Monday, October 30, 2006

Trials of Shazam #3 -- The Rape Fantasy (Cover Date December, 2006)

Well, I was a little nervous when I saw the giant, green, glowing vagina on the last page of Trials of Shazam #2, but I didn't think they'd take it quite this far. . .

Major Heroes: Freddy Freeman, Zareb
Minor Heroes: Rachel Zallman

Major Villains: Audiom Warbeast, Council of Merlin, Terrom
Minor Villains: Sabina


The episode begins just as Freddy and Zareb are being attacked by the giant, green Audiom Warbeast. After several attempts, Freddy destroys it from the inside, and in doing so earns a little bit of power -- being able to walk without his cane when he says "Shazam".

Meanwhile, the Council of Merlin is introduced as the group that sent the Audiom Warbeast. They are all descendants of Merlin, and believe that if Freddy Freeman is killed before passing his 12 Trials, then the powers of Shazam will go to their servant Sabina instead of Freddy.

At a local tattoo parlor, Rachel Zallman imprints an ancient magical scripture on Freddy's skin, while Freddy tells his origins, and admits that he blames Captain Marvel to some extent for killing his grandfather and crippling him, but that he also accepts the responsibility of the powers that Captain Marvel gave him. Afterwards, Freddy realizes that "Zallman" is Yiddish for "Solomon," and that Rachel has given him the wisdom of Solomon along with his tattoo.


Okay, so I'm not the first one to claim that every cylindrical object is a "phallic symbol" and every vaguely round object is a "yonic symbol", but we're a little beyond blatant here. Let's start with the facts on the Audiom Warbeast.

1. Looks exactly like a vagina, complete with labia.

2. Topped by a clitoris, which doubles as a beak, giving obvious vagina dentata imagery.

3. Directly above the clitoris is a darker "V" resembling trimmed pubic hair.

Textual clues.
1. What I originally thought were six eyes above the clitoris turns out to be six "rectums".

2. When it is pointing out that it has six rectums, the follow-up is "That's nothing. You should see them try to mate. The smell alone will kill you."

So, we've got an item that looks exactly like a vagina, is directly adjacent to the rectum, and is identified only as smelling bad during sex. The prosecution rests.

But only on the count of the Audiom Warbeast being a giant vagina! There is still Count Two -- The Rape of the Vagina. Let's lay out the evidence here. Starting with the Gravitox Wand, which I wouldn't have immediately thought of as a phallic symbol, were it not for the circumstances. . .

1. When faced with the Giant Vagina, we immediately whip out the Gravitox Wand, but we are hesitant about using it from a distance, because that would "just make him mad." Him? Well, whatever. The fact is it does make him mad.

2. How does the Wand work? He it "activates with your emotions -- your soul -- your guts." Hm, a magical stick that is activated by emotions . . .

3. After the Wand fails to stop the Warbeast, Freddy yells, "If sorcery won't get us in the door --" In the door? It seems that we have forgotten that we are only "Symbolically" raping the Warbeast. Exactly what "door" is he trying to get in?

4. Unable to destroy the Warbeast from a distance, Freddy rams the Magic Wand direct INTO the Warbeast. "Let's just start with some old-fashioned PAIN!" and "Let's see how it handles some Magic on the Inside! Then we'll see who's useless."

5. Of course, penetrating the Warbeast with the Magic Wand is successful, and Freddy Freeman becomes slightly more of a "man" as a result.

The prosecution now rests. Which is shame, because I though that the second part of the issue, where Freddy gains the Wisdom of Solomon by admitting his true feelings was very well done. Unfortunately, after the great big rape scene, there's no room left to analyze that part.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

When Villains Defend the Nuclear Family (Checkmate #7, Cover Date December, 2006)


Main Heroes: Mirror Master, Jewelee, Icicle, Tattooed Man
Minor Heroes: Tattooed Man, Bronze Tiger, Amanda Waller, Rick Flag, Plastique, Checkmate

Major Villains: The Government of Myanmar (Burma)
Minor Villains: Calculator


Ney, a Burmese meta, has been captured by the government and forced to supply energy that the government is selling to China to fund their regime. Meanwhile, the Suicide Squad had their cover blown, and the guards at the energy plant ambush them as soon as they arrive. Issue #6 ended with the claim that Punch (of Punch and Jewelee) had been killed, and in #7 that is confirmed. The Squad fights through the guards, and Mirror Master figures out that they have been double-crossed by the Tattooed Man, who tipped off Calculator in order to get in the Society's good graces. He was promised that he'd be spared, but the guards were trying to kill him as well, so he un-defected. Icicle doesn't accept it, and freezes the Tattooed Man, while Jewelee shatters him for his role in Punch's death.

The Squad frees Ney, and escapes back to America, where he is granted asylum. The Suicide Squad is disbanded. While the Checkmate leaders try to determine why events unfolded just as Waller predicted, Waller intimates that she intends to get involved in active operations in the near future.


From heartbreak to farce in seven panels or less. Here is Jewelee crying through a firefight outside the Burmese prison over Punch's body:
No baby no won't leave you I won't leave you . . .Who's gonna laugh at my jokes . . .? Who's gonna teach our baby . . .?
By the next page, Icicle has convinced her to re-join the fight, telling her "Your boy needs his mama at least, you hear me?" Jewelee responds:

No, baby needs two parents. But one will do for now.

She quickly moves on trying to replace her still-warm husband.

Mirror Master: 'Tween yer holographic jewel and me own mirrors, we're making a fine team, lass.
Jewelee (trying Punch hat on Mirror Master): Hmm . . . I'd have to hem it . . . YOu won't be interested in . . ?
Mirror Master: Wearin' this thing? Not one wee bit.

And later, to Icicle:

Right, you're right, my boy needs parents, after all . . . so this thing you have with Tigress . . is that serious?

