Jem and the Holograms: The YouTube Generation Stands Up For Its Artistic Right to Exist At Last

For decades now, a grim presence has sat heavily on the chest of popular artistic culture.  Men and women now in their thirties and forties have, far past our time, insisted that everything should remain the same as when we were kids, and that any deviation from those memories, any new way of carrying out public creativity, is forbidden and to be shunned and scorned with all of the weight of our massed presence.  Rarely has that knee-jerk urge to destroy something different been more in evidence than when the first Jem and the Holograms trailer hit.  A horde of middle-aged men and women leaped to mass indignation, saying that this new movie had too much Internet culture, not enough of their 80s culture, and berated the film for daring to do something different to make a beloved set of characters actually engage with developing popular expression.

I know, I was one.  “Synergy isn’t a holographic woman?  Jerrica isn’t in charge of Starlight Records?  Blasphemy!”  With every inch of my 36-year old person, I was indignant that something I loved would be polluted with things like Instagram and YouTube.  And that’s how I went into the movie, grumbling through the first 10 minutes, “Self-absorbed teenagers… bah!”  And then something happened… I looked over at my daughters and saw that they got it, that this unbounded online creativity, this urge to be yourself in a public forum, was something they understood and that it was, in fact, a very good thing.  When I was a kid, if you were strange (and I was), you remained silent.  You didn’t seek support or like-minded travelers.  You either hid who you were or took the shame as part of your daily routine.  What Jem communicates, more than anything, is the potential for we oddballs to exist in this new public culture and find a place comfortable in our mild wackiness, and that is precisely something I want my daughters to know, and a message that popular entertainment, dominated by my generation for far too long, has often haughtily denied them.

Plus, it’s a fun damn movie.  The homages to the original cartoon are plentiful and charming.  Heck, the last line of the movie is, “Our songs are better.  We’re gonna get her.”  The hologram is updated and made so much more meaningful than anything in the original cartoon.  The musical numbers are big and fun.  Young Blood is at least as good as any Summer pop hit, and The Way I Was is a strong ballad that I downloaded more or less the instant that I got home, and is several degrees better than what you’ll find on the Top 40 charts.  The Misfits scene is exactly what you’d want.  The messages for LGBT youth are beautiful and appropriate and inspiring.

But, it seems, in our generational thirst for blood, we’ve taken something quite lovely and smashed it upon the evidence of a minute and a half that we didn’t personally identify with.  We muddied the waters with all of our outrage, and choked the ability of this film to say what it has to say to a new generation who really needs to hear it.  And that’s a terrific shame.  So, if you have daughters or sons, and you want them to engage positively in online creativity, and assert their identity strongly, grab them today and head out to Jem.  You’ll enjoy the glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, and they’ll enjoy seeing their world on the big screen.

Super Heroines 16! Kitty Pryde: Agent of SHIELD and Route des Maisons Rouge!

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Kitty Pryde: Agent of SHIELD (Marvel, 1997)

 

KittyCover

 

Writer: Larry Hama

Art: Jesus Redondo and Sergio Melia

Until quite recently, the Marvel Universe boasted of only three female characters of any appreciable intellectual heft: Moira MacTaggert (a scientist), Jennifer Walters (a lawyer), and Kitty Pryde (an electrical engineering whiz). Now, while that’s three more than what DC have historically had to offer, it meant that the choice of brainy female role models has been pretty limited. MacTaggert was a side character who tended to stay in the lab, Walters spent most of her time green and punching things, which meant that, for most, Kitty Pryde was the emblem of geeky girl power in comics.

 

Her dialogue isn't precisely consistent.
Her dialogue isn’t precisely consistent.

We remember her as the young Jewish genius taken into the X-Men during the Claremont/Byrne era who then went on to become the brains in Excalibur, but what most people forget is this, her stint as an agent of SHIELD. And, really, that’s for the best. The first issue of Kitty Pryde: Agent of SHIELD has her holding a gun, dressed in SHIELD combat gear, in front of the agency’s emblem, which features a crossed knife and gun. For a character we all loved as a smart martial arts type, it’s incongruous, and that lack of connection with what made the character great runs through the whole three issues this donkey was allowed to trot.

