope, there is an all too powerful empire led by a human (Palpatine), single-handedly protected by a human (Vader), reinforced by cloned human beings (the Troopers) and opposed by a human trio (Luke, Leia and Han).

At this point in the story, both the Empire and the Rebels, their one and only opposition, are made up almost exclusively of humans. There are no other races in positions of power. The non-humans are relegated to the role of scum, represented in all its villainy by the drunkards, lowlifes and good-for-nothings at the bar in Mos Eisley.

star wars 003

So the first candidate doesn’t make much sense after all. We could say that humans are actually the opposite of aliens, if their role didn’t change a little further down the saga, as we shall see.

2nd candidate- THE NON-HUMAN

If the humans are on top, then the aliens must be the non-humans, right?

Not necessarily, not all the time and not in every way. In Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, a non-human takes up the role of Jedi Master (Yoda) and is revealed as more powerful than Luke and his first master, Obi-Wan. In Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, a non-human commands the rebel troops (Admiral Ackbar) and secures the status of meme. In the same movie, an entire race of non-humans (the Ewoks) joins forces with the rebels to thwart the deathly plans of the Empire.

The new trilogy goes even further. In Episode I – The Phantom Menace, the non-humans are at their peak. The main villain is a non-human Sith (Darth Maul), there is a Republic and a Senate composed of many races, a Jedi Council made up mostly of non-humans and a podracing so difficult and intricate that human beings can’t even compete in it (with the exception of Anakin, of course).

In Episode II – The Attack of the Clones, the non-human status goes beyond the exceptional and extends itself to the mundane and ordinary role of the citizen. They’re not only the villains or the heroes of the saga anymore, but also the passersby, the drivers and the honest merchants, people who compose and share the landscape. There is even space for non-human children to show up. Instead of one of each race, the exemplary specimen, the non-humans get to be truly plural and diverse.

3rd candidate – THE SITH

star wars 004

The answer is not in the race. Let’s take a look at ideology then.

If both the humans and non-humans are subject to the same laws, maybe the aliens are the ones trying to break them. The Sith are a persistent threat to the universe of Star Wars, even when part of the Empire. They are, at the same time, the memory of darker times and the obstacles on the path to a new hope. Even when they’re in control, they remain on the fringe of what should be.

But the Sith are not the aliens. They are, as the villains always are, a reflex of the hero and a key component of what moves the story of their world. It’s their willpower that moves the narrative forward, that builds an empire over the ashes of a republic and sets a rebellion in motion. They’re the ones who reduce whole planets to nothing and rouse the last Jedi to the tragedy of their Force.

In a way, the Sith play one of the leading roles. In their effort to destroy everything in their way, they give life to new images and make all the saga fresh.

4th candidate – THE WOMAN

star wars 005

Not race or ideology. Maybe gender?

Among so many creations, clashes and special effects, the women of Star Wars can hardly be heard or seen. Unless she’s asking for help, uttering words in the loop of a gender who cannot defend itself.

In the old trilogy, the woman is restricted to Leia, princess/damsel in distress/holographic image. She rarely fights and barely commands anything. All she does is inspire male ideals of heroism and reward them for their performance.

Things change a little in the new trilogy though. In the role of Padmé, the woman gets to be a warrior and an empress, but she’s still reduced to the one-character representation, a status even the non-humans would have already overcome.

There is one female Jedi, one female warrior, one female leader. And the last two are merely the driving force towards the male tragedy surrounding Darth Vader.

So is the woman the alien? Probably yes. But only because she always is. Not the alien, but an alien, and not only to this universe. The gender issue goes far beyond Star Wars, and the under representation of women is not exclusive to that world. Only a reflex of all others.

5th candidate – THE MONSTER

star wars 006

Besides race, ideology and gender, there’s still the species.

The monster is the one without a race, or laws to protect and recognize the race they should have. They’re a single species under the category of “ugly and dangerous creature”, animals and others beings that exist only as tools or landscape. Like the Rancor, an instrument for torture and death in the dungeons of Jabba the Hutt, or the Sarlacc, a giant gaping mouth in the middle of the desert, more natural disaster and geographical phenomena than living being.

