Saturday, October 9, 2010

Time for a Makeover: Redux

Wonder Woman was not the only one in need of a makeover.  This blog certainly was too.  Fortunately, that job is complete as of tonight.  The makeover was also applied to the Wannabe Heroine twitter.

Though in interest of keeping this entry longer than three sentences, this seems like a wonderful time to revisit Wonder Woman's new costume.  Apparently at the DC Nation panel at NYCC today Dan DiDio asked the fans what they thought of it now that it's had some time to settle in.  Second-hand reports indicate that there are still plenty of haters, but that the response seems to be mostly positive.

My opinion hasn't changed much since the last time I talked about it.  Four issues later, I still like it.  Following issue #603, I might even say I like it more.  Here's why:

Issue #603 marks the first time the jacket has come off.  I may have said something about the drape of the jacket's fabric given a vaguely ancient feel.  I admit, you'd probably have to squint really, really hard to see that.  It would have been pretty easy to argue that the new costume was very modern and didn't carry much of a warrior feel.  Apparently what's under the jacket takes care of it.  Those completely-superfluous straps around her arms are a great touch.  They really allude to the ancient Greek warrior look.

My only new opinion about the costume is that Diana should consider just leaving the jacket behind.  It covers the coolest part of her new costume.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ally McWonderWoman?

Over the weekend, it was announced by just about every single superhero news outlet that David E. Kelley is working on relaunching Wonder Woman as a TV series.  Fans reacted immediately with a range from curious to full out nerdrage.

Myself?  I'll go with skeptical.

Ignoring the fact that approximately 0.003% of the tv/movie projects somebody is "working on" ever make it to the screen, I have other reasons for my skepticism.

When I was still an undergrad working on my ultimately-useless degree, I spent a lot of time analyzing media and pop culture.  For one class, I wrote (what I thought to be) a particularly inspired paper comparing Ally McBeal to The Mary Tyler Moore Show in terms of their respective portrayals of a "progressive" woman.  I'm pretty sure my argument was that Moore was more progressive, despite being two decades earlier, because she was more focused on defining herself as an individual, independent woman while McBeal was trying to find a date.  I'm sure it sounded better under the sleep-deprived, caffeinated haze I wrote it under.

Lots of critics will argue until the end of time as to whether or not Ally McBeal was a positive or negative depiction of a woman and feminism.  In my somewhat-educated opinion, she was an excellent example of a professional woman headlining a TV series successfully.  Not every woman on TV is going to match a feminist ideal.  Ally probably didn't, but she was still important.  The worry is that Kelley (using Ally as the point of reference and completely forgetting his entire body of other work) can't portray a feminist icon without it getting more than a bit silly.  Perhaps one should argue that Ally was a bit of a feminist parody at times.  Also conveniently ignoring the fact that the last time we saw Diana Prince on TV, her portrayal was often downright goofy... most fans would hope that Kelley can take Wonder Woman, portray her with the strength and without the silly, and give her the gravitas that people expect from modern superhero adaptations.  That's something a lot of people seem to be concerned he can't handle: a strong and serious leading woman.

But is that the true source of my skepticism?  Not at all.

The real problem I have is that nearly every series Kelley has won his acclaim for is about people in a professional setting wearing suits.  There are lots of cute heels and silk ties.  How is the man going to handle a patriotic, eagle-emblazoned bustier and all of the adventures that ought to be oh-so-inappropriate for the suit and tie set?

Mythology, fantasy and kick ass fight scenes are really best when they travel outside of the office.  And THAT is what Kelley has not proven he can do.

... but yeah, I'd watch it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rescuing Oneself from the Refrigerator (Valkyrie #1)

In 1994, the Green Lantern found his dead girlfriend stuffed in a refrigerator.

(Kitchen appliance reference: Women in Refrigerators.  If you need this frozen phenomenon explained, go read the original)

Countless D-list (and sometimes alphabetically stronger) female characters have been unceremoniously offed in order to make a male hero angry, give him something to fight against, frame his life around the tragedy of the loss of his frozen girlfriend/sister/neighbor/maid/acquaintance and grow as a man and hero.  Even on the pages of a modern comic book, it still happens.  A recent example that comes to mind is the death of Mattie Franklin in The Amazing Spider-Man's "Grim Hunt" storyline.  (Though her death was anything but unceremonious.  There was ceremony.  One might say it was downright ritualistic!)  Her death was ugly and violent.  The probability of her resurrection is small since we still have a few Spider-Women to spare.  Most importantly though, it inspired Spider-Man to go do hero stuff.

