In Q & A, a weekly feature of Fantastic Fangirls, we ask our staff to tackle a simple question — then open the floor to comments.
What is your comic book guilty pleasure?
I decided on my response by considering the following question: what is embarrassing to admit I love? And there is not a comic in print that falls into that category. Comics require a great deal of commitment. If it starts going badly, I cut and run. There are things I read that plenty of other people might find questionable but nothing I am embarrassed about. I am embarrassed to admit to the following.
I love the movie Judge Dredd.
As a film, it is pretty awful. Actually, as a film, it is beyond horribly awful. It is an epic display of over-acting from start to finish. (In my defense, such as it is, it is an epic display of over-acting by Sylvester Stallone and Armand Assante. And seen as an undisclosed contest for who can over-act the very best…seriously, that’s fun to watch.)
But, okay, here’s why I love this movie: if you can look past the over-acting, the effects, the Garb of Justice (by Versace!), if you can look past the convoluted dystopian future, the clones and the robots and the cannibals (how many sci-fi cliches can we fit in one movie?) — if you can look past the movie you are watching, the philosophical debate is very intriguing. I am a political extremist. I would never support one man’s judgment being law but I understand the mindset that creates that eventuality so that kind of story fascinates me. Toward the beginning of the film, Judge Dredd is assigned to teach Ethics to the next generation of Street Judges; if you watch the film as if it were his lesson plan maybe you’ll understand what I see in it.
I love Louise Simonson’s run of X-Factor, a lot. That’s the one where the original X-Men team — Angel, Beast, Iceman, Cyclops, and Jean Grey — reunites to take a bold stand against narrative logic. I mean, before the series started, Jean was dead and Cyclops was married to someone else, and living in Alaska. But Jean was resurrected by editorial mandate, Cyke was happy, but also angry, and he left his wife (and newborn son!) anyway. Obviously this requires the original gang to move in with Angel’s buddy from boarding school and pretend to be a mutant hunters in order to rescue mutant children. Of course! Also did I mention that nobody bothers to tell Jean that Scott is still married?
So the structural framework of the series is a mess. In fact, if I were forced to describe a single empirical area in which these comics excel, I would probably say, “I think that Jean’s hair is exceptionally pretty in this run.” And yet. . . I love these comics. It’s fascinating to watch Simonson try to dig out from under the series’ original premise. Jean’s not dead anymore, Scott’s left his wife, Warren has dragged the gang into a hair-brained and irresponsible scheme for obscure reasons. . .so now what? One of the weak points of storytelling in mainstream comics is the way consequences get pushed aside for the next big adventure. But Simonson’s run is all about facing consequences, and living with the lies you’ve told, and the ways the past catches up with you.
The themes are buried in a lot of melodrama and plot contrivance (Scott’s gone for two hours and Mr. Sinister kidnaps his wife; he leaves Angel’s hospital bed to check on his wife, and gets back just in time to see Angel’s plane explode. You get the idea). But there’s a core of emotional truth here that a lot of better-constructed stories never get at. There’s a moment when Scott, who has half-assedly been trying to do the right thing in his love life, turns to Jean in the middle of one of their “We shouldn’t — you’re married” conversations. And he just holds out his hand. Nothing is said; I don’t know why but I’d guess the editors wouldn’t allow their heroes explicitly to consider adultery. But there’s something eloquent in that gesture, something that coming from Cyclops-the-Boy-Scout might as well say, “Fuck it, I’ve spent all my life playing by the rules, it got me absolutely nowhere, just forget all that and take my hand and we’ll see what happens.” And you know that, just for a second, Jean Grey the professional good girl considers it. She doesn’t, of course.
Yeah, I love these comics.
Come on, people. My favorite band is Hanson. My favorite movie is Newsies. And I proudly own up to both of those facts. Does it look like I believe in guilty pleasures? If I like something, I like it, and I refuse to be embarrassed about it. Case closed.
So this Q & A… it’s hard for me. What do I enjoy that others might consider a guilty pleasure? The recent Power Pack minis? No, those have been fantastic, objectively. Crossovers? Well, I already talked about that. A guilty pleasure for me would have to be something I enjoy, despite the fact that I object to its existence in principle. Something like… well, like those Marvel Swimsuit Specials from the 1990s.
You remember them. Page after page of Marvel heroes and heroines in ill-advised swimwear, posed in inexplicable (and frequently impossible) positions. They were exploitative and ridiculous, the art was frequently terrible, and the captions were never funny. But something about the existence of these issues fills me with incredulous glee, and it might make me blush a bit to admit that I sort of want to collect them all. I mean, just look at this image:
In this picture, Captain America is using the Constitution as beach reading. Everything is red, white, and blue (except for his day-glo yellow hair). He has the beginnings of a wedgie. And, best of all, we’re expected to believe that a man engineered to be the pinnacle of human perfection needs glasses to read. There is nothing about this image that is not insane. But do I love it?
Guilty as charged.
Guilty pleasure? Guilty pleasure — a comic I read and love and feel guilt or shame about enjoying? Hmm. I don’t feel embarrassed about the manga I own. I love my Torso tpb and my Essential Dazzler both, and will own up to them both. Most of the stuff I read is either good, or I am reading it for other reasons — I want to support the creator, or I want to know what the characters are up to regardless of the quality of the comic. I’m pretty sure no current titles fit that bill — oh, no, wait. Wait, there is an entire category of titles which I read which I will acknowledge, sure, but . . . But I get a look on my face for doing so. A sheepish look, indeed.
Comics featuring Rachel Summers-Grey.
Yeah, I’ll read these regardless of quality. I will read the most godawful stupid plots, the wretched art, the most awkward dialog, if it has Rachel in it. I’ve been pretty fortunate that the comics she’s been in the last few years have been tolerable-to-good. But that’s not why I read them. I read them to see how My Fiction Girlfriend Rachel is doing, and how the guys — the writers, not the characters — are treating her. I am, perhaps, a little sheepish about my attachment to a fictional character. Sheep sheep sheep.
What about you? What is your comic book guilty pleasure?