Thursday, 29 September 2011

On Hickman & Ribic's "The Ultimates" # 1:- Yet More Stories For Boys

        
1.

On the evidence of Messrs Hickman and Ribic's The Ultimates # 1, the fundamental concerns of feminism haven't yet become a matter of public concern and debate on Earth 1610, or, it needs to be said, in the offices of Marvel Comics either. For in the whole of The Republic Is Burning, there's not even a single minor speaking role given to anyone who's not evidently a bloke, while the few occasions in which women are discussed find them mentioned solely in a specifically sexual contenxt. 

(a) The most important role fulfilled by a woman in the pages of The Ultimates # 1 is that of having Nick Fury's drink waiting for him when he gets to work. No. Really. I'm not making that up. The evidence is above.

2.

In an attempt to be as fair as possible, it should be added that there are only 8 different characters in Mr Hickman's script who are given word-balloon time anyway. It's a relatively small cast for a story which takes in scenes set off the coast of Uruguay, in a banqueting hall in Asgard, in the Triskellion's control room, in a Tokyo club, upon a desert which can apparently  be found in Northern Germany, and within what appears to be another dimension hidden within a big concrete mushroom. Yet, wherever the story of The Republic Is Burning travels, women appear at best as silent walk-on characters. Indeed, it'll tell you a truth if I explain that the woman who has the most important role and the most impressive degree of responsibility in the whole comic is the one seen holding Nick Fury's cup of coffee for him as he arrives at work (a). She doesn't say anything, and she doesn't appear again, but she does look competent as well as beautiful in her best Diana-Rigg leather-spy outfit as she waits for her boss to take his morning hit of the bean.

(b) On the left of this panel is the one example of a woman actually doing something more active and responsible than simply holding a coffee cup in this issue. I'm unsure why she's wearing sunglasses and sporting a costume which her fellows don't, but I can say that she's typically Land-esque in her appearance. The chap at the panel's front has been portrayed as something other than a movie star, and given a few lines to 'speak' too, but the rules are different for women, it seems.
3.     

Look a second time at the scenes set in Fury's control room in The Republic Is Burning and it can be noted that there's only a few women to be seen there helping to defend the free-ish world. Look again and it can be hard to perceive any meaningful action being engaged in by these women at all. All the operatives who're seen tapping away at their keyboards and looking serious and involved are male, with a single exception, as is Fury's line-feeding second-in-command. In fact, it takes a little concentration to notice any responsibility or even motion on the part of the Triskellion's female staff at all. We can see a blonde woman being somewhat distressed in the background of one panel (a), and there's also a rather sultry agent in sunglasses shown tapping at a tablet while the men around her discuss disasters (b). But no-one who's female is given any lines to speak or any behaviour of relative consequence, beyond that vital Fury-friendly coffee, to undertake.

(c) A woman whose face is hard to see, but whose breasts aren't.
4.   

Yet there is one single woman who does appear for a whole two panels in Mr Hickman's story (c). We never see her face clearly, though somehow we do see her substantial breasts, one in each of the panels she stars in, a fact which seems to say something about the storytelling priorities at work here. Whoever this of-course unnamed woman might be, she's quite clearly intended to be besotted with Tony Stark, whose disappearance causes her to wave with a schoolkid's fervor at the back he's turned towards her as he leaves. Though she's entirely unimportant in her own right to the story, she does inspire one of the two occasions when women are actually mentioned in the dialogue of The Ultimates # 1, for Stark's new dogsbody describes "that woman" as one who has "rather inconveniently misplaced her ankles".  It's an entirely offensive comment, and Mr Hickman manages the trick of appearing to have Stark respond in a way which is anything other than misogynistic while actually defining Tony as something of a good-old fashioned MCP;

Stark: "Two things, Jarvis ... one, this year I'll be dating women who actually eat, and two, don't be offensive -- it's a charity event."

d: Tony Stark's guide to when it isn't appropriate to insult women's ankles.
      
Given the absence of women from the story as anything other than window dressing, the reader might imagine that Mr Hickman and his editors would have been keen to avoid adding to injury with insult. Sadly, not. Stark's defense of the woman he's just been talking to isn't one which upholds her right not be so judged, although it does seem at first glance that that's what he's doing. Yet his comments very much don't say "That's a cruel and dehumanising thing to suggest" to his employee, but rather his opinion that;

(1) if he's decided to find "fat" ankles attractive, no-one should disagree with him about the matter, and;
(2) we should be "charitable" to the woman given the nature of the social event at hand.

In essence, Stark is suggesting that in particular circumstances, it's important to show charity to women who don't have skinny ankles.  Good old Tony, for now it's plain why folks shouldn't, in certain formal situations, pass crudely derogatory sexual judgements on the physical appearances of women: charity. To compound that, his response to the idea that a woman's ankles are of anyone's business but her own is to propose that it's his definition of what's attractive which counts. "Jarvis" isn't out of line because he's been so unfair to a woman who's doing no-one in the world, as far as we can see, the slightest harm at all. Rather, it seems that Tony's implying that if he hadn't decided to stop "dating" women with shapely ankles, then the absence of such really would be fair game for mockery. The ultimate arbiter, it appears, of how a women should look, and of when it's acceptable to cuss her for that is, surprisingly, not the woman herself, but Tony Stark.
       
(e) Hawkeye gets the important gag about women and sex over and done first with before moving on to the less important topic of the ending of the world.

Of course, it seems certain that Mr Hickman deliberately designed this scene to show us that Tony really is a fairly decent drunkard and womaniser. Yet in a comic which is so unconcerned with anything other than blokes and blokishness, and which only discusses women in a sexual context, the lack of care and precision in Tony's words really is something to regret. In a book which wasn't so insensitively written, Tony's comments would've passed as markers of the strengths and weaknesses of his particular character. Yet when the only two mentions of women in a comic inhabit the same sexualised territory, what might have been signs of an individual personality instead becomes a theme for the book as a whole, as we can see in the following exchange between Nick Fury and Hawkeye, where the latter has been sent to a Bangkok which is "currently in flames":

Fury: Clint. I'm pretty sure I sent you over there to make sure things did not go to hell.
Clint: Nick, I swear ... she was already pregnant.
       
It is, of course, just boys joshing, and yet, boys joshing about women in the context of sex is all this comic contains where it comes to any discussion of the other 51% of the world's population. And so, if all we see women doing is offering drinks and looking alluring, and if all we "hear" is men discussing women in terms of sex and nothing else, then it just looks very bad indeed.

(f) There are approximately 731 million people in Europe, but apparently not a single woman fit to be a super-soldier.

6.     