ShieldCover1

First of all, she’s not really an agent of SHIELD. Something goes wrong on the Helicarrier and it refuses to do anything until Kitty Pryde shows up and logs onto its computer system. So, SHIELD shows up at Excalibur HQ, nearly gets into a fight, and asks her to come up and talk to their computer, for which she’s given a temporary clearance. That temporary clearance is all she ever really gets, which is a far cry from being an “agent of SHIELD.”

 

Kitty Pryde: Agent of Button Pressing.
Kitty Pryde: Agent of Button Pressing.

Anyway, she goes, talks to the computer, and Oh No it’s a trap! It turns out that Ogun, Wolverine’s old teacher, possessed the Helicarrier’s computer to lure Kitty there in an attempt to then possess her in the most round-about bodyjacking plan yet conceived. Wolverine makes a guest appearance for a while because… it was 1997. Ogun somehow keeps forgetting that Kitty can phase through matter. She challenges him to a battle on the Astral Plane where she randomly gets Xavier type powers for a while, and all in all, nothing quite goes together.

 

Kitty4

 

As it stands, Kitty Pryde: Temporary Technical Advisor to SHIELD might have been a more accurate representation. She’s an ace with machines and electrical engineering, but she’s constantly deferring to SHIELD’s male tech guru and doesn’t even try to solve the problems at hand by using her knowledge base. Instead of battling the computer with her brain, she battles the demon of Ogun with her powers and astral swords in between falling in love with the tech guru for no other reason than, effectively, that he told her she should. There’s a lot that might have been done with Kitty Pryde at SHIELD to advance the character, to make her wrestle with the problems of covert governmental power, but instead we get a flat character whose voice meanders all over the place, and whose most important personality traits and abilities are ignored in favor of bland action and trendy but aimless guest appearances.

 

Sprite Becomes Shadowcat Becomes Power Meter

KittyMeter

Fierce: 7: Pryde is a fierce character generally. She’s a martial arts master with a cool ability and a great mind. Here, she’s a martial arts master with a cool ability who attains an arbitrary level of telekinetic godhood suddenly for no apparent reason. Usually, that makes a character fiercer, but here it’s so out of place that it’s somehow subtractive.

Smart: 3: Again, Kitty Pryde is one of Marvel’s only smart female super heroes, but you couldn’t tell it from this comic. Meanwhile, the comic itself is a pretty standard affair filled with the necessary motions motivated by convoluted narrative mechanisms.

Funny: 2: The covers are very funny. This is not intentional.

Art: 4: Redondo can draw machines and vehicles quite well, but his figures are pretty hurried and bland. There’s a definite sense of Marking Time on this, which you can see in panels like this:

Kitty3

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  Read about some real female super heroes at Women In Science!

Read about some real female super heroes at Women In Science!

 ________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

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Route des Maisons Rouge (GG Studios, 2010-2011)

 

MaisonCover

Writer: Giuliano Monni

Art: Vincenzo Cucca, Livia Pastore

This week did not turn out as planned. What was supposed to happen was that Kitty Pryde Agent of SHIELD was going to give me a chance to talk about Marvel doing right by one of its intelligent female characters, while Route des Maisons Rouge was supposed to be an example of blatant sexism run amok. Instead, Kitty turned out to be a mindless pedestrian slog, while Route, which is a comic about six rival bordellos, every page of which is crammed with massive-breasted prostitutes in a variety of lingerie and bondage items, is, well, let’s talk about what it is…

GG Studios is an Italian comic producer, responsible for a half dozen or so titles, all of which feature massive-breasted adventurers in one capacity or another. Leafing through their products one finds, to all appearances, a slightly more artful version of the boob-fests churned out by Zenescope, the publishers of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and other such barely over-the-counter cheesecake titles. And Route is, visually, absolutely in that company. Dozens of women fill each page, each in more outrageous fetish attire than the last, a swirling mass of cleavage and asses that pound the story into submission.

 

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There are some characters here, but the sheer volume of women in each panel, and the fact that each has essentially the exact same body type and mode of expression prevents you from really figuring out who is doing what and why until the fourth or fifth issue. For the first few issues, every fifth page or so will feature somebody in the midst of some sexual act or other. Eventually, those pages give way to more plot, and it’s hard to say that the comic improves at that point. It chooses narrative over brazenness, and thereby loses its one distinguishing feature in favor of a series of generic and too-quickly-resolved events.

 

Eat Mentos!!  The battle cry of a generation.
Eat Mentos!! The battle cry of a generation.