A common argument against no-fault divorce (and more recently, to a lesser degree, against same-sex marriage), is that a child needs "two parents" -- a mother and a father. But is it better -- the other side asks -- for parents in even abusive relationships to stay together? Is the presence of a really bad father really better for the kid than being raised by a single mom?

This is the concept being lampooned by Jewelee who, suddenly a single mother after Punch's death five minutes earlier, is suddenly trying to pick-up every other Supervillain in the Suicide Squad because a child needs a mom and a dad.

So, which is it? Is a baby best raised by ONE supervillain or TWO supervillains? Whichever is the case, I don't see Jewelee have much of a solo career. Her shtick clearly works best as part of a pair.

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The Backlog Grows

Just arriving today:

Wonder Woman Archives, Volume 1. Containing Wonder Woman #1 and the Wonder Woman stories in Sensation Comics #1-13.

This moves to the top of my "To Read" pile. But not before I put it next to Wonder Woman #1 (Second Series) and Wonder Woman #1 (Third Series) for a family reunion.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Superman in Action Comics #2 (Cover dated July, 1938)

Continuing thoughts on early Superman comics, that I started here.


Main Heroes: Superman
Minor Heroes: Lois Lane

Main Villians: Emil Norvell
Minor Villains: Alex Greer, Lola Cortez


Concluding the Cliffhanger from Action #1, Superman coaxes Alex Greer into admitting that munitions magnate Emil Norvell is behind the threatened war. Greer warns Norvell, who greets Superman with armed guards, who fire at him with machine guns. Superman throws the guards out the window, and tells Norvell that he will kill him if he is not on the next day's boat to San Monte. Also on the boat are Clark, Lois Lane, and Lola Cortez. Norvell's thugs knock Superman from the ship, but Norvell refused to compensate them. The next day, Superman saves Norvell from his thugs, but informs him that he must join the San Monte army. Superman also joins the army, and together Norvell learns the horrors of war, while Superman uses his super powers to take photographs of the enemy for Clark's Evening News article.

Meanwhile, Lola Cortez hides stolen documents in Lois's room, where they are found by the police. Lois is convicted of espionage and sentenced to the firing squad at dawn. Superman hears just in time, and saves Lois by shielding her body from the firing squad's bullets, and incidentally saves captives from a torturer.

Returning to his unit, Superman stops an attacking airplane by jumping into its propeller. Superman allows Norvell to return to the United States, as he agrees to stop manufacturing munitions. Superman then ends the war, by getting the two army heads together, where they realize they don't know why they are fighting in the first place.


Unlike #1, which dealt primarily with small-time individual power imbalances (wife beating, innocent prisoner, etc.) If you read Action #2 and Action #3 together, you realize that they are both telling the same story, regarding broader class conflict issues. The upper class here in Emil Norvell, the munitions manufacturer who profits off weapon sales, while the lower classes are the fighters and mercenaries in the San Monte army who use the munitions, and are killed by them.

The solution given (which is either overly naive or brilliantly simple) is if you can put the rich guy in the poor guy's shoes for a dozen pages, he'll see the error of his ways and reform. The rich guy isn't evil, he's just ignorant. It never occurred to him how horrible it is to get maimed by munitions. Given the proper education, Norvell is shown to be completely reformed. There is thus no INHERENT class struggle, only a contingent one that can be easily remedied through communication and experience.

A few words on individual lines of dialogue:

p. 1 As they topple like a plummet to the street below . . .

I have never seen "plummet" used as a noun, but sure enough. "Also called plumb bob. a piece of lead or some other weight attached to a line, used for determining perpendicularity, for sounding, etc.; the bob of a plumb line."

p. 3 Clark: Lois! What are you doing here?
Lois: Our editor decided to have me accompany you to the war-zone and send back dispatches colored with my distinctive feminine touch!
While I can usually put aside 1938 sexism as a product of the era, I have no idea what this even means. What are war "dispatches colored with" a "feminine touch"? Puff pieces on the cuisine in the mess hall? Interviewing the wives of dead soldiers? Critiquing the color scheme of the San Monte uniforms? Practical tips for maintaining your feminine mystique in a war zone? I am at a loss.

p.13 Superman: Then why are your armies battling?
Army head: I don't know! Can you tell me?
Other army head: No, can you?
Superman: Gentlemen, it's obvious you've been fighting only to promote the sale of munitions -- why not shake hand and make up?

Much like Emil Norvell learns the error of his ways by simply becoming a soldier for a day, the fighting sides are able to agree to peace merely by being put in the same room and asked what they were fighting about. The "peace through communication and interpersonal understanding" could have worked as well for the actual warfare as for the class warfare if, say, the whole war had been a big misunderstanding over a mis-overheard insult, but you've got to imagine that the army chiefs at last THOUGHT they were fighting over something. This isn't like Ares's mind control in Wonder Woman. Emil Norvell paid lobbyist, he didn't have a mind-control ray.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What I'm Buying Tomorrow (In Order of Excitement Level)


52 #25
Snake Woman #4
Secret Six #5
Xena #3
Trials of Shazam #3
Ion #7

Waiting for Trade

Seven Soldiers #1
Action #844
Supergirl and LOSH #23

Books I Would Buy Tomorrow If It Didn't Violate My New "Don't Buy The Next Issue If You Haven't Gotten Around To Reading Last Month's Issue Yet" Rule

Superman/Batman Annual #1
Justice #8
Uncle Sam #4

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Next Best Thing: Next #1 (July 2006)

Apparently, I'm the only one who eagerly anticipates the first week of the month, when the next The Next comes out. Sales have been horrible, plummeting from #100 on the sales chart for #1 (22,700 sold) down to #140 for #3 (10,600 sold). So, nobody else liked it. I guess that means I won't have to worry about it selling out if I can't get to the shop until Thursday.