It's just as telling to note who isn't a woman in The Ultimates # 1. In addition to the active and apparently more important roles in Fury's entourage being reserved for men, the leaders of this issue's world-threatening conspiracy are all males too. (There are women in their ranks, mind you, and they appear to be identically blonde and beautiful Nordicesque twins.) Still, both Fury's base and the gaggle of his primary opponents do have women prettying up their background. Yet not a single one of the European "Excalibur-class super-soldiers" who're on display are anything other than conspicuously male. It's something which I doubt real-world sensibilities over here on the other side of Pond would ever accept, but then politics doesn't really appear to be Mr Hickman's strong point. (* See H and I below for a few more examples of this.) Similarly, the massed carousing immortals of Asgard are almost entirely male with the exception of one bikini-clad woman carrying the drinks in the background of a single panel and another largely-naked lass making a sole semi-nude appearance to cheer on the immortal boys when they get down to their manly brawling. It seems that only the youthfully undressed cheesecake gets the privilege of waiting on the boys in this Asgard of the Ultimate Universe.

(g) It's as if the grim sexism of J Michael Straczynski's Thor issues has somehow laid down a template that Messers Hickman and Ribic feel honour-bound to follow.
    
7.

Of course, there can't have been any intention to programme such a significant measure of careless misogyny into The Republic Is Burning. It's impossible to imagine that the men at Marvel sat down as Architects do and decided as corporate policy to treat everyone that wasn't a bloke in The Ultimates as silent and  sexualised support-units for the pleasure and general convenience of men. That's a simply inconceivable idea. No, it seems plain that the problem is still - still - that no-one at Marvel who's connected with The Ultimates # 1 cared to even care about anything beyond the manly super-heroics of it all. For if they had, there's simply no way that this story could've possibly appeared in the unfortunate shape that it has.     

(h) Nick Fury, facing unforeseen circumstances, publicly declares that he can't handle the situation without the absent Captain America. That's right, the only person of colour in the book is all arrogance and insensitivity until things go wrong, and then he needs the Aryan super-man to save him. (Doesn't he have protocols to follow in cases of nuclear disasters, and advisers, and, heavens forbid, political officials who he works for?)

Oh, well. The Ultimates # 1 is just another example of what happens when everyone's asleep at the wheel. It's a car-crash of a comic, and we'll be returning to its worrying representation of people of colour as well as its improbable plot confections in the not-so-distant future.

Until then, the question really does need to be asked again: why don't more women read super-people comic books?


(i) Ah, the reason why Mr Fury is so alone when the bomb drops. It seems that the Ultimate Universe is one in which the Constitution has been rewritten, because the President is shown reporting to Nick Fury in order to discover what the man with the eye-patch is going to do. Of course, in the real world, everybody does what the civilian government decides, in times of emergency as much as during a typical day, but here the President comes asking to know what action Fury will be taking. As I say, politics isn't Mr Hickman's strong suit, or perhaps, precision with his dialogue isn't. Who can say? After this issue, it's hard to feel charitable, though perhaps a coup has occurred over there in that particular America, or maybe somebody has decided that the USA would free such a massively powerful organisation from democratic oversight. The mind boggles ...
         
TooBusyThinking will be back tomorrow with an entirely enthusiastic look at an example of undoubted storytelling excellence. No, really, TooBusyThinking will be back tomorrow, and it will be with an entirely enthusiastic piece. 

.      

29 comments:

  1. Asleep is right.

    Writing creatively should be as much about self-examination as anything I would think. At the heart of every story is largely a story that can be simplified into one that has been told before.

    So what is left when grandiose trappings and contrivances have been duly noted and cataloged?

    What you have left on the page is who these writers and artists are. It's who they are as people and human beings.

    It's who they are when they're not thinking about it.

    For example, in the recently excellent Daredevil by Mr. Mark Waid and Mr. Paolo Rivera DD gets some critical information from a fellow lawyer. Waid and Rivera make the choice to have that character be a gay man taking in the view from an elevated platform in the city with his boyfriend on his arm. The scene is played perfectly down the middle. The character being gay is perfunctory and not in a negative way.
    I'm having a little trouble thinking of how to express it. It's treated like nothing special. It's just who this man is.

    It's simply a detail but it's a carefully chosen INCLUSIVE detail that if you're just hacking out work didn't need to be there.

    What I'm driving at is that in this case Waid and Rivera are aware and are choosing to use this small side character in this specific way. That is damn important.

    Maybe Mr. Hickman doesn't actively degrade women in his personal life but it seems quite clear what he thinks of them in his own mind. I mean, the guys who wrote Red Sonja for Marvel in the 70's in a chain mail bikini respected women more than this. At least she kicked at least one man's ass in every issue.

    It's hard to be given LESS than nothing but there you have it. People's Exhibit A.

    If that coffee panel description said "someone gives Fury coffee" the shadow is then cast upon Ribic.

    Perhaps Mr. Ribic was told to portray a "supermodel" on Tony Stark's arm but unless the panel description called for a conspicuous over the shoulder shot of an enormous breast then it's clear it's his choice to do things this way.

    It's a lot of perhaps and maybe analysis, that's for sure, but when art is made it is open for interpretation. It's simply too bad that this art speaks so poorly for the state of mind of the people who produced it.

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  2. Hello Smitty:- "It's who they are when they're not thinking about it."

    And, of course, as I know you believe, who all of us are when we're asleep at the wheel. I was just walking outside and thinking about an extension of this point: namely that if you don't want to discuss politics in your work, you have to work twice at hard at least as normal in order to ensure that personal biases and simple mistakes don't appear in it. To simply not engage with politics isn't the same as ignoring it, and, of course, those mistakes and unintended consequences are always there. By that I'm not talking about the possibility that some nutter from nutter-land might imagine that a comic is insulting the Lord or whatever, although I do think that some folks seem to feel any engagement with texts on this level is inevitably a business of being a fool, a madman or both. But when it's just commonsense stuff like "Have women in your story and treat them with respect", then I think it's fair to expect creators to do so.

    "It's simply a detail but it's a carefully chosen INCLUSIVE detail that if you're just hacking out work didn't need to be there."

    Yes, it's true. It's a fine example of work and if everyone hadn't already made the points I would about Daredevil, there'd be a piece about it here pronto. And it's evidence that a measure of subtlety is the key to decent-heartedness in comics. I've been reading a great deal of ranting about how the politics of representations is PC and likely to turn comics into soapbox propaganda, and yet that DD example is neither PC nor polemical in any extreme fashion.

    But then, if you're the sort of person who sees such issues as irrelevant, then I guess even that would be seen as PC and strident.

