How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
The month is almost over!Â I know fewer people are reading these because they’re waiting for the trades (how dare you!), but I am undaunted!Â We must forge on!
Oh, and speaking of waiting for the trade, here there be SPOILERS.Â You knowÂ SPOILERS areÂ a-coming!
Well, I don’t see any connection between superheroes, sex, and violence on this cover, do you?Â What are you trying to say, Yanick Paquette?Â We just can’t tell!!!!
I have a small problem with this issue.Â On the one hand, I’m with Grant Morrison and his thinly-veiled scorn for comics conventions.Â I rarely go to conventions anymore, not necessarily because I don’t like them, but because the two children take up a lot of my time.Â Phoenix has only one convention a year anyway.Â But I used to go to Portland’s, and enjoyed myself.Â I did, however, look askance on the people in full warlock regalia, and “femtroopers” are just a bit weird, even for me.Â But it’s a kind of gentle scorn, and I don’t begrudge people who dress up.Â A comics pro, however, should be a bit more understanding, because without these wackos, nobody would care about them.Â If Morrison or any other comics pro wants to hold the opinions that comic book conventions are the last refuge of kooks and losers, fine.Â They don’t have to express those sentiments in an actual comic book.Â They could just, you know, keep their opinions to themselves.Â You might say that Morrison isn’t really picking on people who go to comic book conventions, but I think he is.Â Defend him, please!Â This attitude, for me, shadows an otherwise very good issue of Bulleteer.Â Not enough to ruin it for me, but enough to bother me as I read through it.
But let’s delve in, as we actually get to meet Suli Stellamaris, whose billboard for the movie Cup of Blood we saw in Shining Knight #2.Â Stellamaris is actually a mermaid, which is a derogatory term, so I guess I’m just as guilty as anyone else.Â As Stellamaris explains how she is trying to overcome stereotypes, she starts to choke and says she’s being poisoned.Â Given the events of later in the issue, we can probably call bullshit on that.Â Nobody can get in, because the glass of her water tank is reinforced, but that’s no problem for Alix Harrower, her superpowered bodyguard!Â Alix smashes the glass, and all is well.Â Except that Alix is now a target, as a mysterious narrator tells us.Â This narrator is trying to find a weakness in her armor – which we can see as both a practical problem, but as it turns out, is also an personality issue for the assassin.Â The narrator tells us a bit about Alix, including the fact that she has an “English kid studying art history.”Â She is currently guarding Suli Stellamaris in Zenith City, which appears prior to this in DC history apparently only in this issue.Â I was kind of hoping Morrison would bring back Vanity for at least a cameo in this series, but alas – ’twas not to be!Â (Although that link postulates that the town where Uglyhead wreaked havoc is Vanity – a very cool possibility that I hadn’t considered.)Â Anyway, the assassin reveals his identity as I, Spyder.Â Jeez, what’s with this guy?Â Is he dead or not?Â He is whittling a very special arrow for Alix, and looks like Jack Knight in James Robinson’s Starman.Â Admit it!
Stellamaris is a mean mother, according to Alix – she orders her kid around all the time.Â Big Thunder, the other bodyguard, tells her that she can “pacify the fanboys” while he takes Stellamaris back to her room, presumably.Â Alix isn’t sure what to do with the fanboys, who just want to ogle her even though only a few of them know who she is.Â Mind-grabber Kid, whom we last saw trying to pick up Zatanna at the end of the first issue of her series, tells her that she needs to open up her bustier a bit more.Â Considering she has no zipper there, that would be a feat indeed!Â He takes her to meet the original Bulletgirl, Susan Barr (even though he gets her name wrong and calls her “Parr”).Â Susan thinks Alix looks like a hooker and is quite put out that she’s stealing her husband’s old thing.Â Notice that Paquette draws Alix sticking her chest out when Susan confronts her – the sexualized nature of the book, muted in issue #2, is in full force again in this issue.