Main Heroes:
Monikka Wong, Tweet, Poetry Slam, Cindy, and Ben
Minor Heroes: Superman, Metron

Main Villains: The Iron Ring
Minor Villains: Jorge, Giant Unnamed Space Eyeball


Monikka Wong in a high school student living in Santa Valda, CA with her mom and her mom's skeevy boyfriend, Jorge. Meanwhile, in a parallel dimension, four kids and their dog are riding a singularity harpoon into the end of time. The dog runs away into a nearby dimension and meets Monikka. The kids try to scare Monikka away by creating the image of a giant 20-foot-tall Monikka grabbing for her, thinking that would be what a parent looks like. Instead, Monikka runs away into the street and is hit by a bus.

On the brink of death, Monikka is only saved when the kids decide to do the right thing and form a symbiotic connection with her. This keeps Monikka alive for as long as they remain in her dimension. Originally taking the forms of the Mt. Rushmore Presidents, the travellers settle on relatively humanoid teenager appearances and zeitgeisty names.

In the nearby dimension, the Iron Ring decides to sent the Fist to recover the travelers, where they will be given "Final Dissolution."

Back in California, the travelers realize that they've ripped the time continuum when they snapped the singularity harpoon. Ben sends a repair construct to fix it, while Slam slams Jorge into a wall.

Out in space, Metron notifies Superman of the time distortion. Unsure how to fix it, Superman contains it in an electromagnetic field while he traces back its origins to California. Unbeknownst to Superman, the electromagnetic field also captured the repair construct, which rapidly evolves into the aforementioned Giant Unnamed Space Eyeball thingie. As he approaches California, Superman becomes trapped in the time field, while time itself ruptures, as a man from 1882 rides his bicycle into the present.


So much going on here.

1. This comic book takes me about twice as long to read as a normal one. Lots of words and good storytelling. Monikka totally kicks ass is a non-superpowered kind of way, and Jorge is excellently creepy.

2. Its got Superman. Yey!

3. Lots of good physics mumbo-jumbo, riding the linearity on a singularity harpoon. Dog is really a "rehearsed concept -- an algorithm with some free will." Stuff like that.

4. Good, creative artwork, especially around Tweet, who is the "artistic" one. Lots of psychedelic images, and Tweet's detached head. I don't need a comic book to see a picture of a building or a fire. I do in order to see Tweet's mental contructs.

5. The inter-dimensional travelers all totally rock. They appear as the Mt. Rushmore Presidents because they assumed they "were some kind of famous group marriage." Ben's full chosen name is "Benjamin Jefferson State-Sponsored Thomas Alva Global Franklin Warming Baseball Cake." It's Zeitgeisterrific! And there's an off-center joke like that on almost every page.

But apparently no one else liked it. Oh well. I'm still buying them all!

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How far behind are you?

Do you buy comics or trades thinking you'll get to them later?

Do you then do it again before you get to "later"?

I counted this weekend. Including individual issues and trades, my backlog is 81 comics high.

How far behind are you?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Attack of the PMS-Assassin (Shadowpact #6, December 2006)


Major Heroes: Enchanatress, Ragman, Blue Devil, Nightshade
Minor Heroes: Nightmaster, Detective Chimp, Flippy

Major Villains: Wild Huntsman
Minor Villains: Blue Moon, Doctor Gotham, Strega


As Doctor Gotham plots the murder of the Shadowpact with Strega, Ragman has called in Enchantress's assistance to capture Blue Moon, who is not evil enough to be assumed into his Rags. After they quickly capture Blue Moon, the pair are attacked by the Wild Huntsman and his Hounds of Hell. After they are defeated, the Wild Huntsman puts collars on them, which turns them into Hounds of Hell as well.

Blue Devil and Nightshade have been called in as backup, and soon defeat the Wild Huntsman, sending him and the Hounds back to hell. The hounds, however, remain and sit on Ragman and Enchantress's costumes. Blue Devil and Nightshade take the Hounds back to the Bar, thinking they have eaten their colleagues.

Meanwhile, Nightmaster is negotiating with Flippy (Eddie Deacon) to work out an arrangement to use the Millennium Bar, that Flippy has adversely possessed during the year that Shadowpact was presumed dead.


Let's start with Enchantress's description of Blue Moon: "She's a magical killer for hire . . . Her powers are pretty interesting. They increase or decrease with the phases of the moon. You're lucky we're only at a half moon tonight. If it were full, she could've killed you with a wayward glance. . . When the sun comes up, she'll be no more deadly than any normal woman."

So, a female murderer whose power level and evilness increase and decrease with the phases of the moon, so that her powers peak on full moons? And Ragman can't turn her into a patch in his rags because she keeps "paying her debt to society" after one of her monthly murders. One struggles to find what sort of analogy we're going for here. Extreme behavior that crests once per month, but for which the female retains no moral culpability after the fact. It's right on the tip of my tongue . . . Nope, can't think of it.

Meanwhile, Blue Devil ignores the first rule of Superhero combat. Pay attention to your opponents witty banter! There might be a clue! Like when the Wild Huntsman says, "When I've transformed you into one of my hellhounds, you'll suffer every punishment and indignity I can think to visit upon you!, it might mean that Ragman and Enchantress had, you know, been turned into Hellhounds after they were defeated.

But no, Blue doesn't make the connection, instead concluding that the Hellhounds ate them. Oh well. They're a fun team, but they're really not very bright.

Final note: Flippy's back story read like an abridged rip-off of "Geek Love."

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Friday, October 20, 2006

More Thoughts On Fabulous Abortions

An interesting response to my post on "The Medical Procedure That Dare Not Speak Its Name." Dani suggests a "cultural relativity" explanation that I thought was worthy of a more extended response. Dani comments:

The doctor is very cautious and roundabout in introducing the topic, as if he's not sure how she'll react to it, and perhaps as if he wants to protect himself. You know, give himself some deniability. The language that Snow uses to reject him is all about duty to the community, not the sacredness of life. She accuses him of mixing her up with a Mundy. She warns him that if he brings it up again, he'll be exiled.

