On the latest episode of our podcast, The Red Menace and special guest Max Papas are discussing the Clown Princess of Crime, Harley Quinn! They talk about her various incarnations, from the original henchwoman in Batman: The Animated Series to her more modern look and attitude in Suicide Squad.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk saying that the comics industry has shifted to making social justice a priority in its storytelling, and that “social justice warriors” are ruining comics by pressuring the industry into representing these issues.
What these folks fail to realize is that telling stories about current events and the changes we’re going through as a society has always been a part of comics – as a dated periodical, comic books are necessarily a product and reflection of the times in which they were created.
The earliest days of American comics coincided with the rise of Hitler and the beginnings of World War II, and the heroes of that era and the adventures they had are entirely reflective of that. When the war ended and the economy boomed, the stories became lighter and more imaginative. The 60’s and 70’s brought women’s liberation, the civil rights movement, and a growing sense of eco-consciousness, and characters like Diana Prince, Black Panther, and R’as al Ghul appeared in stories with those themes.
Recently, we worked with our friends at Comicazi to present examples of how comics have represented social attitudes and values, as well as how they’ve changed over the years. Called “Issues on Issues,” it was part museum-style exhibit, with comics from the golden, silver, and bronze ages on display, and part comic salon – an opportunity to discuss the books and their topics with others. Attendees were asked to consider – whose story is being told? Who is telling that story? And how would we tell it today?
Comics aren’t necessarily promoting a particular answer to social problems in America, but like all art, they reveal the hopes, fears, and dreams of the times in which they’re created. The comics displayed here are examples of how these themes have been portrayed in the medium throughout its history. Some of the books we displayed at the event have had a lasting impact, while others clearly missed the mark, or represent views we no longer ascribe to as a society. Still, others were misses in their first incarnations, but have changed and adapted from their well-intentioned but clumsy characters into nuanced, well-thought-out characters. As more people with different gender, cultural, ethnic, sexual, and religious identities are writing and drawing the stories we read, the perspectives and ideas being shown become more diverse and authentic. While this seems to dismay a small, vocal minority of fans, it’s also opening doors for new readers to fall in love with comics for the first time.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Ladies fans! In honor of the holiday, we’re bringing you a very special Fashion Raptors column. You see, our friend and Honorary Lady Gary had this blog years ago where he talked about some of his collectibles. His great passion is for Bobby Orr paraphernalia, but he’s no slouch at comic collection, either. A subset of that collection is romance comics – those treasured tales of the 60s and 70’s. Part of these books involved advice columns – the mostly teen, mostly girl readers could write in and lay out their romantic and other dilemmas for the book’s agony aunt to solve. Gary shared a few of these, and we thought that, beyond the historical interest, there was an opportunity here for the Fashion Raptors to weigh in with their own take on the questions. So here it is, the Fashion Raptors’ advice to the lovelorn, next to the originals. Enjoy!
The new year has arrived, bringing with it the usual vows of self-improvement, opportunity for fresh starts, and hope that the coming twelve months will be better than the previous. It’s a traditional time for optimism.
Unfortunately, New Year’s Day 2018 doesn’t find me full of anticipation for the new year. Aside from the bigger problems of the world that haven’t disappeared with the 2017 calendars, my husband and I are both sick. We’re also still recovering from the emotional drain of the holidays. And temperatures aren’t venturing above 30 degrees. Don’t get me wrong; my life is good and I’m still grateful for what I do have.
Still, it can be tough to find enthusiasm for the new year when I’m more inclined to curl up in a blanket with my dogs to stay warm. However, I’d like to feel that sense of a fresh start and anticipating the new. So I am focusing on something I am definitely looking forward to in 2018. I’ve asked the other Ladies what they are looking forward to as well so click through to find out what we can’t wait for. Continue reading
While it’s very possible that I’m the only one getting a kick out of these seasonal comic creations, this year I decided to revisit the ghosts of blog posts past and share some more holiday themed comics with you all.
