Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
So there will be no 3 Chicks Review Comics this week, and I thought that the She Has No Head! post that I put up in lieu of it, should try to explain why.
Flashpoint/Post-Flashpoint has kinda killed us. Already. Maybe.
It’s possible we will rise up again, phoenix-like from the ashes, but we’re taking a breather. The truth of the matter is that most every week dealing in comics as a feminist that’s hoping for good positive things is a mixed bag. It’s very ‘take one step forward, two back’ – and sometimes more than two. For every great piece of news you get, you get one or two soul crushing pieces that tell you that nothing is ever going to get better, and maybe it’s even going to get worse. And it’s exhausting. And life in general is exhausting, so it would be really nice if comics were this awesome refuge that we could escape to, but while they were that at one time in my life, no longer. Instead they are most frequently this really horrible train wreck that I have to rationalize my love of from week to week. Sometimes they are brilliant and I’m reminded powerfully why I love them, why I love the medium, why I love superheroes, but far too frequently they make me really sad. But like many things that make me sad or frustrated, I still love them and I believe deep down (this week it’s very deep, and well buried) that they can be better…and so we soldier on and try to fight the good fight and believe that in the end comics will be better for all that fighting. But boy am I tired…
As with anything that has not actually happened yet, I can’t know for sure how all of this Flashpoint/Post-Flashpoint stuff is going to shake out, what will be great and what will be horrible, I can only react to the news, and more than a few rumors that I’ve read and been fed. But it’s hard not to react to the rumors and partial information. And from what I’ve seen…here’s what concerns me greatly:
First and foremost is that despite reading a lot about all of this, it’s still not quite clear to me what’s going to happen. It sounds like DC is launching a “Marvel Ultimate” line of sorts, except they’re doing it while erasing their existing line…sort of. It’s unclear what books will still be standing in tact, which will “re-launch” with apparently younger altered heroes and a zero starting point for those continuities and numbering, and which will just be canceled outright. This, more than anything, just seems like a horribly botched PR job. If it had been properly coordinated and issued, rather than parsed out in itty bitty bites, perhaps while I was mourning the loss of books x, y, and z, I could also get excited about books a, b, and c, or the creators attached to those books. But instead the information has been spotty and unclear and I’m left totally at sea about anything that’s actually going to happen. I’m left clinging to tiny life rafts of good news (Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman) and worried that so far there’s only one female creator on board (Gail Simone as co-writer on Firestorm). And perhaps worse, my desire to pump any of my hard earned dollars into DC this summer, knowing that none of it is going to matter a whit come Fall, is basically nil. Additionally, what I’ve seen of Flashpoint has me underwhelmed and frequently wildly frustrated (see: the role of Wonder Woman and the Amazons in Flashpoint, the whole “Mera Situation”, the lack of lady creators involved, etc.). So the idea that from this thing that I already don’t like is going to spring a whole new comics world order? Not encouraging. And if it’s all just a stunt that will ALSO be undone…I mean…that will be even MORE frustrating.
A new Batgirl #1, with Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is my biggest “ARGH!” right now.* Nobody hated Stephanie Brown more than me (well, probably). If you had told me Bryan Q. Miller could really make that character and book into something relevant I would have laughed in your face, and yet he has done wonders with the character. She’s still not the Batgirl I personally want, but you cannot deny that the book is consistently good and that he’s done a fabulous job of rehabbing that character. To add insult to injury, she’s also the current recipient of a fantastic artist (Dustin Nguyen). So why bother relaunching the book with Barbara in the uniform, something the majority of fans didn’t want two years ago and still don’t want now? Now who will Stephanie Brown be? Will she fade back into obscurity all so that they can take an already great character and move her backwards? You had two powerful female leads – one a young college girl full of ambition and enthusiasm, and one a powerful brilliant young woman, who also happened to be one of the only non-able bodied characters in the entire comics universe, and you’ve traded them in for one hot young thing to jump around on rooftops? Why? I will never understand this. And despite my love of Babs and of most things Bat, I won’t buy this book. I just can’t do it. Barbara Gordon has long ago transcended being a mere Batgirl…and though I understand they plan to de-age her and wipe away so much of what she was…I just don’t want that wiped away. I’ve always understood the argument fans make about her paralysis not making sense in this world of magic and technology and freaking lazarus pits, I get it, I do. But she was so good and important as she was that I believed she was a better and more important character in the role she had grown into as Oracle. I don’t know that I’d be opposed to her growing from Oracle into something else and maybe even out of the chair eventually, but going back to Batgirl just feels like a step backward to me. And maybe that’s the problem with so much of this…so much of it FEELS like a step backward, while we’re being told it’s moving forward. But it doesn’t feel that way, it feels old hat. That’s why an “Ultimate” line of sorts – showing an alternate universe where everyone is younger that tells stories free of all that heavy continuity and with an enthusiasm for freedom of the clean slate that comes with that – really could have worked and been exciting. But to wipe out things that were good, things that were great, feels like moving backwards. It’s very “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and I don’t get it.
