Marguerite Bennett Discusses WWII Female Heroes in "DC Comics Bombshells"
Comic Books, Digital Comics
It’s that time of year again, the time for a million lists, including my 25 Favorite Fictional Females in comics list. Like all years, this was tough. Like all years, I’m never quite convinced I’ve got the list right, but for better or worse, here we are!
Fair warning, if someone was repeated from a previous year, I often cribbed some of the text from my previous post with some light updates to reflect changes. Here are last year’s list and the first list in 2010 (as well as a 10 ladies making a run for the title list) in case you’d like to read about even more female characters in comics. It was a really exciting year and with a promising 2015 ahead of us I’m very excited about where we are when it comes to our progress with female characters – as always things are a bit two forward and one back, but we’re making progress! I’d like this list a bit better if there were more indie ladies on it (there are so many that are worthy) but Marvel’s push with female characters this past year did a good job of gobbling up a good number of spots.
Like last year, what I found most interesting is how some characters managed to triumph over lack of material or worse, bad material. Wonder Woman, despite the fact that I can’t read her book, hasn’t fallen much– maybe she’s just got so much iconic power that others are helpless to overcome the big shadow she casts? I spent a lot of time when trying to organize my list this year thinking about the characters that I’d most like to see creators work with in new series – that was how I ended up defining where they fell – how interested I found myself in seeing them in new stories. Still, you can’t underestimate the power of reading both old and new – Black Widow makes the list this year (finally) thanks to some damn fine work by Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto, while Big Barda shoots up the list because I took some time out this year to read/re-read all her classic Kirby stories…and how can one deny her utter dominance after doing that??
A couple weeks ago, Girls Gone Geek was running a hashtag on twitter called #DreamComics asking people to pitch their character and creative team that would make up their dream comics at DC and Marvel. There were some great suggestions. Because I was a bit busy I simply gave them a link to my Marvel “Dreamy Lady Team Ups” column from late 2013 instead of coming up with new ideas, but it got me thinking about DC books, which I never did a similar piece for. In truth, I never did a “Dreamy Lady Team Ups” piece (or similar) for DC because it’s just a rough place for me right now. There are so many characters I love there, but – as many of you are well aware – it’s just not a very welcoming place to me right now. I find the treatment of female characters to be pretty appalling and even beyond that the tone is incredibly dark and gritty throughout the universe, and honestly, I don’t understand the universe very well anymore – the ages of characters, what was retconned and what was kept, it’s kind of a mess in my head. However, as I was thinking about it, DC not being a great/welcoming places these days is the best possible reason to come up with a list of what I’d love to see. And so here we are.
As a die-hard Catwoman fan, I’ve never given Harley Quinn a fair shake. For starters, that voice. I like my villains sultry, dignified and more solemn than ridiculous, and for me, Harley was never any of these things. But then I started reading the Gotham City Sirens, and have been introduced to a side of Harley I never knew existed.
After reading Gotham City Sirens: Union, I went on to read a dedicated Harley trade: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes by Karl Kesel, Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson. I had a hard time getting into it, at first. The art is a little more goofy than I typically like, and it was difficult for me to sympathize with Harley in the first story when she is just hopelessly devoted to the Joker, despite his attempt to kill her (watch He’s Just Not That Into You, girl!). But with the second and third story, where Harley works for Two-Face and then throws her bad-girls-only slumber party, I noticed there was something much deeper happening than just Harley being heartbroken, pissed off and trying to find new friends.
Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes is about redefining Harley in a way that liberates her from being Joker’s gal Friday, but not totally reinventing her from the ground up. It is the working through of her change, complete with downfalls and triumphs. With each new story in the trade, we get a death and rebirth of Harley: she begins with a conception of herself (she is Joker’s gal, she is Two-Face’s right hand, she is one of the DC bad girls, et cetera), and by the end, this definition becomes shaken and Harley establishes a new status quo for herself — which will once again become shaken, then re-evaluated, and re-established.
It is a process of definition that is reminiscent of the carnivalesque, but which operates more fully in a realm of slapstick comedy. In Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes we see Harley trying to define herself apart from Joker. The first narrative arc in the trade is about her still fighting for Joker’s respect– as he is trying to kill her, though. The conversations Joker has with his henchmen behind Harley’s back illustrate Joker’s view of her: he is in a position of power over her, as both her boss and lover, and looks down on her as less than his equal. She is the side-kick, the love interest, but during the events of Prelude and Knock-Knock Jokes, we see Harley stepping farther and farther away from this. Traditional structures of power are dissolved to become more inclusive. She proves herself time and time again of being able to hold her own with Joker and his henchmen. Harley can be seen as a serious villain if how we think of villains is being shaken up. This is done through humour (and if the name wasn’t a dead give away, Preludes is filled with great one-liners), to show that within these realms, what we know of power positions are social constructs, rather than innate ones.
