Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bad Idea / Good Idea, and when continuity matters.

Last year, I made a post about how every single character, no matter how lame, how silly or how old, was someone’s favorite. (In case you’re curious, it was this one )

What prompted that post was my concern for one of my old favorites, Robbie Baldwin, aka. Speedball. When I did the post, I hadn’t read anything of Civil War, but I knew that things were not looking good for him and the New Warriors. Despite my misgivings, I caved in and bought Civil War 1 and was appalled as to how they were written because, frankly? None of them sounded in character. However, I understood the need for a huge catastrophe, and thought, ok. I hate that Namorita and co. are dead, but hell, the situation called for it, and while I rather have the Dan Slott version of what happens to small towns when supervillians and superheroes duke it out (Aka. the ‘Hulk has never taken an innocent life’ defense), I understand why Marvel thought they needed to be a bit grimmer.

At least no one was getting raped.

Then I got Frontline, and was pleasantly surprised to see that Speedball had survived the blast due to his powers. And that he was saying what everyone should’ve noticed since the fourth page of Civil War: It wasn’t the heroes that caused the blast. It wasn’t the heroes who were responsible. It was Nitro.

For 8 issues of Frontline, that was Robbie’s only defense (Btw, I love She Hulk, but her appearance as Speedball’s lawyer was abysmal. No matter how much she wanted to push the Registration on him, she should’ve never advice him to plead guilty. He was innocent, doing all the things every single other superhero has ever done. But I digress).

Due to a lot of traveling, I missed getting Frontline 9, and so, Frontline 9 and 10 were waiting for me in my pull list the next time I went to the comic book store. I flipped through them –a habit I have- and upon hitting the last page of Frontline 10, I promptly canceled my subscription.

I can’t buy a book where the character I’m following does a 180° change of mind without any explanation or real reason. Robbie’s powers mutated –why? It’s anyone’s guess- and he killed four people. That I can buy. That I can sort of understand. The fact that suddenly he’s blaming himself for all the Stamford’s deaths is absurd. He wasn’t the one who blew up then, he wasn’t the one who purposely blew up next to a school yard.

Not to mention, that, really, Penance’s suit is the worst thing I’ve seen in a comic book in a long, long time.

But what really, really nags me of all this is that continuity wise it makes no sense. Not that there are a lot of things in Civil War that make sense in continuity, but this particular one is, frankly, one of the worst I’ve seen.

Way back in the 90’s, there was this completely stupid crossover done by Marvel, in which every single hero was attacked by his evil clone. The Infinty War crossover was one of those things that I didn’t understood at all because I only got to read the issues of the series I was reading, including New Warriors 27, which surprisingly was a Speedball solo issue.

That’s right. Speedball vs. Blackball. Even the cover claimed it was because no one demanded it.

It was also the issue when Robbie’s dad, the DA on a town where masked heroes *were* illegal, found out that his son was a superhero. His mom had known for a couple of issues before, when the New Warriors saved her from the Force of Nature.

Now. Robbie arrives to Springdale after his double. The town has been half destroyed to the point of that the orders on Speedball are ‘shoot to kill on sight’. What does Robbie do when he realizes he’s been accused of something he didn’t do?

“I can’t surrender myself- They’ll never believe it wasn’t me who did all this!. Especially cro-magdad—he thinks Speedball is responsible for everything wrong from the trade deficit to Hammer’s last album! I can’t hold out either—if they start shooting at me, the ricochets could hurt this family--!”

Exclamation points aside, we can see his two priorities : Finding the right culprit and not letting the family behind him to get hurt.

WHEN the police start shooting as he flees, he realizes he can’t let the bullets bounce off him as he usually does, and he actually manages to stop them with his bubbles. This was back when Nicieza was doing all kind of weird experiments with Robbie’s powers, making him a whole lot more interesting. The panel with the cops watching the bullets fall is priceless.

But the big pay off of the issue, and the reason why it popped into my mind as soon as I started reading about ‘Penance’ and later, thanks to scan daily, the actual dialogue of the scene when he puts that torture kit they’re calling a suit, was the final confrontation between Speedball and his dark side, at his house, when his darkside is threatening his mom.

Now. This was the 90’s. The decade best known for suffering heroes, unending angst and ‘cool’ and ‘dark’ stories. And Speedball faced his dark side, conquered it, was quite bothered as to how he managed to conquer it, which stayed with him more or less until he was replaced by someone else pretending to be him. Even so, the guy pretending was a perfect copy of Robbie, and was the one who brought closure to Robbie’s relationship with his dad.

Sure, it took roughly 30 issues, but it dealt with Robbie’s issues with his anger, his lack of control with his powers, his relationship to both parents, and a final resolution to the ‘Art / Law’ debate. That’s character evolution, and the excuse that it was the same writer doesn’t work since it was dealt by three different writers as far as I remember.

Going from “I’m not guilty” to “Accepting guilt would be accepting my friends are dead” to “It was all my fault, 121 points of pain” in the lapse of 10 half issues? Not so much.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Yes. Another sexism and comics rant.