    I do understand your frustration here, and it's an uncommon frustration from you, and probably the most angry-sounding I've ever heard in one of your comments. And the irony is that Mr Hickman's FF issues do show a real concern for family and family values. I've never had all the FF issues together at one time to look at how gender is portrayed, but memory tells me that Sue Richards, for example, is treated with the maximum of respect. I think what we have here is a book written and produced by a team who aren't looking at the big picture. The issues of race and gender which others might see as vital are here paid less attention to than the matter of re-establishing the Ult Uni, which is a shame, because one way to get more people to buy these books is to present a wider range of types and a more inclusive selection of values.

    Cont;

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  3. Cont:

    "It's a lot of perhaps and maybe analysis, that's for sure, but when art is made it is open for interpretation."

    I think that your frustration for how the sub-genre is as a whole dragging its feet re: these issues is one shared far more generally than the Big Two think. If a man as normally reserved in your comments is as disappointed as you're expressing here, then that's one more consumer who is reduced to feeling seriously let down by a company whose products he really wants to be able to enjoy. The irony is that all the criticism that's springing up as the months passes comes mostly from fans who aren't out to "get" Marvel, but rather to get it to produce more comics that they can read.

    Having heard Mr Hickman discuss his family on Word Balloon, for example, I have no doubt that he has nothing but the most progressive and tolerant attitudes to human beings in general, of all types! And yet, we can all be as well-meaning as we like in our heads and hearts and homes. What goes onto the page is what counts, and the carelessness - for that's what it is - of this book means that JH might come across as someone who he's by all accounts very much not. The same is true is for everyone else on the team, as of course I know you'd agree. But I mention it to highlight this key problem: what we imagine our work will say and what it does are two very different things, and the Big Two need to work so much harder in ensuring that good intentions and sincerely inclusive beliefs produce work which reflects those things.

    The Common Comics Culture, Smitty! That CCC's got alot to answer for.

    Thank you for mentioning Daredevil. It's good to remember the good stuff too, and to look forward to Messers Hickman and White and their colleagues aiding the quantity and quality of it. They are, after all, undoubtedly highly competent creators.

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  4. Hello John:- your kind words are very much appreciated.

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  5. It happens A LOT in today's comics sadly. Indeed, your question at the end was great, for there really aren't that many female readers. In the letter columns, I never see any girl/woman write in, only once in a Spidey comic. Also, the Ultimate line of things have always been more "hardcore" than the mainstream.

    Nice write-up Colin.

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  6. Hello Destroyer:- Thank you for the kind words. There's surely no reason at all that superhero books couldn't be made more appealling to a female audience. It would take a serious effort for the Big Two to substantially change their approach, and it might take years for it to pay off. But the gains would surely be worth it.

    Still, I'd just like to see more women, and convincing women, in comics. When all there is is blokes, it all becomes incredibly boring. There's such a limited range of emotions that tend to be portrayed when all that's at hand is more and more brawling and yet another end of the world.

    It would make more money, be more ethical and encourage more diverse and interesting stories. A win-win proposition, you might think.

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  7. Hi Colin,

    I completely agree with what you've written here, and this is from a fan of Hickman's work. I sort of enjoyed this issue (the concepts around Ultimate Reed Richards really, following on from Ultimate Doom and Fallout, even if they weren't fully explained) but I was equally baffled and a little annoyed by it.

    I've noticed little niggling things about Hickman's work, like no ethnic minorities at all in the FF, or ONE, ONE! woman in SHIELD (aside from a monster woman) and of course she's probably the only non-genius in the story. In fact she's the stereotypical 'nurturing blah blah' female character quick to anger and quick to calm down etc etc with no use apart from loving one of the main characters.

    Given the recent hoo-ha with DC and sexism (fully deserved in my opinion) I feel that few notice that Marvel also has a problem with sexism, although it's more subtle. (Fewer pneumatic boobies, sex kittens and all that, DC seems to think women are only for sex, which is not the case with Marvel in my opinion) I know I've mentioned this before but it's not enough to have mainish characters from under-represented groups, they need to be in the background and as (non-stereotypical) supporting characters (it's the same issue I had with the Thor film)which was illustrated very well by your points on how there are apparently no female European super-soldiers (yeah like that'd fly!) I think they do much better with ethnic minorities (more based on their historical lineage so to speak).

    On the issue with Stark and his aide, I see that more as Ultimates snark. I'm fine with characters saying or having opinions which I find offensive as long as the rest of the story has normal representations of gay people, ethnic minorities etc (Mark Millar generally does this) but this comic doesn't have any women as you pointed out and this just reinforces the notion that it's what the writer actually thinks.

    By the way I loved your coining of 'Nordicesque' I had to say it out loud a couple of times just to get it right in my head!

    Sorry if this seems a bit rambling but I just got home from work on a very hot day!

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  8. Hello Ejaz:- there's no need at all to apologise for what you call your rambling. I didn't think there was any rambling going on at all :)

    I actually bought this comic as part of my campaign to follow up what folks such as yourself have said to me about the quality of Mr Hickman's work! I'm not blaming you at all, for it was my choice to buy it and I think I've learned alot from reading it. But the point that you've made about Marvel suffering from its own problems with sexism is exactly why I went with writing about this comic. I've tried to stay away from the debates which are currently raging about the New 52 because I can't add to them. By the time my comics arrive out here in the wilds, good and able folks have already made the key points well and there's no point in my repeating what's been said. But I did think I could try to deal with what seems like a typical Marvel comic and attempt to show that for all its absent of a "Starfire" scene, it's still at best patriachal at its core.

    I agree entirely about your points about the need to people both the background and foreground of comics with far more than generic white folks. Similarly, I'm with you on the idea that comics are actually at times even more sexist than the world around them; we both agree with the European super-soldiers and their blokiness being an example of that.

    "On the issue with Stark and his aide, I see that more as Ultimates snark. I'm fine with characters saying or having opinions which I find offensive as long as the rest of the story has normal representations of gay people, ethnic minorities etc (Mark Millar generally does this) but this comic doesn't have any women as you pointed out and this just reinforces the notion that it's what the writer actually thinks."

    Yes! That's my point too. Of course the Ultimate Stark will say daft things. But if all we get is that, then it will inevitably come across as the voice of the story itself.

    "By the way I loved your coining of 'Nordicesque' I had to say it out loud a couple of times just to get it right in my head!"

    Thank you, Mr E. I know my writing is at best functional, but I do like playing respectfully with words within what I think are the limits of my ability. I'm glad it made you smile. It made me smile when something in my head suggested it to me, as often happens when writing.

    I hope the day's work has been eased from your shoulders. Sleep well!

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  9. Hello Colin,

    you know, you and I will never agree on what you perceive as sexismn in comics. Normally I skip this posts because I don´t think I have anything to add.

