Saturday, April 24, 2010

The stunning conclusion to Golden Age Week!

So, my experiment in which I blog once a day for a week, wherein each post is dedicated to a larger theme, is about to come to an end. So, to wrap-up, I decided to do one of my cover mocking bits, with each cover being dedicated to one of the 10 most popular public domain heroes featured in Project Superpowers (which I determined by the extremely scientific method of looking at the Most Visited Entries section of the Project Superpowers Wiki). I've included links to various entries from the Public Domain Super Heroes site, so you can check those out for more info regarding any character. So, here we go!

Strangely enough, "Elect the Black Terror" was the codename used by FOX News for any news story covering the Obama campaign.

This cover illustrates the problem with superhero stories in the Post-WWII era. You couldn't fight Nazis or Japanese soldiers anymore, and costumed supervillains hadn't really come into vogue yet. As a result, the Fighting Yank here is depicted fighting a cow, which, honestly you don't need a superhero for. A sufficiently competent rodeo clown will suffice.

Take a gander at the "damsel in distress" there. Not only does she not look frightened, she neither looks impatient or relieved regarding her impending rescue. I imagine her thought process goes something like this: "Hmm, I'm tied up with these leather straps, but they're not too tight, and they're not causing any chafing. This glass dome isn't too bad either; there's plenty of air, and it's a comfortable 68 degrees. Oh, what's this? I'm being rescued? Hmm...."

The Green Lama vs. Henry the Eighth! Only in America, only on Pay-Per-View!!!

I'm not sure if this cover represents sexism, homophobia, or transphobia, or if it's just plain weird. I'm suspecting the latter, because DD back there seems to be enjoying this scene WAY too much.

Miss Masque
Ah, the 1940's. When you could not only depict all women as overly emotional, but as bad drivers to boot!

That guy is either grimacing because a) Captain Future just punched him in the face, or b) said punch apparently caused the gangster to shoot himself in the groin.
Why is Skyman saying Face's name with quote marks? Is he being sarcastic? I hope Face's response is something like "And you did a good job hanging around with your thumb up your ass while I did all the work! Boom!"
First off, yes, part of that comics title is "Reg'lar Fellers"; honestly, I've seen rap album titles that were more grammatically correct. Second, as you can probably guess, Hydroman's powers include turning into water, sort of prototype for Zan from the Wonder Twins. Why he's fighting a lion, I have no idea. Clearly, the lion appears confused by it, too. "Seriously? What are you going to do, get my mane all wet? But, if you insist, then RROOARR, I suppose..."

"Aah! It's Cat-Man! And you can see his scrotum poking out of his ridiculousy short pants! RUN!!!"

And, on that sublimely classy note, Golden Age Week concludes. I hope you all had fun. For more about these and other characters in all new adventures, check out Project Superpowers by Alex Ross and Jim Kruegger. They wrote Justice, and that was awesome, so you know this will be more of the same.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Big Bang Comics

As a youngster reading comics in the heady days of the early 1990's (or "The Rad Era" as we... well, I called it), I read many a comic. However, this was at a period of time when comics pride themselves on being dreadful. It was the Image age, where style took precedence over substance. Bright colorful costumes were replaced by trenchcoats and pouches. SOO many pouches. Also, clean cut heroes were overshadowed by grungy upstarts with long hair and lots of facial stubble. They were shaggy and unkempt, as befit the time. Culture had entered a shaggy, unkempt phase, and I myself sported an unruly mop of hair (I miss hair) as I threw a flannel shirt on over my t-shirt/ ripped jeans combination. Now, I'm not knocking the time, mind you. While there was no shortage of crap, much of it featuring Spawn, there was some really cool stuff during that time as well. Milestone, Ultraverse, NFL Superpro... Wait, scratch that last one. The point is, while there was much on the shelves that catered to what was popular, occasionally you'd find something unique, some different, something fun.
One day, while shopping at Comics Etc, the place where I wasted a good deal of time and along the way made some dear, dear friends, I stumbled across something. It was different than the other books on the shelves. It was called Big Bang Comics, and it looked like something out of a time capsule.
The idea behind BB was to create homages or pastiches of classic characters and present them in the style of bygone eras. Unlike The Golden Age, these weren't just stories that took place during a certain time period, presented with modern sensibilities; the writers and artists took great pains to make the stories presented therein feel like they were stories FROM those days gone by. The first three issues presented Golden Age style stories, and the results were amazing. The art styles, characters, colors, everything truly envoked those old yarns. More importantly, they reminded my angsty, teenage self of why I started reading comics to begin with- because they were fun! Big Bang was all about the fun. They didn't set out to reinvent the wheel as so many of their contemporaries at the time were attempting to do; they were just taking those wheels out for a spin, and I enjoyed the ride.

