Sultry Teenage Super Foxes (Solson Publications, 1987)
Creators: Rich Buckler and Chuck Wojkiewicz
Writer: David George
Art: Chuck Wojkiewicz and Scott Nickel
Solson Publications is an enigma wrapped in an improbability. It was a company that published titles like Reagan’s Raiders (featuring a rippled Ronald Reagan sporting a machine gun and stars and stripes bandana) and Iron Maidens (about four lady bodybuilder detectives) but also did a side business in mail-order piranhas (“Now! You can own real live man-eating piranhas!”). It billed itself as the comics company that “dared to be entertaining” and, if not always entertaining, the black and white pages of a Solson comic are certainly distinctive – a mixture of muscle worship, patriotism, and date-hungry skimpily dressed women that represent to the fullest the mindset of the 80s dark side.
Sultry Teenage Super Foxes came out in 1987, lasted two whole issues, and then disappeared back into the bog in spite of its winning title. It takes place on an air force base where, for some reason, a group of scientists have built a transmutation device that can change ordinary objects into gold and, they theorize, will also be able to change humans into super humans, because……..
Enter our four teenage heroines, who are drawn with loving attention to the outlines of their nipples, no matter what they happen to be wearing, and who, for all intents and purposes, are the same person. They talk the same (though one says “like” more than the others, which is very similar to having a distinct personality, from a certain point of view), have pretty much the same body type, and the same motivations, namely to get the pilots on the base to notice them. (And if you’re tempted to roll your eyes at the uniformity of female dialogue, glance at A-Force from a few weeks ago by the otherwise excellent G. Willow-Wilson for evidence that we haven’t escaped it yet for all our hindsight).
They find out about the transmutation machine and, late at night, break in to where it is held and decide to use it on themselves, figuring that whatever it does to them will make the boys more likely to consider them as potential girlfriend material. Yes, they step into a machine that has every likelihood of killing them… to get dates.
Of course, they get super powers of the most banal kind. Each gets a power tied to one of the four elements, making forgettable characters somehow more forgettable by giving them super abilities. Meanwhile, a fortune teller named Madame Rotunda (she’s overweight, you see… yup…) tries to contact her dead daughter, and instead ends up getting possessed by a malevolent alien presence that changes her into a big breasted evil space temptress, who then creates an army of fellow soul vampires from the ranks of the forgotten homeless, filling them with the consciousnesses of her fellow evil space spirits. They infiltrate the base under the guise of female pilots – the very same base where the sultry teenage foxes just changed into super heroes! What are the odds?! They summon their mothership, get in a fight with the Sultry Foxes, and the second issue ends with promises of big things to come that never materialize.
There is nothing about this comic that is surprising or subtle, but there is much that is important. With Marvel or DC, there is always a team of editors and public relations people at hand to guide policy, and so the id at the core of the comic industry is artfully glossed over, hidden under sentiments just correct enough for their times to pass muster. Solson Publishing is the straight stuff – an unadulterated glance into the Eighties mindset of the average comics fan with regard to women and what made them interesting. When they talk, they talk about you, the male reader (there is even a nerd in there who turns out to have a muscled physique beneath and who is being set up as the probable eventual love interest of the group – you are a nerd, but you really are strong, and really, the girls want you! Comics!). What they do, they do so that you will notice them. They dress so that every nuance is available for your inspection. No pretense at greater purpose or character or background – all of those are thoroughly unnecessary. Everybody should read Sultry Teenage Super Foxes, if for no other reason than to observe the beast of 80s misogyny stripped of its usual politic diversions.
What’s THIS? A power meter, in stately Super Heroines, Episode 6?!
Fierce: 2: Every action that the Foxes undertake has, at its base, a desire to attract hunky guys. Their powers are generic, and their attitudes indistinguishable.
Smart: 1: The women are never shown saying or doing anything requiring intellectual effort, and the comic creators have clearly no desire to craft anything out of the ordinary with the story-telling.
Funny: 1: It’s the sort of humor that might have been at home in the 1950s, but by 1987 having characters this vapid and boy-hungry is absurd.
Artwork: 5: The artwork, however, is okay. I love me a black and white comic. The costume decisions for all of the characters are exploitative, but if you came into an issue of Sultry Teenage Super Foxes expecting understatement….
Madame Frankenstein (Image Comics, 2014)
Writer: Jamie S. Rich
Artist: Megan Levens
Monster stories are not about monsters.
They are about how people react to monsters.
Mummies and werewolves are, in and of themselves, nothing to get worked up about, but put them with people, and you have the perfect stage to explore humanity’s simultaneous hatred of the alien and fascination with the forbidden. The more subtly you investigate that relationship as a teller of monstrous tales, the longer your work will linger, a clear enough moral that is blithely passed by too often in the crafting of monster comics.
Not so with Madame Frankenstein, a book that one might pass up as just another Frankenstein tale at first glance but that, upon further readings, has a rewarding set of insights into the monstrosity of idealism. The seven issues it took to tell this comic are, essentially, an extended meditation on how the idealization of women ends in their destruction. Vincent Krall, the Dr. Frankenstein stand-in for the comic, was as a college student obsessed with Courtney, a young woman with a taste for alcohol, speed, and deception.
But he is a romantic, an idealist, and of course cannot accept that his beloved would be that way. Played out between the panels is the story of his synthesis of an ideal Courtney, (whom he renames Gail in an attempt to own her identity as well), a Courtney who is good and demure and deferring and truthful. For him to be who he thinks he is, she must be somebody new and when a car accident takes her life, he has the chance to re-make her, to literally build her as befits his conception of himself. The only problem is, her old personality won’t die, even as her body is reconstructed and her memories are fragmented, that viciousness that was once hers won’t entirely go away, and whenever it does, Vincent is sent into a rage. We don’t understand why at first, but we get glimpses as the story moves along of his deranged self-idealization and how that corrupts the justification of everything he does.
It’s a smart, smart story masquerading as just another horror tale, and Megan Levens’s art provides the perfect cover. It is in the great tradition of the horror films of the Fifties, but with something unsettling and against the genre in the earnestness of the lines that pushes everything towards its grim conclusion. It is a tale of what happens when you treat people as reflections of you, rather than as independent entities, of how that turns self-described Romantics into tyrants, and their lovers into victims. The despotism of the Nice Guy was never rendered with a greater sensitivity or insight than here, nor the tragedy of non-compliance.
One More Power Meter, and Thence to the Day…
Fierce: 8: Gail, in the process of rediscovering herself, of overcoming her shattered mind and primal fears to lash out at last at her idealistic savior, regardless of how that revolution goes, is pretty great.
Smart: 10: As a monster cobbled together from cadavers, Gail doesn’t have much opportunity to, say, perform a spectroscopic analysis. But the insight into the psyche of romanticism, its twisted logics and cruel purpose, is one of the best psychological portrayals in comics.
Funny: N/A: Not a real knee-slapper, Madame Frankenstein.
Artwork: 9: Megan Levens has crafted a fragile, eerie world which feels properly oppressive at all times. It’s an emotionally brutal book, and she captures that beautifully in her stark, classic lines.