Fabletown is a seperate community with its own laws. This exchange said to me that Abortion is considered a crime in Fabletown, not just morally, but legally, and carries some very stiff penalties. Probably has to do with the fact that it has such a small population base, with no new immigrants coming in.

It was an interesting thought, and I'm always open to the thought that rules that make sense in one cultural context wouldn't be appropriate in another. And I can see how, in a small, isolated community, the need to keep the community from being destroyed might trump the needs of any individual member of it. In this case, however, I don't think find the argument pursuasive. This was my response:

Hi Dani,

Interesting thoughts, but I'm not sure I'm convinced. First of all, the "laws" of Fabletown aren't externally enforceable. They are only a community to the extent that they all choose to be.

More importantly, though, while there is a small population base with no new immigrants, they are also remarkably steady, with no "normal" deaths and an unlimited lifespan. Nearly every birth increases the population.

As a result, there's really no difference between a "regular" population where, say, 1-2% of the population die each year, and another 1-2% are born, leaving a stable (but changing) total, and a Fable population with no births and no deaths, leaving a stable (and unchanging) total.

If anything, it would seem to be the Fables' "responsibility" not to overpopulate their area, since births don't get to take the place of deaths.

For those reasons, I don't see anything "special" enough about Fables to think that their abortion laws shouldn't be examined the same way that Mundies' are.

What do you think about the "responsibility" argument? Does one's responsibility to the community ever override personal needs? If the Fables all died eventually, and new births were very rare, could you defend the cultural choice? Are you a cultural relativist or a moral absolutist?

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Cover of Catwoman #60

I defy you to tell me that isn't Sarah Jessica Parker playing the role of Holly.


Supergirl #5 v. Star Trek #5: Contrasting Christian and Jewish Views of "Evil"

So, while many people are saying that Supergirl #10 is their favorite so far in the new series, if I had to create a Top 10, #10 for me its a clear number two, behind Supergirl #5.

Major Heroes: Supergirl, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman
Minor Heroes: Martian Manhunter, Flash, Hawkman, Black Canary, Green Lanern (John Stewart)

Major Villains: Evil Supergirl
Minor Villains: Zor-El (flashback), Darkseid (flashback)


The story begins with a flashback of Zor-El sending his teenage daughter to Earth, with instructions to kill the son of Jor-El when she arrives. Her true personality is submerged under a false "innocent" personality, that re-emerged briefly when kidnapped by Darkseid, and again when Luthor used his Black Kryptonite on her, splitting Supergirl in two. "Good Supergirl" denies the story, and claims that evil Supergirl is purely a creation of Lex Luthor. The Supergirls fight, and when confronted with an assortment of superheroes, take their fight into space before crashing down into Gotham. Evil Supergirl attacks Batman, who fends her off until Superman and Wonder Woman arrive. Evil Supergirl switches their costumes, so that none of the heroes knows which is the "real" Supergirl. When Superman tries to take them both down, both Supergirls fight back.

Superman and Wonder Woman each briefly defeat one Supergirl, and Batman takes out his Kryptonite ring, threatening to destroy them both. One of the Supergirls requests that Wonder Woman bind them together with her magic lasso to determine who is telling the truth, and who is the "real" Supergirl. Since neither of them know, they cannot answer, and instead get fused back together. The fused Supergirl doesn't know which one was "real" either, but says that it doesn't matter, because she is responsible for her own destiny.


So, you remember that episode of Star Trek, where there was a transporter malfunction and Captain Kirk was split into "Good Kirk" and "Evil Kirk". No, not that one, where evil Spock had an evil beard. And no, not that other one where Kirk becomes evil because he's taken over by an evil female scientist. And no, not that other one where . . .

Okay, Kirk becomes evil a lot, I guess. You'd think the crew would have a standard policy of checking to make sure it wasn't an "evil Kirk" before following his orders. But in this one, there's a Good Kirk and an Evil Kirk running around on the same ship. Evil Kirk is raping and pillaging, while Good Kirk is on the bridge running the Enterprise. It's essentially the same plot as Supergirl #5, where Black Kryptonite splits Kara into Good Supergirl and Evil Supergirl. The difference is, Supergirl #5 would be a perfect text for a Sunday School Church lecture, while The Enemy Within (coincidentally, Episode #5 of Star Trek) could be screened at a Hebrew School.

Now, the "Christian" view of evil doesn't require much explanation, since it is probably the one we think of most naturally. Given any conflict, there is a "good" choice and an "evil" choice. We must choose the good, and either destroy or suppress the evil. The philosophical model is Kantian ethics, which can be visualized as a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is absolute good, and anything short of that requires us to work toward improvement in the future. Supergirl embodies this model by having the split personalities that alternately dominate, and one or the other must prevail. There is no indication that either of the Split SGs are weakened by the division -- if anything they are strengthened by losing the inhibitions caused by the other when they were joined.

The "Jewish" view of evil, on the other hand, doesn't work that way. In Jewish theology, there are two conflicting forces, the "Yetzer Tov" (good impulse) and the "Yetzer Rah" (the evil impulse). And everyone has both, and needs both in order to survive and thrive. The philosophical model is Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics with the "golden mean" and can be visualized as a dial from 0 to 10 that you are trying to keep in the middle, at around a '5', without letting either the two Impulses dominate. Thus, Good Kirk became an ineffective Captain after he is split from Evil Kirk. Without the Yetzer Rah, the Captain is unable to make decisions that will put his crew in danger, is unable to fight effectively, etc. Both Kirks are only half-men without each other, and must be combined in order to survive.

Now, although these are two diametically opposed ways to view evil, it doesn't actually create different results in the vast majority of "normal" situations. (It may help, explain, however, why Christianity has more examples of ascetic followers.)