This week in one of Marvel's "Women of Marvel" one-shots, a hotel employee named Valerie goes out a window and falls to her death.  A super-powered villain and attempted sexual assault are to blame.  Here's where it gets different, though.  While a paramedic does try some heroics, the death woman wakes up and remembers that she's Valkyrie.  The bad guy summarily takes a beating and she goes on to become a hero once again.  It has all of the classic signs of the "women in refrigerators" syndrome, except that it's the woman waking up and doing the hero things instead of a male hero.  Huh.

Bravo, Marvel, for giving us a fun twist on a tired trope.

So I ask, does it still count as getting stuffed in a refrigerator if a character is killed as an impetus to her own personal growth and development?  And can she tell us once and for all whether or not the light stayed on while she was in there? 

Stay tuned.  Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Digitally Mingling with the Norms

I spent about twenty minutes this morning discussing a comic-finding mission with a friend of mine on Facebook.  She was looking for a copy of The Last Unicorn #2.  Her LCS couldn't find one for her.  I found her a copy in about 90 seconds of effort.  (I do wonder where her LCS was looking if they couldn't pull this off...)  Naturally, we had this entire discussion via wall posts instead through chat like one ought to for an extended conversation.

About an hour later, I started thinking...

"All of my friends, my family, people I went to high school with and people that I'm sure I know though I don't really remember why or how are reading this!"

"They must think I'm still the colossal nerd that I was throughout school!"

"They must think I'm horribly immature if I'm still this obsessed over comic books!"
(Kinda true...)

"They must think I'm in involved in some shady comic dealing ring!"
(Not true, but I could see their point of view.)

I then sat back and considered the fact that this was not the first time this had happened.  I was officially still a nerd and everybody knew about it.  The only difference is that my drug of choice seems to have changed with age.

I believe I came out as a nerd girl for the first time in the fourth grade.  Something monumental had happened in my life and I had to gleefully babble about it to my friends, classmates and anybody else who was kind enough to listen.  What happened?  I discovered Star Trek.  From that point on, I was labelled.  I was the nerd.

In jr. high, some of the other girls attempted to use this to pick on me.  I don't begrudge them for it.  It was a fine example of age-appropriate cattiness and I certainly gave them good material to work with.  Somehow, though, it never bothered me.  I do consider myself very fortunate that even at the age of twelve, I was able to just shrug the teasing off and go on with my life... geeking without shame.  Needless to say, if teasing fails to have much of an impact, it usually doesn't last long.  So somewhere in the midst of all that, I found my niche amongst my peers: odd, but generally accepted.

Fast forward sixteen years.  I'm friends with most of those girls on Facebook.  They're still doing age-appropriate things: marriage, babies, etc.  On the surface, I look quite normal.  My current profile photo is quite stereotypical: slinky cocktail dress, great hair, fashionably smoky eyes and having fun at a party.  Yet, I'm posting dozens of pictures of my trip to San Diego Comic-Con and mostly "liking" a series of MMOs.  And while it isn't evident, the aforementioned photo was taken at a gaming con in St. Louis.

As much as Facebook is a tool to keep in contact with the people in our life, it's also a tool to judge and be judged.  Thus, it's hard not to wonder what these girls from that era of my life must think of me.  I'm very happy that I can still be a legal adult and yet happily embrace the geeky passions and hobbies that I refuse to leave behind in my childhood.  Yet a part of me believes they must be saying, "Wow.  She hasn't changed a bit.  Can you believe she's still going on about this stuff?"

And if they were to ask me to my face, all I would do is smile and say, "Yep!"  (While secretly enjoying the fact that geek girls are cool now.  Really.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Day -1

8:37 AM
I am currently sitting in the terminal of the Boston airport after navigating through far more crowds than I expected for this hour on a Wednesday.  I ate a nutritious breakfast of airport food and now find myself wondering if the guy in pajama pants and the "30 Seconds to Mars" t-shirt is also headed to the con.  I also find myself contemplating whether or not he realizes (or cares) that plaid pj pants will never be particularly attractive in public.  Finally, I look around this little purgatory-on-earth that is the gate and hope the rest of these poor schmucks realize was madness they're flying into the middle of.

Next up (hopefully): a cross-continental nap and then maybe some lunch.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Day -2

Tomorrow morning I will get on a plane to fly across the country to San Diego to attend my very first Comic Con.  I would describe my current mood as somewhere between frazzled and terrified.  Nevertheless, I'm sure there's also some sheer joy mixed up in that too.

