"U.S.Avengers": A Guide to Marvel's New Patriotic Superhero Team
People are always asking me for comic recommendations with good female portrayals. There are a lot of them of course, but I find when people ask for ongoing books, rather than collected trades, or stand alone graphic novels, or even limited series, it’s a bit harder to find as many as I’d like that fill that role. So I thought I’d spend some time pulling together a column talking about a few that I think are worth checking out as a nice “here read this!” when people ask me for recommendations. However, as I researched what I wanted to put on the list, it became obvious that we have surprising number of very new books that are looking pretty damn good. And so this list quickly morphed into “8 Great NEW Female Positive Ongoings”. The great thing about that is that all of the books on this list are very easy to jump onto now, as not one of them is currently beyond their third issue. The worrying thing about that is it’s hard to know with many of these how long they’ll be around. But if we all buy and support and talk about them, maybe we can help them become well established enough to be with us for a good long while?
This list skews pretty mainstream, which initially surprised me since I read a fair amount of independent work, and independent work on the whole tends to be more female positive to my mind, but in doing this list I realized that while it’s quite easy to find indie graphic novels, trades, and limited series that fit this criteria, ongoing are a bit of a different animal and when I limited my list to “new” it became an even smaller group. Still, only half the list is DC & Marvel, and at least two books are very independent, so I hope there’s a little something here for everyone. As always I welcome any good “female positive” (and new would be good!) recommendations of books I may have missed in the comments.
From: Christos Gage (writer), Rebekah Isaacs (art), Dan Jackson (colors) via Dark Horse Comics
Why: Faith was never my favorite character on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but she was always interesting to watch and she was a character that stirred the pot in good ways, even if she got on my nerves. However, in comics (and this comic series particularly) she’s pretty great. She makes a good foil to Angel, and she keeps things light and less brooding. Faith doesn’t work so well for me as the lead on a book, but as a co-lead, she’s turning out to be rather brilliant.
In this series, Faith is helping to “rehabilitate” Angel after some truly terrible things that happened in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 run – though I don’t think you have to have read that run to be able to understand what’s happening here as they bring new readers up to speed pretty easily. Nobody else wants much to do with Angel after the events from Season 8, which is a perfect fit for Faith who is a bit of an outcast herself. Faith and Angel are two characters that have needed, and frequently seem to need time and again, serious redemption, and so they play nicely off of each others strengths and weaknesses. Angel is on a mission here to right the wrong he’s done, and though Faith suspects it’s a bad path, she’s busy both getting his back and keeping an eye on him for when it will eventually all go horribly wrong.
So far it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Gage has a great handle on both the main character’s voices and he’s moving the plot along briskly, with just enough time for some nice character work. While the Angel series at IDW was quite good on the whole, it is nice to have all of the Whedonverse characters back under the same publishing roof at Dark Horse, as this series and the Buffy Season 9 series tie loosely to each other in the best of ways, and as they should. Rebekah Isaacs’ artwork, as always, is simply a joy to behold. Everything is beautiful and well-considered and the storytelling is simply sublime. More detailed review of issue #1.
Stats: Angel & Faith is currently on issue #3, with issue #4 dropping in two weeks. Still plenty early to jump on board.
Female Positive Bonus Points: In addition to a very strong female lead and some good female secondary characters, this book is drawn by the always fantastic Rebekah Isaacs.
From: Jeremey Whitley (story), M. Goodwin (art/colors), Jung-Ha Kim (letters/colors) via Action Lab Comics
Why: Though Princeless is TECHNICALLY a mini-series, it’s designed to be at least five of them running back to back with four issues a piece, so that’s 20-issues if all goes well and I feel okay calling that an “ongoing,” for now. I also think it’s not a bad way to run a small press book as it makes it easy for new readers to jump on at each new section and formats it nicely for trades, should that be an option. Regardless, Princeless is just excellent comics. Though it is a YA book suitable for all ages, I found the humor to be nicely adult in the way that a great Pixar movie or Simpsons episode is – entertaining for kids – but plenty for the adults to enjoy on another level – and that’s a big difference for me with YA books. It’s also probably a pretty great business model as it’s hard to justify the cost of a comic for a kid when they have so much other media at their disposal to enjoy that frequently gets them more bang for their buck. But if you can enjoy it and the kid you bought it for can enjoy it…well that seems like a pretty good dollar value.