Which brings us to why this book might actually be quite good. It is so thorough-going in its portrayal of the every-day nature of sexual pleasure, in demonstrating the almost banality of human fantasy fulfillment, that I think it has an important place at the table of graphic novel ideas. Let’s face it, if there’s one thing we Americans do painfully poorly in our art, it’s sex. Our over-riding neo-Victorianism pushes us towards all sorts of stupid and dangerous ideas about how it works, and that comes across in traditional American comics. Sex is either not there at all or it’s presented in this plastic, de-biologized manner (think early 90’s X-Men Swimsuit Calendar) that, by its blatant boob-mongering, only enhances our basic Puritan principles. Sex as something extraordinary. By splashing sex-workers on every page, without shame, Monni is doing something that American creators could profit from. There is an honesty here, one that admits that people do enjoy sex, rather a lot, and that people who provide it for a fee aren’t necessarily broken husks of humanity and ought not be shamed for their work or choices.

It’s not the Feminist Book of the Year, but as American feminism is settling into its next wave, one of inclusivity of different sexual and cultural norms and away from some of its previously hidden Protestant-laden assumptions, this sort of frankness is a necessary thing in helping us treat the spectrum of sexual desires with equal respect.

 

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The English translation doesn’t always QUITE fit.

Does the book have faults? Sure. The author seems to think we, as readers, cannot possibly get enough short jokes or watching short characters get beaten up. The plot points come out of nowhere and are resolved way too fast to feel their impact. The English translation’s sense of urban slang is peculiar to the point of almost being charming. But the story centers around female businesswomen shattering expectations of female sexuality without a shade of self-hatred, and that’s not nothing. Was the book written primarily to show females clearing out a commercial space for themselves? I imagine not. I imagine it was written so as to have an excuse to draw lots and lots of hot girls. But can we, as Americans, learn something from its very comfort within its own skin? I think we might.

 

 

The Safety Word Is Power-Meter

RouteMeter

Fierce: 9: Actually, yeah. The leaders of the different bordellos form a council of businesswomen who work together to resist governmental pressure, while the individual prostitutes are fearless in their identity and social role.

Smart: 5: The leader of the China Dolls is a sort of Zen tactician, but for the rest it’s persistence, guts, and unity that steers the houses through the various crises that arise.

Funny: 7: Most of the jokes are about the mayor’s height, and none of those are funny. But the frankness of the prostitutes’ various conversations is often amusing.

Art: 9: Okay, every panel features massively exploitative shots of women in insane lingerie, but dammit if those costumes aren’t each mini masterpieces of reductionist fashion. It’s all flagrantly exploitative, titillating, and absurd, but Cucca has an eye for ornament and line that brings it together somehow and dances along the improbable just precisely right, or wrong, to support the masses of undifferentiated flesh splashing the page.

 

 

Read More Super Heroines Episodes!
Read More Super Heroines Episodes!

Super Heroines 15! Angel and the Ape (1991) and Debris (2012)!

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Angel and the Ape (Volume 2, DC Comics, 1991)

 

AngelApeCover

 

Written and Drawn by: Phil Foglio

“Is it time for Angel and the Ape to return?”

Every decade or so, the question pops its head above ground at DC, whenever the company needs an antidote against its own ponderous gravitas. It’s a solid, one might say timeless, idea: team a talking ape with a beautiful girl, and have them solve crimes. The original series ran for 7 issues back in 1968/69 and it’s been revived twice since, in 1991 and then again in 2001, and if the success of Harley Quinn‘s persistent zaniness is anything to go by, we might just see them return again soon as DC madly thrashes about in a quest for some cohesive identity.

 

Angel's page of backstory nicely fills in some motivational elements for the character.
Angel’s page of backstory nicely fills in some motivational elements for the character.

 

The second volume, our subject for today, was written and drawn by Phil Foglio, who is known today primarily as the creator of Girl Genius. As much as Angel gets first billing in the title, she’s more or less a third wheel in the story itself. The central thrust of the four issues centers around the Ape, Sam Simeon, and a scheme hatched by his grandfather, Gorilla Grodd, to change all of humanity into apes. The secondary story revolves around Angel’s half sister, the Inferior Five’s Dumb Bunny, who fights crime in a tight sweater and bunny ears and has massive strength but no intelligence. She’s looking for a boyfriend she won’t inadvertently break, and has her eye on the Ape.