Alix and Lucian (Mind-grabber Kid’s real name) leave Susan and walk through the convention.Â They pass Dumb Bunny and the “Eternal Superteen” booth, which is the porn site that Lance visited in issue #1.Â Lucian tells her that his panel is called “In the Pink Corner: SuperqueerÂ Bashing, Kid Sidekicks and Life on the FringesÂ of the Law.”Â We know he was trying to pick up Zatanna earlier,Â so we’re a bit confused.Â He tells her that there are all kinds of people in the world and they don’t all end up with Justice League credentials like his.Â Â You’ll recall Jackie Pemberton picking on Zatanna because of herÂ Justice League credentials, but she didn’t pick on Lucian, who after all was in the same group.Â They stop outside of a panel called “Sweethearts and Supervixens,” where the women are arguing about those being their only choices in theÂ community.Â Lucian tells Alix that a lot of the girls grew up in cruelÂ orphanages, and it’sÂ no wonder they end up twisted.Â This is, of course, Sally Sonic’s story, as we’ll see in issue #4, and it also has a nice Dickensian flair to it.Â Inside, a comic geek asks L’il Hollywood, who is on the panel, that after all the controversy about the Newsboy Army over the years, if she could comment on the rumor that Millions the Mystery Mutt is immortal and secretly running the U.S. banking system, and whether it has anything to do with the cauldron of rebirth that the lateÂ Vincenzo Baldi was supposed to have found in Slaughter Swamp.Â L’il Hollywood hadn’t heard that Vincenzo was dead, and the fan says he was killed that morning.Â L’il HollywoodÂ makes a point to ask Lucian if he knew Vincenzo was dead.Â Etta Candy, by the way, is on the panel.Â We last saw her heading the self-esteem workshop that Zatanna and Lucian both attended.
Later, at theÂ awards banquet (where the late, lamented BoosterÂ Gold is giving out the Year’s Most Outstanding Comeback), Alix sees one of the girls on the porn site – Thumbelina – heading to the bathroom, so she follows her (take note of Thumbelina’s costume, too – a nice detail).Â In the same panel, Suli Stellamaris indicates that her son was born in very similar circumstances to Aquaman (well, not the modernÂ Aquaman, but the pre-Crisis one), and of course AquamanÂ wins the Best Comeback Award.Â AtÂ another table, L’il Hollywood is hanging out with other heroes.Â The annotations claim the guy who toast Jackie Pemberton is the original Stripesy, whoÂ was a member of the original Seven Soldiers of Victory.Â Two Boy Blues sit at the table, which is weird.Â The other guy is, if you can believe it, Selina Kyle’s brother.Â When is Will Pfeifer going to use him?Â One Boy Blue expresses what we’ve all been seeing throughout the series: “Nobody goes into battle with six on their team.”Â The other Boy Blue says, “Everybody knows it’s unlucky.Â Five is good.Â Seven is better.”Â Is it something to do with prime numbers?Â I’m not sure.Â L’il Hollywood tells Lucian to go get them some drinks so they can toast to the Undying Don.Â L’il Hollywood and Lucian apparently have some sort of a Gloria Swanson/William Holden relationship in Sunset Boulevard.Â In the bathroom, Alix catches Thumbelina shooting up with her shrinking serum.Â Alix asks her if she knows anything about Sally Sonic, and Thumbelina tells her that Sally “liked turning guys against their human wives and girlfriends,” but that’s all she can tell her.Â Alix has a spider on her shoulder, which turns out to be one of Tom Dalt’sÂ bugs, and he is listening in at that moment.Â He narrates that Lance started an e-mail affair with some “Brit superheroine.”Â And Alix’s tenant is English.Â You don’t suppose …
As she leaves the bathroom, Lucian finds her and tells her they should “team up.”Â Yeah, he means exactly what we think he means.Â He says they shouldn’t waste their time “playing out these restrictive social rituals” when they both want, you know, sex.Â Alix points out that he’s gay, and Lucian replies, “Do I look gay?”Â That’s a funny statement, considering it’s kind of difficult to tell if someone is gay just by looking at them, but you know what? he wears spandex and he has nicely-moussed hair – he DOES look gay!Â He tells her that it’s the only way he can get out of sleeping with the “old bag” – I originally thought he meant Susan Barr, but he means L’il Hollywood.Â She was looking to “coach” him and she told him he had a special destiny to save the world.Â This is interesting, as L’il Hollywood certainly remembers the Newsboy Army’s ill-fated trip to Slaughter Swamp.Â So we’ve seen Ed Stargard, Ali Ka-Zoom, and now L’il Hollywood try to mentor people who could “save the world.”Â Lucian also tells Alix that L’il Hollywood “can make herself look a lot younger than she is,” which explains why Miss Hollywood doesn’t appear as old as the others in the Newsboy Army.Â Lucian asks if Alix doesn’t think he’s capable of saving the world, and Alix asks the important question: “Why are you all so obsessed with being special?”Â This again shows that for Alix, this life is not the one she would have chosen.Â Her task is to overcome the obstacles that simply being a superhero has put in her way, and not any specific heroic task – she fights a supervillain, sure, but it’s not like she goes and finds her.Â Lucian can’t really answer her question, except to speak about a “yearning” they have, and if they don’t make it early enough, they get too old.Â Again, this echoes Lance’s desire to be perpetually young, because old people just don’t get to be superheroes!Â Lucian then goesÂ on a rant about how he doesn’t use his powers to score chicks because he’s a good guy, and how he doesn’t deserve to be “caught up in a nostalgia freakshow that never ends.”Â He tells L’il Hollywood he’s cruising gay bars every weekend, but he’s really going to his therapy group, as we’ve seen.Â Big Thunder comes around the corner and says that they should team up, which makes Alix suggest they all team up.Â Oh happyÂ day!Â Meanwhile, Tom Dalt floats outside wearing a jet pack, and he thinks to himself that he’s found her weakness:Â she listens.Â Â This implies that Dalt uses more than just an arrow to kill his prey – he also destroys them psychologically,Â because how isÂ “listening” a weakness an arrow can exploit?Â Alix’s penchant for listening, however, saves her life, becauseÂ as she assists Lucian up, the arrowÂ misses her, which it wouldn’t if she had been standing straight.Â Â Tom lands on a roof across the street and is confronted by the ghost of Greg Saunders, who says he knows they got him working for the other side, but he recruited him first.Â He shot Ramon Solomano through the soul, and presumably he does the same thing here, which is why Tom goes back to the “good” side.