The monster is so far on the fringe that it doesn’t deserve the role of alien. It lacks the strength even to be that. It has no identity, no language and no will. It’s hunger, compliancy and violence reduced to a narrative feature. Less than an alien, the monster is a little more than a film extra.

6th candidate – THE DROID

The droid escapes any classification, be it race, gender or species.

First and foremost, they’re the comic relief. Like Threepio, humiliated and ridiculed since the very first film, or Artoo, which elicits our affection for its constant and surprising efficiency. One looks like a human being and is turned into a joke for its stupidity, the other reminds us of a trash can and relieves our tension in all its false naivety.

The droids are also the librarians of Star Wars. They’re the ones who register the story in all its files, data, holograms and linguistic codes. They function as interpreters, translators, programmers and research tools.

There are also the battle droids, the probe droids, the medical and navigation droids, the cyborgs, the scrapheap. From the very beginning, they serve as talking machinery. Above all, they serve.

And yet the droid is more important to the universe of Star Wars than any other species or race, for they help build the genre itself. It’s the droids who make the sci-fi work in the narrative.

Unlike the monster, which is not even on the fringe, the droid is too deeply inside it. They are the fringe themselves, the super-advanced and high-tech foundation stone of a whole fictional universe. The droid is the image of the format itself in which that universe can be seen.

And for the same reason, the droid is not the alien.

star wars 007

Then who the hell is the alien in Star Wars?

I don’t know. Maybe it has no aliens. Maybe everyone and everything is an alien in flux, with each group – humans, non-humans, Sith/Jedi, women, monsters, droids – taking up and vacating the role at the same time. Maybe the alien is a drifting zone of privilege and exploitation revolving around all characters.

Or maybe the aliens are us, the spectators, forever away from this magical universe, stuck in this non-fictional world of wars under the stars.

Review: Arclight #1

cover of Arclight #1“Oh my god, this is beautiful”- me, aloud to myself upon viewing the new comic book Arclight by Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland.

Arclight is part of a 4 issue mini-series within 8House, Graham’s new comics universe for Image. 8House is a brand new inter-connected, fictional universe by a singular creator and his equally singular crew of talented artists whose styles stray far from the tired (and usually ugly) house styles of other publishers. Graham’s crew are building quite an innovative fantasy world together with their own aesthetics and language. They are inventing a new flavor of fantasy world.

From the press release, “ARCLIGHT will bring readers the chilling story of a high-ranking lady of one of the houses who has her mind trapped in a monster’s body. She will soon learn that the monster trapped in her body has taken over her old life in her absence.”

Arclight’s world is preoccupied with blood which is considered precious and is essential for magic but is also used as a form of identification. A reoccurring theme this far is switching bodies and transforming bodies. A Lady is transformed into a creature made of twisted tree roots. An animal that looks like a magical sea slug is merged with a storybook goose.

In issue one, this book is setting up a magical mystery story. Everything in this issue is en-media-res, and you just roll with it.

The atmosphere of the book — the look and feel of its colors and even how light itself is portrayed on the page are central. I love how Churchland draws hands– you can see the bones inside them. I love how she draws skin– it has texture but it seems to glow. And I love the clothes she invents– where can I buy them?!

The back of the book includes a glossary of the symbols used in the art — a runic alphabet. We also get 1 page of Graham’s own art showing part of the story from the perspective of a farmer.

The official description of the book states it is about a woman who’s mind has become trapped in the body of a monster. That feels heavy with symbolism. And the knights who surround her wear etherial gowns and address each other as “sir”.

So, are the characters in Arclight transgender? 

In an interview with Churchland a journalist calls the knights genderqueer and the artist didn’t challenge that description. They look androgynous to my eyes, are referred to as “Sir”, wear sheer gowns, some have breasts, some don’t, and they all have ambiguous names. Until I’m told otherwise I’ll use the pronouns their/her/his to refer to them.

In the world of Arclight, for all we know, genderqueer could be the most common gender. Maybe it’s just the norm for members of the knight caste? Maybe, these characters have a completely different relationship to gender then we can even imagine. And after last week in particular that’s pretty fucking cool. 

What is an Arclight?

