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Review: Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery

Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & SorceryRat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When you’re looking for an afternoon of ribald violence featuring sharp-dressed ladies, Rat Queens is the comic for you!
Abandon all illusions you may have of comics/graphic novels as being the province of children, or any idea that a female character must act like a “proper lady,” because Rat Queens goes out of its way to demolish both concepts. In addition to featuring Dungeons & Dragons-style questing and violence, Rat Queens is rife with drunken, foul-mouthed, wantonly sexual storylines and images. It’s delightful because of that, of course, because there just aren’t a lot of books at all that would allow every female character in their book to have some kind of vice, but it also suffers because it sometimes feels like it’s pushing it a little too far.
The art is genuinely great. I love that the characters are each so different, so fab, and so feminine, with so much diversity. I love that they have big hips and broad shoulders and that I believe they could really heft a sword. Rat Queens highlights the many stereotypes we see again and again and again in other art by just being different. It’s beautiful.
I’m a little bit of a terrible comic book fan, because I really prefer to read them as complete volumes, like this one, even though such volume would never exist if someone didn’t buy the weekly trades. But I dramatically enjoy buying a thing just once and getting to follow the complete flow of a storyline. Weekly trades just don’t do it for me.
That said, even as a collection, Rat Queens is unusually abrupt, lacking much transition between characters and leaving me frequently wondering if my pages were stuck together or something (they weren’t. It just does that). You’ll be following one character when boom, we’re with someone else, doing something else, with nary a “Back at the Batcave” to warn you.
Overall, Rat Queens was a fun light afternoon read. I don’t know if I would buy more of it, but I would absolutely borrow it from a library/bum it off my more comic-inclined friend.

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Review: Sex Criminals

Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick  (Sex Criminals #1-5)Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Funny. Poignant. Beautiful. Oh, and it has sex in it.

It’s pretty rare that my fiance reads a book then says, “OMG, you HAVE to read this.” So it was a big deal. And I devoured it. This comic is gorgeous and probably deserves the “Comic of the Year” banner the New York Times gave it (though Saga, Volume 1 really can’t be forgotten).

This comic answers a question everyone has asked themselves at some point: “If I could freeze time everytime I had an orgasm, what would I do?”

…Of course everyone has asked that question.

For Suzie and Jon, the answers vary, but when they meet and discover they aren’t alone in this crazy ability, they decide–of course–to rob a bank.

In other words, Sex Criminals is a totally run-of-the-mill story.

Just kidding. It’s irreverent, but it’s also fairly deep. (Spoilers to follow, but really you should read this comic anyway and most of this stuff is introduced right away.)

When Suzie’s dad is killed in an act of random violence when she is 10, she struggles to cope. Her mom is barely holding herself together, and Suzie is left to process it all on her own. She finds solace in the quiet of the bathtub, where the running water can erase sound and leave her to just “be.” Except…the water under the tap feels [em]really good[/em]…and time stops.

Suzie struggles to figure out puberty and this ability (can everyone do this? Why don’t any of the books explain this!?) all alone, and uses what she calls “The Quiet” (this time-frozen thing) to work out her feelings. She grows into a smart girl who loves libraries, and is desperate to save her local library, even if it means buying up every book, one at a time.

That’s how she meets Jon. They have an instant connection; even reading about it feels like reliving the Best First Date Ever. And then, when they have sex… woah. They discover, finally, they aren’t alone in this ability. And then they hatch a plan.

Can I just stop for a minute and talk about the art? Man, this kind of book is why comics/graphic novels need to exist. You just couldn’t get the same effect in reading about how Suzie’s elementary classroom had a motivational poster that says “Reading is Sexy” and get the same kind of laugh I did when I noticed the derpy frog poster in the background of an otherwise tragic scene. There are visual clues like that everywhere, and it is just …amazing. And Suzie and Jon look like real people. Praise be to Chip Zdarksy for drawing a woman with kick-ass HUMAN proportions! It’s so refreshing.

And then there’s the colors! You’ll just have to see it to know what I mean, but The Quiet is really transcendental art. It’s gorgeous.