As the consummate planner, I'm making my checklists and compounding my frazzled state by reminding myself how much I have to do still.
  • Plan my schedule (Check)
  • Resolve schedule conflicts or develop Madrox-like super powers (Still working on it)
  • Gather up comics for potential autographs (Mentally completed, physically procrastinating)
  • Acquire appropriate t-shirts to wear to prove that I am there for the comics and not the vampires (Double Check)
  • Pack (Will complete at absolute last possible moment)
  • Everything I forgot (Uh...)
I hope to attend a few panels that will leave me with something appropriate to say for this blog, or at least quivering with nerdgirl glee.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Issue Review: X-Women (one-shot)

Chris Claremont is a writer I often have mixed opinions on. Reading various works from his decades-long career has elicited many different reactions from me, ranging from, "This man is a genius!" to, "What is this guy smoking?" Nevertheless, he is a man I also ought to thank. He can be credited with the creation of a host of strong mutant heroines, including two of my favorites: Rogue and Emma Frost. If any long-time writer is truly a supporter of the female super hero, it is Claremont.

That said, X-Women may not have been his strongest work, but I still found it to be a fairly decent read. It relies on the many-times-done plot device of our mutant heroes suddenly losing their powers due to some external influence. It does have bits of "typical Claremont" all over it. It stars an all-female cast of entirely his creations (Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Rachel Grey, Emma Frost, Psylocke), with Storm as the only exception. However, unlike some of Claremont's other more recent work, it did pass the "can I understand this without a Wikipedia backup?" test. That is always a plus. And, while I may be a continuity nerd, I think I can forgive the fact that placing this story within continuity will be a nearly impossible task.

There is always a fine line in deliberately female-centric super hero team tales between "a team that happens to be all female" and just a gimmick. The most enjoyable aspect of this story is that it solidly achieves the former. The grouping of X-Women with nary an X-Man in sight felt natural. This is a team of ladies and friends who can work skillfully and efficiently together and the story makes it feel like this is a normal rather than an exceptional thing. This is something the X-Men franchise has always done well in comparison to some other team-centric books.

It is the art that will undoubtedly generate the debate over whether X-Women is a feminist or misogynist work. Milo Manara is, without a doubt, a master of his craft. His art is beautiful, but it is also known for its eroticism. Admittedly, I don't think I can approach this with my usual points of critique. Yes, nearly every panel is drawn in a way I can only call "sexily". However, the panels are also detailed and more importantly... highly realistic. The characters may be unfailingly sexy, sultry and gorgeous, but they also are proportioned like real women. One doesn't hire Manara to illustrate a comic book without expecting women and sex. It is very easy to argue that his depictions of the X-Ladies is very objectifying. However, if one steps back and simply looks at this as a piece of art... it is quite stunning.

I often comment on how our favorite heroines end up dressed when they aren't in costume. Unlike their masculine counterparts, it is a rare thing that they wear anything that would be worn by a real woman on any occasion that doesn't involve photoshoots and catwalks. This issue is guilty if the same... that is unless these "real women" are unapologetic hookers. Again, this may be typical of Manara, but habit demanded that it be said. As a final positive though, despite the overall tone of Manara's artwork, some of the clothing choices are the only things I found to be specifically exploitative.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable read and a beautiful piece of art.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Time for a Makeover: Wonder Woman #600

It has been widely announced over the past day that today's Wonder Woman #600 will include a drastic retooling of its titular character including a retcon of her origin and more importantly, a new costume. This news even made the front page of CNN, putting Diana's new outfit roughly on par with the death of Captain America in terms of mass media exposure.

I was prepared to write this blog post last night, but I thought I would wait until I actually had issue #600 in my hands. I'm glad I did. Having read the real thing as opposed to a bunch of news articles definitely changed my opinions. I did appreciate being given more of Lee and Straczynski's insights into the new design, plus being able to see it in action.

This is the first issue of Wonder Woman I have ever read in my life.

I'm sure it seems almost wrong that I am writing about women and comic books, yet I don't read the books of the most famous and iconic superheroine to grace printed page. My introduction to the world of spandex and heroics was via the X-Men. My reading of comic books began there and expanded mostly outward into the Avengers franchise, giving me a very Marvel-centric worldview. However, despite my lack of reading, I do know who Diana is and what she stands for... both as a hero and as a cultural icon. Despite extremely damning evidence to the contrary, I have not actually been living under a rock.

