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Committed: Back Issue – The Liberated Ladies Issue

If you wrote a magazine just for me, designed to plug into my brain and force me to purchase, it would have to be the “Liberated Ladies” issue of the new Back Issue magazine. Devoted to the in-depth examination of just a few of the strongest female superheroes in comic books, as well as interviewing three of the most identifiable women working in comic books – I had to read it.

The cover is adorned with a fabulous Bruce Timm painting of one of the most intense and powerful women in comic books; Big Barda. Personally I would have liked to have seen her depicted in her Apokolypitian military atire rather than a bikini. The partial nudity somewhat undermines the “Liberated Ladies” tagline, but this slightly more sexualized version of Barda is understandable; breasts are great sales tools. Besides, Timm perfectly depicts Barda’s mood, with her uncompromising stare and her unabashed posture, she is a character who truly embodies the warrior spirit of the superhero.

Inside the magazine follows through, spotlighting just a few of the strongest female superheroes in the comic book universe. Big Barda, Ms. Marvel, Phoenix, Savage She-Hulk, Starfire, and Valkyrie are described in loving detail by some very committed readers. The authors have a strong affinity with the characters and the sense of history is engaging . The select superheroes are iconic with at least three of my favorites among them.

I was particularly entertained by the writer, Jim Ford, exhuming our dear Phoenix. Tellingly, he only wrote about her incarnation and then her death at her own hands (I say tellingly, because that’s how I would have written it too. Like many people, I have little or no interest in Phoenix and Jean Grey’s various reincarnations and excuses over recent years. Even when done well by writers like Grant Morrison in New X-Men, the lack of permanence in death depress me. Let a death be a death.) He writes well about the editorial and creative discussions which happened around Phoenix’s journey, from inception to her death. Most of it will be familiar to old fans of the character, but Ford compiles them in context quite beautifully, weaving a complete story of behind-the-scenes inspiration and competition leading to the creation of an (almost) cosmic female superhero.

Interestingly, the author includes Dave Cockrum’s original concept sketches for the Phoenix costume, which was to be white. It really makes so much more sense of Cockrum and Wein’s vision for Jean as an almost angelic incarnation of her previous self. However, due the the print limitations of the time, editor Archie Goodwin rejected the white costume because the thin paper would have allowed the printed page opposite to show through. It is a great example of how the limitations of the medium forced a different solution, one which is now quite iconic. Who’s to say if the Phoenix would have had as much impact in a white costume?

Similarly, Douglas R. Kelly writes about the inception of She-Hulk, explaining that she basically only came into being to establish some copyright laws so that Universal Television couldn’t make a She-Hulk spinoff. Once again, he describes how the creators of this character worked within the confines of a very weird medium to make a book they could be proud of. He infuses his description of her inception with so much attention to detail that he makes me yearn for a retelling under more salubrious conditions.

In amongst all this text there have to be some comic books and Karl Heitmuller creates an adorably amusing double page comic about the impracticalities of female superhero fashions. Using logic to entertainingly say the things that really need saying, like “it speaks volumes that in movies like X-Men and Watchmen, the heels on Storm and Silk Spectre suddenly disappear during action scenes.” And I love that he noticed the oversized Amazonian proportions of Darwyn Cooke’s depiction of Wonder Woman, he’s right too, no one draws her looking as strong as that. I’ve seen similar commentary-style comic strips on the sexism of superhero comics from people like Kate Beaton and Roberta Gregory in the past, so it is interesting to see a contemporary male cartoonist making his point.

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In addition to all of this female superhero love, there is a good amount of the real-life, superheroic females in an impressively detailed roundtable interview with Barbara Randall Kesel, Gail Simone, and Jill Thompson. As a person who rarely pays any attention to the gender (or nationality, or even the name!) it was fantastic to hear all of the personal anecdotes of these women working in the industry which produces what I love. Their candor is wonderful, simultaneously impressive and daunting. Their stories from the front lines aren’t always fun, trying to make a place for themselves in a male dominated industry wasn’t exactly a party by the sound of it, but they are eye-opening and interesting anecdotes.  Most of all I enjoyed the interaction between them, and the appreciation that they had for each other’s stories and knowledge. There’s a double page spread of Jill Thompson’s art. I was especially enamored of her Wonder Woman painting (prints of which are on sale on her website), which has the look of Thompson’s long lost Amazonian sister.