    But as someone who knows a thing or two about writing I find the idea to accuse a writer of sexismn because he doesn´t include enough diverse woman characters in his tale as, well, how do I put it without sounding wrong? If I apply this idea to literature, everything from Treasure Island to Three Musketeers is per definition sexist. I can´t take this argumentation seriously.

    But lets agree to disagree :-)

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  10. Hello Andy:- well, I'm not extending the argument to involve anything other than contemporary comics. There's a world and a century of two of difference between those books and today's work.

    And even if you do think my arguments for greater and more ethical representation of women in superhero books is wrong-headed, wouldn't you agree with the two other regularly-stated planks of my argument, namely;

    1. Comics with more women in them and a more sympathetic attitude to them are far more likely to sell to that non-male 51% of the population which currently buys very few comics, meaning that the industry is far more likely to survive and prosper, and;

    2. Comics which have a greater degree of something other than just blokes being blokish are likely to be more varied and more interesting an experience too.

    It's not just a question of personal ethics, Andy. The industry would be stronger and more likely to produce books that are more than just a big macho brawl. In this case, the moral argument can be ignored and the basic point remains strong.

    But, of course, let's agree to disagree. We have for a good while on some things and I like the fact that we can do so. My best to you :)

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  11. "1. Comics with more women in them and a more sympathetic attitude to them are far more likely to sell to that non-male 51% of the population which currently buys very few comics, meaning that the industry is far more likely to survive and prosper, and;"

    Yes, absolutly. And a lot of woman buy comics. They just don´t buy superhero-comics. Which is - in its essence, if you strip away all the pretensions - still a male fantasy about special gifted people who are solving their problems through violence without any public authority. A power fantasy. And it doesen´t make any difference if you have Green Lantern killing the bad guys with an arrow through the head or Black Canary doing the deed. But I can be wrong. Maybe there is a non-male audiance just waiting to buy this. Maybe tales like Flashpoint were you have the Amazons massacring all males or whatever this tale was is the right step.

    Just that there is no misunderstanding. I don´t advocate that superhero-comics should go back to the secretary-and-shrew depiction of woman. Things like the silver-age Lois Lane are just painful. Just like the depiction of the new improved Kori with an i is painful. (Even if I would argue that the slimification of a competent woman character like Amanda Waller is much more reprehensible in this regard. Now she is competent AND looks like a model. That´s truly progress! Oh boy.)

    But I don´t have it in me to shake my head about the nameless woman in the Ultimates bar scene. Would it have any benefit whatsoever for the story if the reader would be informed that her name is Carol, she had a nice childhood, is working as an executive at Macys and shares her apartment with her sister? And of course the writer would have to do the same with the nameless guy next to her in the armani-suit. They are just extras in a scene where the reader sees Tony Stark being the arrogant playboy while visiting a bar of the - perceived - beautiful people. If I would be the writer of this comic - or the artist, because I don´t think Hickman would waste space in his script to describe this scene in detail; he isn´t Alan Moore :-) he would instruct the artist to draw him a bar with some upscale clientele and some eye-candy - I also would write it in the same broad strokes. Is this sexist? No.

    2. Comics which have a greater degree of something other than just blokes being blokish are likely to be more varied and more interesting an experience too.

    Yes. But is this the marketing-stategy for a product like the Ultimates? I never read the line except a few issues at the begining, and it seemed to me that it was basically an attempt by Marvel to do The Authority. You know, pump up the violence, make everyone and his sister a real bad-ass, do it like a Vertigo with mass-distruction, but tasteful, draw the line at the nipples.

    I didn´t buy or read this Ultimate by Hickman, but would it really be more interesting or better if you could change half of the cast with females?

    Grr, now I have written so much about a thing which doesn´t interest me much. You know, Colin, you and your discussion wake the worst in people. (Irony off :-)) )
    Have a good day!

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  12. Hello Andy:- "Grr, now I have written so much about a thing which doesn´t interest me much. You know, Colin, you and your discussion wake the worst in people. (Irony off :-))"

    Sorry, Andy! But I thought it was interesting that we moved away from a subject which we don't agree on and towards grounds where we have a greater degree of agreement. Not always alot, mind you, but some.

    "But I don´t have it in me to shake my head about the nameless woman in the Ultimates bar scene. Would it have any benefit whatsoever for the story if the reader would be informed that her name is Carol, she had a nice childhood, is working as an executive at Macys and shares her apartment with her sister."

    I see your point, Andy. But my argument isn't that that woman should have been more fleshed out. (No pun intended, I promise you.)It was that referring to her solely in sexual terms when there's nothing else that speaks of women as individuals elsewhere does create an ugly impression. Or I should say 'In my opinion'. Of course comics need extras. It's when women are nothing but extras referred to in sexual terms that it just seems an ugly business. The scene would've been fine in a comic where there was some kind of counter-balance. I don't want P.C. comics, Andy, I really don't. I just want a little balance. I mean, let's be frank here. This is a comic with no women in speaking roles. None. I'm not discussing a minor matter. There are no women who aren't ey-candy here. Even in the SIXTIES, Fury was surrounded by Agent-13 and the Countessa. Hardly symbols of an uncomplicated feminism, but it looks impressively forward-thinking compared to Ultimates # 1.

    As for women not buying into stories which involve power fantasies, I'd suggest that the huge female participation in the following fandoms would indicate otherwise; Buffy, Firefly, Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, large swathes of Manga and Anime, Dr Who, Star Trek.

    That female market is out there, Andy, and if it can love Buffy, which was effectively a Steve Engelhart Avengers / Chris Claremont X-Men strip turned into a TV show, then they can certainly enjoy superhero books. But at the moment, many of them are so male-centric that even I can't enjoy them. When even the blokes can't cope with the blokishness, perhaps things have gone too far.

    But please, I don't want P.C. comics. Even Emma Frost works if she's placed next to Kitty Pryde in the X-Men, if that agressive Madonna-esque sexuality is counter-pointed with Kitty's far more traditional approach to sex and responsibility. When it's nothing but Emma Frost, or no women at all, then the narrative becomes compromised, in my opinion.

    "You know, pump up the violence, make everyone and his sister a real bad-ass, do it like a Vertigo with mass-distruction, but tasteful, draw the line at the nipples."

    Oh, I do hope not, Andy. You made me chuckle at the idea, but I do hope not ...

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  13. "I'd suggest that the huge female participation in the following fandoms would indicate otherwise; Buffy, Firefly, Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, large swathes of Manga and Anime, Dr Who, Star Trek."

    Maybe I should have been more clearer here - I mean especially the traditional us-american superhero vs things with a broader appeal like all the things you mentioned. The Boys´s Club genre as you so aptly put it.