I had assumed it was a form of theatrical lighting because it sounds like one. There are theaters that go by that name. But the actual term is an arc lamp which wikipedia says is a gas discharge lamp. It produces light by an arc between metal electrodes through an inert gas in a glass bulb. In other words it’s a light that is a bit steam-punk. This comic is far far more unique then anything steam-punk. So let’s pretend I didn’t look that up.

Story: Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland Art: Marian Churchland and Brandon Graham
Story: 8 Art: 9.5  Overall: 9  Recommendation: Read (and also frame it)

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

The Most Exciting thing about Disney’s Playmations Might be the Stock Photos

Yesterday, Disney announced their next toy breakthrough, Playmation, tech infused toys and playsets that’ll feature themes of Marvel characters, Disney characters, Frozen, Star Wars, and more.

The “next step in play” seems like something we’ve seen before, playsets, and other items, infused with tech, that also allows active play. That part isn’t new, it can be traced back to the home laser tag games, and absolutely earlier. The exact details of what this all means hasn’t quite been revealed, but it looks interesting, and potentially it should be fun.

What really stood out to me wasn’t the announcement itself, but the stock photos that were released by Disney’s partner in this Hasbro. The photos featured three children playing with the Avengers set release which is first up. What’s new is that one of the three children was a girl. In fact, 5 of the 9 photos that were part of Hasbro’s press release feature the young girl. And look, there’s also a Black Widow figure coming out too!

Is this Disney, and Hasbro, finally admitting that girls also like toys based on super heroes?

Disney, Marvel, and Hasbro have all come under fire for acting as if women aren’t interested in toys based on super heroes. Black Widow was absent from the Avengers: Age of Ultron toys, with her motorcycle scene set replacing her with Captain America, though she has been including in other sets including the Marvel Legends line of toys and Marvel Infinite series of toys. There’s also been outrage over a lack of some clothing options for women as well, and the absence of Black Widow on much of the boys clothes as well.

It’s possible this may be the strange continuation of featuring girls and female characters in sets not based on movies, or, this may be Disney and Hasbro acknowledging that girls due enjoy toys based on super heroes. It’s not just boys who act out being Iron Man, Spider-Man, and more, girls due it too, and those toys make it easier for them to do so.

You can see the photos below.

Denver ComicCon, and That One Panel.

DENVER-CON_LOGOLast weekend, Denver ComicCon descended upon the Mile-High City. It wasn’t the latest announcements from publishers that made the news coming out of it, but one panel which cast a cloud upon the convention as a whole. As first reported on Twitter, the convention featured a Women in Comics panel, one of over eight focused just on women in comics and entertainment. Normally this wouldn’t be news, but this panel featured only men, and also some rather baffling statements such as “girls get bored with comics easily.”

Here’s the panel description:

With the female interest in comics increasing lately, this panel discusses many of the popular female characters from the beginning of the superhero mid 1930s comics. Also a focus on some of the women that were able to break in the mostly all male club of creating comics during that time. Includes an introduction to many of the female illustrators/creators attending the convention.

Panelists included Kevin Robinette, an Instructor on the History of American Comics at the Academy Art University of San Francisco, Craig Glassen, an Art Instructor for Denver area schools, and Jason H. Tucker, who is involved with The Way Interactive graphic novel app. Some took three men presenting the topic of “women in comics” as an extension of the general exclusion of women in comic geekdom. And critics are right, at least one woman should have been on the panel. But even the inclusion of a woman doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be idiotic marginalizing/sexist/problematic statements. That’s upon the panelists themselves. I haven’t heard audio, so don’t know how, or why, “girls get bored with comics easily” would have been said. At face value, it’s an idiotic statement, and one that has no place in an academic discussion.

When asked why there were no women on the panel, the panelists reportedly said it “was a last-minute addition and didn’t know any.” Influential comic artist and writer Trina Robbins was in attendance at the convention, and could have easily been a fantastic last-minute addition to the panel, if the panel organizers had reached out.