 

AngelApe1

 

Angel, meanwhile, zips through the periphery of these stories, shoving characters around to their respective narrative destinies but she doesn’t have any real central drama of her own to deal with until the very last page of the very last issue. Foglio characterizes her as static and anchored in order to let the rest of the comic go insane around her, and it works pretty well. She cracks skulls, follows leads, and calls in favors, while it’s left to the Ape to communicate psychically with reality-altering Green Lantern technology and to Dumb Bunny to find fulfilling love at last with a ninety-five pound nerd in a nice bit of fan service wish fulfillment that threw a fantasy bone to all of us early Nineties gawky adolescents. Thanks, uncle Phil.

 

AngelApe2

 

It’s a curious book, one that takes pot shots at DC’s craven bid for grittiness at all costs while poking at the borders of inter-species sexual relations. Its central plot, of apes and humans switching places to even the species odds a bit, is just weighty enough to keep the kookiness from floating the book away, and just silly enough to keep the book from being a continual sacrifice to its own plot points. And, for all the maturing we’ve done since 1991, the central story of Dumb Bunny looking for somebody she can hug without harming is really quite touching when at last it is resolved. We should be outraged that she’s even a thing, but she is handled so genuinely, with such real uncomprehending pathos, that it’s hard not to cheer for her, name and costume notwithstanding.

 

AngelApe3

 

Angel and the Ape is, at day’s end, a tough book to evaluate. Angel should have had more room for development in this story that belongs overwhelmingly to the Ape, but Dumb Bunny’s unexpectedly warm sub-narrative is so cozy and fluffy that it’s hard to stay mad at the slight for too long. When the jokes feel old or uninspired, the main plot is interesting enough to keep pushing you through, and when that starts getting a bit thread-bare, the Inferior Five stumbles onto the page for five pages of just unremitting goofiness that clears the air again. It has perhaps found the perfect recipe for staying just enough on top of its faults to stay consistently interesting. That’s an art every deadline-wary author needs to cultivate, and Angel and the Ape might just be the textbook.

 

 

A City Where Men Evolved from Power Meters?

AngelMeter

 

Fierce: 8: Both Dumb Bunny and Angel can handle a situation on their own, and not since Fezzik has there been a more sympathetic gentle bruiser character than the former.

 

Smart: 4: Angel’s detective work isn’t of preciesely Sherlockean proportions, and Dumb Bunny is pretty much as advertised. The central plot is cleverly handled.

 

Funny: 6: Funny books don’t age well. With rare exceptions of particular genius, humor is really the least generationally transcendent aspect of human social capital. I suspect Monty Python will always be funny, but go ahead, I dare you, go back and watch a full episode of Mr. Belvedere. There are a lot of bits here that fit in very well with the satirical forms of a quarter century ago (yes, 1991 was a quarter century ago – man, you’re old) but that don’t quite stir the funny bone anymore.

 

Art: 9: It’s Phil Foglio, so you know precisely what to expect. The nice thing about Foglio’s art is that, even when it’s at its most gratuitous (Grodd at one point imprisons Angel and company and strips them all down to their underwear for the purpose because… he was worried… she’d use her dress as a weapon?), the figures are so different, so uniquely solid, that it’s hard to take it really as titillation. In all events, this style is perfectly suited to a story this zany.

 

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Read about some real female super heroes at Women In Science!
Read about some real female super heroes at Women In Science!

 _________________________________________________________________________________________

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Debris (Image Comics, 2012)

 

DebrisCover

 

 

Written by: Kurtis J. Wiebe

Art by: Riley Rossmo

 

Fans of Super Heroines might recall a few weeks back when we talked about Apocalyptigirl, a comic that absolutely sank itself on its need to cram universe explanation into every spare chunk of the page. It was an object lesson on how not to do a dystopian graphic novel, and the proof is in the comparison with comics that do it right, which are able to present a whole world in the space of four issues without explaining the death out of it. Debris is such a book. Wiebe weaves for us a story about a water-starved future and allows us to simply live in it. No page of blocky expositionary text, no narrative captions soggy with back story, just a story about a girl, the last of the Protectors of her tribe, and a mission to find a safe place at last for her people.

 

Debris1

 

The setting is of a familiar sort: in a run-down village, most of the population is put to work operating a water-producing machine that was built long ago, while a few protect the borders from rampaging bio-organic monstrosities. We are thrown into this world, and the way Wiebe constructs the sequence of events, we understand everything completely just by following along with the story. Do we know where the monsters came from, or what happened to the tribe 5000 years ago? No, because we don’t need to. In order to be with the characters, who don’t understand most of the workings of the world they’ve been thrown into, we have to be as clueless about the history of the world as they are, and Wiebe makes sure to keep us that way.