Big Bang would go on to create stories not just of the Golden Age, but all the ages, though in my opinion, they're most succesful when the focus on the Golden, Silver, or Bronze ages, as those feature a decided lack of pretension. Big Bang is still around, though the complications of independent comic publishing makes the schedule erratic. However, they still manage to pay tribute to the greats of a bygone era- men like Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jack Cole, CC Beck, Otto Binder, Jerry Seigel, Joe Shuster, Joe Simon, and of course, Jack "The King" Kirby. Unlike many of the books I bought in the '90s, Big Bang still holds up. They weren't trying to be "timely" like their contemporaries and in doing so achieved a sort of timelessness.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cowgirl Romance? Sounds sexy....

So, for Golden Age Week, I wanted to do at least one that focuse on the latter half of the period, and ideally one that focused on a genre other than superheroes, such as westerns or romance. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of anything terribly insightful to say that I hadn't alread said in my Capes & Cowboys essay, and none of the covers I found seemed ripe for parody. That is, until I found a little thing called Cowgirl Romance. Jackpot!

I've had fantasies like this. Making out with a fine lady, you have a gun, and there's a plate of bacon cooking up for afterward. That's pretty sweet. However, I'm curious what has the cowpoke (oh, he'll be poking something alright!) is spooked by. Considering he and his lady friend are making out near both a cactus and an open flame, some vague shadow or hooting should be low on the list of potential hazards.

So, uh... Where's the romance? Is it the gunfight? Is that what I've been doing wrong, not taking girls to participate in shoot-outs?

Now, aside from that first one, if the covers are any indication, Cowgirl Romance seems to be a misnomer. Certainly, cowgirls are prominently displayed, but there doesn't seem to be any romance. Certainly not the tawdry, scurrilous kind of romance, which is the best kind. Unless the lady in this cover has a thing with the calf. Maybe that's why she's so protective of it. She doesn't want anyone branding it, because it's already branded... HER HEART!

Look at that desperado. I know he's supposed to be the bad guy, but just look at that face! That's the kind of face that says, "Aw, hell, was this a bad idea!" The girl is scratching at him and gouging him with her spurs, while the protagonist appears to be gearing up for one hell of a Testicular Claw. My heart goes out to this guy.

Bonus Post- Jimmy Olsen, Idiot.

Much like his cohort Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen had his own series full of dumb covers. But whereas the overarching theme of Lois's comics was marriage, Jimmy's tend to be more insane in a vague fashion. I present to you some of the stupid covers that this bowtie wearing mook has brought us....

You tell that guy, Jimmy! After all, what kind of leech would risk life and limb to take pictures of accidents and crime scenes, capturing people at their most vulnerable? ... Besides you, of course, Jimmy.
Considering that these ladies seem to be one of your more sedate mob of fans, I'm not sure what exactly Superman is trying to rescue him from, except the potential loss of his virginity.
First, I'm so glad that Superman has nothing better to do than help Jimmy peel potatoes instead of something like, oh say, SAVING THE WORLD! Second, I thought Jimmy was a teenager? How could he possibly get drafted?
Jimmy Olsen is clearly jealous of that super-powered midget.
See? This is what I'm talking about! If Jimmy is young enough to be sent to an orphanage, then why was he in the army?!?
"The Girl with Green Hair"? That's the best way they could describe her? Not the fact she's flying or has super-strength? No, clearly, the single most defining characteristic of her is her hair.

Okay, fine, Jimmy knows Voodoo. Ignoring the fact that they appear to be in Africa and Voodoo is something traditionally associated with the Carribean, why is he dressed like Sitting Bull?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Forgotten Heroes of the Golden Age

This isn't about any specific heroes, nor is it in regards to any creators. This post is about a trend that has pretty much withered and died- the fat guy sidekick, the bumbling man-child, the goofy Snarf to a superhero's Lion-O.

It used to be that a hero wasn't a hero without some doofus hanging around. Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, Mr. America, the Flash, Green Lantern and others were saddled with tubby, old, clumsy, and/or stupid sidekicks. Even Batman's venerable butler Alfred used to be short and pudgy. It was a different time. No doubt this practice hearkened back to the era of Vaudeville, where the thin straight man would be partnered with a chubby guy who was, ostensibly, the "funny" one.

But no more. Nowadays, thanks to Robin and others, sidekicks have to be young, hip, and relevant. And comics isn't the only field that this trend is affecting. When I was a youngster, Final Fantasy games would include at least one character who was a cantakerous old coot. You don't see that anymore. Heck, the oldest character in Final Fantasy XII was 34! That's not nearly old enough to imagine him uttering lines like "You spoony bard!"