It should be noted that this black eye isn’t indicative of the convention as a whole. I went through the entire guidebook, counting the number of men and women listed on panels. Not every panel had the panelists listed, but of the 301 that did, the 1,033 people listed were roughly 54.70% men and 45.30% women. That’s not scientific, I Googled only a few folks to figure out their gender, not all 1,033 of them. Some panels were all men, some panels were all women, and many were balanced with men and women equally. There was even a panel called “NASA: Science, Is It Just a Man’s Game?” where “male and female NASA scientists discuss the perceived gender bias in science careers.” So, it wasn’t a systemic thing at the convention.

So, the question remains, “why did this happen?”

While a rather poor statement was released to ComicsAlliance by DStreet PR, we haven’t really heard from the convention itself…. until now. The Director of the Denver ComicCon, Christina Angel, responded to a discussion that occurred on a comics listserv. With permission, her response is posted below.

Hi Brett and others on this thread. I will jump in here and address some of this (I am the Director for DCC). As a woman in charge of a large convention, I empathize with and understand what people are upset about with this panel. I am not making any excuses for this panel, BUT (sorry for that – I will explain momentarily) it is absolutely NOT indicative of who we are or what we we stand for. While I do hear what people are saying and find most of it difficult to argue with, it would be a shame to see this as representative rather than what it was.

It was a total screwup on our part, and a larger screwup on the part of the panelists themselves. As a late add to the programming schedule, these panelists have been with us before and we know them, so it seemed a safe bet to approve the panel and allow the moderator to fill the slots on the panel (as is often the case at conferences and conventions). We had no idea they would take the stance they did, nor would express such outdated and uninformed views. We were all surprised by this. But none of that excuses it, the fault falls to us and we are deeply sorry.

We have a diversity mission and our programming department works themselves half to death (as volunteers) to promote inclusivity and representation. I hope that anyone doubting this will take a look at the rest of the 400 panels we presented to see this. Once the word was out about this controversial disaster of a panel, Crystal Skillman quickly pulled together some other female guests to have a panel in response to this and we made it happen and publicized it. I would be happy to direct anyone to the link of the recording of it.

But the short version is: we are sorry, we don’t stand by this panel and will be far more diligent in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Please feel free to write to me privately if you have additional queries or would like to discuss this further.

All the best,

The convention itself (forget the flack PR company’s response) realized the panel was a disaster. The fact is, it wasn’t representative of the convention as a whole, especially when you look at the rest of their panel line-up.

So, how is this prevented in the future?

It’s clear no matter the history of panelists with a convention, the completed panel including all panelists, should be presented to a convention before approval. It is imperative upon the convention organizers to make sure there’s no issues with those panels before approving them. Past relationships aren’t good enough. In this case, it was really that simple a fix that could have prevented this.

Denver ComicCon realized their mistake, and attempted to make good with securing resources and a room for the addition of a much better and more appropriate panel featuring some of the convention’s female guests that was organized partially in response to what happened. Credit where credit is due, I can’t think of a convention reacting to a disastrous panel so quickly, and in a very smart way.

I’ve been a critic of Denver ComicCon in the past, and have watched them like a hawk since, but it’s clear that 0.25% of their panels doesn’t reflect the convention as a whole. There’s absolutely a need to call out mistakes like this, but we should learn from those mistakes, how did they happen, why was it wrong, and prevent them from being repeated in the future.

Chris Evans Apologizes for Calling Black Widow a “Slut” and “Whore,” Renner Not so Much

In an interview to promote Avengers: Age of Ultron with Digital Spy, Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans were asked about fans wanting Black Widow to be with Hawkeye or Captain America, but turns out she’s really with Bruce Banner/the Hulk. In what was intended to be a joke, but still not exactly appropriate, Renner responded deadpan before laughing:

She’s a slut.

Evans who burst out laughing responded:

Something along that line. She’s a complete whore.

There’s then some jokes about her having a prosthetic leg and leading everyone on.

As I’d expect, those answers haven’t gone over all that well with the public, no matter how much of a joke they were intended to be. In a statement through his agent, Evans said:

Yesterday we were asked about the rumors that Black Widow wanted to be in a relationship with both Hawkeye and Captain America. We answered in a very juvenile and offensive way that rightfully angered some fans. I regret it and sincerely apologize.

Renner’s statement that was released wasn’t quite accepting of the blame as Evans’.