 

Debris3

 

Maya, our protagonist, is training with the village’s Protector when the story begins but soon enough finds herself not only Protector, but tasked with finding a mythical civilization with free access to water. The tale, told over just four issues, is in essentially three parts: she’s in the village, she’s in the wilderness, she’s at another village. But in that space she is steady – she is a warrior, an expert at dealing with monstrosities, but one whose personal code is too simple for the subtle hatreds of societal institutions. When she reaches her destination, the people there are possessed of ancient prejudices and civilizational greed which break against her steadfast goodness and sense of purpose. She doesn’t go through any self-doubt or great emotional change – she’s just her, a person overtaken by the need to help her people, and who puts every bit of herself at the service of others.

Most of the title’s space is taken up with Maya fighting gigantic robot monsters on a scale beautifully captured by Rossmo. It’s the same full-throttle modern woman warrior flavor Wiebe has since perfected in Rat Queens, only with a shade of solo, end-times desperation that is entirely unique to this mini-series. And, in between the fights, we have her quest, her discussions with those she meets along the way and who end up following in her determined wake. If the book has any fault, it’s this: she is so sure of herself, and that confidence is always vindicated so quickly, that it’s hard to believe she’s ever really in peril or that her standpoint won’t soon win the day, regardless of how set against her the other characters appear to be. But it’s also nice to read a comic with a female lead where that lead just steamrolls through town and, by force of personal dedication, drags history behind her.

 

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There is no Water… Only Power.

 DebrisMeter

 

Fierce: 10: Maya is both an unstoppable physical combatant and an unconquerable moral force. Everything she has is directed towards service and she has no patience with those who aren’t driven by empathy.

 

Smart: 8: Nobody in the book does anything particularly brainy, but the title narrative itself is woven so intelligently, with the world and its weirdness allowed to speak fully for themselves, that it supports perfectly a character of this Knives-n-Duty nature.

 

Funny: N/A: Other than a few amusing expressions of annoyance in the midst of battle, there really isn’t any humorous content in this book, unlike the densely hilarious Rat Queens.

 

Art: 10: Rossmo draws grit and entropic despair like nobody else. Maya’s design is strong and practical and reminiscent of Miyazaki’s Nausicaa, while the monstrosities are rendered on a massive scale that nonetheless Maya believably engages with.

 

Read More Super Heroines Episodes!
Read More Super Heroines Episodes!

Super Heroines 14! Phantom Lady (1941-43) and A-Force (2015)!

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Phantom Lady (Quality Comics, 1941-43)

 

PhantomCover

Writer: Unknown

Artists: Arthur F. Peddy, Joe Kubert, Frank Borth

The Golden Age of Comics is a strange kingdom, conjured into existence by phantoms, financed by gangsters, hurtling towards nobody remotely knew what. Comic publishers hired out to squidgy collections of teenagers to deliver graphic stories, without too particular a notion as to content. When you’re using a business to launder a money, just about any product will do. But those young men (and a few young women) took that empty space and employed it to birth a secret universe.

Phantom Lady was a series with a history as convoluted as only the Golden Age could produce, written by nobody knows who, flipping from super hero rag to yuk book to a fourth-wall-breaking spree of a proto-Deadpool sort all in the space of 23 six-page stories. First appearing in Police Comics #1 (which also featured the debut of Plastic Man), Phantom Lady was a society debutante and senator’s daughter turned crimefighter of the Miss Fury stripe. She can pilot basically anything, knows a fair amount of jiu-jitsu, and wields something called a Black Lantern, which is essentially a flashlight that baths its target in utter darkness.

 

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One of the delights of this strip in the days before Matt Baker and Fox Publishing turned it into one of the definitive sex pot comics of all time, is how manifestly it does not care about things like consistency or characterization or novelty. Phantom Lady’s costume is a simple yellow leotard with a red cape and no head covering whatsoever and yet, time after time, she’ll be standing two feet away from her father and fiancé, and neither manages to recognize her. Each episode, until the series goes into wacky town with Joe Kubert’s arrival, follows the same basic pattern: saboteurs are out to wreck America’s war machine, Phantom Lady finds their hideout, gets captured, escapes improbably, and then uses her black light to save the day while rescuing whichever of her daft companions were drawn into the caper with her.

