David Bowie - Oh! You Pretty Things
The Question #28, July 1989, cover by Denys Cowan
Remember that time Elektra Natchios stumbled into the DC Universe while she was out clubbing, and then stabbed a bunch of dudes because why not?
At first, I couldn’t work up the effort to be annoyed at DC for approving a script that shows a sexy woman humorously attempt suicide over and over because I can only be angry so many days in a row. First, I was annoyed that instead of looking for new talent and then asking that one person to draw a page they instead ask thousands to do finished work and only pay one of them, but let’s move on.
I became pissed when I found out that it was meant to be commentary on how this sort of thing is bad which is great except that it’s a comic so you’re still going to have your drawing of Harley naked in a tub trying to off herself. You can’t have it both ways.
This seems like good business to me. If you’re drawing a DC book, you’re going to have to draw a dead lady in a fetish pose eventually. Why not make it part of the job interview?
I am, roughly, a fourth of the way through Sean Howe’s excellent unauthorized history of Marvel Comics (Amazon link above). Which sounds unimpressive, but I am currently on page 128 of, minus the indices, 432.
I started it this morning.
If that’s still unimpressive to you, gentle reader, you are either a book critic or a speed reader. To the former, I say you have clearly found your way to this irregularly updated and often badly formatted collection of inconclusive scribblings by mistake, and also please give me a job. To the latter, I say begone, for thou art a practitioner of witchcraft!
That I am so far in the book already speaks not only to the quality of the tale, but to Howe’s deceptively breezy way of telling it. He bounds from one evocative incident to the next, rarely if ever editorializing, always ready to deploy an efficient summary of the wider picture that gives us what we need to know before we’re plunged back into the muck with the ever-shifting cavalcade of functionaries, mercenaries, egomaniacs, geniuses, hucksters, company men, working stiffs, fans, hippies, and weirdos constantly bounding in and out and back into the Marvel Bullpen.
At the center of the story (or rather, what I’ve read of it) is, of course, Stanley Martin Lieber, a.k.a. Stan Lee, a.k.a. the father of Marvel Comics, a.k.a. the midwife of Marvel Comics, a.k.a. the shameless glory hound and company man who smiled and nodded while he shafted his artists, a.k.a. the tireless workhorse who cranked out story after story, a.k.a. the nice Jewish boy who tried like hell to avoid confrontation and just wanted everyone to be happy, a.k.a. the gregarious public face of Marvel Comics, a.k.a. the genial advocate for comics as an art form, a.k.a. the opportunist who wanted to use comics as a stepping stone to something else, a.k.a. the Hero, a.k.a. the Villain. The picture Howe paints of him shows us all of those faces and many more, and it makes for fascinating reading.
Lee, in Howe’s telling of events, is never less than sympathetic, even as we watch those under him plot numerous small mutinies that are always eminently justifiable. One gets the sense that Lee is a man oblivious to himself, someone who will never quite grasp the amount of strain he puts on relationships he himself painstakingly cultivated, the sort of guy who regularly says and does things that he percieves as harmless or “just how things are done,” even as they plant the seeds of decades-long vendettas. Any writer, or anyone who knows a writer, will find Howe’s Lee very familiar indeed. I certainly did.
But despite the focus on Lee, nobody in the book is given short shrift. Even bit players get their small moments of grace. A favorite moment of mine is the image of a sixty-three-year-old Jerry Siegel - yes, that Jerry Siegel - proofreading quietly at a desk in a corner of the office, having been given a menial job by Lee out of pity. It’s a devastating image - one of many. But the book is by no means joyless. Another favorite moment: production assistant Morrie Kuramoto painting landscapes during his lunch hour. Another: mercurial artist Wally Wood deliberately leaving cigar ashes on Stan Lee’s carpet after every meeting.
I could go on - that I’ve written this much without mentioning Jack Kirby (or, for that matter, the masterful way Howe foreshadows the Lee-Kirby breakup in almost every scene of Part One of the book) proves that. But I’d rather not drone on for much longer, and I think my point is proven. For the pages I’ve already read alone, I feel very comfortable recommending Marvel Comics: The Untold Story to anyone, comic book reader or not.
Merry Xmas! That’s not meant as a Christmas-specific salutation, but a sort of “fill-in-the-blank-mas” general holiday greeting. I could have gone with “Happy holidays!” or something similar, but I rarely get to use “merry” in any other context, so I’ll be damned if I’m skimping on it during the one time I actually get to use it.