I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone. It was not meant to be serious in any way. Just poking fun during an exhausting and tedious press tour.

It’s not too hard to say that one tried to make a joke that fell flat and it was juvenile and inappropriate.

The character of Black Widow is particularly sensitive to fans right now. Though she’s quite popular, she’s not receiving the merchandising focus as other characters are, or her own movie. She’s being relegated to the sidekick, there for eye candy only apparently.

You can watch the video of their interview below.

Review: Thor #7

thor007Gender has probably never played such a role in the public discourse about comics as it does in the present day.  As the medium (and especially the mainstream portion of it) moves to become more inclusive of the entire spectrum of society, it requires a different approach in order to appeal to those fans.  There are many developments elsewhere recently at the big two which have shown that this is the case.  The alternate cover for Spider-Woman #1 was a pretty big deal for a while, and so too was the new creative team behind Wonder Woman proclaiming her to not be a feminist.  These controversies have come and gone, but the one major gender controversy has remained, and that is of the gender swap for Thor.  In true comic book style, it is not a real gender swap, as one character has not awakened to find themselves in the body of the opposite gender, but rather the mantle of Thor has been passed from its originator to a female replacement, who seems equally adept at handling the power of the magical hammer.  For some loyal to the original character, they can’t let go of the fact that their favorite character had to give up his name.  Others still have welcomed it as a great story in the making, and probably the most important of all, a bunch of new readers that never read Thor before have found a superhero to relate to.

After having established that the new Thor is indeed worthy, the remainder of the plot has focused on discovering just who this new Thor is.  The story has featured the original Thor as the meta-version of the readers’ curiosity, trying to discover the identity of the new goddess.  He has mostly been unable to figure this out, but at least touched on a few points of who it was likely not.  After six issue of guessing this issue kind of lays out a pretty clear message of who it could be.  Or does it?  After all how does one person be in two places at the same time?  Outside of the external forces at play in this story, this particular issue is rather ordinary, featuring Thor against the Destroyer, with others pulling the strings behind the scenes.

The story does use some of what is familiar to the character, perhaps even too familiar in the case of the previous Thor, but the presence of the familiar is necessary at the same time.  After all, this series seems as though it has many great stories left to tell, but first it must deal with the story of who is the new Thor (the conclusion of which is promised for the following issue.)  That some familiar ground has been covered does not make this stale, rather it acts as a convenience for a character that needs to have some of what came before in order to establish herself for the future.  As it stands, this issue continues the standout work on this series to date, and promises more to come.

Story:  Jason Aaron Art:  Russell Dauterman  
Story: 8.8 Art:  8.8 Overall: 8.8  Recommendation:  Buy

Push Comics Forward – A Move Towards Gender Parity

Among the big two publishers there is a fairly common occurrence whereby in order to revamp a team title that there is a shakeup of the characters that belong to that team.  The new characters figure out how to work together under some duress, and then they become an unstoppable team.  This is perhaps the most common with the biggest teams in the medium – the Justice League, The X-Men and the Avengers – as the smaller teams tend to stay more true to their membership.  What is notable about the dynamics of these teams is when the female membership is examined.  Although other teams arguably are better in terms of sales, the Justice League will generally serve as some of kind of touchstone for teams in the medium as it was the first and has the biggest names from a popular culture standpoint.  The League started as a collection of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, the Flash and Aquaman, and when looked upon from that standpoint, the ratio of female to male characters is six to one.

jla01Over the course of the Justice League’s publication history, and more or less for the publication history of every team, there has been a couple of general rules when it comes to its female members.  Female members, if they are written out of the team, and if they are written out of the team, they almost always have to be replaced by another female member.  Equally, when the characters are written out, there is not such a big pool to draw upon when replacing them as if a male character were written out of the story.  In 2006, the Justice League of America was rebooted once again, this time after the events of Infinite Crisis, and in order to tie into the rift between the big three heroes at the time, they decided to sit down and vote on each other’s inclusion into the League as well as all of the other heroes.  While this resulted in a new team, what it also did was to present a somewhat memorable cover (seen at the above right.)  While it is an impressive collection of heroes, the problem of gender parity is obvious here.  There is good representation of most of the popular characters here, but aside from female characters from another time, most of the female superheroes from DC are shown in one panel, whereas there are nunmerous lacking from well-known male characters, and even then the ratio of male to female characters in this picture is 30 to 12, not as bad as 6 to 1, but that still boils down to 5 to 2.