    (Sometimes I think how dumbfounded the male young readers back-then must have been when in the early Legion of Superheroes there were suddenly girls (gasp!) in the clubhouse. Not in the more matronly way of a Lois Lane, but girls with powers. If there had been an internet back then ... ugly thought Lol. The change of gender representation in superhero-comics and their acceptance would be an interesting topic. It is a long way from Lois Lane who wants to marry Superman (if he wants or not) to Kori with an i who can´t differentiate between those funny male eartheners and regards them as vibrators with a pulse.)

    Of course this is more a topic for a college course than for a blog, I guess: is Buffy just another superhero power fantasy as you suggest or has it other roots. I fear we all tend to put too much credit and weight into this creations after the fact. Maybe Whedon just said: wouldn´t it be fun instead of Van Helsing killing vamps to have a cheerleader in this role? Just think of the hilarious possibilities. And we catch two audiences with one stone, the boys who wants a sexy chick and the girls who have a new hero. :-) (I never read the creation of especially Buffy up because I don´t want to now the why´s and won´ts in this case.)

    Of course Ultimates must be a bizarr tale if the only two females on sight are one silent extra and the other only speaking part is fetching tea. It sounds more like a freak accident then a well-thought out story.

    "Oh, I do hope not, Andy. You made me chuckle at the idea, but I do hope not ..."

    Heh, enter and abandon all hope, huh?

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  14. Another culprit may be the automatic assumption that Europe follows American norms. Women are not combat personnel in the U.S. military. So, because the U.S. has no place for a female super-SOLDIER, it may never have occurred to Hickman that our European allies would naturally have included women as subjects of their super-soldier program. Even if they did realize this, I don't think the Ultimate editors would want this pointed out.

    However, Marvel has no problem with changing history to be more inclusive, ranging in sensitivity from the incorporation of the black prototype super-soldier, who wasn't allowed to wear the American colors, to the integrated Howling Commandos. (Much as I enjoyed the Captain America movie, I gave a start when I saw a Japanese-American soldier as a prisoner of the Germans. Most Japanese-Americans outside of Hawaii were put into internment camps.)

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  15. Hello Andy:- I won't digress into what JW's said about his influences for parts of Buffy, for as you say, it's not something which you want to hear about. But perhaps I might just say that the links between the Dark Phoenix and Dark WIllow stories are really quite interesting ..

    On those early Legion stories; Dean, who has often commented on this blog in the past, has convinced me that those Silver Age DC comics were far more radical than they first appeared. For one thing, as you say, the LSH was just full of female heroes, which just wasn't true for any other property on the market. And for all the patriachy of those DC books in general, the women were nearly always highly able and often highly educated professional women. As Dean has pointed out, Carol Ferris was a lawyer, Lois and Iris West were well-respected journalist, Hawkwoman was a police officer. Dean's right! DC was far more challenging in this field than Marvel was.

    I too hope that the Ultimates was, as you say, a 'freak accident'. But it does have alot in common with quite a few recent Marvel comics. Yet it ought to mentioned, there's more yet with no such problems at all. Some of which I've praised on this very blog, of course.

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  16. Hello David:- It's a really good point, David; thank you. Of course, the USA does have women serving in frontline roles as jet fighter pilots, for example, so it could be argued super-soldiering is closer to that than slogging it out in the infantry. Politically, I wonder if the U.S.A. could get away with creating an army of supermen. I suspect the more Liberal thinkers of America would be deeply concerned by any such a plan!

    But I wouldn't want to give the impression that I don't appreciate Marvel's long tradition of dealing positively with social issues. In truth, it was the social engagement displayed in a great many of Marvel and DC's books in the early seventies which helped to form my own political values. Seriously. And there's great stuff being produced by the company today; Gen Hope # 9 is one example I always go back to in order to remind myself that everything's very much not terrible today.

    I've not seen the Cap movie, though when it's out on DVD, I'll be watching it on the first day of release. And that's certainly a scene I'll be looking out for. The internment camps are a matter which are rarely as well discussed as they ought to be; beyond Roy Thomas and but a few other writers, few creators have touched upon their existence. It's a shame, but then I've never seen a British creator in comics deal with the concentration camps in the Boer War or the terrible Indian famine in 1943 either.

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  17. Hello Colin,

    An interesting contrast between the Ultimates here and Johnny Red in your next review :-)

    I read Battle Action and Johnny Red as a ten year old (and 2000AD too) since my parents owned a diary (corner store) and I read every comic I could get my hands on. You are absolutely right about Johnny Red being compelling reading with amazing cliffhangers, and such an intensity in the art that meant you couldn't really take your eyes away from what was really gruesome stuff. (Colquhoun's Charley's War was the same except Pat Mills' script was even more compelling).
    As a ten year old I always had an inkling that the USSR in the strip was an unpleasant place
    - not so much from Johnny's position and reactions as from those of the Russians - they often showed a passivity and fatalism that was completely alien to me as a ten year in a highly politicised family in NZ in the 70s.

    Titan's Best of Battle collection would be a good place to start for any investigation into that comic. I would note though, that whilst I regard Battle as far superior to any previous UK war stories (Like Captain Hurricane..ick)
    the quality really picked up for a while aftre issue 200 as Charley's War gave the readership and creatives alike a kick in the pants. Unfortunately the comic as a whole never reached the quality that Charley's War hinted it could. Johnny Red is really the 'number two' Battle strip in terms of popularity and longevity, although I always liked "The Sarge" in terms of 'realism' and Major Eazy because of his anti-establishmentism. Parents who had met whilst in the RNZAF and hated the force informed some of my view I must admit...

    The Ultimates though...just makes me shake my head. It sounds like it could all have been so much better with not much effort. It really saddens to me to read 70s and 80s comics that were much more interesting than this one. Maybe someone needs to start a band: "Corporate Comics Will Eat Itself" :-)

    I've read 4 of DC's New52 titles: Action (since it is Grant Morrison and he really makes a misstep), the two Paul Cornell titles - since they were not about A list characters and I trust his writing (British Summertime is a wonderful book BTW)and Animal Man. I haven't read Milligan's JL Dark yet, but it has some appeal.
    I kinda hate to say it, but I felt those books were "TV good" in that whilst I don't feel I wasted my time reading them, I realised I didn't really didn't care if I read more of them or not. They're certainly not very compelling - I think I'd rather spend my time reading a second Johnny Red collection :-)

    kiwijohn

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  18. Hello Kiwijohn:- that's a heart-warming vignette about your parent's shop. It sounds like a really pleasant way of pursuing the kind of love of comics which is so much less common amongst children now.

    I do agree with you about Charly's War. I think I may hold off focusing on Mr Colquhoun's art until I can discuss both JR and CW together. He's an artist who never seemed to shirk the most difficult shot if it were also the most appropriate one for the story. I have a substantial degree of admiration for his work, as of course I should have!

