This Wednesday was hyped as “Avengers Day,” in honor of the release of the first issue of the relaunched Avengers series. And while we’re all fans of the Avengers, and happy to see them take off into the Heroic Age, we couldn’t help noticing that this week featured a lot of other worthy books. We’d hate to see them get lost in the hype, so today, the Fantastic Fangirls bring you reviews of a few of this week’s most intriguing titles.
There’s a movie you probably haven’t seen, Life or Something Like It. It stars Edward Burns and a bleach-blonde Angelina Jolie in roles more likely played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and it is easily dismissed or forgotten. But I love it. And when reading the Pepper Potts one-shot Rescue by Kelly Sue Deconnick, Andrea Mutti, and Jose Villarrubia made me cry, I put on the DVD. Not because I needed cheering up, but because I loved Rescue in exactly the same way.
I have been looking forward to this one-shot since I heard about it. I adore Pepper Potts. Nearly my most favorite part of the first Iron Man film is how integral to the outcome of the final battle she is. Tony could not have won that fight without her. He sends her into peril knowing she can handle it — and she goes knowing she’s needed. There is no hesitation on the part of either of them, they work together, and they win. I think, actually, that is my favorite part of Iron Man. And there is no equivalent moment in Iron Man 2. Instead, Pepper spends the movie nagging Tony, doubting herself, yelling at everyone — and not handling any of it. I liked the movie, I still loved Gwyneth’s Pepper. But how she was treated by the other characters and the movie that surrounded them made me sad. And that made me only more excited for Rescue. Because I believed Kelly Sue gets it. And I was right.
In Rescue, Pepper is tied into knots with insecurities. With the deep-seated fear that she can’t do the job she’s been given, she’s just not strong enough or smart enough or enough enough, she’s just Pepper. “Just me.” And then she tells herself (in a clever and poignant way) why just me is more than enough. That’s the best part. Tony doesn’t show up to save her or show her how important she is to him and everyone else. She digs down deep and she figures it out all by herself.
The comic made me cry, just like the movie always does when Angie’s Lanie sees herself as a little girl who had the confidence to just be Lanie and realizes that’s all she ever has to be to be “enough”. I don’t imagine there will ever be a Rescue movie but that’s okay because that’s not who Pepper is. She’s the very best supporting character I know. And the story in this comic wouldn’t work for Iron Man. Pepper understands something Tony is still working out: life isn’t a competition. This one-shot illustrates beautifully that Pepper’s still learning how to win, but she already knows how to live.
I was anticipating a lot of books this week, and I read a lot that I enjoyed, but my spotlight book comes from a miniseries that has been one of my most pleasant surprises of the year: Her-Oes #2, written by Grace Randolph, with art by Craig Rousseau.
This mini, which carries a “Women of Marvel” banner hasn’t garnered the attention of some of the other titles in the Marvel Women project (and it isn’t helped by a title that’s simultaneously weird and generic), but this is a thoroughly delightful book that deserves to find an audience. Her-oes tells the story of teenager Janet Van Dyne, and her best friend Jenny Walters. Jan and Jen have all the usual teenage worries — school, parents, romance, mean girls. But they also have to come to terms with being different from their classmates. Really different! Because, as Marvel fans know, Jan is the Wasp (who shrinks down to insect size and grows wings), and Jen is She-Hulk (you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry!) These aren’t the versions of the characters we know from other comics, though, and they don’t try to be.
That’s the real strength and charm of Her-oes: it’s a retelling of the basic “young superhero” story that we all know, and it isn’t afraid to stand on its own two feet. You don’t read this comic looking for winking references to stories from other comic books. You just read it to find out what happens to these girls, because they’re fun and funny and interesting characters. In a lot of ways, this is basically the Spider-Man story — the talented teenage misfit with secret powers — but it’s tailored not just to girls as an abstract audience, but to Jan as a unique character. She’s impulsive and sassy and sometimes makes bad choices, in a way that reminds me of a slightly grown-up Ramona Quimby. And sure, I could grumble that instead of being interested in science, like Peter Parker, Jan is interested in fashion. But fashion here is Jan’s mission; she wants to be a designer for the school play — it’s not a girl thing, it’s a Jan thing. Also, she wears fishnets with combat boots. It looks awesome!
I wasn’t familiar with Grace Randolph’s writing before finding this series, but I’ve been converted very quickly. Her scripts capture the uneasy dynamics of high school friendships — and enemyships — and how quickly those tides can turn. Issue 2 also injects some darker subtexts, when it seems that Jan’s apparently loving but absent-minded father may be keeping some secrets. Craig Rousseau’s art is also a perfect fit for this book. I first admired his work on my beloved, departed X-Men: First Class, and here it gets fantastic finishes from colorist Veronica Gandini. (That cover, also awesome, is by Sara Pichelli). So much talent and love obviously went into this book and, while it might be aimed at (and perfect for) teen and preteen girls, this is just great comic-booking that anyone can enjoy.