Let us not forget these selfless tubs of goo, these human shields whose sole purpose was to make already brave and handsome men seem braver and... uh, handsomer. With the recent announcement of the new Young Justice cartoon, there's too great a risk of these stalwart fat guys being forgotten. Can you live with that? Can you honestly wake up in the morning, look yourself in the mirror, and be proud that you live in a world without Doiby Dickles? I know I can't. I can't do that at all! Think about it, won't you? Because this country is built upon the fat and stupid, and if they are phased out in the fictional world, what will happen to us slobs in the real world? At the very least, green turtlenecks, bowties, and outdated haberdashery will only be worn by outlaws.

Because comics don't have enough Andy Rooney look-a-likes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

DC's "The Golden Age"

I was re-reading The Golden Age last week, and for a book that's over 15 years old, it really holds up nicely. For those of you who don't know, The Golden Age shows how the heroes of the 1940's deal with the post-War era. It also touches on the anti-Communist fervor, the technological and economic boom, and the overall desire for conformity and prosperity. James Robinson balances plot and character development deftly, and the art of Paul Smith was wonderfully understated, given that this piece came out right in the middle of the Image boom.

Now, I'm avoiding spoilers for those who haven't read it, because there are a few BIG ones in this story. So, I'll just touch on a few other topics. First, this was originally not supposed to be an Elseworlds; it was initially envisioned to make sense of the post-Crisis DC history. As such, you won't see characters such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, or Captain Marvel, as it had been established that they neither lived during the Golden Age nor had Golden Age equivalents. Ultimately, I think that works to the story's benefit, as it allows the story to focus on less well-known characters, such as Johnny Quick, Manhunter, and Captain Triumph.

Also, at one point, Wizard Magazine listed the fight scene at the end as one the best fight scene ever. Again, no spoilers, but the sheer scope and setting of the fight alone certainly puts it up there as one of the best in comics.

Overall, this is a solid, damn good story. If you haven't read it yet, do so, and if you have, read it again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mutants & Masterminds RPG- The Golden Age

For my next installment of Golden Age week, I'm going to review the Golden Age sourcebook for Green Ronin's Mutant & Masterminds game. Now, I haven't actually reviewed M&M as a whole yet, but here's the short version- it's a heavily modified version of the D20 system used to emulate superhero stories, and it's awesome.

Anyway, Golden Age, as you can imagine, is all about running games and campaigns during the Golden Age of Comics. As such, it covers a broad range, from low-powered mystery men to full-on superheroes, two-fisted PI's to rough and ready soldiers fighting overseas.

Chapter 1 focuses on the history of Golden Age Comics. Superman, Batman, Captain America and others. It also offers a brief view of trends and genres that aren't superheroes. There's nothing too surprising for the comic fan here, though it's well-presented. The most interesting thing is that, unlike some comics histories I've read, Golden Age offers a theory as to why the superhero genre waned immediately following the war whereas other genres flourished.

Chapter 2 covers the real world history of the period covering 1938-1955. As such, it gives a brief overview of World War II. More importantly, it covers the social context of America from that period. Music, movies, sports, and other topics are presented to allow both the player and the GM to make their games as realistic (or not) as desired.

Chapter 3 is about describing the period in terms of game mechanics. Various optional rules are presented to further capture the feel of the Golden Age. Finally, there are several pre-made characters for lazy players.

Chapter 4 is for the Gamemaster. It presents tips on style, mainly. It also gives stats for several NPCs likely to show up in a Golden AGe campaign, including HITLER. That's right- players can have their characters recreate the cover to Captain America #1.

Chapter 5 presents period-specific information on M&M's Freedom City campaign setting. It pulls info from the previous chapters to further illustrate to players and GMs on how to use the info presented to make cohesive Golden Age characters and settings.

Chapter 6 presents a pre-made adventure module to ease everyone in to a Golden Age game.

Finally, there's the Appendix which presents rules on how to run mass combat. Basically, it's a shorthand system to simulate large units of armies. So, this is the section if you ever wanted to know how Captain Marvel would fare against an army platoon.

Overall, this is a damn good book. The writing is top-notch, and the art, with few exceptions is excellent. As a style guide, it works very well independent of the M&M rules. Using the M&M books, it's very useful, as it ties in with many other books they've released since. Quite honestly, it's one of my favorite RPG sourcebooks.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Step into my (public) domain.