As a coda to the attempted assassination, everyone rushes over to see what has happened, leaving Suli Stellamaris alone.Â She yells that she’s being poisoned again, but no one listens, and her son sits idly by, drinking soda.Â The annotations claim that her son poisoned her and that Dalt’s attempt DID lead to one death, that of Stellamaris.Â I wonder if she’s crying wolf for the attention.Â It’s kind of coincidental that she’s getting poisoned just when no one is paying attention to her.Â I could be wrong, though – I often am.
Alix returns home and talks to Sara, who slips up and mentions Thumbelina when Alix didn’t.Â This tips Alix off that it’s really Sally Sonic, who blows her magicÂ whistleÂ (oh dear, the symbolism) and magically changes into costume.Â SheÂ throws the coffee maker at Alix and then begins to beat her with the refrigerator as we fade out.Â The annotations believe this is a reference to Women in Refrigerators, and I certainly wouldn’t put it past Morrison, but perhaps a fridge is just a fridge – itÂ just happened to be there, and they are in the kitchen, after all!Â I wonder.Â It would be kind of cool ifÂ Sally’sÂ choice of weaponÂ was a reference to it.
In this issue we return to the hyper-sexualized content we saw in issue #1.Â We again see the linking of superheroes and porn, but it expands beyond the people who put on the costumes to the people who worship the people who put on the costumes.Â Now, this phenomenon is not limited to comics, of course – witness girlsÂ peeing their pants when the latest boyÂ band shows up, and guys lusting after, say, JoJo (she’s only sixteen, people – don’t look at her that way!) – but for some reason, it takes on a darker undercurrent when applied to comics – perhaps because the people comics readers lust after aren’t, after all, real (sorry, Ragnell – Kyle Rayner’s butt doesn’t exist).Â This issue mocks those who would worship at the altar of celebrity, but it also mocks those who are celebrities – or at least are higher up on the celebrity food chain than the fans.Â There’s this idea that celebrities are somehow “sexier” than regular folk – the fanboys gather around Alix simply because she looks like a superperson, even though we know she’s a regular person like they are.Â Â Lucian perfectly encapsulates this idea when heÂ speaks of “yearning,” which is something we usually hear when we speak of romance – it’s a lust for the worship and the sex thatÂ goes along with it.Â Morrison puts a twist on this by having Lucian reject the idea of sex with L’il Hollywood – he would rather pretend to be gay than get it on with this older woman who, as Alix points out, might just be lonely.Â We know she probably is lonely, because these people do not inhabit a world where they are allowed to grow old gracefully.Â They lose the spotlight, and that’s the worst thing of all.Â L’ilÂ Hollywood reaches out to Lucian the only way she knows how – sexually.Â Â We don’t actually see her reach out to him, but it’s interesting to contrast it to the way she talks down Mo Colley in The Manhattan Guardian #4 – sheÂ is innocent, so she doesn’t use sex, just an appeal to his better side.Â By the time we get to the present day, she can no longer relate to anyone like that.