*Of course DC is saying this isn’t Babs, and so rumors are swirling that it’s Charlie (aka Misfit)…but that honestly makes even LESS sense. The rumor is actually that DC is saying it’s Charlie, who will be paired romantically with Tim, who is the new Nightwing (more on that below)…but WHY? Tim and Stephanie have the history…so again I ask…what sense does this make?!
DC has promised more “practical” clothing for their female characters. On the surface of this statement, I want to be overjoyed. OVERJOYED. However, the sole image released when that promise was made shows a super busty Wonder Woman, in her very NON-practical bustier (see above). Worse, the bustier has been slightly redesigned to be even less practical by removing the straps – which was the sole improvement of that costume over the old as far as I’m concerned anyway. So I am left wondering if anyone at DC actually knows the definition of practical. Also, on closer inspection the “edict” seems to be mostly about women wearing pants. I’m certainly a fan of this in the broader scheme and if it can eliminate things like ever needing to see Supergirl’s panties ever again, along with a variety of other costume sins then a big Hell. To. The. Yeah. But reading the statement, especially when paired with the released image feels pretty half-assed and not entirely convincing. What about the unzipped Catwoman, the boob-windowed Power Girl, the I don’t even know what to call it Star Sapphires and Starfires of the DCU…? Will pants solve their problems too? I think not.
But maybe I’m being too literal in reading the statement…maybe real costume change is coming for the ladies of the DCU. Time will tell. A Teen Titans image released recently, gives some hope as it’s practical costumes all around for the ladies – including Vixen who has always had a crazy low cut costume, and the unnamed woman on the bottom left who looks like Donna Troy but apparently is not. So maybe there is hope? Hope is dangerous though…it’s so easily dashed. And does THIS look like the bastion of practicality?
And then we come to some of the Flashpoint nonsense that has been so frustrating, like the fact that – She Has No Head! literally…AGAIN (see Mera, above). As I’ve talked about a few times before, the title of this column was inspired by this famously horrible DC Cry For Justice image (see right). It wasn’t the first, or the last headless lady to show up in comics, but I find the recent ones of Mera, and specifically of Wonder Woman’s violence against Mera, particularly disgusting. I don’t understand a company that does this. And as usual I have to drag out my CONTEXT argument. I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with a character being beheaded in a world of comic violence, but in the context of the way women are generally treated in comics from being hyper-sexualized and constantly objectified to being fridged on a regular and alarming basis, I have to say it’s a baaaaaad idea. And I don’t know where the voice of reason is in the room that stands up and posits to the rest of the room that it’s maybe not a great idea. And seeing the bad decisions being made in Flashpoint only reinforces my fears that the same kind of bad decisions and limited vision are being applied across the board to their “re-launch”.
Like our fearless leader Brian Cronin, I don’t REALLY care about re-numbering. I think I care about it a bit more than Brian does, but at the end of the day I’m after good comics, so I’m all for the plan that gets us the best comics possible and if that has to come with a #1 on it, I’m okay with that. I don’t love it, but I’m okay with it. But I do worry about the ideas behind all of this and why these #1’s are supposed to be different than any other #1’s we’ve seen a million times before. I worry about some good books and characters that I suspect are going to get lost in the shuffle. The rumor about Lois and Clark not being together is alarming because I’d be surprised if Lois doesn’t end up out in the cold if that happens. I’m also not wild about Diana and Clark together for a variety of reasons. Word is that Zatanna’s book is done, that Power Girl will no longer exist, or at least not in her own title. Secret Six’s future seems wildly uncertain. Rumor has it Gail Simone is off Birds of Prey, which makes no sense in any universe. These are the books I buy. They don’t always please me, but they’re the characters I’m invested in and committed to and now their futures are uncertain at best.