So, one of the cooler websites I've found in recent weeks is this one right here. Basically, it's an online resource for characters that have fallen into the public domain- meaning there are a good number of published superheroes that everyday shlubs like you and me are allowed to make money off of. Heck even guys like Alan Moore or Alex Ross have done it with Terra Obscura and Project Superpowers, respectively (the latter being pretty goddamned cool!Project Superpowers Volume 1 TPB (v. 1)). Granted, before you start anything, you should brush up on your copyright laws (as many entries don't distinguish between copyright and trademark), but aside from that, it's cool for a number of reasons.

While there are some Silver Age and open-source characters, the majority of entries focus on characters from the Golden Age and, as such, provide a better insight into the mentality of the era. For example, though I've read about it before, I was really unprepared at just how many heroes back then were just everyday guys in costumes. While there are superpowered types (and some showcasing the kind of powers that really wouldn't come into vogue until the Silver Age or later), there are just as many, if not more, unpowered mystery men. What's really amusing to me is how many of these characters are cops. "You know, it's fun fighting crime, but I should do it during my time off, too, when I won't get paid! In fact, I'll do it in a bright costume with no weapon and no chance for back-up!".

Another thing is that it does present a bit more multiculturalism than you'd assume if you were only familiar with DC or Marvel characters. Oh, granted, there are precious few African-American characters that aren't stereotypes, but there are quite a few more women, Asian, and Native American characters that seem progressive, considering the time period.

Also, looking through the entries there makes you think "Wow, Stan Lee was REALLY unoriginal!" You'll find a Daredevil, two Wasps, a Professor X, a Doctor (usually referred to as "Doc") Strange, a Dr. Doom, and others. Heck, there was even a superhero Thor back then! And then you have the Spider-Queen, who would swing through the city, fighting crime, by means of a web fluid that she would fire from specially made bracelets. This is in 1941, mind you; that's almost a full twenty years before Spider-Man! Now, I'm not calling Stan Lee a plagiarist (Doom Patrol co-creator Arnold Drake already did that plenty, God rest his soul), but it certainly makes you think that Stan wasn't quite the creative genius he's purported to be.

Finally, this site is a reminder that these are superheroes that WE own. When you think about it, there's quite a lot that we consider our culture that doesn't actually belong to us. Even the Happy Birthday song is copyrighted. But these characters are ours, the American people (suck it, Denmark! I keed...) You can write or reproduce these characters without fear of someone suing you, whereas I can't even rip a DVD that I purchased on my own computer, and forget about listening to stuff on my iPod- thanks RIAA and MPAA, for assuming all customers are shiftless criminals and penalizing us as such (that's sarcasm, by the way). Where was I...? Oh, yeah, these characters are ours, to do with as we see fit. And that's amazing to me, that there's a rich plethora of ideas to further develop. Cool stuff.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

And now... Golden Age Week!

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to dedicate a week of postings to the Golden Age of Comics. That's right! I will (attempt to) post something everyday about the Golden Age.

Why talk about the Golden Age? Well, simply, without the comics published between 1938-1955, it's arguable that we'd have the rich comic culture we have today. It's certainly doubtful we'd have movies like Iron Man or The Dark Knight. Just as importantly, it's also a reminder of how far we came. With some notable exceptions, comics back then were great, if you were a white male. If you were black or a woman, well, you'd have a good deal less to be interested in. Granted, comics STILL tackle social issues in a ham-fisted manner at times ("Let's do a comic book like Sex in the City, but with Marvel superheroines! Feminists like that kind of thing, right?), but they at least try.

Finally, the Golden Age was a simpler time. Things were done not because it was conventional or unconvential, but just because no one was really doing it. What are seen as tropes and cliches now were new territory then. It's amazing to think how the men we call geniuses today were just teenagers trying to make a buck. But in the process, they set the framework for the next seventy-plus years. That's awe-inspiring, when you think about it....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Here comes the pain- More Jerry Lewis

I'm not sure what point they keep trying to make with these covers. Is Jerry some kind of bumbling, sexless manchild?

Maybe it's just me, but when you put Jerry in charge of your military secrets, you're begging to be nuked. Also, why on Earth would you label Top Secret materials "Top Secret"? That would be like me wearing a t-shirt with arrows pointing to where I could be more easily stabbed.

Jesus Christ, will the CIA never learn! Jerry is not James Bond! Also, I think that other guy is wearing a disguised Plastic Man on his head.

You'll notice as we go forward that the creators progressively move away from the standard formula of "Attractive Female + Dumb Joke = Comedy". They reached a compromise here by dressing Hagar as Brunhilde. Look at that armor! It's practically a brasierre! In fact, I'm pretty sure Jack Kirby copied that design for Big Barda. Here, take a look....