The story of Princeless is that of a Princess (Adrienne) trapped in a tower (much to her chagrin) and guarded by a dragon as she waits for a prince to rescue her. But this princess has decided she’s had it with that and instead escapes, commandeers the dragon, and heads off to rescue her sisters, similarly trapped in towers and awaiting their princes. It’s wonderful fun and the art is absolutely fantastic. Full of popping color, expressive characters, and flawless fluid storytelling. It’s one of my favorite new books around. Sue and I talked about Princeless #1 on Episode #029 of 3 Chicks Review Comics.
Stats: Princeless #1 arrives in stores this Wednesday 11/06/11. It is already available on Graphicly.
Female Positive Bonus Points: Not only is this about a great young heroine that thwarts stereotype at every turn and opts to be the master of her own destiny, but it’s a heroine of color too, which is far too rare.
From: Duane Swierczynski (story), Jesus Saiz (art), Allen Passalaqua, Nei Ruffino (colors) via DC Comics
Why: I didn’t expect to like this title much. After struggling with last year’s Birds of Prey relaunch which never quite worked for me (too many characters and terrible art) I picked this second re-launch up only because I am a huge fan of Jesus Saiz. Imagine my surprise to find an utterly delightful story about some great female superheroes? Swierczynski is taking his time building his team (at the end of issue #2 we finally have all four players in place, though just barely) and so far the cocktail he has mixed is quite interesting. The relationship between Dinah (Black Canary) and new character Starling is flat out wonderful and it’s already obvious that much more serious (but sometimes seemingly off her rocker) Katana is going to add a great element to their dynamic. Poison Ivy is an x-factor that has just been added to the mix, but given what Swierczynski’s done so far, I have no doubt that she will make things even more interesting.
The plot thus far is interesting enough, but it’s clearly just there as a framework to hang good character introductions and development on, which is fine with me. The more character development the better I say. Jesus Saiz is maybe the best I’ve ever seen him in issue #2 (colored by Passalaqua) as he manages to draw drop dead gorgeous ladies without the need for any aggressive male gaze. This is a great offering for the “female team book” of DC’s line, and the skeptics (by which I mean me) would do well to remember what a surprise this book turned out to be. I wrote about issue #2 here.
Stats: Birds of Prey is two issues in, with #3 dropping later this month.
Female Positive Bonus Points: All ladies, all the time. All our leads are great and interesting female characters – including some villain/anti-hero types: Black Canary, Starling (a brand new character), Katana, and Poison Ivy. Barabara Gordon also made a small cameo and I suspect she’ll be back eventually. Additionally, we finally have not only a lady of color on the BoP team, but an artist capable of drawing her as such. It’s a win all around.
From: Jason Aaron (story), Chris Bachalo (pencils and colors), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, and Al Vey (inks) via Marvel Comics
Why: This was one of the most interesting books I read of late, in part because it just feels weird. It doesn’t feel like a mainstream “big two” comic and I mean that in the best possible way. It feels ballsy and freewheeling and entirely unconcerned with following any kind of template. The first issue is basically 28 pages of Wolverine and Kitty Pryde taking some Department of Education people on a tour of the new school. Nothing happens – except a tour of the school (which of course goes horribly wrong), kooky introductions to some of the students and teachers, and a peek at what a financial nightmare and stress headache the whole thing is for those in charge – and yet it’s utterly enjoyable. Aaron and Bachalo are working together in perfect synch here, playing off of each others strengths expertly. The end result is a bizarre comic that feels like two dudes standing on the edge of a cliff and daring each other to jump. Or maybe they already did?
Aaron has a great grasp on the character voices, and already you can feel him slipping into wonderful character development between characters that we haven’t necessarily seen mashed up together in a long time. Bachalo is absolutely killing it on the visuals, darting from insanely detailed double page spreads to traditional nine panel grids of talking heads with ease. He’s at his kinetic unbridled enthusiastic best here and the only downside is that whenever we get a fill-in issue (and it will happen…I think it’s already scheduled for issue #4) it’s going to be a major disappointment.
In the end, I sort of have no idea what to expect from this comic yet, but it’s filled with an interesting female supporting cast (Idie, Husk, Rachel Grey, and Warbird) have already made somewhat significant appearances and it appears that Kitty Pryde is going to headline alongside Wolverine, so it’s off to a great female positive start. I wrote more about the first issue here.