(Header is the cover to Captain Marvel #6 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios, because why not and you should be reading it anyway.)
I scrolled down to the comments section of this interesting (if annoyingly underdeveloped) little article on “fake nerd girls” at ComicsAlliance, and what do I find but the same old mansplaining blather.
Which makes me wonder: why are the people who claim they’re “tired of articles about sexism” inevitably the first people to post in the comments sections of articles about sexism? Inevitably! Why do they not just move on to the next article? Most blogs have a “popular articles” section, and that popularity is judged through the number of comments and/or the number of hits. If nobody’s commenting or looking at a piece, any editor would assume there’s no interest in the topic and publish less articles like it, which is exactly what these idiots want. But no, they are as moths to flame.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m interested in the subject, so I’m glad the dummies do what they do. But it puzzles me that they make a big show of being exhausted by the sexism debate by commenting, thereby driving more eyeballs to the post in question, which in turn makes it more likely that there will be more sexism articles. They are defeating their stated aim merely by participating in the discussion.
Why? Why are they so dumb?
Here’s a page from the Doctor Doom story from ASTONISHING TALES #1 by Wally Wood.
I personally deposited this device on the moon via teleportation… To prove my superiority to your clumsy rockets!
And this is why Doctor Doom is the greatest supervillain in comics.
There are better antagonists, to be clear - your Jokers, your Norman Osborns, your Lex Luthors. But only Doom would make a device keyed to the United States President’s voice, teleport it to the moon, wait for the Apollo 11 mission to find it, watch them waste “weeks” of the US government’s time and the people’s money trying to prove that Moon People exist before they finally shrug and show it to the President, at which point it suddenly activates and plays a video of Doctor Doom going “JK LOOOOOL SRSLY U SUCK.”
And why? Just for laughs. In the second-to-last panel, he is all but saying, “Hey, I had some downtime on Casual Friday a few weeks ago, so I thought I’d throw something together, fool you into thinking you’d made contact. Then I ate some Double Fudge Chunk and fell asleep watching I Love Lucy. DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY, BITCH!”
(Incidentally, Aaron Paul as Doctor Doom is my new favorite thing ever.)
(Image by the neverending font of comedy genius that is Kate Beaton.)
Okay, you know what? That’s it. I’m done. I’m out. Oh-doubleyou-tee, gang.
(Sidebar: Don’t you miss when people would call their audience “gang”? I am totally going to bring that back when I am Famous and Rich and a Role Model For America. Anyway.)
And you might be looking at the top of this post and wondering, “Why are you done writing strong female characters, Wright/Fford? Are you going to focus excusively on ruggedly handsome Brad-Pitt-ian men with voices like perfectly tuned cellos and rippling pectoral muscles such as yourself from now on? If so, why? Has your blog not been decidedly female-centric since it first appeared? Were all those posts merely the ramblings of a deranged man now back to his old oinking self? Are you going to start posting pictures of ladies in various states of undress, possibly earning more followers at the cost of your very soul?”
To which I reply: thank you, Hypothetical Reader, for both your ackowledgement of my statuesque physique (which I am far too modest to brag about, being a Paragon Of Virtue) and your question, which is a very very good one that I will definitely answer right now.
What was it again?
Ah! The title! Yes!
So, as some among you may already have guessed, I am not going to stop writing strong female characters, nor will I cease to read about them. However, there is one thing I am going to try to do as little as possible from now on: using the phrase “strong female characters” to describe said characters.
Why? A few reasons.
First, because it’s idiotic. I write characters, and I try to write them well. Why should “female” be in there at all? What does that matter, really? Is anyone asking Elmore Leonard or Stephen King or basically any male writer in existence why he writes “such strong male characters?” Why is it odd at all to write tough, smart, funny, cool, awesome characters just because they have a pair of breasts and no wang between their legs? Who decided that?
I know awesome men, and I know awesome women, and I know awesome trans men, and awesome trans women, and awesome everybody-elses. I also know some people of every sex and gender imaginable who I don’t like, because they’re stupid, hateful assholes. People are people are people. Why should it be notable that I write people as people? Every time you hear some dickpiece of an interviewer ask a writer why they write “strong female characters,” I want you to imagine the interviewer said “strong people characters.”
Hey, wow, that sounds real damn stupid, doesn’t it? Exactly.