It’s a simple formula in broad strokes with a dusting of wartime racism sprinkled over the whole and, by and large, it works fine. What we can still enjoy today is how Phantom Lady is the only remotely capable person in a world of affably useless men, a woman who can do just about anything but has no super powers, and who isn’t afraid to head-butt a crook if it’ll get the job done. She’s tough and competent and totally independent, like so many Forties superheroines who got ground to dust by the Eisenhower era and had to wait for a whole new century to witness at last worthy successors.

 

Hmmm... Nazis Indeed.
Hmmm… Nazis Indeed.

 

Halfway through its run at Quality Comics, the original artist, Arthur F. Peddy, left along with, presumably, the original writer, because for the next few issues, Phantom Lady is pretty wacky. Joe Kubert, who was hardly sixteen years old, was given the reins, and the result is a jokey slapstick farce with crime-fighting elements and a fainting Aunt chaperone-type character who had absolutely not been in the strip before and would not be again. It’s rough in just about every aspect, and after three issues Frank Borth mercifully took over, whose 23 years of age made him a comics elder statesman by the standards of the time.

 

Kubert got better.
Kubert got better.

 

He quickly had Phantom Lady cross over with the adventures of Spider Widow and the Raven in in his Feature Comics strip where the protagonists frequently reference the fact that they are guest-starring in each other’s strips, the meta-rivalry eventually filtering into the dramatic tension between Spider Widow and Phantom Lady during the actual narrative action. It’s a very Looney Tunes set of moments for a comic that started about homicide, espionage, and international diplomacy.

Five years after the end of Quality’s Phantom Lady run, her character was revived, given bigger breasts, a skimpier outfit, frequent light bondage, and a predilection for undressing in panel by the almost delightful charlatans at Fox Feature Syndicate, Inc., and that is largely the Phantom Lady we remember, Matt Baker’s iconic covers obliterating Peddy, Kubert, and Borth in several swift titillating strokes. And that’s too bad, because behind the repetitive plots, the cardboard cutout supporting cast, and the improbable or just lazy narrative devices, there’s a classic character to really root for, part Dick Tracy, part Batman, and all class.

 

Quick, The Nazis Are After The Power Meter!

PhantomMeter

 

Fierce: 9: Phantom Lady is a force. Witness the following:

 

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Smart: 5: Sandra Knight isn’t shown doing anything overly intellectual. She has some basic detective skills, but she’s primarily a character of punches and iron will. As for the overall smarts of the comic and its construction, it’s more or less exactly what you’d expect from the time.

Wartime Racism: 6: Of the 23 initial episodes, 21 of them happened in the first years of the war, but only one of them features material that goes out of its way to visually or narratively caricature an entire race, which is thankfully one too many for the modern era, but far better than the average comic strip for 1941.

Artwork: 7: Frank Borth manages some stunning intro pages, and Arthur Peddy’s work treats Phantom Lady with a quiet respect that would not be her lot in her next series, all balanced by Kubert’s rough work that, as the product of a sixteen year old who would go on to produce some of the age’s most beautiful comic pages, we can probably forgive.

 

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Read about some real female super heroes at Women In Science!
Read about some real female super heroes at Women In Science!

  _________________________________________________________________________________________

 

NowFinal

 

A-Force (Marvel Comics, 2015)

 

AForceCover

 

Writers: G. Willow-Wilson and Marguerite Bennett

Artist: Jorge Molina

A-Force.

Let’s start there, at the title. When I first heard that there was going to be an all-female Avengers team book, I was cautiously ecstatic. When I heard that the roster included Dazzler, Medusa, She-Hulk, and Nico Minoru, I was prepared to forego caution and march straight into the gates of unreasonable anticipation. Then the title was announced: A-Force.

 

For all I'm about to say, this moment is pretty legit.
For all I’m about to say, this moment is pretty legit.

 

Let’s not linger over the fact that the referent that springs most readily to mind for the A-[single syllable] construction is A-hole, meaning that A-Force reads for many, at least unconsciously, as Assforce.   Instead, let’s look at what it’s consciously striving at. It’s clearly referencing X-Force which, Remender’s memorable run aside, tends to conjure visions of inane 90’s pouchy testosterone. If that’s meant as a tribute, it’s odd, and if ironically, it’s flogging a well-dead horse. In all events, the tone intended is unclear, and that confusion of register continues throughout the comic.