I tend to read comics while lying in bed next to my laptop, which means the soundtrack to my reading is my iTunes library. While reading Girl Comics #2 with my library on shuffle, I decided it would be appropriate to listen solely to female artists, skipping any males that popped up. Over the course of the issue (and breaks for checking my e-mail), I listened to songs by Lady GaGa, Joan Jett, Jessica Simpson, Idina Menzel, Tegan&Sara, Melissa Etheridge, and Imogen Heap, among others. And I was struck by just how different those artists were from one another. Transgressive dance pop divas, former pop princesses, mellow singer-songwriters, Broadway goddesses, and flat-out rockers litter my playlist — and they have very little in common beside the fact that they’re all women who make music.
Girl Comics is a lot like my playlist. Every single person working on the book, below the level of editor-in-chief, is a woman who makes comics. But the stories and art styles are as different from each other as Jessica Simpson is from Melissa Etheridge. And it’s this difference, I believe, that’s the true success of the Girl Comics enterprise.
I didn’t love every story in Girl Comics #2. There were some stories that appealed to me in terms of art and not writing, and some that were the reverse. But I am deliriously happy that this book exists all the same. Because it’s not a book written for me — or a book written for all women as some monolithic group. Rather, it’s a book written by women, for whoever happens to like their work. I’m glad that I didn’t like every story, because I’m sure there’s a very different reader somewhere out there whose opinions are diametrically opposed to my own, and they deserve to encounter female creators who write to their tastes just as much as I do. In an industry that has never been overflowing with women — the excellent text biographies of women in Marvel’s history only serve to highlight that paucity — books like Girl Comics are immensely important for giving these female creators a chance to gain fans and move up to the top ranks of comic book talent.
That said, there was a lot I loved about Girl Comics #2 on the level of craft, too. Colleen Coover’s art, on the introduction, biography pages, and Molly Fitzgerald story, was stunning as ever — I’d love to own a print of her She-Hulk splash page. Cynthia Martin’s pencils on the Dr. Strange story, coupled with June Chung’s colors, created a gorgeous, moody, almost gothic feeling, with especially impressive layouts. Colleen Doran’s Valkyrie pinup is a sight to behold. Faith Erin Hicks did a great job exploring the line between heroes and villains, with equal parts humor and seriousness, in her NextWave story. And Abby Denson’s Mary Jane “superhero dating ads” story is a great subversion of the usual reduction of women to the role of sexy love interest.
But even if I’d hated everything about Girl Comics, I’d still respect the hell out of its existence. If you believe that women should have the same shot at succeeding in this industry as any man, give Girl Comics a chance, and hopefully we’ll see the trend continue.
Zatanna #1, by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux, and Karl Story is off to a grand start. This is the kind of story sometimes referred to as “street-level” — fighting crime rather than warding off alien invasion. The plot is simple: Brother Night is attempting to take over all crime in San Francisco, Zatanna is stopping him. Nice and simple.
But I don’t read comics for the plots, generally. I read them for the characters. And Zatanna is rich on character. I appreciated seeing Zatanna running her business — I always like to know how superheroes make a living. I liked the internal monologue narration, how it establishes Zatanna’s mindframe and attitude towards her powers and her crime-fighting. I liked the over-the-top villainy of Brother Night.
Though, to be honest, I am really, really tired of seeing “naked people and kinky sex means this is the bad guy.” I mean, I’m tired of it in all fiction, but it’s especially ridiculous in superhero comics. In superhero comics, EVERYONE is wearing fetish gear, so what’s with the authorial double standard? Leather hoods are the fetish of bad guys, but rubber bat-cowls are heroic? Seriously? And, let’s face it — if Brother Night is evil because his lair is a BDSM nightclub, then why is Zatanna heroic for building her magic act around a fetishized bondage escape scene? I am referring to pages one and two of the comic, here. Take your pick, writers of superhero comics — if men in bondage gear (in the nightclub, for instance,) are evil, weak, or stupid, then don’t say that women in bondage gear (Zatanna in her act) are powerful, clever, and subversive. (This is not unique to Zatanna, it’s endemic to the genre.)
That said, my personal peevishness with a cultural trope aside, I did find Zatanna powerful and clever. I appreciated her taking charge of the crime investigation, I loved her competence in fighting and facing down the bad guys. I am looking forward to the revenge attempts of Brother Night. And I can’t wait to see how Zatanna thwarts Night’s schemes.