That is not a question that any civilized human being should ever ask another civilized human being, because it’s a meaningless, vacuous question with an obvious goddamn answer: “Because I’m a writer, and a writer writes about characters, and some of those characters will be women, barring some plot device that prevents women from being there, so I might as well write them like the rest of the damn characters, you maladjusted chimp.”
Reason two: “strong” is a crappy word for the quality people who use the phrase are trying to pinpoint. It’s a quality meatheaded dudes who shove other kids into lockers prize, is strength. And yes, I get that it means strength of character, but it is so, so easy for some dunderhead to talk about how he writes “strong female characters” because Buttfloss Girl (secret identity: Anorexia Andrews!) catches crooks while she simpers about whether or not Mark Manventure will call her and omigod she totes broke a nail. You know?
“Strong” is too ambiguous, too quintessentially macho. It’s “HEY BRAH I COULD LIKE TOTALLY DO MORE SQUAT THRUSTS THAN YOU BRAH!” It’s a word in the language of bullies. Let’s not pander to bullies, huh?
What about smart? Why don’t we ever say “smart female characters?” It’s always the quality I’m looking for in a character, female or otherwise. I try damn hard to plot my stories around none of my characters carrying the Idiot Ball. I don’t always succeed, but I try, because it’s more difficult and more rewarding to write smart characters than it is to write Keith or Kendra Violence, and because so few characters in any story use their damn heads for a second.
SIDEBAR: And yeah, some characters are dumb, because some people are dumb, and some smart characters do dumb things, because some smart people do dumb things sometimes. But so many stories have “dumb” characters and “smart” characters whose actions indicate that they’re on exactly the same level, intelligence-wise. You can’t portray characters as dumb unless you have actual smart characters.
Another issue with “strong” is that weakness - weakness of mind, weakness of body, weakness of morals - doesn’t make a character bad. Often, it can make a character great. Look at, say, Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo. Or, you know, every character who isn’t Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Amazing characters, all cripplingly flawed. Even Marge has her flaws. Flaws are what make characters interesting. Using the word “strong” to describe well-written female characters implies that a female character can’t be well-written if she’s flawed, and that’s just as wrongheaded and sexist as any other approach to writing female characters. It’s treating a person like a damn unicorn.
Which leads me to reason three: “female character.” What a creepy, clinical thing to say, particularly if you call your male characters, you know, characters. ”Female” just sounds so Ming the Merciless, y’know? ”You, the female! Come here, let Ming gaze upon you!”
Reason four: Kate Beaton, Carly Monardo, and Meredith Gran’s Strong Female Characters (who adorn the top of this post) more or less killed any gravitas the phrase previously had.
There are other reasons, but those are the big ones.
The breaking point for me came a couple of months ago, when I read the first issue of the excellent new Captain Marvel series.
See, I follow Captain Marvel writer Kelly Sue DeConnick on Tumblr. I noticed she’d been answering a lot of fan mail on here in support of the book. I read the first issue, thought it was terrific, and decided to tell her so. If she responded (which she did, graciously), great! If she didn’t, great! At least I’d read a great comic and brightened up her day as a result.
So I started to type this effusive note into her Ask box, right? And there was this moment when I was trying to figure out how to say I loved seeing a cape comic starring a badass, non-sexualized, three-dimensional female protagonist without sounding like a patronizing dick. I didn’t wanna come across as a white-knighting jerk to this person I’ve never met, y’know? I went through my mental dictionary trying to think of a term for the idea that didn’t sound vaguely creepy, but nothing was really sitting right with me. Finally, I got to “strong female characters.”
That was when I got angry.
I got angry because I realized something: it all sounds patronizing because it is patronizing. In every sexism debate I’ve ever been privy to on the Internet, the phrase “strong female characters” is used by a dude before it’s ever used by a woman, because dudes think that “chicks like it when you’re all into equality and shit.” Nine times out of ten, they have no idea what it means, and they don’t actually care.
If you click on the link above, you’ll notice that there’s nothing about female characters whatsoever in the note I sent to her. That was, needless to say, deliberate.
Carol Danvers is a character who’s been around for, what, twenty years? Thirty? Forty, even? And she’s had the original Captain Marvel’s powers for nearly as long, much longer than he himself did. Mar-Vell (I know, I know), said original Captain Marvel, has been as dead as dead gets in a superhero universe (which is to say, he’s only been resurrected a few times over the years, and not for long) for decades now.