All in all a very satisfying read and definitely money well spent as I was stuck in an airport departure lounge for an extra hour and a half. All that time flew by while I read Back Issue and the only sad note was the fact that this entire issue of the magazine was put together by a crew of male writers and designers. While I know that women readers of superhero comic books aren’t a huge audience, I would have loved to have seen one doing something to contribute to this particular issue. Unfortunately, this small yet vital misstep left a shadow over the magazine and reminded me of this old Punch cartoon. It would be nice to say that we’ve come a long way since 1988 when that cartoon was drawn, but if we’re going to have a voice in this industry, we women who love superheroes are going to have to make a lot more noise about the objects of our affection.


thank you for promoting this magazine….. note to comics fans this is a REAL comics based magazine… those who were raised on Wizard and defended it take note….. this is how it is done.

I LOVE Back Issue!

The cover was a misstep. You’re right, it should have been Barda in her military uniform, not in the bikini. If Bruce Timm couldn’t bring himself to draw her in that outfit, maybe a popular female artist could have been found to draw it instead?

I will definitely have to pick this up, sounds awesome.

I resent the implication you make in your final paragraph. And if you knew anything about Michael Eury or about how contributions to Back Issue work, then you’d realize how uninformed and wrongheaded your veiled accusations actually are. Back Issue accepts submissions from anyone. There have been plenty of women who have contributed great articles. If you ever read Back Issue you might know that. Thankfully there are no quotas at Back Issue. They could have an issue written by all women doing articles on all male heroes next month. They take the submissions and THEN make the theme for the magazine. There is no sign on the submission guidelines that state “He-Man Woman Haters Club: No Girlz Allowed!” BI has an open door policy were anyone of ANY gender can submit anything they want. TwoMorrows is not DC.

As to the remarks about the cover, I think it’s your comment that is off the mark, not the choice of Timms cover art. The fact that high profile activist bloggers like dcwomenkickingass, Heidi and Johanna Carlson praised the cover several months ago just goes to show how “singular” your claims of sexism actually are. Again, BI covers are almost always previously unseen commissions or previously unreleased alternate cover art submitted to BI for future use. There isn’t an objectified bone in this covers body. Your knee jerk “cry wolf” reactionary response to it is off the charts and wholly inappropriate and not remotely objective. If there is anything that misses the mark it’s your need to make obligatory accusations of sexism where there clearly is none. I find your snide and uninformed comments and your attempt to accuse the good people at TwoMorrows of sexism on any level to be highly offensive. Get some education and then get a clue.

I love Back issue and been onboard since issue 1. Cannot recommend it enough. It as an incredibly well put magazine. Not quite agreeing with one of the previous posters, but yeah, some of your comments are not what I would call off the mark exactly, but rather, not “completely informed”. Again, Michael Eury puts together an incredible magazine that not only shows lots of love for the medium and ALL its creators (male, female, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Gay, etc.), but also respect for BOTH the medium and the creators. And the cover? Awesome cover depicting Barda’s look after putting those nosy guys in their place on that Mr. Miracle issue highlighted inside (Issue # 5) . Kirby drew Barda in that bikini even better than Bruce Timm (all due r
espect to Mr. Timm). To me, she’s looking at all of us (guys) and saying: “Yeah? You got a problem or what? Love your column. Women rule!
Happy Belated Valentine’s Day!
All the best,
Luis Jaime

“Your knee jerk “cry wolf” reactionary response to it is off the charts and wholly inappropriate and not remotely objective.”

Wow. I’m surprised that you can explode like that and then call someone else ‘knee-jerk’ and ‘reactionary’. You did notice, in amongst the two criticisms you noted, that the entire rest of the piece was complementary. (“all in all a very satisfying read and definitely money well spent”: is that also ‘wholly inappropriate’ and ‘not remotely objective’). I don’t know what to call someone who can’t stand a couple of criticisms in amongst a whole lot of praise other than reactionary.

Indeed, if you weren’t so knee-jerk, you might have actually read what Sonia said: “if we’re going to have a voice in this industry, we women who love superheroes are going to have to make a lot more noise about the objects of our affection.” In other words, the blame isn’t (entirely) put on BI, but rather (at least in part) on female comic readers.

“I resent the implication you make in your final paragraph.” As the old saying goes, there are no implications, only inferences. Sometimes people on constant guard for the smallest slight will see slights wherever they look.

I’ve got a full run of BACK ISSUE except for #50 (which I’m looking to find cheap, being relatively impoverished & chintzy & all), & … yeah, what what Luis Jaime said.

I happen to love that cover. Then again, I’m on record as having no real use for anything Kirby, unmatchable genius though he was, did after about 1969, so his own renditions of Barda leave me cold as ice.