This Supergirl arc is similar to the Indigo/Brainiac arc from the Outsiders, with the difference being that Indigo was a robot, so it was more understandable that she had "good" and "evil" programming.

The Supergirl finale was somewhat muddled, though. We are led to believe that, once they were re-combined, evil Kara was submerged again, but that is not clearly stated. Overall, however, the frame of the story, in contrast to The Enemy Within, is that Good and Evil are conflict forces within us, and the Enemy Within must be blocked, not accomodated.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Medical Procedure That Dare Not Speak Its Name (Fables #19, 2003)

Note: I love Fables, but just started reading the TPBs, so I'm about a couple of years behind the rest of you.


Main Heroes: Snow White, Bigby Wolf
Minor Heroes: Little Boy Blue, Flycatcher, King Cole

Ambiguous: Prince Charming

Major Villains: Little Red Riding Hood


Little Red Riding Hood "escapes" through the Canada gate and hitches a ride with some friendly guards down to Fabletown. She appears to be attacked by goblins, and barely escapes. Snow White gets a premonition of danger from Colin, the be-headed Pig. While Boy Blue counts Bluebeard's loot, Bigby challenges King Cole on allowing Prince Charming to get off easy after he killed him, just because the assets went to Fabletown. Meanwhile, Snow White gets a clean bill of health by her obstetrician, Dr. Swineheart. After discussing their joint fetus, Snow White and Bigby together uncover Prince Charming's plan to run for mayor and unseat King Cole. On the final page, Red Riding Hood shows up, requesting sanctuary.


So, you're reading a Vertigo Comic Book! You know what that means! R-rating! Full frontal nudity! Implied strong sexual situations! Uncensored profanity! Girl on bear sex! And a congenital inability to say that particular "A" word -- no, not Adultery, of Scarlet Letter fame. No sin there! I'm talking about that Other A word. The one that rhymes with Contortion and Distortion and Disproportion.

It's Fables #19, and we seem to be Pro-Life in a kind of Pro-Choicey kind of way, or is it Pro-Choice in a kind of Pro-Lifey way. Anyway, whatever the way is where maybe you think that Abortion (there, I said it!) should be legal, or at least you're not out protesting it, but anyone who gets one should probably rot in a firey pit somewhere. You know --the same way we defend the rights of the Klan to march through Jewish neighborhoods on free speech grounds, even though we all agree what we think of their speech.

I think that even the majority of people who call themselves pro-Lifers make minimal exceptions for:

(1) rape;
(2) incest; and
(3) being impregnated by a different species while you are both rendered unconscious by a magic spell.

Or maybe (3) is just implied. Anyway, here's the verbatim dialog from Fables, where you are free to say "Fuck" or "Shit" with impunity:

Dr. Swineheart: You can get dressed now. The pregnancy is coming along fine.
Snow White: No it isn't. Nothing is "fine" about it. It's going to ruin my life, my standing in the community and what's left of my reputation.
DS: If that's the way you feel about it, you do have options. This is the twenty-first century, after all.
SW: Stop right there, Doctor Swineheart. Don't you dare finish that thought.
DS: But I only --
SW: Have you forgotten how to tell your Mundy and Fable patients apart, or do you imagine I've gone native?
DS: I brought it up because it's obvious you're not happy about --
SW: Since when is our happiness of primary consideration? Some of us are still governed more by duty and responsibility. Don't bring it up again, doctor, if you want to remain part of Fabletown.

So maybe some might think that I'm focusing on the symptom instead of the disease. Maybe, you think, "the point is not that we can say the F-word, but have to substitute "Options" and "It" for "Abortion". Maybe the point is that Snow White is discussing her "responsibility" and "duty" to a brood of wolven fetuses that she had no cognitive input in creating (being enchanted by Goldilocks at the time). What definition of "responsibility" is that wherein you become "responsible" for something you had no responsibility at all for! " And you'd have a point.

But, for me, it's never about the character's viewpoints. I have no problem loving a pro-life character, or a character who has any number of views that I disagree with on some level. Sure it would have made more sense if Snow had said, "I am pro-life, and don't support abortion even in the case of rape, so I will live by those convictions here." Maybe, then, I'd write a different critique.

What disturbs me is the writer who can't quite get up the gumption to say the word. The pussyfooting doctor, and the patient who jumps down his throat before he can put his pussyfoot down. I'm reminded of the old TV shows where the word "pregnant" was banned, and you had to say, "My wife is in a family way!" Now, apparently, its fine to say "pregnant", or "sex", or "I am now cutting your head off with a rusty hacksaw", but if a character ever chose to get an abortion, Dr. Swineheart would be reduced to saying, "She's not in a family way anymore."

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Vagina Dentata

Vagina Dentata!
What a wonderful phrase.
Vagina Dentata!
Ain't no passing craze . . .

Oh, sorry. Sometimes I get carried away.

Especially when I think about the cover of OMAC #4, which features an OMAC staring right people a naked woman's legs, where a red, glowing, toothy, bug-shaped vagina is clearly evident. WTF. Apparently, this was so blatant, that they washed it all out in red on the actual cover. This makes the end result somewhat less offensive, but is it too much to ask for actual "non-offensiveness"?

Which brings to the cover of OMAC #7. I guess it is better to be confusing than offensive, but is that female OMAC actually giving birth to that man in mid-air? Are they having sex? And am I wrong in counting 5 hands between the two of them? I'm confused.

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Girls Behind Bars in their Underwear: Supergirl #10 (Cover Date Nov. 2006)


Major Heroes: Supergirl
Minor Heroes: Wonder Girl, Captain Boomerang, Jr.

Major Villains: Every kid in Guggenheim High School
Minor Villains: Monsieur Mallah


Supergirl prepares to join a regular high school under a secret identity of "Claire Conners". Her new buddy Captain Boomerang, Jr. gives her some prison videos to prepare herself with. During her first week, she befriends Becky, who steers her away from the cool "Abercrombie" kids. Kara starts having flashback to being teased in high school on Krypton.