And yet Carol Danvers, the most likely immediate successor to Mar-Vell’s legacy, has never been allowed by editorial to call herself Captain Marvel. She’s always been “Warbird” or “Ms. Marvel,” even though that makes no sense. She’s finally been awarded the title she deserved all along, and she sports that title in a high-selling, great comic book that’s been promoted a fair bit by Marvel Editorial. Admittedly, she’s not the first woman to bear the mantle - that would be Monica Rambeau. But it’s nevertheless surprising and important and praiseworthy.
And the reason it’s so important is because it shouldn’t be.
In an ideal world, Carol Danvers’ sex would be as important as her hair color or whether or not she likes Oreos. It would be as important as her male counterparts’ sex is to the success of their books. It wouldn’t be considered praiseworthy to write a comic book starring a woman who dresses comfortably and has a brain and doesn’t have tits that would snap an actual woman’s spine in half. That would be [i]expected[/i].
In an ideal world, femme fatales and ingenues would be two archetypes among many, just as the preternaturally cool crook and the hapless introvert are two archetypes among many, and all archetypes could be credibly inhabited by either sex and those in between sexes. ”Strong female characters,” as a term, would be hilariously irrelevant.
Yes, we all know it’s not an ideal world, and that media that does a good job with characters who aren’t straight white men is worth pointing out. But we should all be working to make that ideal world a reality. So I’m doing my part.
Goodbye, “strong female characters.” And good riddance.
Now to get back to writing about smart, funny, badass people, some of whom are women.
If so, why?
No judgment here whatsoever, I just like to ask this question once in a while.
Also, if you have aspirations to write professionally, do you think fanfic has helped or hurt you, realistically?
Again, really just curious to hear your thoughts.
Please feel free to provide links for…
I do write fanfic, yes. Kim Possible/Shego slashfic, to be exact. Not erotic, just stories that have them getting together or being together as an element of the plot, though it’s usually just one element among many. No, I don’t do it because it’s “hawt” to me; I don’t like expending the meager amount of energy apportioned to my flabby body each day on salacious trivialities, and there’s plenty enough libido-pleasing Kim/Shego fic as it is. It’s because I like the characters involved, but don’t like the show they’re in, so I write adventures for the characters that I can enjoy. I have more detailed reasons, but I won’t bore you with them.
(For anyone curious, you can read my work here.)
I do want to write comics professionally, and I’d say that writing fanfic has probably helped me and hurt me in equal measure with regards to that goal. It’s helped me to understand the challenges of writing serialized fiction, to learn how to write characters I don’t own without losing my voice as a writer in the process, and to figure out how to integrate my creations into a larger fictional context I didn’t create without breaking that fiction in the process. All of those would be helpful skills to have in comics, particularly work-for-hire superhero books. It’s also been very good for me as a writer in a more general sense; if nothing else, the instant feedback I get when I post is enormously educational and quite gratifying, and I’ve been able to develop a voice that’s uniquely mine.
On the other hand, I think it’s prevented me from pursuing a career in comics as aggressively as I’d like to, and I worry about my youthful fanficcery coming back to bite me on the ass in some unexpected way when I am successful. Now that Disney owns Marvel, for example, I’m worried I’ll be screwed if I want to do any work for them. Creator-owned stuff is what I’d choose over work-for-hire, and I hope there aren’t any restrictions pertaining to fanfic in that area of the market, but it seems smart to have a foothold in the work-for-hire sector as well, if only because I’d like people to actually buy my creator-owned work. As such, I’m planning to finish up my extant fanfic work, and then attempt to break into comics through a webcomic or something.
And, y’know, I will crowbar my way in somehow, on account of I’m talented and I’m stubborn, but once I do break in, I’d like every option to be open.
So yeah, I’d say writing fanfic has been a very positive experience, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have drawbacks.
…And all through the movie, I was just smilling and nodding. It’s so good, you guys. It doesn’t have any one element quite as transcendent as Heath Ledger’s Joker, but I think it’s a better film overall than TDK.
So that’s my capsule review done. I’m still planning on doing a longer piece on Amazing Spider-Man and this movie, which I invite you all to read when it comes out, but I did want to briefly mention that the oft-repeated idea that the Nolan Batman films are a Republican wet dream, which I have seen many critics conclude in reviews of this film, is without a shred of merit. Yes, there are a couple of moments that could be construed as anti-Occupy, if you’re very determined to make that connection, but A) Occupy is a bipartisan movement, which precludes the film from being anti-liberal, and B) there are countless moments that could equally be construed as pro-Occupy, or anti-Tea Party, and at least one moment that plays as a direct shot at the Bush administration. If you’re the tiresome sort who can’t enjoy a work of art unless it confirms your beliefs, then yes, I suppose you would do well to stay away. For the rest of us, the hard questions the film raises are more important than the easy answers it doesn’t provide.