The Last Christmas – Story by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, Art by Rick Remender
Back in July, Smalerie shared a recipe for a hamburger. What it lacked in deliciousness it made up for in creativity and in its physical resemblance to the product that inspired it – the Cthulhu burger in Kristen Gudsnuk’s Henchgirl. At the time, she mentioned she wasn’t going to review the book; the focus of the post was the horrifying delicacy she’d created. Since then, we’ve discussed the book at Comicazi Book Club, and hosted Kristen as one of our guests of honor at LadiesCon.
So it seems like a good time to review the book and let you know that if you haven’t jumped on this bandwagon, you should.
LadiesCon 2017 is just days away and we hope you’re as excited as we are for our second ever convention celebrating women of kinds in comics and pop culture. Although you can just walk on in on Saturday and start looking around, there are a few things you can do to prepare for LadiesCon to help make you experience even better. Continue reading
As you saw in last week’s post, we’re all super excited about everything we have planned for you at LadiesCon 2017. Our panels at the last LadiesCon were very popular and this year’s panels promise to be bigger and better than ever. And thanks to our new location at the Armory, you can check them out in the very same building as the vendor floor.
Want a preview of a few of the panels we’re presenting? Read on!
Friends, I’m going to be honest – this isn’t the post I want to write this week. I was planning to tell you all about the delightful manga series I’ve been reading lately, but it will have to wait, because once again, Twitter went insane over women in the comics industry, and it feels necessary to unpack that a bit.
If you haven’t been following the story, you can read all about it here, but the gist is that Marvel editor Heather Antos posted a selfie with a bunch of her fellow Marvel lady friends, holding milkshakes. The caption was “The Marvel Milkshake Crew #fabulousflo.” (More on that hashtag in a minute.) What she got in return were a bunch of nasty tweets and direct messages, complaining that the women were fake geek girls (yawn), who are responsible for Marvel’s flagging sales because of their “SJW agenda.”
Now, there were plenty of folks who jumped to Antos’s defense, creating the #makeminemilkshake tag to show solidarity with Antos and women in comics in general. I think the supporters vastly outnumber the haters, and that’s a wonderful thing. What troubles me with this whole foolish business is that it keeps happening, and I can’t help but ponder the series of bizarre conclusions the haters need to have drawn in order to make the comments they did; the crazy leaps of logic that lead someone to speak with abject cruelty to strangers. It does no good to attempt to understand internet trolls, but I can’t help it – I strive for understanding.
What it seems like is that there are three major issues at play here:
1. These people believe that women making comics is a recent phenomenon.
2. They equate these “new” women with story lines that promote a social justice agenda at the expense of storytelling, art, and the beliefs of the readers.
3. They believe that Marvel as a company is complicit in actively promoting said agenda.
So let’s break these down in order.
1. Women in comics is a new thing: Remember that hashtag, #fabulousflo? It’s a reference to Flo Steinberg, who passed away at the end of July from an aneurysm. Flo was one of the earliest members of the Marvel bullpen, hired by Stan Lee as a secretary, but taking on so much more in running the Marvel fan club, wrangling temperamental artists, and sending artwork to be approved by the Comics Code authority. After she left Marvel, she published Big Apple Comix, one of the earliest examples of “indie comics” – a bridge between the underground work that preceded it and the glossy mainstream work. She returned to Marvel in the 1990s, and worked as a proofreader until this year. Flo was truly a comics industry legend – and she was there from the beginning of the publisher that these trolls are lamenting is being ruined by women. And she’s just one example – women at Marvel and DC are not a new thing, even if they’ve been more behind the scenes than they are today.
Which leads us to:
2. The trolls believe women (and pretty much everyone who isn’t a white man) are promoting a liberal agenda. Spiderman’s a black kid sometimes! Iceman is gay! They made Thor a lady! What’s weird about these accusations is that writers on all of the stories are white men. Perhaps the women in the milkshake picture are manipulating everything behind the scenes! Hmm, that doesn’t seem super likely, does it? What makes more sense is the fact that you have characters who are, on average, 50-100 years old, with whom you’ve been telling stories continuously for most of that time. It seems inevitable that changing up who wears the mantle will happen sometimes, and if that change is a dud, they’ll either change back or into something entirely different yet again. Yes, you can make NEW characters who are women or Muslim or gay or trans, but that doesn’t entirely give you a new direction for your old characters. So it goes.