To a certain degree I have to agree with Czech about the indictment leveled at Back Issue editors. Eury isn’t a sexist guy, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I’m not as “passionate” about the subject as Czech is, but I do feel that the criticism is a bit disingenuine and obligatory, as though Sonia looked at her checklist and said “whooops, forgot to add a dash of feminist outrage”. It’s an innocuous, light hearted, non politial fan mag about 70s and 80s comic book stories and characters. Just recently they had several female writers doing articles about Marvels female written The Cat, Shanna, Night Nurse comics of the bronze age. Several female writers did articles for the Spider-Man issue a few months ago. These are not people who are going out of their way to exclude women and that charge is uninformed and unfair. I’ve known Eury for over a decade, just not his style.


I think Sonia’s inclusion of the Punch toon took the matter beyond the definition of “inference” and well into blatant “accusation” territory. I don’t take it as seriously as Czech did because I don’t take internet blogger criticism seriously. However, I don’t believe for a second that Sonia was even a tiny bit upset by the lack of female writers contributing to this particular issue upon first reading at the airport. I think her accusatory snark was added after the fact to spice up an otherwise positive review because thats just what internet bloggers do. They never met a 100% positive review they liked. Against their code or something.

As far as the cover goes, Timms art is too cute to be considered objectification by any fair minded standards. I mean, if that cover is objectification then Tiny Titans would have to be considered the same. Again, I find this criticism to also be a bit disengenuine. But hey, my opinion, much like this critics, is purely my own subjective one.
But since I know Michael Eury and many on the TwoMorrows staff (male and female) personally, the “inference” that the cartoon makes is, objectively, unfair and might be considered offensive to those who know the people who put this magazine together.

Having known Michael Eury since 1986 and John Morrow for maybe a decade less than that, one thing I know about both fellows is that both are grown-up professionals who recognize and appreciate thoughtful constructive comments such as Sonia offered above. And speaking as an editor myself, I feel pretty comfortable in saying any editor or publisher would be delighted to receive such an overwhelmingly positive and appreciative review.

For that matter, sometimes an editor just plain messes up and doesn’t achieve the diversity of views or contributors he or she would ideally want. An editor in that position would be very glad indeed to see a reviewer take the balanced, level-headed view of the situation Sonia demonstrates above. No name calling, no shrill denunciations, no condescension, no moral blackmail — just an even-handed description of how these things sometimes go awry and how matters can be improved going forward. Readers here could learn a thing or two from Sonia.

been watching the comments with interest. I’m a big fan of Back Issue and Alter Ego. I don’t know the people who put it together and I’m a bit suspicious of the claims of the people here who say they do as they seem to be doing it only to give weight to whatever point they think they have.

I’ve read lots and lots of interviews with women in the industry in the magazine and seen many articles submitted by women within the magazines pages. I think it all boils down to simple coincidence. No “missteps” or things going “awry” or sexism. I also think the publishers and editors who work there are most likely big boys and girls who can handle a little criticism from a blogger or two. I’m just glad the magazine is getting some well deserved attention.

What kind of bummed me out was that this reviewer left me with the impression that she probably wouldn’t buy this magazine as a rule. That she just picked it up for the theme this one time. I hope I’m wrong but it would be too bad if Ms. Harris didn’t continue to read Back Issue as there are almost always articles about superheroines and their history as well as regular interviews with woman from the industry during the 70s and 80s (which is the magazines main focus for those who aren’t aware). Ramona Fradon and Louise Simonson among others are mentioned regularly and they ran a very poignant interview with the late Adrian Roy a few months ago. There’s also an issue devoted to Jenette Kahn coming up. It would be sad to think that someone would miss out on these articles about the contributions of great women in the industry solely because they weren’t written by women.

“I think her accusatory snark was added after the fact to spice up an otherwise positive review because thats just what internet bloggers do. They never met a 100% positive review they liked. Against their code or something.”

An 100% positive review would be perfection, right? Something that could not possibly be better. You’re surprised that they aren’t many reviews which declare things perfect. Perhaps Sonia is wrong to attribute any malice to BI, but I think that you would be equally wrong to call Sonia disingenuous. A critics job is not to blather sycophantically, like many fanboys think it is, but rather to take a _critical_ perspective. I don’t think I could take a critic seriously if they gave a 100% review to anything, to be honest.

I don’t think this is a negative review at all. The critic has only positive things to say about the content. The fact that she wishes that the content she enjoyed had been written by someone of another gender goes more to her own gender bias than on the well written content in the magazine she raved about.

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