With the news of Gail Simone stepping down from writing “Wonder Woman” still fresh on my mind, I got to thinking about Marvel’s attempt to celebrate women in comics with its new limited series, “Girl Comics.” I have to give Marvel credit for trying this with all the potential for it to be a flop. Aside from the inherent mixed bag quality of any anthology, it’s got a lot going for it. The best thing of all, I discovered the writing talent of Valerie D’Orazio and I’ll discuss her own one-shot, “Punisher Max: Butterfly” a little later in the column.
Back to “Girl Comics.” At first, I thought about what could be wrong with it. For instance, there are two profiles of women trail blazers at Marvel back when Stan Lee’s hair was jet black. That seemed like a creaky “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” sort of salute. But, even if it is, I’m really glad they did it because the two individuals, Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin, are definitely worthy of recognition. It’s been a “man’s world” like forever and we’re still evolving as a society. Whenever you have something like Marvel attempting to show its human side, that’s cool.
Another problem seems to be that weird pin-up of She-Hulk by Sana Takeda. It goes to show what happens when you depict a character but you stray away from the quality of the character and turn it into a mere sex object. Even the anatomy is off. You’ll notice that She-Hulk has two left feet. Apparently, the drawing has caught She-Hulk just as she’s had a mishap while skipping rope and has fallen and the rope, moving at hyperspeed, has bound her legs together.
Is it possible that Takeda is commenting on the awkward state of today’s woman? Does she see She-Hulk, as a woman, cursed instead of blessed with formidable strength and sexuality? Instead of being in a position of authority, does Takeda see She-Hulk as doomed with having the classic impediment of “two left feet”? Or is it just a playfully sexy scene? And where does fit alongside her other controversial work? It would be interesting to hear from her.
More than likely, Takeda just fell into the same old patterns that began when it was only men drawing unhealthy depictions of women. These type of drawings are obviously alive and well today. Some publishers seem to focus on the cheesecake with less thought given to the writing. Hopefully, that will improve. The subject of sex is not the problem but how one works it. At least DC and Marvel tend to have solid narratives and standards, right? Of course, the top publishers are working towards the highest levels of excellence. That said, this makes this sort of drawing stand out even more, like a big green sore thumb. I don’t think it was meant to open up discussion but was ill-conceived. Maybe, in a proper context, it could work but not in this case.
And then there’s the question of whether these comics are supposed to have a unique female sensibility or whether they just happen to all be created by women. The introduction by Colleen Coover implies a special female viewpoint with its panels of various superheroines. The stories that follow veer off into unexpected directions and seem to defy easy categorization that keeps things more lively and less obvious.
I love the fact that we basically get from this comic a little concert made up of all sorts of awesome talent. You’ve got G. Willow Wilson opening up the show, all her “Air” fans especially thrilled, as she and Ming Doyle riff on Nightcrawler with a most surreal story. And so on the down the line. Trina Robbins and Stephanie Buscema give us a less than perfect Venus who lets herself get caught up in the glitz of the fashion world. There’s Valerie D’Orazio and Nikki Cook’s excellent Punisher story. Lucy Knisley provides a nice comedic Doc Oc tale. Robin Furth and Agnes Garbowska give us a neat Fantastic Four fairy tale. And Devin Grayson and Emma Rios give us a nuanced story about the love triangle between Cyclops, Phoenix and Wolverine.
So, true believers, go get yourself some “Girl Comics” and, while you are at it, get a copy of “Punisher Max: Butterfly,” also published by Marvel, a most excellent read both in the writing and the art. Valerie D’Orazio pulls you in right away with her quirky narrative and the art of Laurence Campbell is just as inventive, does not miss a beat. This is like the magic that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips keep conjuring up but all its own. Turn to any page and you’ll find something refreshing in crime fiction.
The story revolves around a professional assassin known only as, Butterfly. We get deep inside her head to discover her motivations as she’s willing to put her life on the line to reveal a greater truth. We see as Butterfly struggles to write and then finally bring out into the world a book that reveals the inner workings of organized crime. The world of hired guns is played up for all it’s worth but we can see that this story aims for more than just one note.
D’Orazio and Campbell work together to really move the reader, especially on the theme of what happens when someone is negated as a human being. With impeccable timing, we see characters go from being alive to suddenly having blank slits for eyes. This device works extremely well since Butterfly is a character we can connect to.
It’s that human factor. If you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing. Honestly, why would anyone, creator or reader, want to aim lower? Given the opportunity, most people want high quality work. Things can stand in the way of this, of course, like ignorance. The truth is that, no matter what the content, it is the quality stuff that will be the most stimulating. It seems like an easy enough concept but one that, just as easily, gets overlooked. The appropriate attention to detail will always be appreciated in the long run whether the character is Madame Bovary, She-Hulk or Wonder Woman.