Stats: It couldn’t be easier to jump onto this title as it is brand new. Only issue #1 is out thus far and #2 is due in late November.
Female Positive Bonus Points: Kitty Pryde, one of the best Marvel characters around looks to be the co-lead of this book. Additionally in traditional X-Men team fashion there are a ton of supporting ladies from students to faculty and including a Shia’r bodyguard (Warbird) already introduced, so there are potentially a lot of great female characters waiting in the wings as this title ramps up. And since it’s Bachalo, the fashion and character design is top notch and smart.
From: Terry Moore (does it all) via Abstract Studios
Why: Terry Moore’s latest effort is a fascinating and surprisingly dark tale (issue #2 will seriously get you) of a woman named Rachel that literally wakes up from a shallow grave. She’s lost some of her memory and is trying to piece together what happened to her and why she seems different – in appearance and in even more disturbing other ways – since waking up in the grave. Meanwhile another mysterious woman is on the scene, though we don’t know to what end yet, and some people around town, including a small child are committing horrible crimes as causally as they would take out the trash. It’s all related of course, and very intriguing as we’re in the dark nearly as much as Rachel. Surprises around every turn and solid character work, paired with gorgeous black and white visuals all combine to make this one of the best new books I’m reading.
This is Terry Moore, doing what Terry more does best – creating great female characters (more than one) and turning them loose on the page with nice supernatural twists. The art is stunningly beautiful, the plot is brutal and unexpectedly brisk, and the writing is nicely pared down and almost utilitarian (but in a good way).
Rachel Rising is full of mysteries and it feels as a reader like you’ve just begun tugging on a loose string to a very large sweater. The unraveling is going to take a while, but it’s going to be a hell of a ride. Read more about issue #1 here.
Stats: Rachel Rising #3 drops this week and is excellent.
Female Positive Bonus Points: Terry Moore draws women as few others can, with an incredible attention to detail and a variety of body types and designs that speak volumes before his characters ever utter a word. This book is filled with traditional Terry Moore ladies, and that is a great thing.
From: J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman (story), J.H. Williams III (art), Dave Stewart (colors) via DC Comics
Why: This is easily the most beautiful comic book on stands today. By perhaps miles. And that is in a field of some truly gorgeous comic books (many of them on this list). It’s also currently being very well handled on the story side by Williams and Blackman. It’s full of fascinating female characters – three – count them three! – great supporting characters in addition to our lead, and it’s just a great example of what more superhero comics should aim for – smart, well-considered, beautiful, and innovative. Batwoman is not just a great superhero story with a fantastic female cast, it’s also the chance to see a brilliant artist (Williams) experiment with the form right in front of your eyes. Batwoman is a visual smorgasbord as you watch Williams literally push and pull on boundaries, developing his style and taking it to new heights with every issue. Visually you never know what’s coming next, in the best possible way.
Fans have been waiting a long time for Kate Kane’s story, and even a long time since we finally got the first exceptional piece of it in 2009 in the form of Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics run, but I’m happy to report that it was absolutely worth the wait. I wrote more about issue #2 here and Sue and I talk about Batwoman #1 on Episode #26 of 3 Chicks Review Comics.
Stats: Batwoman #3 drops this week. Get on board now, and if you want to get even more out of the series, pick up the absolutely fantastic Batwoman: Elegy trade – I recommend the hardcover (cause it’s awesome and well worth it) but the softcover is out now as well and for under $12 on Amazon, it’s a steal.
Female Positive Bonus Points: Well, obviously, we’ve got not only one of the best new female characters created in a long time with Kate Kane/Batwoman, but we’ve got one of the only major out gay characters for the big two, and that’s huge. Add to that the fact that Kate is surrounded by a great female supporting cast in the form of Bette Kane/Flambird, Detective Sawyer, and none other than Cameron Chase and it’s an embarrassment of riches, that I’m all too happy to enjoy.