Alix remains aloof from this strange world, and here I think we can look at how Morrison and Paquette sexualize her, because it’s her very sexual presence that allows her to remain aloof.Â We see her in more sexual poses after issue #2’sÂ backing off: the cover, obviously; on page 3, when Tom Dalt is spying on her through the window; on page 5, when Big Thunder tells her she was hot, she’s standing with her hips out and her hand almost on her butt; on page 7, in panel 2 we see only her ass, while in panel 4, she confronts Susan Barr by literally sticking her ample chest out; on page 8, she looksÂ practically fluid in both panels 2Â and 3; on page 12, when Thumbelina comes out of the stall, she again thrusts her hips out; on page 13, when Thumbelina tells her she would do great in superhero porn and Alix rejects her, Alix stands with her left hip askew and her right leg straight, in a defiant yet sexy pose;Â on page 16, while Lucian isÂ ranting about the “nostalgia freakshow,” she leans against the wall with her left arm akimbo, looking very much like a prostitute;Â on page 17, she is almost pushing her breasts into Lucian’s face as she helps him up; and on page 22, when Sally is about to hit herÂ with the refrigerator, she’s on all fours with her butt high in the air.Â WhatÂ are we to make of these poses, which are very deliberate?Â I think that Alix’s sexuality, which is as casually a part of her as anything, liberates her from the obsession that cripples the other heroes and fans in this book.Â I’m not sayingÂ that she goes around having sex with everyone, because we have seen she doesn’t.Â I’m saying that she knows that she is sexy, and doesn’t worry about it.Â Her sexiness comes from her looks, of course, but it also comes from her bearing, which is confident and poised.Â Even when she is worrying about her future afterÂ Lance dies, she doesn’t break down and go fetal – she simply gets to work and gets things done.Â Â The people at the convention areÂ past theirÂ prime (L’il Hollywood and evenÂ Lucian to a degree)Â or people who will never have a primeÂ (the fans).Â Everyone is insecure, from L’il Hollywood and Lucian to Suli Stellamaris to the women on the panel, who worry about labels.Â Interestingly, only the bodyguards – Alix and Big Thunder – seem together.Â I think we can all agree that Bug Thunder projects some measure of sexiness without worrying about people calling us gay, right?Â Big Thunder is also calmly sexy, and he and Alix are the only ones in the book who don’t seem to be dealing with dozens of neuroses.
ThisÂ sexiness also allows Alix to be human.Â SheÂ cares about Lucian, and wants to help him.Â She doesn’t worry aboutÂ appearances, so she’s not sure why Susan Barr is so angry atÂ her.Â She’s trusting, so she letsÂ Sara Smart stay withÂ her without, presumably, checking up on her (she’s new to the superhero game, I guess, but anyone who reads comics knows that when you become a superhero and then someone mysterious shows up who seemsÂ nice, probablyÂ isn’t).Â Â By the end of theÂ issue, when she’s going to fight Sally Sonic, we have learned enough about her that she can finally start starring in herÂ own book!
Yes, Alix Harrower has been a guest star for three issues now.Â Â Yes, the first issue was her “origin,” and sheÂ was featured prominently, but Morrison really examined Lance and his relationship to his wife more than he did Alix.Â Issue #2 didn’t even need Alix at all, except for the revelation that she was supposed to go to Miracle Mesa.Â She’s in this issue a lot, of course, but this is more about the people at the convention that Alix herself.Â Why has Morrison done this?Â I think it’s because of what peopleÂ have said about her job with children who have autism – she is not really suited for this “heroic” life, not because she is not heroic or even that she actively rejects the heroic life, but because she had such a fulfilling life beforehand (except for her relationship with her husband, which was presumably okay from her point of view).Â Therefore, she doesn’t have to make any kind of transformative journey – her transformation is purely external, and now she’s just trying to continue with her “normal” life.Â The only thing that she wants cleared up is Lance’s relationship with Sally Sonic, which comes next issue.Â So Morrison could use her series as kind of an infodump, which he has done for two issues, and also a place to look at alienation, which he has done elsewhere as well (most notably Frankenstein #1, which features another hero who really doesn’t need to transform).Â It doesn’t really weaken the story, unless you believe Morrison’s contention that each of these mini-series can be read completely separately.Â In that respect, nothing much has happened in this series.Â However, read as part of the entire saga, we have learned a great deal about what’s going on, so I count it as a success.
And come on – next issue there’s a catfight!Â Whoo-hoo!
The annotations are pretty helpful, and gave me the link to Catwoman’s brother (I still can’t get over that).Â Jog says that Thumbelina is working with the Sheeda, which I think is wrong, but still has excellent thoughts about the issue.Â (In case you’re wondering, the theory is that Thumbelina put the tracking device on Alix’s back when she came out of the stall, but it’s on the wrong shoulder that she touches, so I’m doubtful.Â Could be, I suppose.Â But why?)
Next: The Bride!Â No, not the crappy Sting/Jennifer Beals movie.Â Don’t worry!
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