News is slowly leaking out about the Bat-books, some of it good – it looks like there will be a Catwoman book (but the cover art is horrible), and most of it alarming – like the fact that Scott Snyder will no longer be on Detective Comics, which he has turned into one of the best comics out there in a few short months. Instead Tony Daniel will be on it. No disrespect to Mr. Daniel, but his name on something is an automatic pass for me. So in one fell swoop Detective goes from being the best bat book on the stands to one I’m not interested in even trying out. And Snyder is moving to Batman #1…but without Jock, or Francavilla. We’ve got a statement that says Bruce will be back to being the only man in the bat costume…but it seems crazy to start up this whole Batman Inc. thing, which really changed the entire Bat-universe, only to drop it a year in. What’s the point? Damian fans (of which I am one) are getting to keep him…somehow…despite the general de-aging of the universe…which makes no sense…? And the image released for Nightwing, which has been suggested IS Dick (in part since Bruce is now the only Batman), looks like a cross between Dick and Tim…which is kind of alarming. I finally get a glimpse of Cass Cain, and better yet a code name (Blackbat) which suggests a potential future of some kind and now…well, now what? Do I dare to dream of a Blackbat #1? Seems too risky to even hope for. And what about Batwoman? Batwoman is sometimes the sole reason I don’t chuck the whole mainstream comics thing entirely and yet the news remains sketchy. I hope that the push of her debut to the fall just means that they’re going to leave her book largely intact and let her #1 go out and as planned and all will be well, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still concerned.
But at the end of the day, my concern is less about any of these specific issues, announcements and images, and more a broad lack of faith in the architects behind these ideas. Which I suppose separates me from a lot of the comics community, who are genuinely excited about these things. Don’t get me wrong I’m jealous of people that feel excited…REAL JEALOUS. But I just don’t have some great and lasting faith in Geoff Johns or Jim Lee, who though I’m sure are wonderful people who I intend no disrespect to, they’re not exactly my ideal comics architects. Learning that the fate of my superheroes lies in their hands does not inspire confidence nor excitement. It inspires dread…and more than a little fear. I wish I could be less emotional about it all, I really do. For example, for a smart, savvy, and much less emotional (and thus superior) take on so much of this, please check out frequent CSBG commenter Dean Hacker’s bullet points breakdown of the re-launch here. But that’s not me. I’m all “WHAT ABOUT SO AND SO…!” And then there’s ranting and hand wringing. I can’t help it. I care too much. And despite all of Greg Burgas’s trying to remind me that caring about mainstream comics is a fool’s errand…I haven’t quite learned my lesson yet.
But here’s what I’m think I’m going to do…because I have to find the silver linings in this somewhere and since I still love comics and write about them for a living, or a partial one at least, it’s in my best interest to not just be mad at comics all the time. I’m going to start up a new comics project, tentatively (but brilliantly!) called THE COMICS PROJECT (I know, I know, my brilliance knows no bounds). The project is in its infant stages, but I suspect will be based on my Ladies Comics Project and will involve me soliciting would-be, ex, and new readers of comics for this slew of number ones. There will probably be a questionnaire and maybe some essays. We’ll see. It’s all very early, and born of a desperation to try to see all of this change from a different angle. Like most fans, my own viewpoint is narrow and very much mine. But I love this industry and am interested in things that might make it more viable, more robust, more long-lasting. So I’m open to change and I understand I might not like all of it, very few things in life are tailored specifically to my liking, so why should comics be? So far I see a lot I don’t like, and a lot that worries me, but time will tell what it all means. So stay tuned as I refine my COMICS PROJECT idea, and hopefully come next fall I’ll have something interesting to say about all this.
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