Sex Criminals is definitely a book for an adult…well… it might also be a book for a teenager who is still figuring out that whole sexuality thing, though the cover alone might freak out the parental types. While sex is important to the story, it is always tasteful and the art is never more than PG-13, though the brash and totally careless way the characters talk about sex is definitely going to be a turnoff for some readers (don’t worry; the sex acts described in the high school are all made up. I think.).

This really a science-fiction/Bonnie-and-Clyde/coming-of-age book and … it’s just great. True, author Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarksky may have come up with the concept as a way to tell as many sex jokes as possible, but I can’t blame them for that, and I can’t wait to read more. And see more.

(This book only got 4 stars because I think the pacing may be a little uneven. We’ll see. There was one section that, while still pretty to look at and which gave me a giggle, made me really glad we bought the volume rather than the individual comics. That story was…a tad thin.)

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Defending “Fangirls” and Why Greg Rucka is Awesome

Comics writer/novelist/awesome guy Greg Rucka (who is really, really, really good at his job) went to a comic convention last week, and what he saw so frustrated him that he went home and wrote a really marvelous piece on inclusiveness in geek activities.
The basics, if you haven’t heard a whiff of the controversy, is there is a loud (male) subgroup of the “geek” category that feels invaded by the growing population of female fans. The internet labeled these fans “fake geek girls”–ie. girls who don’t REALLY like geeky things, but were somehow pretending to in order to lure themselves a tasty geek boyfriend.
The latest trigger for Rucka was a t-shirt that read “I like fangirls like I like my coffee. …I hate coffee.”
In response, Rucka posted this incredible piece speaking up for female fans of all kinds, but particularly his wife and daughter, whom he sees personally effected by this kind of sexist claptrap.
So, I saw that bullshit piece of shit “joke” t-shirt that managed to insult not only women, not only those of us who call coffee the Black Bean of Life, not only men (via the fact that it was created by an individual with a penis who thinks said piteous appendage allows him the right to tar the rest of us with the same brush), not only fandom, not only, dammit, people with an ounce of decency and who understand that a sense of humor is viable only when it enlightens, entertains, and instructs, rather than demeans and diminishes, and yes, I’ve been thinking about this pretty much all day, why do you ask?”

Read it all here.

[Aside: I met Rucka a few years ago and heard him talk about the writing process. I wanted to become a sponge on his brain and immediately began concocting scenarios in which he adopted me and I became the Robin to his Batman, only in writing. In other words, I really liked him even before this]

I don’t go to a lot of cons, but I have seen this “boo, go away” sort of reaction. On the internet (of course, how could I avoid it?). The worst, though, was when I went to a Star Wars shop with a friend. It was cool–where else can you browse nothing but fan stuff?!

We were the only potential-customers, and the shopkeeper came to chat us up. We were happy to talk, pointing out that we had noticed the shop because of the Rebel Alliance decal hanging outside. He asked if we were looking for gifts…for someone else. No, we were just there to browse. When he caught on that we were, in fact, fans of Star Wars –how could you not be?! It’s the modern myth of our day! Plus lightsabers!–he started to quiz us.

I finally turned red and walked out when he insisted we identify the sex of the tauntaun Han rides on Hoth. And then scoffed when we guessed wrong.

…seriously.

We left the store and the shopkeeper lost out on all potential sales from us, then and in the future. And it’s not always like that. But Rucka is right: let people like what they like. Liking something doesn’t have to be a negative– it’s actually a good thing that your special favorite thing is interesting to others now!

Anyway, go read Rucka’s piece. It has a lot of good things to say.

 

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Review: Transmetropolitan (all)

Transmetropolitan V. 1-10Transmetropolitan V. 1-10 by Warren Ellis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Transmetropolitan is a comic book, and anyone remotely interested in dystopias needs to immediately stop what she is doing, go buy all these books, and read them before continuing with life. Yes, it’s that good.

This is a review for ALL 10 collected volumes. I’m going to write the review in the style of the comics, so if you’re ridiculously sensitive to explicit language, you’d better stop reading now. (But it’s really your loss.)