    I agree with you that the USSR of Johnny Red is a grim place. The lack of initiative in folks is very much a sign of that. Its as if, for all it's terrible weaknesses, the class-controlled capitalism that Johnny's come from at least breads a kind of 'can-do' matched by a legitimate chip-on-both-shoulders attitude. How strange to be saying that, therefore, JR just wasn't grim enough. Of course, the strip would've been impossible to make realistic, and it WAS for a young audience. I merely bring the issue up in the context of being an adult - or a supposed adult - reader in 2011.

    Thank you for your advice re: The Battle strips. By chance, a dip into minor debt brought the Battle Collection through my letter-box just yesterday morning. I've not had time to sit down and read it yet, but it's always good to have a trusted opinion on where to start.

    Corporate Comics HAVE Eaten Themselves :) I so want to buy into what the Big Two are doing. But I looked at the last Marvel advance listings and just about everything seemed to be linked to a crossover. Talk about excluding anyone but the hardcore. Maximizing short-term profit surely shouldn't exclude folks who aren't up for Rump membership. Still, there's Daredevil, and Julian at Sequart has been recommending the new Ultimate Spider-Man. There's things to buy, I'll admit. But not very much.

    I agree with your disappointment with the New DC. I actually - how sad is this - saved up my birthday money - at the age of 49! - in order to buy into the New 52. I felt I ought to, since I'm supposed to be writing about the industry. I didn't want to sit on the periphery and seem to be unconcerned. And it's simply obvious that everything was done incredibly quickly, and that the basic model of the model is to be as undemanding and flashy as possible. The writing in particular is most often barely competent at best, and the art is usually no more competent than a standard-issue Image book of around 1994. There are exceptions; I have really come to admire Demon Knights, for example, but on the whole, it's all hype and mirrors. Folks have bought into it because they SO want good, fun mainstream comics, or at least that's what I presume. When the dust settles, DC will have won over a few tens of thousands of Marvel readers to buy into a few of their monthlies; that's my bet. But as a Marshall Plan for the Comics Industry, or at least one corporate pillar of it, it's mostly all sound and fury.

    And I did SO want to feel able to enjoy the work ...

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  19. Hi again Colin,

    I hadn't intended to write a heart-warming vignette ;-p), merely to give more context to my remarks about Battle...that said I'll admit to enjoying hearing others' stories about encountering comics :-) so all's fair I guess.

    I think I have to (rather reluctantly) face the fact that I have outgrown the Big Two's comics. Not quite because I thought the New52 were largely competent at best, but because really none of them spoke to my experience or to my life as it is now. They had little to say to me, in contrast with say Ostrander's Suicide Squad, or Crisis or 2000AD at its peak: "there is no 'there' there".

    This because I'm older, much more aware of my own country and how unique it is (I don't 'unique' as in special, but 'unique' as in not like any other)and U.S. popular media doesn't have much appeal anymore as it becomes increasingly "youf" centered (as the New52 evidences)and self-referential.

    No matter, there are lots of great comcis out there that aren't the Big Two, and I think it is hard to argue that English-language comics aren't in a renaissance right now. I have Love & Rockets New Stories 4, Prince Valiant Vol 4, the Sugar and Spike Archive (ironically from DC) and Long John Silver from Cinebooks in my reading pile at the moment, so DC will miss out next month...

    kiwijohn

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  20. Hello Kiwijohn:- I liked that heart-warning moment. The way that comics impact upon people's lives is a fascinating and often touching business. And your particular example is such a specific example that it inevitably provokes and "ahhhh" .... :)

    I know what you mean about outgrowing the Big Two's products. But I don't believe that's inevitable at all. If the Miller Daredevil came out today, I'd still love it. It's the comics which have stopped being to speak both kids and adults, as a certain key percentage of them once did. It's not all lost. I think the new Daredevil book could well become not just a really good read, but a classic, and the much regretted Thor The Mighty Avenger was a timelessly brilliant comic, as I've discovered far too late in the day. No, for my money, there's still ground for good comics, but as a line of product, I must admit the New DC has actually alienated me from the idea of buying into any immersive reality. It's just a mess, and that's a shame.

    Similarly, I don't see why American comics have to be so insular where the culture of the USA is concerned, let alone others! Though I do accept that most of the Big Two's products speak only to the Rump, which is a terrible shame. I can't imagine how parochial they seem to you in your nation.

    But yes, the world of comics and literature in general is such a fantastic one that we can do with the superhero as it currently mostly stands. I don't want to, but I fear I'm going to have to. And even if nothing new was ever published again, there's still a thousand lifetimes worth of literature in existence.

    I don't want to see the superhero book so moribund, but art forms do die. Sometimes because they've said all they can, and sometimes because the folks responsible for them mess up what they're doing so badly that it's hard to care anymore.

    Still, Daredevil, Demon Knights, Journey Into Mystery ... It's a start!

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  21. I will admit to waiting for the trade on Daredevil; I've followed Daredevil since the Frank Miller days (and gosh wasn't getting them monthly at age 14 a mind-blowing experience!).

    Whilst I love the weekly visit to the comic shop (to get 2000AD if nothing else), I found the amount of ads in the New52 titles really offputting and they took me out of the story; I mean 10 pages of house ads (so with similar art styles to the comic itself) inside a 20 page comic? - ridiculous. At least in DC 80s/early 90s comics I could simply rip the ads out :-).

    Accordingly, I'm now 'waiting for the trades' to see if the quality picks up on the titles I was interested in. I think 6 months of issues will give a much better idea of what to expect - I'd like to be pleasantly surprised.

    Your comment about an "immersive universe" hits upon a good part of the appeal of the Big Two and I feel much the same way as you do it seems. As readers of UK comics I think we both have more nuanced view of the Big Two Universes and their appeal since we have a clear example of other approaches.

    Unfortunately I think that unlike the 1960s-70s (from my purely subjective reads of Marvel Essentials), where the growth of the universes was 'organic' and crossovers felt special, the current approach of 'Marvel architects' and 'Didio-led editorial" is too unwieldy, as the top-down control ignores what made the universes so varied and interesting in the first place. The failures of the 'planned' Marvel NuUniverse and the Valiant, Malibu, Image and Dark Horse "Universes" would tend to support this argument.

    In addition, this top-down control also seems to be contributing to an ongoing fall in the quality of the comics themselves as it beocmes clear that individual talent matters less and less to the 'product' - many of your posts evidence this clearly I think (BTW, have you read Unwritten #29 yet? - Mike Carey has a wondeful take on this). Much of today's superhero titles are not being written by their original creators either, so the level of 'trademark servicing' is higher too.

    Writing by committee certainly hasn't done much for Hollywood, which is why I wonder about the influence of Hollywood thinking in the US comics industry. It does relate to this increasingly widespread idea that there is a such a thing as professional manager/administrators who can work in any industry or field interchangeably.