Speaking of that, I read at least one critique that stated in complete seriousness that Christopher Nolan probably doesn’t believe in global warming because there’s a frozen river in the movie, and a world with global warming wouldn’t have a frozen river in it. Yes, Critic Who Shall Remain Nameless, Nolan chose to put an arresting visual in a movie in order to imply in a ridiculously cryptic way that global warming is a myth. That’s a totally logical conclusion to draw from a relatively minor aesthetic choice.
To me, the film seems primarily a 9/11-haunted requiem for idealism, just as Begins was a 9/11-haunted ode to it and Dark Knight was a 9/11-haunted elegy for it. This film is as much of a rejection of the cynicism and anxiety that’s consumed us all since 2001 as Avengers is. It implores us to trust one another, because we’re all we’ve got. I don’t see how that’s the exclusive province of dyed-in-the-wool conservatism.
I’m probably going to write a longer, more spoiler-y piece later, but if you’re on the fence about it, the quick version is that it exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations, and I think it’s genuinely a pretty darn good movie.
Which is not to say it doesn’t have some substantial flaws, like, er, a fair amount of the plot. But I’ll get to that. I want to see Dark Knight Rises first; I think it’s probably smarter to contrast it with a movie that does everything right, which TDKR looks to be.
And if it isn’t, well, you’ll hear about that, too.
Bleeding Cool is reporting that a source at SDCC has said that Stephanie Brown has been dropped from the Smallville comic and replaced with Barbara Gordon.
DC Comics revealed in June that Stephanie Brown, the character who has been known as Spoiler, Robin and Batgirl, would join the comic…
All you had to do - literally all you had to do - was let this story be published as is, DC. Publish the story, rake in the cash. People who aren’t following the Smallville comic were going to pick this up. That means new readers, DC. New readers with cash money. Do you understand how to attract new readers? No, you do not.
"But Barbara Gordon is Batgirl in all our media products and blah! People will get conf–"
NO THEY WILL NOT NOBODY IS CONFUSED IT TAKES LITERALLY ONE SECOND TO EXPLAIN AAAAAAAAAAAAA
And before you go and assume I’m one of those crazy Steph fans with their crazy vaginas, understand: I’m a dude, and I’m not a fan of Steph, save for isolated panels I’ve seen on Tumblr. I’m not a fan of Steph because you’ve never allowed me to be one, DC.
If Bleeding Cool is right, you’ve pissed off a bunch of people for no reason, and you’ve lost a bunch of sales. That is literally all you have done. Why? What do you get out of this? Being able to laugh in the face Stephanie Brown fans for the thousandth time? The only way this makes sense is if you’re being deliberately vindictive, and that is no way to run a company.
Birthright #3 Mark Waid/Leinil F Yu
This is Lois Lane in her glory. She is smart, strong and stands up for what is right. Birthright, in my opinion, should be required reading for anybody attempting to write and/or understand Lois Lane. Bravo Mr. Waid.
In addition to being a great Superman story, Birthright has my absolute favorite version of Lois Lane ever in it, and this scene - the first in which she appears - is a big part of why. Waid shows in two pages exactly what’s great about her, and keeps to that for the rest of the series. Most of the people who’ve written the character have, for whatever reason, portrayed her as little more than an inflatable blow-up doll for Superman to save, and I don’t understand why.
Is it really so hard to write a tough, smart, fearless journalist with a heart of gold just because said journalist has breasts? Why?
Protip: if you like great comics, Steranko’s run on Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is essential reading. Nothing but wall-to-wall formal brilliance and badass insane pulp spy-fi. The dialogue’s all done in the bizarrely unrealistic and goofy G-rated Shakespeare-by-way-of-Thirties-pulp-mags jive spoken in most Big Two comics from the Seventies, which is an acquired taste, but it has its own pleasures, and even if you hate it, Steranko’s revelatory exploration of the storytelling possibilities of the form is still worth the price of admission.
Take it, go on. (via @tompeyer)
I prefer “Buy y’self somethin’ nice, sweetheart.”
But that’s me.