And here we come to:
3. They think Marvel will ruin the company in order to promote a liberal agenda.
Publishing is a business. The trolls point to these character changes, and point to Marvel’s dropping direct market sales, and then lament that if only the publisher saw the error of its terrible liberal ways, they could FIX this! But because Marvel is so dedicated to this SJW message, they say, the company just won’t do it.
There are two main problems with this thought-train. One simple one is that it doesn’t really take into account how comic sales have changed. While direct market sales are still really important, they don’t track digital sales on things like Comixology. So a book might not be doing well physically, but we don’t really know its total reach.
But the part that puzzles me even more than that is the idea that people believe that a corporation would ever put beliefs over profit. For me, a liberal who IS invested in social justice, that’s a really nice thought. It’s also utter horseshit. Marvel cancels books with flagging sales all the time, without ceremony. They don’t exist to promote an agenda, they’re here to sell you comics, and if the troll-dollars matter as much as they seem to think they do, then the stories will change again in due time. We shall see.
In the meantime, this makes me feel that projects like LadiesCon are more important than ever, not because women, non-binary folks, people of color, and LGBT folks are a new thing, but because we’ve all always been here. We make comics. We read comics. We buy comics. And we drink milkshakes and take selfies, and we don’t need to apologize for it.
When I discovered that Gail Simone was writing a series for Vertigo, I was annoyed with myself for not knowing about it sooner. I mean, seriously Smalerie? Gail Simone. Original horror series. Get on it, girl.
So I did.
Then I wrote a review.
After Chloe Pierce loses her fiance to suicide, she embarks on a mission find out what could have driven him to take his own life. When all signs point towards self-help guru Astrid Mueller, Chloe will stop at nothing to find the truth behind Astrid and her mysterious organization.
When writing a mystery/horror story, the author has the difficult task of providing enough intrigue to keep the reader interested without making them frustrated. Clues need to be left behind like breadcrumbs or shiny pebbles leading you out of the dark forest. Clean Room handles this so well that I simply could not stop reading the first trade. At one point I was forced to put the book down, and it almost felt like the story followed me, hiding in a dark part of my mind and forcing me to think about it when I should have been concentrating on dinner conversation or watching an action flick with my family. I think reading this one as the issues came out might have driven me crazy.
From the description alone, I’m sure that most of you have figured out this book is for mature audiences. There are some VERY disturbing things that both happen and are referenced in this book. And while there were a few times when I felt that certain language and nudity might have been used more for the shock value rather than because it added to the story or said something about a character’s true nature, this story intends to strip characters down to their emotional cores and that is rarely pretty. But regardless of how ugly it gets, it still remains an engrossing read.
Mueller’s organization is an extremely secretive and organized one, providing more access and information as you go up the ranks. While this structure is common among many organizations, there is a lot here that reminds me of Scientology. It’s still early in the story for me to say if Mueller and her followers are dealing with their reality in the best way, but this book makes you really wonder what’s happening behind closed doors. This is true both in the story and in the outside world. What’s being kept from us? What do we have the right to know? And how high do the stakes need to be for you to give someone complete power over you? It makes you question authority and feel uneasy. And it’s very possible these questions might never really be answered in the story, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth asking.
Jon Davis-Hunt’s artwork is slick and detailed. His art and Quinton Winter’s colors match the writing well and create a really creepy and stark environment. This is especially true when we get the contrast between the Clean Room itself and the outside world. I will admit that there were a few times I felt that the characters seemed too stiff, but it still kinda works once you start to understand what’s really happening in the story. Without giving any spoilers, I think it’s safe enough to say that what you see on the surface is not always a reliable tool for truly understanding the world of this book.
As for the monster factor, I found them to be suitably creepy. You know when you run across something that’s just spooky or gross enough that you need to share it with someone? To either validate your feelings or just to make someone else shudder? Well, let’s just say there were a few times I found myself showing a page to whoever was unfortunate enough to be in the room with me.
It’s great to see Gail Simone writing, well, pretty much anything.
The story builds, feels satisfying enough to keep you reading, and I defy you not to run out and get Vol. 2 immediately.