After chatting with Wonder Girl about her school experiences, Becky tells Kara about a sleepover party, and Kara invites "Sarah the Pariah." At the party, the girls trick Sarah into stripping down to her underwear, and circling the parts she wants to "improve" in lipstick. The next day, Becky convinced Sarah that the trick was Kara's fault, and the gang up to dump slop on Kara's head. At this point, Kara flashes back to committing a Columbine-style massacre on the kids who teased her on Krypton. But on Earth, Abercrombie and Witch steps in to save her, but instead Kara simply removes her costume, revealing herself as Supergirl, and tells everyone to "Be Yourself."


Apparently, we all like the "new direction" for Supergirl. I formulated some of my thoughts in this thread, and am expanding them here.

In general, although the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, that's no excuse for taking a single step, sitting down, and declaring victory. Realizing halfway through the school day that you have no idea why you decided to go to high school is certainly a step up from halfway through the fight realizing that you have no idea why you're fighting the Outsiders, or have no idea how you got to this particular dimension/timeline/universe. But we're not really there yet.

Where I agree that the story is improved is the potential in the story's frame. I had optimism when I saw the character of "Sarah the Pariah" as a good foil (rhymes with "Kara the Messiah" -- coincidence? Well, as it turns out, it probably was, but it shouldn't have been!) If the primary purpose for Sarah was just as an excuse to show some underaged girls in their underwear, it was a seriously wasted opportunity.

While Kara had some "depth" here, she was put in a really shallow pool, with a ton of one-dimensional, catty girls. The Lone Ranger was not pro-Indian just because Tonto was a good guy (it's just those other million Injuns that are the problem), and Supergirl doesn't get any pro-female street cred for portraying Kara well, and everyone else like the Lone Ranger's bullet stoppers. (The was one other positive frame with Abercrombie & Witch, an exception which shows that there didn't have to be a rule.)

What really disappointing me, though, was the un-heroic ending. Given an untenable situation, there are always three options -- Loyalty, Voice, or Exit. You can accept the world as it is. you can speak up to change your situation. Or you can leave and find another one. In public school, though, there is no Exit option for girls like Sarah the Pariah. She can't elect to not go to school the way she could quit a job or move to a new neighborhood after she grows up. (In this way, Boomer's comparison to prison is somewhat accurate.)

So, when Supergirl takes the "Exit" option, it becomes the ultimate cop-out. Kara's exhortation to everyone to drop their Secret Identities doesn't do any good to Sarah. She's at the mercy of dozens of other girls individual or collective decisions to include or exclude. She has no choice but to stay and fight, either back at the girls who teased her (although hopefully not to the extremes of Kara on Krypton), or down the social ladder to girls like "Claire", who she lashes out at towards the end (which is really a kind of "Loyalty" -- accepting the social structure and her place in it.)

While the high school situation hurts everyone, Kara's advise did the least good to those it would hurt most -- girls like Sarah the Pariah. In a best case scenario, Sarah and Kara would have shown how to tackle the same problem from different points in the power structure. Now, if she Sarah follows Kara's Krypton path, shouldn't Kara have seen it coming, and isn't she therefore part of the problem?

The lesson of her actions, rather than her words, meanwhile, is that it wasn't worth staying to fight. Might as well just run off and be a truant with Cassie, or jail bait to Boomer. Drop your secret identity if you wish, but don't just walk away! How can you be a leader if your followers are legally mandated to not follow your lead?

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Monday, October 16, 2006

The Lighthearted Humor of Casual Incest

If you're interested in a complete rundown of the plot, background, and detailed allusions in the Dr. Thirteen backup story in Tales of the Unexpected #1, please read this post at Absorboscan.

That's not what I've come to talk about.

I've come to talk about incest which, if you go by the statistics, is overwhelmingly cases of older male relatives raping younger female relatives. If you go by media portrayals, though, you're likely to think that half the time there's some teeange Lolita "coming on" to the older male. I counted three distinct incest references in the brief first part of Dr. Thirteen. None were deeply hidden in subtext.

1. Father's dream of "slutty daughter" hanging over shirtless father in bed.

2. "Doomsbury Mansion, our in -- uh -- ancestral home."

3. "Daddy . . . Would you eat me?"

So, what percentage of incestuous relationships begin by a daughter seducing her unwilling father? If any number or decimal in your percentage is above "zero", you're probably estimating a little on the high side.

I fear this story is already verging on paedophiliac propoganda, in which any bad things that happen to the daughter will be because she was "asking for it."

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Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, and Capitalism

I was reading the other day about the upcoming "Batman Confidential" series, which will be beginning with a story arc describing the first time Bruce Wayne met Lex Luthor. And this got me thinking about Capitalism.

Back in the first few tellings of the myth there were two competing modern outlooks, that could be described Superman/Metropolis vs. Batman/Gotham. Suerman was the optimistic, positive hero, and his city was the glistening, clean, artistic and cultural caricature of New York. Batman was the dark, brooding hero, and his city was the dirty, corrupt, backalley caricature of New York.

The City matched the personality of the hero.

But once Lex Luthor had his story changed from "mad scientist" to "corrupt Billionaire industrialist", the possible dualities shifted. Now, it was possible to compare the cities to their leading Billionnaires: Luthor/Metropolis v. Bruce Wayne/Gotham.

Now, we all know that Bruce Wayne is "good", and Lex Luthor is "evil". But we also know that Billionaire industrialist employ lots and lots of people. Every batplane is built by the hard-working folks at Wayne Technologies, and every Kryptonite Suit is built by the well-compensated scientist at LexCorp.