Chilling resemblance, no?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Watchmen Chapter IV Translated!

Dr. Manhattan: Images in hand. This image, men and women. This is the park in 1959. 12 seconds of time, pictures of my feet I want to give up the sand and walk away. And by 12, and next to each other. Now 10 seconds. Images in hand. I found the test suites and 20 hours of IT infrastructure. 7 times in the past, on his part, referred to in the dark. I'm still here, for your reference. Images in hand. Women between the thumb and forefinger popcorn movie. Dash persons wealth. Now, 7 seconds. From October 1985. I am a Martian. In July 1959th I was in New Jersey, and an amusement park obstacles. 4 seconds. 3 I am tired now. Finger up and down vote on his feet in the sand. I see stars. Although it was so easy ... What. Each of us can see the old photos.

I found the day after 227 million miles in 10 minutes. Two hours later, in the future as a meteorite from the balcony window, think of my father. I am in the final 12 seconds, crossed my fingers. Cover. I saw stars. Halley's Comet through the solar system, associated with a large oval-shaped, 76-year-old. My father left a deep impression of paradise. Reform of the time. That was in 1945. I sat in the kitchen of Brooklyn, is obsessed with black velvet dental system. I am 16 years old. That was in 1985. I am a Martian. I Cincuentín and 6 billion years. Photo legs, arms. I see the stars, but in space and time complexity of shapes. I try to go on the road....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Watchmen Translated!

So, I found this translator. Basically, it takes something in English, translates it into several languages, and then translates it back; there was an episode of NewsRadio that had the same premise. So I thought, "Why not take one of the greatest graphic novels of all time and see if even Alan Moore's genius can succumb to the goofiness of a Google translator?" So, here it is: Watchmen.

Rorshach's Journal- October 12th, 1985: Explosion in a bus in the morning, eat a dog. The city is part of me. It's a real person. Resources Download area, street, blood, full of mange, the juice should be the ultimate guarantee that each pool. Mud accumulation on the ground, waist and elimination of all prostitutes and all politicians called a balloon and "save us!" ... I looked down, whipser "no". They have a choice, all of it. Like my father, or President Truman rates. Who salaries during the day, I believe a decent person. In contrast, Ross and rebel communists do not know, the formation of Grand Canyon by foot, until it was too late. Do not tell me you have no other choice. List of the world, and I hope that all of the devil and the liberals and intellectuals, writing and speaking ... Suddenly, no one can say.

Rorshach's Journal- October 13th, 1985: Today, a dream day. I get up at 4:37. Guests and odor complaints. He has five children, five different fathers. I believe that welfare fraud. I will soon be night. I think this place is terrible massacres of children, such as wages. New York. It was Friday night the Actor died in New York. Who knows why. It ... Nobody knows. Twilight Series adultery and guilt. I believe that we have to find it. The visit was the first night of stay. Nobody knows anything. Feeling a little depressed. Rabies deaths in the city. This is the best you can export trouble bubble patch? Do not despair. Next. I went to heroin and number of children of human cockroaches. Work and other places have more people.

Rorshach's Journal- October 13th, 1985. 8:30 pm- He met with Veidt left bad taste in your mouth. This is a spoiled, rotten, hypocritical, or even sell their own level of freedom. It can be fun? Do not forget to search. Dreiberg wrong. Oats, lack of tears in his basement. Why so little, we are still effective, healthy, and not a personality disorder. Sava, the first night garage. The first round began Silk, aging prostitute, was killed in a California vacation. The captain will be the 74th car accident decapitated. Butterfly Conservation Area in Maine. He killed his shadow shame, 6 weeks after his retirement, a small country, to seek revenge. U.S. dollars have been killed. Justice Bell to stop the 53rd. The Actor died. Only two names on my list. Rockefeller Center is a joint force in two areas. It before. I say kill people close to unstoppable.

Rorshach's Journal- October 13th, 1985. 11:30 pm- Friday night, a comedian died in New York. Who created him, can often be in the window, his head in pain. Nobody cares. But no one cares for me. What? This is a waiver? War. Million. Million people die of grief. Why have so many been killed? The results, good and bad, good and evil is punished. Even taking into account natural disasters, and compromise. There are many who deserve punishment and not enough time.

The post wherein I sell out!