To begin with, a few comments on my impression of issue #600 itself:
  • The collection of pin-ups and portraits peppered throughout the issue were a lovely celebration of Wonder Woman's iconic look. I think the Ivan Reis and Greg Horn pieces were my favorites. Given the much-publicized nature of the new costume, I did find it curious that not a single one of the standalone art pieces featured it.
  • With every monumental, publicized issue, there is an ulterior motive of drawing in new readers. Since I bought this issue, it seems that the marketing and press releases worked their magic on at least one person. However, I'm not sure that this issue accomplished the goal of making Wonder Woman accessible to these new readers. The first three stories seemed design to display her character qualities; the first displaying the juxtaposition between the icon and the human, the second her wisdom along with her apparent affinity for cats, and the third her level of power. The brief forth story read like a short teaser trailer. It was the fifth story, the one establishing the new direction for the character, that lost me.
  • The fifth story is sprinkled with bits of exposition about Diana's past, obviously in an attempt to catch people up to her current status quo. Yet, I was still left wondering what this book is supposed to be about. It seems that the current goal is for Wonder Woman to rediscover her purpose and find her relevance in this modern world. In theory, this would be a fantastic point for a new reader to jump on. The new reader can go on this journey of discovery with Diana, learning as she does. Nevertheless, I was still left feeling that I missed something vital and thus I didn't quite get it. The previous four stories told me how wise, strong and wonderful she was. So why is it exactly that she feels so lost? Someone will have to explain this to me. Hopefully the next few issues will. (Yes, I'll give it a few issues. I wouldn't want the only DC comic book in my collection to feel lonely.)
As the news leads me to believe, the most important part of this issue is, of course, Wonder Woman's new costume. In a way, this may be true. For an illustrated super hero, the costume is often the core of their identity. It is their most recognizable attribute and thus a shift in costume is often a signifier for a greater change in a character herself. I was prepared to declare that Jim Lee had designed a very nice costume from the pure superhero fashion standpoint. It was modern, detailed and practical. However, I was going to follow this by saying Wonder Woman is too much of an icon, her costume being an inextricable aspect of this, to change her look.

I've changed my mind.

I want to give this new costume a chance.

Let's face it. Her old costume was rather dated. One thing that struck me as I read this issue is how much she seemed to fit in with the gritty, urban environment that surrounded her. I could not help but to think of how Wonder Woman would stand out like a sore thumb if she were in her classic costume. If her new journey is about her trying to find her way and purpose in today's world, she does need to look like she belongs there rather than looking like a wandering relic of another era. Not to mention, this costume doesn't leave me wondering just when the Amazons got around to inventing double-sided tape.

I also decided that the sketch released to the public among the myriad of news stories didn't necessarily do the costume justice. In particular, I think the promo sketch failed to really show us the jacket. The sketch makes it look like a vaguely Rogue-esque bomber jacket. Before seeing the costume in the actual issue, I had intended to propose that DC try a more armored look if they wanted to give Diana a more practical outfit and cite Marvel's Valkyrie as an example. After getting a closer look, however, we can see that the jacket may be one of the more interesting components of the new look. It is heavily armored, reminding me of a mix between a SHIELD uniform and a linebacker. Yet, the fabric beneath the armored shoulders has an interesting drape to it that subtly alludes to a classic Grecian look. Overall, I find the new outfit combines a lot of different elements, fusing the classic with the modern for a remarkably cohesive look. Most importantly, enough of the old look is still there in some form that she still looks like Wonder Woman... at least to me.

I believe the last, lingering question (that naturally ties in to how long this costume will survive) is whether or not it will be able to work its way into the public consciousness as a known image of a heroine. Will people be able to see a picture of Diana in this costume and recognize her as Wonder Woman? The tiara, the bracelets, the stars, the eagles - all of her symbols - are present, but will that be enough? Or, will people expect the golden age style with the bold patriotism, despite the fact that Wonder Woman is now trying to navigate the 21st century? Only time will tell. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it is a rare thing that an experiment is ever given the time it truly needs to prove itself as viable.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Crimes Against Fashion #1

This week, we bid farewell to Brian M. Bendis's current run on New Avengers.  For years and years, I was exclusively a follower of merry mutants in the X-Men.  However, Marvel's marketing machine worked.  House of M made me notice these other strange heroes, none of whom had an X-gene.  I was hooked.  I became an Avengers fan too.