But, when viewed in that way, one can start the see the emergence of the "Corporate Raider-Hero" mindset that was prevalent in the mid-1980s when Lex Luthor got a career change. One can imagine that evil-Lex would have no problem making dramatic layoffs in any economic slowdown -- who cares if the employee has seven hungry children at home! Wayne Technologies, one might imagine, has a more employee-friendly policy. One never hears of picketers or striking trade unionists at a Wayne-owned company.

If we had to imagine, we would imagine Wayne being pro-Union, and Luthor being a Union-buster.

But now, how do we see the "souls" of our two competing New Yorks? Why is Gotham rife with street crime, gangs, crime bosses, rapes, and murders, while Metropolis is an idyllic urban Utopia with just the occasional visiting Supervillian? Why don't we see the poor of Metropolis as often?

Is there a subtext here that the correct moral outlook to business is actually closer to Lex Luthor (or Gordon Gecko) than Bruce Wayne (or George Bailey)? If Bruce Wayne were a more ruthless industrialist, would there be more small business sprouting up around Gotham? If Lex Luthor weren't engaged in "creative distruction", would Metropolis be so grand?

I'll be curious to see if any of these issues are addressed in Batman Confidential, or if it is just a battle between Good and Evil. I'd like -- at the very least -- for Lex to ask Bruce, If I'm so bad, how come Metropolis's economy is so much stronger than Gotham's"? And I'd like to hear Bruce's reaction.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Superman in Action Comics #1 (Cover dated June, 1938)


Major Heroes: Superman, Lois Lane

Major Villains: Butch Matson, Senator Barrow, Alex Greer
Minor Villains: Unnamed Murderer, Unnamed Wife Beater


In 13 pages of comic, there are 4.5 different stories told:

1. (1 page) A baby is rocketed to Earth from a distant planet. Due to a physical structure that is millions of years advanced, the boy has super strength and spead on Earth. He decides to devote his life to benefit mankind.

2. (3.5 pages) Superman carries a bound woman to the governor's mansion. Breaking in, he forces his way in to see the governor, survives being shot by the governor unharmed, and shows the governor a signed confession, proving that a woman about to be executed in death row is innocent. She is pardoned just in time, but Superman's intervention is not mentioned in the newspaper. The editor of the "Daily Star" puts Clark Kent on the Superman beat.

3. (1 page) Clark Kent gets a tip of a wife beating and rushes off the cover it. Arriving as Superman, he threatens the wife beater, who then passes out. He changes back to Clark Kent before the police arrive.

4. (4 pages) Lois Lane finally agrees to a date with Clark, and they go dancing. Butch Matson tries to cut in, and Clark acts like a weakling, allowing it. Lois slaps Butch and leaves in a taxi. Butch follows and runs the taxi off the road, kidnapping Lois. Superman leaps the car, chases Butch on foot, dumps everyone from the car, and hangs Butch from a telephone pole. Superman tells Lois not to put him in the newspaper. Lois tries to report, but her editor doesn't believe her.

5. (3.5 pages) Clark is assigned to cover a war in San Monte. On his way, he takes a train to Washington, D.C., where he sees Senator Barrows speaking to Alex Greer, a lobbyist. Barrows insists that the requested bill will pass, and soon America will be embroiled in the war in Europe. Superman confronts Greer, who won't talk. Superman grabs Greer, and they rush off into the Washington skyline. The issue ends as a cliff-hanger.


It's interesting what issues were addressed in the very first "superhero comic book": the death penalty, spousal abuse, implied attempted rape, and special interest lobbying. A comic book that addressed even one of those issues today would likely get accused to pushing a liberal agenda, or being too "topical". Apparently, the topics haven't changed much over 70 years. And looking back, the only issue that would later prove questionable was not getting "embroiled" in Europe.

Contrast the anti-death-penalty politics of Action #1 (innocent woman almost executed!) with the pro-death-penalty position of, say, Manhunter #1 (kill him so he can't escape and kill again!).

Overall, the "dated" aspects of the story -- like Lois Lane writing the "sob stories" -- and the implausible aspects -- the newspaper gets a tip of a wife-beating in progress befoer the cops arrive, Senator Barrow and Alex Greer chatting in a public place in the Capitol where Clark can casually snap a picture -- are less obtrusive than they could have been.

I had forgotten that the original explanation of Superman's powers was millions of years of evolution, rather than the high gravity on Krypton. My favorite panel is the "Scientific Explanation", illustrated by ants and grasshoppers who can lift hundreds of times their weight, or jump the equivalent of city blocks. I actually like that explanation better than "low gravity" or "Yellow sun", as it explains both the "faster than a speeding bullet" AND the "leaping tall buildings" things simply.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Manhunter #1 (Cover Date October 2004)

Cast of Characters

Main Hero: Kate Spencer (Manhunter)
Minor Heroes: Damon, L.A.P.D.

Main Villain: Copperhead


Kate Spencer is a hard-nosed district attorney in Los Angeles, trying to earn a conviction and death sentence against Copperhead, who was captured after killing many people during a bank robbery. His defense attorney tries to convince the jury that he is not guilty due to his metagenes, that control him to the extent that he is not responsible for his actions.

The jury finds him "Not Guilty by Reason of Genetic Anomoly" and he is ordered transferred to the Death Valley Metahuman Research Facility, instead of death row. On the way, Copperhead escapes and kills the transport drivers. Kate, frustrated with her defeat, is arguing with her ex-husband over custody issues when she hears on the news that Copperhead has escaped.

Kate goes into the room where the D.A.s store the confiscated criminal parephernalia, takes a costume and weapon, and becomes Manhunter.

Out on the streets of Los Angeles, Manhunter tracks Copperhead into the sewers where they fight. When the police arrive, Copperhead is found dead, with a wound from Manhunter's staff through his head, and the name "Manhunter" carved above his body.