A brief update for those who care. I've decided to look into the monetize option that blogger has, obviously, as there are a bunch of adds. (Also, it provides me proof that people are reading the damn thing.) I've taken it one step further and will be doing the Amazon thing. Now, I'm only going to put links for stuff I believe in; for example, you probably won't see a link for the Superman/Doomsday dvd, unless they have it for real cheap. I doubt I'll add any of those widgets or anything. Anyway, I felt it was my duty to inform you all of my crass, shameless attempt at grabbing cash.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Agency and Voyeurism in Comics

Okay, this is a serious one, as opposed to the chicanery I've indulged in the past week. To be honest, what inspired the last entry was a realization about women in comics. I had wanted to write a bit about which female characters I thought had the best origins when I came to realize that, aside from Wonder Woman, most female superheroes have bupkes when it comes to origins, at least when compared to their male counterparts. For example, the notion of the "self-made man" is all over the place; you see it with Batman, Iron Man, and pretty much every inventor character ever. "I've created this amazing device; instead of patenting it and making a fortune, I'll use it to FIGHT CRIME!"

You don't see that as much with female superheroes. Generally, there's not much innovation when it comes to their origins. On the DC side of things, since so many of their notable female characters are tied to male characters, their origins mirror that of their male counterparts. For example, there's not much difference between the origin of Superman and Supergirl, except that Supergirl was a teenager and Superman acted like a dick upon first meeting her. "Oh, a cousin! I'm not alone anymore! This is the happiest day of my li- what's that? Live with me? Oh, no. No, no, no. That would put a crimp in my swinging bachelor lifestyle. It's the orphanage for you, missy!"

On the Marvel side of the coin, things are a bit different. There aren't as many female partners/ sidekicks to established male heroes; for example, there's been two (I think) characters named Spider-Woman, and neither one had an origin that had anything to do with the Webslinger. The only heroine that fits that is She-Hulk. Marvel's main problem is the Mutant Origin. At least freak accidents, when done right, can serve as a memorable part of the character's backstory. Look at Spidey, the Flash, Daredevil, and others. With the mutant thing though, characters were born with those powers. It's kinda dull. Granted, how a character's powers first manifest often substitute for an actual origin, but usually the powers are just there. How this comes up is that a lot of Marvel's key female characters are mutants: Storm, Jean Grey, Scarlet Witch, Emma Frost, Firestar (Spider-Man and the Amazing Friends 4 LIFE!!!), etc. There's almost no chance for agency when it comes to that part of the character's backstory.

Aside from the two listed above, you have basically three categories for where a given female character's powers come from: she's an alien (or whatever) that came to earth, the aforementioned freak accident, or she got her powers or equipment from a man. The latter might seem to be the least flattering of the three, but in the hands of a talented writer, it can actually work really well. A discussion on a message board I frequent brought up Marvel's The Wasp, who I should've thought of right away, as one of the earliest comics I ever bought featured a retelling of the origin of her and Hank Pym. (I didn't know that at the time of course; I bought it because the cover depicted Wonder-Man wrestling a group of Soviet apes, and as you are all aware I'm sure, Monkeys Sell Comics.) In a nutshell, Janet Van Dyne's father gets killed. Janet visits local shut-in and scientist Dr. Henry Pym. She says, "Give me some superpowers so I can avenge my father. You can make a costume, too, I suppose." Hank, amazed that a beautiful and spirited woman is talking to him, does so, and they become the Wasp and Ant-Man, respectively. The reason this was brought up was that someone on the aforementioned message board brought up the Wasp and Ant-Man in Mark Millar's Ultimates as an example of a bad grim n' gritty reboot. There, Janet has her powers as a result of *sigh* being a mutant, and Hank essentially just adapts all his technology from her body and passes it off as his own innovation. In one fell swoop, the poster argued, Millar managed to make both characters less impressive. Wasp lost all her spunk and, ultimately, agency in receiving her powers, and Hank became a opportunistic lout who isn't really responsible for anything he's accomplished.

As a whole, women in comics get the short end of the stick. Supergirl or Batgirl will never be portrayed as being equal to, much less superior to, Superman or Batman, as somehow that would make the male characters less special. ("When everyone's special, no one will be.") And of course, the now classic site Women In Refrigerators details the other misfortunes women characters are subjected to.

This isn't necessarily unique to comics, mind you. This kind of thing is present through all American media. Maleness (and whiteness, though that's a topic for a whole 'nother essay) is assumed to be the norm. A lot of the theories regarding are summed up beautifully in Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema". For those of you who don't want to read all that (and I can't say I blame you; it's not the easiest text), I'll try to boil it down in my ham-fisted, easy-spoken way.

Essentially, in the context of a film, men and women characters have two separate roles- the man is the spectator, the women is the spectacle. In more everyday terms, the woman gets looked at while the man does the looking. Basically, men have the agency in a story while women are essentially props. Granted, that's a gross oversimplification, and there's a lot more that Mulvey discusses, but that's the important thing as far as this discussion is concerned. Remember it, because it's going to be relevant in a few paragraphs.