I have all sorts of positive things to say about this special finale issue.  It wrapped up nearly every lose end, hit all the right notes, had great art and was just plain fun to read.  It was also especially gratifying to see my favorite Avenger, Ms. Marvel, take down Count Nefaria almost single-handedly and finally earn some spotlight time as a certified heavy-hitter.  However, what I really want to bring some attention to is Stuart Immonen's final two-page spread:

It was a breath of fresh air to see all of our favorite heroes taking a moment to enjoy their lives and go play in a park without having to deal with all of the stress and strife of the superlife.  What I truly appreciated, however, was the wardrobe choices.  Comics have a long history of putting many of their female heroes in positively atrocious civilian clothes.  The two most common sins are either outfits that are so revealing to the point of being trashy, or outfits that look like they've come off of a runway show that no real woman would actually ever wear.  And yet in this spread, all four of the Avengers ladies look casual, yet fashionable... and devastatingly normal.

In fact, the outfits that Immonen selected for Mockingbird (skinny jeans and ballet flats) and Jessica Jones (boot-cut with sandals) look remarkably like my own day-to-day wardrobe.  And that long-sleeved top with the extraneous drawstrings that Mockingbird is wearing?  I own that in purple.

I do have to pick on Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman a bit, though.  A cute top and skirt is very normal for casual fashion nowadays.  I have tops like Carol is wearing in several colors and Jessica Drew's button-down will never go out of style.  There is still a rub (probably literally), though:

Who wears high heels for a walk in the park?!

They are very nice heels.  They're basic, practical and contemporary.  But seriously, there is not a pair of heels in existence that is ideal for a long walk. This did make me think a bit, however.  I've always imagined that there's all kinds of little side-effects to having super powers that most don't think about.  Carol Danvers is largely invulnerable.  This means that there probably isn't a shoe in the world that will give her blisters.  No little straps will cut her feet.  A rolled ankle won't do a bit of damage.  She can survive the experience of Count Nefaria AND any pair of cute, but normally torturous Jimmy Choos that you might throw at her.  Lucky girl.

Jessica Drew, what's YOUR excuse?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Missing Person Report: Snow White

And thus it begins...

After a strong hint, my sister picked up the first three Fables (from Vertigo) TPBs for me for Christmas. I devoured all three on my plane ride (actually, largely on the tarmac) back to Boston. Yesterday, I ran down the street to one of my local comic shops and picked up volumes 4-6. I could have ordered them, or waited for my birthday... but I felt instant gratification was necessary.

This may seem a little late in the commentary, seeing as I'm only about seven or eight years behind in this series. I'm usually a strict Marvel reader, so DC/Vertigo books aren't something I will often pick up. However, this series has been on the edge of my radar for awhile. I am a little sad I'm only getting to it now. It's fantastic. It's all of the world's fables, fairy tale characters and legends living in secret exile in New York... and these stories are most definitely not for kids.

A brief note about my habits regarding works of fiction: When looking at something new, I tend to zero in on a favorite character very quickly. Then, that character becomes central to my interest in the series as a whole pretty much for the duration. In the case of Fables, I decided that I liked Snow White. The perfect princess as an ice-cold divorced bureaucrat was interesting, to say the least.

After and afternoon and evening of Aion, I picked up volume 4 around 2:30 AM. Fables does make for a pretty quick read, so I moved right on to volume 5 as soon as I was finished. Then, I opened up volume 6. I looked over the cast of characters page that opened every volume and said to myself, "Hey, where's Snow White?" Up until this point, she was one of the lead characters of the series. Now, she was nowhere to be found. I flipped through the book, didn't see her, so I decided I could try going to bed instead of reading more.

Curiously enough, a favorite blog of mine ("Comics Should be Good" @ ComicBookResources) brought this very point up today in their listing of their top 10 female characters of the decade. The writer opted to list Frau Totenkinder (Hansel and Gretel's witch) instead of Snow White. Why? After Snow White becomes a mother (and eventually wife), her importance to the series drops drastically. She goes from the defacto authority in Fabletown to the retired mother of preternatural septuplets up on the Farm... meanwhile, the story moves on without her. I could go on about what happened, why, and what it means for the series, but CSBG covered it very well. I just found this to be a rather disappointing road bump in my enjoyment of an otherwise brilliant comic book series. I will slog my way through TPB #6. I know Snow White comes back in later volumes. I do want to read those. However, I also know she disappears again...

We'll see how this goes. I hope this book continues to hold my interest... because it is genuinely excellent.