I’ve been thinking about writing this since December 28, when I saw the link to the Cenizas’s editorial “De Feministas y Fangirls: La ironía en pleno” at When Fangirls Attack. My first impulse was to groan and check the date. December 28 is the equivalent of April 1st here, so it could be a joke. But it had been posted on December 26, no luck there. My second was a lengthy answer to the Cenizas’s guys asking exactly why they were addressing the points made in Girls read comics (And they’re pissed) assuming they were from WFA, and how could they simply not get the point. I erased that answer, and then I realized that the reason why it made me mad was because GRC (And the entirely of Wonder-girl org) are mainly English speakers. Even if they found the Cenizas’s link, which of course they did, they wouldn’t quite understand what they were saying. Which of course takes the dialogue part of it out of the window since there’s not going to be a debate.
So I thought about translating it. And tossed the idea right out of the window too since, frankly? I don’t think the world needs yet another ‘if you don’t like big boobs, you shouldn’t be reading comics anyway’ rant in English. Does the world needs another ‘it’s not about the big boobs, damn it!’ rant? Probably not. But I’m going to put it in English and in Spanish, so… what the hell.

Anyway, among all the things I read at Cenizas, there were two that jumped out from the whole text. The first one was “The tits and ass are the only thing that justify that the geeks of spandex wearing superheroes aren’t seen as gay”. The second one was their closing statement, in which, bluntly, they state that if you’re a feminist, you have no business being a superhero fan girl, because to complain about sexism in superhero comic books is the same as “being a vegetarian and taking the meat out of the tortilla in the corner’s taqueria”.

I have issues with the first statement because it perpetuates the comic book geek stereotype. The guy living in his parent’s basement, wondering how is Jean Grey’s sex life, incapable of talking to a real, three dimensional woman. I have issues with it because it objectifies the female characters even more than the superhero comics we’re discussing, and demeans the male readers. There’s a lot to be said about that, how suddenly reading superhero comic books is inherently childish, but I was going to talk about sexism, so I’ll stick to sexism.

The second comment brought the attention of Karen Healey, the actual author of Girls Read Comics, and in her journal there came a discussion of how people can eat tacos without meat, which brings an interesting cultural difference. In Mexico, if it doesn’t has meat, it’s not a taco. So what the guys at Cenizas are saying is that if you haven’t got sexism on it, it’s not a superhero comic (I’m hoping they were limiting themselves to superhero comics, although the mention of the Sensational de Traileras, a pretty known soft porn comic book from Mexico makes me doubt it) and I have to disagree. Yes, Tits and Ass are required in soft porn and hard porn comic books. They’re porn comics for a reason. I don’t think anyone in the anti-sexism group wants the T&A to disappear from sex comics, because being anti-sexism is not being anti-sex. Yes, some T&A is expected to be found in comic book where half of your cast is dressed in spandex, but no one expects Power Girl’s breasts to disappear –in fact, many feminist blogs I’ve read love PG’s curves. But T&A is not the problem. The problem comes when the characters are treated like nothing more than furniture, shock value, and window dressing. The problem comes when female characters are raped, killed, maimed and torture just for torture sake (And, before anyone jumps, it’s the same thing when male characters get raped, killed, maimed and tortured. It’s just that usually? When a male character is tortured, it’s not just to spike sales with very few exceptions)

Now, not every single woman who has been brutalized in a comic book is a sign of misogyny. Not every single gay character who is mistreated is an example of homophobia. But when you pile every single time it happens, the picture it shows it’s a bit disheartening. Yes. There is sexism in comic books, everywhere. Yes, it started quite early, when girls were there just to be rescued. But as things have changed in the world, they should change in the industry. Not all superhero comic books are sexist. Runaways is a perfect example. Young Avengers is another. X-Factor has a wonderfully diverse cast and the women in it are strong, three dimensional woman. She Hulk is a riot, despite of the covers. I haven’t read Birds of Prey, or Manhunter, since currently I’m not buying any DC comic, but I’ve heard wonderful things about them both. Spider-man is not sexist (Aunt May kicks ass). Superhero comic books are not inherently sexist, and they do not need to be sexist to be superhero comic books.

Actually, scratch that. Nothing needs to be sexist, not even porno comic books. Because having a woman prancing naked on a book doesn’t mean that the comic is sexist. It can be sexist, but it doesn’t need to be.
Because, well, let’s remember one thing:

Sexism: 1.- Attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
2.- Discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp. such discrimination directed against women.

So, killing a woman character because a character had to be killed =/= sexism. Killing a woman character because it is a woman = sexism. Having a woman character fight crime in swimsuit and high heels = / = sexism. Having said female character do nothing except pose and being captured by the villians= sexism.

Hey, when all it’s said and done, Manga is more inherently sexist than superhero comic books. But then, Japan is a country culturally more sexist than the US or Mexico. Which brings us to cultural differences. Mexico and the US are very different countries, with different stories of feminism. Feminism there meant a very different thing and is a very different movement than what is here. They don’t have a Ciudad Juarez, for example. Yes, there’s sexism everywhere. But now it is illegal to fire someone based on their gender.

The old ‘there’s sexism everywhere, what are you going to do about it?’ excuse doesn’t work anymore. Yes, there’s sexism everywhere, and everywhere women and men are working together to stop it, to make it disappear, for true equality. Who says it can’t disappear from comic books?

And please, remember. Disappearing sexism doesn’t mean making the T&A disappear or adding even more shots of Nightwing, Green Lantern and Batman’s ass. It means treating all characters equally, which, in the end, will only lead to better stories and isn’t that what we all want in the end?