While Mulvey's essay is primarily concerned with films, a lot of it is applicable to comics. Comics are, after all, a visual medium, and there's a lot of overlap between film and comics. Look at the number of comic artists who do storyboards for films and tv series.

I bring up Mulvey because of a cover I came across recently, an issue of America's Best Comics. The covers would feature now-defunct Nedor publication's most popular heroes in zany predicaments or hijinx. These covers would have almost nothing to do with the interior stories. In that regard, it's not unlike DC's World's Finest Series; Batman & Robin do stuff with Superman on the cover, though there are no Superman/ Batman stories within the comic (though the format would change in later years). In fact, here's a handy side-by-side comparison....

Now, I'm not one to overly analyze covers, unless I'm planning to make fun. However, when I came across America's Best Comics #27 from 1948, I actually found myself seriously interpreting what I was seeing. Take a look....

Here, we see the Black Terror, Nedor's most popular male character, posing for Miss Masque, the most popular female character. What's happening here is a total inverse of the typical male/female spectatorship roles. Masque is the one with all the active agency, while the Terror has assumed the role of passivity. It's certainly a surprising change of pace, especially considering other covers in the series; one depicts the male heroes presenting Miss Masque a beauty pageant award, while another shows them saving her from Wonder Woman-style bondage.

Granted, this doesn't invalidate the traditional roles of male/female agency; if anything, it only serves to further highlight the disparity that continues in superhero comics to this day. I mentioned both the Wasp and the trend of dead superheroines earlier, so I should not that in a recent story, the Wasp died and Hank Pym has assumed her moniker to uphold her legacy. It seems that no matter how far comics might progress, the industry is still capable of stumbling backwards.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lois Lane: Feminist Icon

So, I decided to conduct a little experiment today. I would go through all of the covers of Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane (1958-1974) available at the Grand Comic Book Database and see how many of them deal with the subject of marriage, whether it be Lois marrying somebody or stewing that Lana or whomever is marrying Superman, and how many deal with, you know, her actual job at the Daily Planet. For the purposes of this highly scientific experiment, I would count any cover with a marriage specific word (such as Mrs., engagement, proposal, etc.) as one for the Marriage column. Contrary-wise, I would not count any cover where she's just standing around at the Daily Planet as one for the Job column, as anyone can stand there apparently; you wouldn't believe how many covers there are where Lana Lang is just hanging out there, but it's at least one.

Anyway, the results were as shocking as they were kind of predictable- out of 137 covers, 42% referenced marriage in some fashion, whereas only 4% showed her doing anything relating to her profession. The only real exception, if you can call it that, is this one right here....

That's right- Lois is trying to use her credentials as a journalist to convince a justice of the peace to marry her to Superman.

I kinda figured that early in the run there would be a lot of marriage covers, but the fact that it continued all the way through 1974, after The Feminine Mystique and everything else, was surprising. I mean, honestly! You'd think that at least someone on the Superman staff would've seen what Denny O'Neill was doing with the rest of the DC Universe at the time and get with the program.

And that doesn't even take into account all the covers where romance in a non-marriage context comes into play. The most disturbing of which is this one here. Yes, that's Lois, who has somehow managed to travel through time and space. And yes, that gentleman suitor is Jor-El, father of Superman. They actually wrote a story where Lois attempts to make time with the father of the guy she'd been trying to jump the bones of for a quarter of a century at that point. That's pretty freaky, even for the company that made one of Supergirl's boyfriends a horse. It's practically a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.

Granted, these stories were written by a bunch of white guys who assumed that's what the targeted female audience wanted. Granted, a big part of the allure of the Superman mythos is the romance between Clark and Lois. But still! Did they not think they could make an interesting cover story that focuses on her job? I mean, she's an investigative journalist who's constantly running afoul of gangsters, robots, supervillains, and God knows what else! But no. No, no, no. Apparently, Lois marrying a death row inmate is more appealing than anything they could come up with.

You know what would fix things for me? Wonder Woman covers! Now that's where DC got it right, because Wonder Woman is always portrayed in a way that is demonstrates strength, initiative, and above all dignity.

Oh, goddamnit.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

My God, It's Full of Stupid: DC's Adventures of Jerry Lewis Part 3

Apparently, Jerry at one point deeply coveted the role of Mrs. Hannigan in the musical "Annie". Really, though, I think what this cover is depicting is Jerry as a shabbily dressed madam in a brothel, or possibly a cross-dressing pimp with none of the flair that pimps are known for. Let's look at the evidence: attractive women dressed in evening wear, references to "dates", and Jerry barking orders to the ladies. There's no mention as to what will should the ladies fail to bring him a hot pastrami sandwich, but I think we can all guess the probable outcome.