A-Force has basically two dialogue patterns: mournfully epic (95% of the time) and quippy (the remaining 5%). No matter which character is delivering a line, if they’re giving a mournfully epic line, they sound the same as everybody else delivering a mournfully epic line. Here’s an example from the first issue of three lines spoken by three different characters in succession:

“Is there anyone among us who doesn’t know how thin a tightrope you must walk between what’s best for our people and the will of Doom?”

“Nico Minoru… is young, and is grieving. She can’t have meant what she said. She and America have been Loki’s wards since…”

“No. Arcadia is only strong as long as we are united, and A-Force is her defender. It’s our honor and duty to protect our island and her people.”

Now, watch what happens when we drop the punctuation marks:

“Is there anyone among us who doesn’t know how thin a tightrope you must walk between what’s best for our people and the will of Doom? Nico Minoru… is young, and is grieving. She can’t have meant what she said. She and America have been Loki’s wards since… No. Arcadia is only strong as long as we are united, and A-Force is her defender. It’s our honor and duty to protect our island and her people.”

 

Not sure whose syntax this is, but it's not Nico's.
Not sure whose syntax this is, but it’s not Nico’s.

 

It’s not a good lookout for your voicing when you can connect three character’s lines together and form thereby an entirely seamless monologue. In dramatic quasi-imperial mode, She-Hulk sounds like Medusa sounds like Storm sounds like Nico. Then, during the fight scenes, they let loose with their banter, all of which is equally indistinguishable except for occasional particular character references. Dazzler says “Disco Tuesday.” Captain Marvel says, “Boom, son.” The overall result is a uniform river of dialogue monotony and self-seriousness punctuated by incongruous quippery that represents a monumentally wasted opportunity to show what a primarily female team could be in terms of voice diversity.

At first, I was tempted to forgive that. “Well, there hasn’t been the same deep characterization of voice for females in the Marvel Universe as there has been for the male characters.” But there has. Byrne’s She Hulk. DeConnick’s Captain Marvel. Kot’s Spider Woman. Vaughan’s Nico.   They all have identifiable ticks and quirks and perspectives that Bennett and Willow-Wilson have totally flattened somehow.

 

A2

 

Perhaps fault can be laid at the feet of the Secret Wars event and its ponderous demands. To be asked to form a new experimental team in the midst of one of the most controlled events in Marvel history must be a challenge, and the demand to make everything Big and Epic at every moment positively wafts from each page. This is a title that needed time to breath and naturally evolve, and the worst time to do that is in the middle of a crossover universe-rebooting event. Everything in Secret Wars is a bit melodramatic and reluctant.

But there is great stuff in other Secret Wars titles. Si Spurrier has improbably turned Marvel Zombies into the beautiful story of Elsa Bloodstone’s harsh youth. Star Lord and Kitty Pryde is fun and romantic in spite of the towering backstory. Even 1872 and Mrs. Deadpool are managing to pull something enjoyable and unique from the universal gloom. A-Force might have done the same, but decided to give into the Sadness rather than fight it and, like Artax before it, sunk just as tragically into the mire of its own self-doubt.

 

Let Us Not Forget that a Power Meter Stalks the Land.

AForceMeter

 

Fierce: 8: Are the battle moments incongruous in tone with the rest of the comic? Yes. Is the epic-ness of the set speeches undercut by their self-sameness? Yes. Is the comic trying a bit too hard to produce Moments of Fierce for each character? Sure. Is it still good to see? Yeah, it is, actually.

 

Dialogue and Characterization: 1: A team book needs to distinguish voices and motivations early. Three issues in, A-Force still has not done this.

 

Smart: 3: In spite of having a universe of female characters to choose from, we still have no moments where a female character is shown using her intelligence to problem solve. It’s hitting and inspirational speeches all the way through, and this in spite of the fact that you have a number of characters in the roster who are supposed to be noted for their insight and brains.

 

Art: 7: With the exception of Medusa, who looks often like she’s 16, the character models are all classic and fun. It’s good to see the old Dazzler costume in all its ridiculousness, and the female Thors that come in at issue 3 are pretty great. The panels are big and fun and dynamic, which they need to be when weighted down by such a thudding script.

 

Read More Super Heroines Episodes!
Read More Super Heroines Episodes!