Manhunter gets a lot of credit for living up to many feminist ideals. Kate Spencer is a well developed character, isn't anorexic, doesn't have a skimpy costume, and is a good fighter. I largely agree, but:

Is Kate a good lawyer? In "Underworld Unleashed", Copperhead (who had, until then, just been a contortionist in a snake suit), sold his soul to the Demon Neron, and became a human/snake hybrid thingie. Is Copperhead entitled to a Genetic Anomoly defense when he freely chose his genetic anomoly? Not likely.

What's the politics here? Kate seems to believe that giving Copperhead the death penalty would save lives. But Copperhead could have escaped just as easily on his way to prison as to the Death Valley Metahuman Research Facility. It's not clear how things would have gone differently if Kate had won her case.

It's a general pet peeve of mine that the fact that prisoners often escape (so they can be criminals again in future issues!) makes comic books inherently pro-death penalty. I have absolutely no problem with Kate being pro-death penalty (I'm not, but I can still love characters I disagree with). My problem is that the book ITSELF is pro-death penalty, with the underlying message of "See, killing criminals is the only way to prevent stuff like this from happening."

Still, there is much to love about Manhunter, and I currently own all 25 of them (and am looking forward to #26 in December!)

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The Virgin Line: Devi 1-4, Snakewoman 1-3, Sadhu 1-3

I have been really enjoying the Virgin Comics that have been published over the last few months, but:


Devi 1-4: Tara is an Indian commoner who is now relatively wealthy due to her rich boyfriend. She does not know that she is really the "Devi", and embodiment of the powers of all of the gods. Forces of evil are trying to destroy her before she discovers her true nature. Forces of good are trying to protect her until that time, and trying to show her her true nature.

Snakewoman 1-3: Jessica is an average American living in Los Angeles and waiting tables. She does not know that she is really the "Snake Woman", and embodiment of the powers of the reptile. Forces of evil are trying to destroy her before she discovers her true nature. Forces of good are trying to protect her until that time, and trying to show her her true nature.

Sadhu 1-3: James is a young working class Englishman who takes a job serving in the English army in India. He does not know that he is really the "Sadhu", an expert in eight mystic arts that control nature. The rest of the British army is trying to kill him before he discovers his true nature. Forces of good are trying to protect him until that time, and trying to show him his true nature.


Anyone noticing a pattern here?

There is value, of course, in variations on a theme, and at this early point one can assume that they will all eventually learn their true nature and go on to fight evil in their own ways. But, at this point, I'm kind of reading the same story three times.

But then, there is their methods of discovery:

Tara -- She seems to have been taking a nap for the pass two months, while the spirits of other incarnations of the Devi try to teach her the true path. Through four issues (although, to be fair, this incarnation doesn't appear in #1), she hasn't done anything more acting than nap. Lots of men are trying to save her for their own purposes. A man and Lord Bala are trying to kill her, and there are two "ambiguous" women, who are either trying to save or kill her.

Jessica -- Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. Jessica doesn't have to "discover" her powers. They are right there on page 1 of issue 1. She doesn't know what they are, however, and through 3 issues hasn't made any real progess in controlling them. Men are trying to kill her, and one man, so far, has saved her.

James -- The British captain captures him, and kills his (pregnant) wife and child in front of his eyes. After being "Dibneyed", a friend helps James escape into the wild, where natives rescue him and tell him he is the "Sadhu". No, I'm not, James protests. Yeah, you are, the natives say. This goes back and forth for a while, and then James realizes, "Hey, yeah! I am the Sadhu!" and has immediate full control over his powers by the end of #3. What have been three issues of turmoil for the girls was condensed into about three pages for the guy.

Now, none of this would have been so obvious had the book not had the EXACT SAME PLOTS so far. I am going to continue to buy them (and Ramayan, which only has 1 issue out so far), because of the great art, the interesting stories (or, story) and the potential. It's an interesting case study, though, because of the similarities.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Outsiders #41 (Dec. '06 Cover Date)

Cast of Characters

Main Heroes:
Nightwing, Grace Choi, Thunder
Minor Heroes:
Katanna, Metamorpho, Captain Boomerang Jr., Lois Lane

Main Villains:
Mallah, Brain, Dr. Sivana
Minor Villians:


Dr. Sivana blows up the Russian nuclear facility where Mallah and the Brain had captured the Outsiders. The Outsiders barely make it out with their lives -- we are less sure about Monkey & Medulla. Once again, the Outsiders get "blamed" for what the bad guys did (through Dr. Sivana's "leak" to Lois Lane), and their pictures are posted all over the news, thus totally blowing their "We're all Dead" cover.

On the plane, the gang alludes to the reason they went into hiding. The key term is "felony murder", a legal doctrine wherein anyone who dies (even accidentally) during the commission of a felony, is a murder victim. The implication is that people died (accidentally) while Shift was committed a felony, and that is why Shift re-absorbed himself into Rex and the Outsiders went into hiding.

While we were all waiting for the revelation of what Grace "was" that prevented M&B from cloning her DNA, we instead find out that she and Thunder are having sex with each other. Apparently this is the "State of Grace" written on the cover (the Issue is actually titled "Mad Scientists, Part 2: Raising the Dead"). There is no indication if this is a "change" for either of them orientation-wise, or exactly what it portends.

In the end, we learn that Dr. Sivana is planning to take over the world tomorrow.


I enjoyed the use of repitition in the issue -- specifically the repeated exchange/ running gag.

"This is bad."
"Could be worse."
"It could be tomorrow when the shit really hits the fan."

I am anticipatorily concerned for Thunder, who I assume will be killed/ incapacitated in the next several issues (See, e.g., Secret Six), under the double whammy of (A) She's in a lesbian relationship now, which means it must end tragically; and (B) She's the black one, which means it'll be her and not Grace.

The official explanation, of course, will be that it allows for more interesting ramification, especially with her father Black Lightning being in the Justice League now. But, then, there's always a "good reason."