From: Brian Azzarello (story), Cliff Chiang (art), Matthew Wilson (colors) via DC Comics
Why: The best thing hands down about the new DCU for me is that it has finally brought me a Wonder Woman comic (after far too long a hiatus) that I can love the hell out of. It’s hard to have a character you love showing up monthly in a book that is just a bad floundering mess, so this new Wonder Woman has been an especially big treat for me. With a dark horror story spin so far Azzarello and Chiang have delivered a fresh and modern take on Diana’s world that is wildly compelling. Chiang’s clean, simple, and strikingly beautiful artwork is a great fit for Azzarrello’s darker stories and keeps it from becoming TOO dark or graphic while still capturing all the subtle nuance we need for the tale. They’re a great creative team and while every idea they’ve had for Diana doesn’t delight me (see: Diana’s revised origin as a daughter of Zeus) so long as this is the creative team, I have every confidence, and frankly…excitement, that they can pull it off and even convince me that they were right. The best creators usually can.
So far in this book Diana has returned to Themyscira with an injured Hermes and a young woman named Zola who she is trying to protect from Hera thanks to “sexy” Zeus shenanigans. But there’s more going on than just that in Azzarello’s story and a lot of plot threads have already been laid down that seem to be building into a powerful crescendo. It’s damn good stuff, and something Diana is long overdue for, which is at heart just a powerful, smart and well-rendered vision for her and her book. I wrote more about issue #1 here.
Stats: There are currently two issues released and issue #3 (which should have dropped this coming week I believe but is not on the schedule) should be out soon.
Female Positive Bonus Points: This book is chock full of layered, complex female characters – both hero and villain alike. It’s also got an artist that is one of the best around at delivering powerful, beautiful ladies sans objectification.
From: Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss (story/writing), Georges Jeanty (pencils), Dexter Vines (inks), Michelle Madsen (colors) via Dark Horse.
Why: A lot of of people shy away from the Buffy titles if they didn’t watch the television show, but the truth is that these are exceptional comics, regardless of whether you watched the show or not. While a certain amount of nuance and subtlety will likely be lost on you initially if you’re a new reader, that will eventually not be true at all and on the whole, they’re surprisingly new reader friendly. For this “Season 9″ series I would say all you need to know is this:
Buffy Summers is a vampire slayer. She has some amazing friends that help her in that battle against evil. A while back they destroyed a hellmouth (their former home of Sunnydale California) and they did it by empowering all the “potential slayers” in the with real power. Sharing this slayer power was an amazing thing, but it had consequences and in Season 8 (something big happened – SPOILER – I’m not going to say it here so I don’t ruin it for others that might want to read Season 8 ) and as a result in this new series, a lot is different in Buffy’s world. But she’s still a vampire slayer, and she still has some amazing friends that help her in that battle against evil.
See. Now you know everything you need to know to go out and buy one of the best comics I’ve read this year. I’ve battled with my 3 Chicks co-stars about Buffy because they claim to not be interested, but for anyone interested in really well done, smart, layered female characters with a feminist bent, it honestly does not get better than Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The entire manifesto of the concept and the series was one of feminism. Additionally, unlike so many of our beloved big two female superheroes that get passed around from creator to creator, some of whom care very much and some that don’t care at all, because Joss Whedon is involved, the Buffy story is always done right. The creators always care, and I’m here to tell you that it makes a huge difference.
The first three issues of Buffy Season 9 find Buffy living and working in San Francisco, with a few new friends and a whole mess of old ones. She’s hated by a lot of the world (which is not that unusual) and she’s dealing the best way she knows how – with a stake and witty banter. The art by George Jeanty in this new series has been exceptional thus far and the writing from Andrew Chambliss is hitting that perfect sweet spot of sass and seriousness. So far Season 9 is a homerun. I wrote more about issue #1 here.
Stats: Buffy The Vampire Slayer #3 drops this week and I can tell you unequivocally, it’s the best issue yet!
Female Positive Bonus Points: Buffy, one of the best pop culture heroines ever created, and an exceptional example of a perfect transition from the small screen to comics is the obvious lead and she honestly puts a surprising number of female comics characters to shame with her awesomeness. Add to that a vast and epically powerful cast of female characters that are layered and impressively three-dimensional. And lastly, you’ve got a creative team (and this has been true on every issue of Buffy I’ve read beginning with Season 8 ) that are impressively devoted to these characters and have literally no interesting in exploiting them. The creators on Buffy have amazing love for the characters and it’s evident on every page.
***FYI – She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female positive comics and graphic novels” for future columns. Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.***
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