    It is interesting to think though - when you mention the latest Daredevil may come to be considered a classic - that in over 40 years of superhero universes and literally hundreds of thousands of comics that the number of "classic runs" is relatively low and also largely agreed upon among low time comics fans - Sturgeon's Law in action :-). I wonder what among 2011's comics will still be in print or being bought in 2051?
    Anyhow, thanks for letting me hang out at your blog and letting me 'bend your ear' :-).

    cheers,

    kiwijohn

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  22. Hello Kiwijohn:- your point about those adverts is a sadly telling one. I'm well aware that comics are there to make money, but maximising the monthly revenue through intrusive advertising is a poor longterm strategy. TV has lost a significant audience who now choose to experience programmes in box-set form, which means that their chances of discovering other programmes by chance on terrestrial channels are limited by the fact that they're rarely there. And the adds are now SO intrusive and numerous; the adds for boots in the recent DC titles works like a storytelling grenade; close enough to a page of comics to haul the reader out of what they're reading, uninteresting enough to make that feel thoroughly uninteresting to all but the trainer-besotted.

    I do agree with you about continuity in the early to mid-seventies. However, by that point, problems were starting to evolve, and Shooter was quite right to step in and deal with that. By which I mean, 'organic' growth eventually ends up in complications, and it needs an editor as good as Robert Greenberger was in the second half of the 80's at DC to make it work.

    Writing by committee needs a strong and creative single boss at the top of the tree. The writer's room in American TV is a necessary thing, but it's notable how much relies on the Show Runner. Yet a comic's universe is far more complex than a year of 22 hours of TV, and if a top-down model IS adopted, then the system adopted has to be a clever and sophisticated one. I don't know how the Big Two organise themselves. Marvel seem to be a far more coherent organisation. Neither appear to be cracking the problems of creating comics rather than packages of event-management on any scale.

    I shall check out Mr Carey's work. Thanks for the steer.

    I think I'd enjoy sitting down and actually totting up what I'd label 'classic runs'. I think you're right that there's few of them. Yet there are those wonderful years - 2002/3 at Marvel, 1985/8 at DC - where a string of excellent books appear and everything seems hopeful.

    You're welcome on this blog anytime, KJ. Take care :)

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  23. AndyDecker & Colin-

    Minor quibble in context of everything, but the Authority was actually almost 1/2 women (3/7. And 2/7 gay). Still, all the women are standard thin body shape, but they are drawn and written as people, not props. (and Swift is maybe a bit short? Or tall? I don't remember. In true ersatz-Hawkman fashion, she is the least developed character of the bunch. She is Asian, too.) It is a little unfair, given that Jake Hawksmoor, Apollo, Midnighter, and the Doctor all have very different builds, that the women all have very similar builds, even though you'd think Swift would be more muscly, as a predominantly melee fighter. Also, the Engineer is effectively naked, but again it's not portrayed more sexy than Apollo's one-piece bodysuit, and it's counterpointed by the other two women on the team being dressed very sensibly. And it's completely explained in-story.

    But if nothing else, this indicates that a superhero team composed of 50% women can still evoke that badass feeling so many books try to emulate.

    David & Colin-

    The American media and Pentagon's lies about captured soldier Jessica Lynch might speak to American society's relationship to soldiers, particularly female ones. Is the fact that the military and the media found it necessary to fabricate stories to make a brave soldier sound even more heroic a commentary on gender, or jingoism, or just that people like exciting stories? The Pentagon had reported that she had been captured while fighting back, while in actuality her rifle jammed and she was injured and knocked unconscious as soon as the truck was hit with the RPG. (this is all from Wikipedia, I remembered very little of this from when it happened)*

    It's an interesting companion piece to Rucka's Batwoman origin, where her integrity compels her to tell the truth even when it gets her into all sorts of trouble and would have been way easier to lie. Lynch received death threats from people who thought she'd made up the heroic story, even though she'd had nothing to do with it.


    Fun thought experiment: would liberals or conservatives** have more of a problem w/ super soldiers?
    Conservative: pro: better homeland defense. Con: tampering with God's creation, Possibility of too much power in the hands of government. 
    Liberal: pro: allow better humanitarian/emergency aid in emergencies, could lead to more research into curing other diseases. Con: fear of one man holding too much power, create possibility for armed coup, could get into the hands of private corporation and cause havoc.

    * Apparently the Iraqi informant who alerted US forces to Lynch's whereabouts also is believed to have fabricated some of the story, reporting that she had been slapped and tortured in the hospital, whereas Lynch herself reported that she was treated well and one woman even sang to her.
    Even more disturbingly, her authorized biography states that she was raped, even though Lynch maintains that that didn't happen and she was pressured by the (Pulitzer Prize-winning) biographer into saying it happened because "people need to know what can happen to women soldiers."

    **as I'm mainly familiar with American politics, I'm going with the meanings commonly accepted here for Liberal and Conservative, though of course a Neocon would have very different feelings about a supersoldier than a Libertarian.

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  24. Hello Historyman:- Iy's a very good point which you make about the representations in the Authority. A broader range of body types would've been preferable for me, but there's still, as you say, a fair sprinkling of difference there.

    And of course, the three great team books of the early eighties, namely Claremont's X-Men, the Wolfman/Perez Titans and the Levitz/Giffen Legion contained a substantial percentage of female characters. I seem to recall a Claremont X-Men team which had women in the majority. It seems we've gone backwards, or at least a fair number of creators have.

    The Jessica Lynch story was deeply disturbing, and the lack of longterm response to it on any fundamental level worried me in some ways even more. It seemed to me to be a terrible business, but - and here I could be wrong, coming from over this side of the pond - it seemed to disappear from the mass media disturbingly quickly. It strikes me that there are quite a few people, in and out of power, who are more comfortable with quite literally peddling and swallowing myths about soldiering than accepting the realities of that profession. I found the origin of Batwoman to be throughly inspiring in the way that it argued that being gay and patriotic, honourable American soldiers weren't in any way incompatible. Well, of course they're not ..

    I'd find it hard to believe that most conservatives would object to super-soldiers, unless they could be linked to the likes of stem-cell research! The myths of the defence of the motherland excuses most sins there! Even then ... Truthfully, and thinking about this on the hoof, I'd expect most people would accept them if they were sold to them in the right way. In fact, there's a story to be written about how the public have been being softened up with years of hyper-people product, so that they do accept genetically modified servants of 'order'. Still, I do agree with your model of how the more committed of two wings of politics would respond. And I think that it would be fascinating to see how the nation would respond to such a prospect. I suspect, as you intimate with your discussion of different extreme right-wing responses, that we'd see a splintering of political responses, and then a re-allignment of who lines up with who.