xmenDifferent teams have different compositions of characters.  Justice League International in the new 52 actually had a one to one gender parity (depending on who was counted in its members) and the X-Men have always been better at gender parity, the more so that the X-Men title is comprised of only female members.  At the same time, medium wide, there are generally fewer female characters to draw upon if there was to be a need for them.  In a real world sense, there exists equally the ability of a woman or a man to be a hero, and in terms of who could develop superpowers, seeing as the origins are so different, there is no real reason why men would be favored over women.  The favoritism only exists in character design.  It is not as though female characters should be expected to thrive in comics, at least from a sales standpoint, but creators should endeavor to at least create some interesting background or secondary female characters that would have a chance to grow into something more over time

Push Comics Forward – The Female Super-Scientist

j4p4n_Scientist_Woman_(comic_book_style)Recently the head honchos at BOOM! Studios put out the idea that comics needs to change and to not be stagnant as a medium.  Long since dominated by superhero stories, the medium has indeed made a number of changed in the past couple of decades and the change is noticeable in some regards.  Equally though, comics are somewhat of a niche when it comes to their perception in popular culture.  Although there is an increasing amount of female readers, the medium is slower to make the changes to draw in fans of all backgrounds, and especially at the big two publishers instead still focuses on mostly a collection of characters who are both white and male.  While the interest in push comics forward doesn’t necessarily lie solely with the big two publishers, change has to happen there as elsewhere in order for the medium to evolve.

Science in comics was a bit of an x-factor until the onset of the silver age.  Until that point, science was usually grossly misapplied in order to move along a plot.  Gross inaccuracies were made and aspects of scientific knowledge would be presented, leaving what was actually used of the science to be misappropriated and simplistic.  As the silver age started, the focus on science is what rescued comics from being a medium for children, and instead allowed the medium to mature.  The changes first came at DC, though with the generally more god-like powers of the characters, the science was not as pertinent.  Hawkman and Green Lantern became intergalactic police, the Atom used White Dwarf matter to give himself powers, and the Flash became a scientist that gained powers by a scientific accident.  While the science was there, it was not until Marvel arrived that it redefined science in comics.  Although still unreal, the science was still presented in a way that it could be real, at least in our imagination.  Instead of characters that were either given or born with their powers, the new wave of heroes earned it the hard way, by building it themselves.  Not every Marvel hero was a scientist, but there were a few – Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and Reed Richards.  While this did push the envelope forward for comics as a medium, what was left behind were the women.  The female leads to these heroes were still sometimes heroes, but they fell back into the template of having powers given to them.  Sue Storm was a college dropout, and Janet van Dyne was just an girlfriend.  They even did better than Betty Ross, Pepper Potts and Mary Jane Watson, who were often relegated to secondary status as damsels in distress (though Sue Storm also performed this role despite being a power superhero.)

lego women scientistsWhile there are perhaps more men than women in science still as a profession, there is no real clear reason why.  Women at younger ages are as adept as their male counterparts, and the interest for science is equally there.  Some consider it to be a genderized problem, that the “old boys club” of science discourages women from entering its field in some cases, and that women are taught gender roles by society to be less focused on science as opposed to other ventures.  While there is debate on these assertions, it is true that women have no more or less natural inclination to science than men do.  So why can’t there be a female version of a super scientist?  There are of course some very intelligent women in comics.  The female version of the Hulk is an accomplished lawyer, and others have shown an ability to pursue more academic fields than what is traditionally typified by their genders, but there is still a gap in terms of the heroes, and who can do what.  Female characters can still be powerful, but it is unlikely that their minds are capable of giving them those powers.  In fact a large portion of female characters derive their powers from either magic or the supernatural.