I'm looking at the expression on the face of Jerry's date, and I'm still puzzled. Is she amused at Jerry's childlike innocence? Disappointed that they didn't apparently make out? Is she sitting on a tack? She's tapping her finger, but she doesn't really appear impatient. It's all quite mysterious.

I like this cover, or rather, it neither immediately confuses or irritates me. Oh, to be fair, it's not very funny, but it's a quiet, dignified unfunny. Nobody is talking here in an attempt to say something obvious about an already absurd situation. The only really glaring thing here is the outfit that Jerry's date is wearing. It would seem the artist mistook "toga" for "something Pocahontas might wear".

The Abyss Stares Into Thee: DC's Adventures of Jerry Lewis Part 2

And now, it's time to continue with my searing expose of Jerry Lewis covers. After perusing the... "jokes", I guess you'd call them, you'll no doubt find the ultra-lined, grimacing, bepouched figure of a typical Rob Liefeld cover soothing balm by comparison. Here we go!

Ah, comics, providing racial stereotypes and cheap laughs for the benefit of affluent white Americans for decades. Also, check out Jerry's date- he's making time with Daphne from Scooby-Doo! Either she's moonlighting, or else Mystery Inc. thinks that Jerry is some sort of dangerous felon disguised as a horrific spectre and she's going undercover to bring him down.

I alluded to it in my previous blog entry's joke about hentai, but The Adventures of Jerry Lewis really seemed to be ahead of its time, as it is embracing manga tropes and models before manga had even come up with them. Here, Jerry appears to be the star of a harem manga. Harem mangas are characterized by a bumbling male lead who is constantly courted by a bevy of attractive female suitors. For good measure, Jerry randomly has magic powers in this one, which will no doubt lead to zany hijinx!!!

I found this image to be deeply unsettling; see if you can't figure out why. Ignore the awkward nursery rhyme reference and focus on the details here for a moment. Note the lack of motion lines surrounding the young lady, whereas Jerry and the baker have motion lines aplenty. Notice how she's not actually paying attention to anything that's actually happening in the scene. If you're anything like me, you'll come to the startling realization that SHE'S DEAD!!! Now, you might be saying, "Maybe she's just a mannequinn or cardbord standee or something?" I scoff at that. A far more outlandish, and therefore plausible, scenario is that Chef McKillspree over there drugged that poor girl, coated her in a sugary glaze or some sort of translucent candy coating, and baked her into a cake! I'm almost positive I've seen a Tales From the Crypt like that. And all of this in a Code-Approved comic too! Jerry's obviously the next victim, as he'll get brained over the head with a rolling pin and turned into a pan of delicious buttery croissants (because the French love both Jerry Lewis and croissants). It's like if TLC's Cake Boss were made into a movie directed by Rob Zombie. Scary stuff.

It's PLANE to see that Jerry's very foolish here!!!

...I'm sorry, these covers are starting to get to me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lessons in Pain: DC's Adventures of Jerry Lewis Part One

Sometimes, perusing old comic book covers are awesome. Other times, it leads to naught but heartbreak and sorrow. The Adventures of Jerry Lewis falls squarely into the latter category.

The title started out as The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, but, following the comedy team's breakup, the series focused solely on Jerry with issue #41. Here's an example of a typical Martin & Lewis cover....

The Adventures of Jerry Lewis would go on with Jerry as the solo star until it's cancellation with issue #124. That's over 80 issues, or 7 years worth, of Jerry. When you count the issues with Dean, that's a decade of Jerry. To put things in perspective, that's longer than the run of Garth Ennis's Preacher series.

Of those 80+ issues, you'd be hard pressed to find one that doesn't make you die a little inside. Periodically, I'll post some of the best(?) of these. Be warned: these covers hurt me very deeply, and I was only looking at the covers. If for whatever reason you were to buy these and read them, I accept no responsibility for the madness that would most likely ensue.

This cover starts a formula that would be followed for the next 2-3 years. Hot chick? Check. Implausible scenario (aside from Jerry making time with aforementioned hot chick)? Check. Bad joke? CHECK.

First, please note the guard is about to whack Jerry in the noggin with a rolling pin; this is known as the "Wilma Flinstone Maneuver". Second, check out the skin tone of the princess. Appears someone needs a new tanning salon...

And finally for this installment, allow me to present Jerry's first, tentative foray into Japanese hentai.

That's all for now. I'll do more of these when I feel too much joy in my life and need to be reminded of the harsh, stark terror that is existence.