The first two stories show Harley going through the motions of previous power dynamics: she was Joker’s girl, now she’s not, so she tries to repeat the experience working for Two-Face. This fails, and leads to the turning point in Preludes: the bad girls of DC slumber party. These are voices that are normally on the back-burner, or relegated to a sidekick/love-interest position taking over to establish a new, if temporary, order. It is in this new space where all typical structures are levelled that Harley can test the new idea of herself as an independent woman: not as the Joker’s lover or as Two-Face’s number two, but as her own woman operating for her own desires. It’s not fully the carnivalesque, because it is focused on creating a new, lasting Harley, but if we use this lens, we can see how the slumber party story partially operates as the chaotic carnival realm where Harley’s whole world, and self-conception, is entirely shifted and shaken, allowing for her final death and rebirth.
Beyond that, so much of what happens during Preludes is mobilized through Harley’s own insistent humour. In the last story, we see Harley and her Quinntets attempting to rob Wayne Manor. At the same time as the Riddler and his henchmen are trying to discover the secret passage that has been rumoured to exist in the Manor. Oracle, unable to signal any of the usual Bat-family, sends out an SOS to anybody, and, true to the slapstick nature of Preludes, Big Barda comes to the rescue. The whole situation is constructed to make us laugh, with Harley and her henchmen squaring off against Riddler and his henchmen, and telling ridiculous one-liners and riddles.
But here’s the kicker: even Big Barda is getting in on the jokes, showing that despite the fact that Harley, her Quinntets, the Riddler, his lackeys and Barda are all working against each other, they’re also all fighting on the same terms. No one — whether a god, henchman or person with a body ramped up by Poison’s Ivy special concoction — is put in a more privileged position than any others. Harley only triumphs by working alongside Barda. It is a moment of inclusivity that allows for the terms of existing in this realm to be changed: Harley isn’t just the fool. Not any more. She’s become a major player on her own terms.
The point is to show that Harley can hold her own with any of the Bat-villains, but also that nobody in Gotham is exempt from becoming such a nefarious foe. The final story, with the showdown between Harley, the Riddler and Barda, shows that while these individuals are exceptional in their own infamous ways, they are also not entirely unique in Gotham. As Harley’s old professor says, “This is Gotham, after all — where even the Sisters of St. Jude’s carry concealed weapons.”
If we stretch the carnivalesque lens a little bit farther, it seems like this is the underlying sentiment behind Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes: it’s not just Harley who can redefine herself, but anybody in Gotham is capable of rising up to the challenge. As we can see when Harley is being hauled off to her cell in Arkham Asylum in a flashback during Preludes, she shouts “ONE OF US,” rallying all the inmates to join in the chant.
And they do, and ultimately, this exposes the real fear of living in Gotham city. Not the villains or inmates of Arkham Asylum, but the fact that anybody can rise up and become an infamous Bat-villain. Gotham City is the site of the literal carnival, after all, where Dick was able to join the ranks of Gotham’s finest heroes. And for me, this is what we can see happening underneath all the drama and jokes of Preludes: Gotham City is the only place where such a process of redefinition for Harley — or anybody — can occur.
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.
It was fashion week in New York City this past week and that, plus my love of Dean Trippe’s wonderful superhero re-design website Project Rooftop had me thinking about the great hits and misses of superheroine fashion. So in honor of Fashion Week and Brian’s month of Top Fives I thought I’d do a nice light post about some of my favorite female superhero costumes…really just an excuse to post a lot of fantastic images.
I kept the list to five…but then added about a million honorable mentions…because, well, because I’m a terrible editor…the secret is out. Oooh, and if you think I could keep my big mouth shut about a few costumes I think are in desperate need of an update…you’d be wrong…they’re at the bottom (where they belong). Bwahahaha!
Onto the list!
There’s been a lot of women in comics related chatter all over the internet the last week or so and most of it is at least a little frustrating. So I reached out to fellow a fellow blogger – creator of the crazy popular and yet fairly recent DC Women Kicking Ass Tumblr blog, Sue – for a chat. Sue has made a huge mark for herself in less than six months – becoming a serious resource for images, commentary, and information, especially as it relates to women and superheroes. As some of this week’s news related directly to Sue’s petition to DC regarding the ridiculous DC 75th Anniversary logo which bizarrely leaves out Wonder Woman, I thought Sue might have some thoughts on this week’s craziness and beyond. The following is an edited version of our two plus hour conversation on yahoo messenger…
In 1986, when John Byrne’s revamp of Superman came out, I was so excited. I was a teenager, and I suppose my taste was pretty cheesy at times. That’s my excuse anyway, because I know that once I had The Man of Steel miniseries in my sweaty little hands, he seemed to be so busy coming up with updated rationales for everything, that he skimped on any kind of character development or compelling creativity… It left me feelings deflated, and I didn’t get my bounce back till Byrne did his double magic act, taking on both Action Comics and Superman. Continue Reading »
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