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  25. For what it's worth, I think Quitely individualized their body types a little more than Hitch, not to take anything away from him. 

    I need to read all three of those runs you mention- from how much they're mentioned, they seem somewhat essential to our generation.

    Of course the Jessica Lynch story disappeared from mass media quickly- why would the media want to remind everyone of how much they'd screwed up? 

    Re: supersoldiers-
    There's branches of the left wing that are very against genetic modification of food- FrankenCorn, etc- partly because it sounds scary and sci-fi, partly because they haven't really figured out the consequences of genetic drift when they're in fields neighboring normal crops. If a company considers their corn proprietary, they might modify it to be sterile- and there's questions of whether this sterility gene could make its way to other corns.

    This actually could be an interesting premise indeed for a story- create a supersoldier, and what happens if he starts having sex with the frequency of some of our other favorite superheroes? Is he genetically sterilized so that the government has complete control over making more of them? Does it work? Does the sterility gene spread, say, through blood so that anybody who gets his blood in theirs, say through battle, maybe gets superpowers but also sterility? Hmm.*

    And of course, on the right, I'm just gonna say this again: stem cells. Stem Cells. STEM CELLS!

    If you're gonna create a supersoldier, either you inject a willing volunteer, Steve Rogers-style, or you modify him from birth. If he's genetically modified, it probably happened in the (artificial?) womb, and there's no way you're gonna experiment on embryonic cells without killing a few. If curing Alzheimer's does not excuse killing babies, does protecting America?

    Of course, if another country creates him first, then all bets are off. We partly justified atom bomb research** because the Nazis were also doing it, and if THEY got their hands on it, we were fucked (apparently they were not as far along as we'd feared). But imagine a supersoldier comes from a rogue state- which, given the different ethical codes, could be a possibility in our hypothetical world. Would we be obligated to develop our own?


    *Am I focusing on the reproductive elements too much? I feel vaguely like Mark Millar or Frank Miller, talking about superheroes having sex so much, but it's part of the world-building!

    **Incidentally, have you read Barefoot Gen, by Keiji Nakazawa? A manga, loosely autobiographical account of living in Hiroshima before and after the atomic bomb. It's in every way as affecting as Maus. I very highly recommend it. Above Shortpacked!

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  26. Hello Historyman:- “For what it's worth, I think Quitely individualized their body types a little more than Hitch, not to take anything away from him.”

    I think you’re right. But I would say that BH managed to make his characters so full of life and vigor that he never seemed to be objectivising his characters. That’s an argument that I’d have to really work on to be able to carry it on the blog, but I believe it’s true/

    ”I need to read all three of those runs you mention- from how much they're mentioned, they seem somewhat essential to our generation.”

    Vital, HM, absolutely vital. Teen Titans 1 to 47, X-Men 94 to 176, LSH 186 to 200, Miller’s Daredevil and Simonson’s Thor. They’re the key texts from the period of the DC Implosion to the arrival of Alan Moore. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some major works from the Big Two, but those are the ones which come to mind. Which doesn’t mean that there’s not a great more that’s brilliant from Marvel and DC in the period. But I think those issues are the motherlode.

    ”Of course the Jessica Lynch story disappeared from mass media quickly- why would the media want to remind everyone of how much they'd screwed up?”

    Ah, Turkeys meet Christmas, turkeys reject Christmas.

    ”There's branches of the left wing that are very against genetic modification of food- FrankenCorn, etc- partly because it sounds scary and sci-fi, partly because they haven't really figured out the consequences of genetic drift when they're in fields neighboring normal crops. “

    Fair point. I tend to think of the ecological alternatives – for want of a better term – as belonging to something other than the left. But that’s sloppy thinking on that front ..

    ”This actually could be an interesting premise indeed for a story- create a supersoldier, and what happens if he starts having sex with the frequency of some of our other favorite superheroes? Is he genetically sterilized so that the government has complete control over making more of them? Does it work? Does the sterility gene spread, say, through blood so that anybody who gets his blood in theirs, say through battle, maybe gets superpowers but also sterility?”

    Great! It needs to be written! Get to it man.

    ”If you're gonna create a supersoldier, either you inject a willing volunteer, Steve Rogers-style, or you modify him from birth. If he's genetically modified, it probably happened in the (artificial?) womb, and there's no way you're gonna experiment on embryonic cells without killing a few. If curing Alzheimer's does not excuse killing babies, does protecting America?”

    I suspect that it would. Or even will ….

    ”But imagine a supersoldier comes from a rogue state- which, given the different ethical codes, could be a possibility in our hypothetical world. Would we be obligated to develop our own?”

    Can you imagine a morning in which a super-soldier attack on London hit the American media? I’d say a new Manhattan Project would have it’s funding by 6 am the same day.

    ”Am I focusing on the reproductive elements too much? I feel vaguely like Mark Millar or Frank Miller, talking about superheroes having sex so much, but it's part of the world-building!”

    I think it’s weirder that we get used to sex not being relevant to superhero tales. It is all about world-building.

    ”Incidentally, have you read Barefoot Gen, by Keiji Nakazawa? A manga, loosely autobiographical account of living in Hiroshima before and after the atomic bomb.”

    Ah, nostalgia. I recall buying the first Penguin Books edition in the early Eighties while still at York University. Which is not to say that the book is in any way dated. Not at all.

    But I fear that I am :)

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  27. Can you believe that the only Simonson in the library are his Star Wars comics? I guess if he's as good as his reputation, they're probably worth checking out.

    Of course- I didn't mean to take anything away from Hitch- his art is really perfectly suited for the story. I guess that gets to the bottom of the whole objectivising debate- that while character design/costume is important, making the characters seem and act like real people is far far more essential.

    Wow, and here I thought I was showing you something new. Isn't Gen simply heartbreaking? I think there's at least one point in each volume where I've had to stop reading to wipe a tear from my eye. The way it shows war-era Japan as full of dissenters against war is really powerful, too.

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  28. Hello Historyman:- sadly, I can believe it. I've never come across a library collection, or even heard of one, which wasn't rather ... random. A shame, in that it would be useful if everyone had access to the classics of the medium, but then, who could agree on what those classics should be?

    I thought the issue you raised about BH was very interesting. Why doesn't he appear to be objectivising women to the degree that so many of his fellows do? He has the kind of integrity, the lack of lasciviousness which the likes of Curt Swan and John Buscema did. Idealised, but not hyper-sexualised figures; gawd bless 'im.

    Gen is heartbreaking, and it's only by chance that you mentioned something from Japan that I know. My knowledge of anime and manga is terrible, just terrible. You should see my pages of recommendations for that huge and important neck of the woods :)

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