What has been an interesting and worthwhile development in the cinematic versions of comics, is that the women characters are presented in a way which is a lot more progressive.  Jane Foster is an astrophysicist and in the previous round of Fantastic Four movies, Sue Storm was shown to a be a scientific genius in her own right.  This is because as the characters move to a more popular medium, they are forced into a more acceptable presentation of the role that women play, more so than just damsels in distress, but also as able thinkers on their own.  So why is there no female superscientific genius yet in comics?  This comes back to the inherent idea behind #pushcomicsforward, that there can and should be such female characters, because the medium simply has not caught up yet to the reality of the world.  There is even maybe not a need for as many as Marvel has, but a character that is at least adept at science, and who knows the periodic table from the kitchen table.  There is no reason not to, as such a character wouldn’t even have to carry a series, but they could still be there, guiding the scientific discussion to a place that is more realistic.

Review: She Makes Comics

she-makes-comicsAs a literary critic and cultural historian with both feminist and queer-ally persuasions, I am often frustrated by the type of historical revisionism that provides the history of a marginalized group by telling their story as adjunct or incidental to “mainstream” or “normative” history. Such scholarship marginalizes the narratives of oppressed groups in the very attempt to recover their histories.

I was thankfully relieved, then, to enjoy the hour-plus-long documentary She Makes Comics, directed by Marisa Stotter and made by Sequart Organization in association with Respect! Films. This documentary does what very little of comics scholarship (and journalism) has been able to achieve: it narrates the story of women comics creators, editors, and readers through dozens of personal interviews (see a list of interviewees below), incorporating them as central to the history of the comics industry while highlighting individual creators’ push toward greater inclusion and respectability in a medium largely controlled by men.

She Makes Comics begins with an opening montage of interviews in which creators Kelly Sue DeConnick, Chondra Echert, Wendy Pini, Gail Simone, and others speak to the importance of the comics medium for female creators and readers. Particularly powerful is DeConnick’s declaration that “representation in comics is absolutely vital,” followed by the injunction that “we need to celebrate the women who work in comics and who have always worked in comics, and we need to go back and find their stories and bring them to the fore” (00:55-01:07). DeConnick bring an absolute necessity to the project of reclaiming the history of women in comics.

DeConnick’s spirited call drives Stotter’s She Makes Comics as it traverses the editorial bull-pens, creator biographies, convention floors, retail spaces, and four-color universes that make up the world(s) of comics. The documentary begins by establishing the medium’s long history of female readership in comics strips of the late 19th century and the early 20th century, pointing at the same time to the generous number of female comics strip creators, including Jackie Ormes and Nell Brinkley. Trina Robbins reminds us that “nobody at that time thought, ‘Oh how unusual! She draws comics!'” Despite the comparative preponderance of women in comics in the early 20th century, a cultural moment that abounded in strong women heroes and adventurers (and with a 55% female readership!), the “comics crusade” of the early 1950s began by Frederic Wertham resulted in the Comics Code Authority. The CCA significantly reduced the type and quality of comics produced, and the documentary makes the very brief argument that the “sanitization” of comics led to a boom in the masculinity-celebrating superhero genre and a subsequent decline in female readership.

The documentary then tracks the work of Ramona Fradon at DC and of Marie Severin at Marvel in the 1960s, transitioning rather quickly to the misogynist, cliquey underground comix scene of the 1960s and 1970s, where creators such as Trina Robbins and Joyce Farmer carved out a feminist space for comics. As Robbins recalls, “if you wanted to do underground comix [with the male creators] you had to do comics in which women were raped and tortured. You know, horrible things!” But in the pages of feminist comix and zines creators were allowed the freedom to depict women from women’s point of view—points of view that occasionally had legal repercussions.

The remainder of She Makes Comics focuses heavily on the history of women creators in comics from the mid-1970s to the present, owing both to the interviewees’ considerable experiences in the period following the late 1970s and to the growing visibility of female readers and creators. Particular highlights include the description of early comic book conventions and the fan scene, which Paul Levitz describes as 90/10 men/women. Creators and fans like Jill Thompson and Wendy Pini bring their personal fan and creator experiences to bear on this unique moment in comics fandom history. Wendy Pini’s entrance into fandom via her (in)famous Red Sonja cosplaying is historicized and linked directly to her entrance into the comics industry as writer and, later, creator of Elfquest. For those with an interest in cosplay, Pini’s Sonja is marked as the beginning of an opening up of convention competitions to women, and the documentary subsequently details the critical importance of cosplay to fandom, to female fans, and to creators.

The documentary also gives considerable attention to Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men, uniquely noting the considerable influence of Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti as Claremont’s editors on one of the most famous runs in comic book history. Interviews by female fans, creators, editors, and retailers highlight the importance that Claremont’s X-Men saga had to marginalized groups, with a number of interviewees describing the “mutant metaphor” as particularizable to women’s experiences in geek culture.

The documentary also gives attention to particular auteurs such as Kelly Sue DeConnick and Gail Simone, as well as the editor Karen Berger, who founded DC’s Vertigo imprint at a fairly young age in the early 1990s. She Makes Comics points especially to the rise of the independent comics scene in the 1990s and its boom in the contemporary moment, especially in the form of Image’s new-found success, as a meter for the rising prominence of women comics creators and a female (but also queer and non-white) comics readership. Anyone who reads Image comics regularly knows that its creators do not shy away from feminist themes even while Wonder Women is avowedly “not feminist.”

She Makes Comics ultimately signifies that a change in the comics industry has occurred, albeit slowly, in favor of greater inclusion and representation of women and other oppressed minorities. Despite this, the documentary comes dangerously close to assuming that all the good that needs doing, has been done, asserting a stance that suggests a triumphant growth of women in comics (or as readers) as a victory over patriarchy. While I do agree that strides have been made, as my articles on Wonder Woman and Neko Case show, I don’t think we can ever be complacent. She Makes Comics reifies “women” as a singular, almost non-intersectional category and in doing so creates a narrative of emerging possibilities for that monolithic category without discussing the many and complex factors that continue to challenge, harangue, and complicate both women’s participation in comics and women’s representation. There is, in fairness, a brief moment in which Marjorie Liu speaks about using her position to empower women of color, though its importance is overshadowed by its anecdotal treatment.

She Makes Comics has very few shortcomings and is ultimately a treasure trove of information that is otherwise spread across thousands of online or print media articles, books, and interviews. Marissa Stotter and her crew, in collaborations with a riot (isn’t that what mainstream media calls a gathering of political dissenters?) of talented creators and fans, have made a unique contribution to the history of women in comics. I challenge academics and journalist, myself included, to heed Kelly Sue DeConnick’s introductory injunction with a critical eye to the politics of representation. If we could get a few books about gender politics in comics that aren’t solely about masculinity, that’d be a start.

Interviewees listed in the order that I happened to write them down (after I realized it would be good to write them all down): Marjorie Liu, Nancy GoldsteinTrina Robbins, Ramona Fradon, Janelle Asselin, Heidi MacDonald, Paul Levitz, Michelle Nolan, Alan Kistler, Karen Green, Ann Nocenti, Chris Claremont, Colleen Doran, Joyce Farmer, Wendy Pini, Jackie Estrada, Jill Thompson, Lauren Bergman, Team Unicorn, Chondra Echert, Jill Pantozzi, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Colleen Coover, Holly Interlandi, Blair Butler, Louise Simonson, Jenna Busch, Amy Dallen, G. Willow Wilson, Tiffany Smith, Jenette Kahn, Shelly Bond, Karen Berger, Joan of Dark, Brea Grant, Joan Hilty, Lea Hernandez, Christina Blanch, Liz Schiller (former Friends of Lulu Board of Directors member), Andrea Tsurumi, Miss Lasko-Gross, Molly Ostertag, Hope Larson, Amy Chu, Nancy Collins, Ariel Schrag, Raina Telgemeier, Miriam Katin, Felicia Henderson, Carla Speed McNeil, Shannon Watters, Jennifer Cruté, Nicole Perlman, Kate Leth, Portlyn Polston (owner of Brave New World Comics), Autumn Glading (employee of Brave New World Comics), and Zoe Chevat.

You can purchase She Makes Comics on Sequart’s website for as low as $9.99. If you ask me, it’s a fantastic deal.

Sequart Organization provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review.

« Older Entries