To say Spider Jerusalem is a muckraking journalist is to put it lightly. No–Spider does not just rake muck; he wallows in it while tripping on sixteen kinds of heroine pumped directly into his veins through the City’s sewers while he ejaculates into the ensuing muck. He is dirty, foul, horrible–and the only goddamn person left in the entire City who has the balls to take on the corrupt government and the injustices of a city of the future.

He is a despicable, low-down uncaring asshole because he cares too much to let the city (and the country) destroy itself through ignorance and petty distractions.

So: Transmetropolitan follows journalist Spider Jerusalem as he gets reacquainted with the City, a (not far enough) far-future metropolis swarming with all the problems of real cities, if the problems were turned to 11 and injected with a form of swarming AIDS. In the style of many brilliant authors before him, Ellis is working with hyper-exaggerated features of the real world to show us the many problems with our own–and it’s unnerving.

First, be impressed with the level of deranged thought Ellis has put into his City: of course there is porn for children! And people commonly eat the meat of endangered animals–or heck, try out some food from Long Pig (don’t worry, they’re only clones!). “Maker” technology allows you to create pretty much anything at home, and journalists sometimes employ “source gas” to record info from unwitting sources while still managing to make it past security. While you’re enjoying the future, make sure you get one of the many DNA splices–try the one that allows you to take massive doses of drugs and alcohol without dying. Or maybe you’re totally past the human experience–why not join the Transients and splice with alien DNA? Or really embrace the cloud and become nothing more than a bunch of floating molecules. Groovy.

It’s amazing, and immersive, and simultaneously plausible and disgustingly far-fetched.

Much like Spider Jerusalem. It’s like the Deadpool of journalists, seemingly throwing normal tactics out the window. But really, he’s just good. In fact, I know journalists like him. Spider is, if anything, alarmingly realistic. He’s devoted in a time when many reporters seem like shills. He’s dogged and willing to take risks. He has a gift for it, something that can’t really be taught and must come from some burning fuel within. He’s addicted to the thrill of the chase–and sometimes that puts people he talks to in the line of danger. But mostly, that makes people want to open up to him. Because he loves them, even while he hates them to the core.

In other words, Spider Jerusalem is my hero. I want to give Warren Ellis a hug for writing something so transgressive, so daring and truly sickening, and I want to make this series required reading for EVERYONE. The world would be better for it if more people paid as much attention to goings-on as Spider does.

Go buy these books. You may find it hard to read them sometimes, but don’t you dare fucking stop. You need to take your medicine, world.

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Where Are The Super-Moms?

Hollywood/Marvel/DC, I’ve got a beef with you guys.

See, I finally got around to seeing Man of Steel, a movie I’ve been looking forward to because Superman, duh. And it was a fun movie and a worthy inclusion in the Superman films.

And I noticed something.

Kal-El’s dad, Jor-El, is really important. He’s got big dreams for his son, and is willing to sacrifice himself to make those dreams happen. And Jor-El can’t be stopped from helping his son even in death, because he magically imported his unconscious into a memory stick (or something. I wasn’t really clear on the how of that part).

And Jonathan Kent, as ever, is hugely important. He’s full of practical, hard-knock advice for this son that fell from the heavens to be his boy. And he is willing to sacrifice himself to save the family dog and to protect Clark’s secret. It’s Jonathan’s death that could be said to motivate Clark/Superman/Kal-El to greatness and noble sense of duty.

Martha Kent is looking for any sign of a superhero movie mom who is really important, not just supportive. I think she’s going to be disappointed.

But CK’s two moms? Well, Lara-El (is that how you’d do her name?) quite nobly …pushed a button…to launch her son to Earth. And stood…nobly? …while politicians sentenced the bad guys to jail time. And then she…nobly?…died when her planet blew up.

Martha Kent is every bit as practical as her husband, but CK leaves her to go grow a beard and play on boats. And she’s very supportive, but doesn’t have a lot of advice. Her biggest moment is talking to Clark through a panic attack. And she does that from the other side of a door. She, um…knows the value of her family photo album? Has a natural mistrust for Lois Lane?

Lara’s subconscious couldn’t be imported into that memory stick? Did that not even occur to ol’ Jor-El, there? And what the hell, Martha, you didn’t even try to rescue your husband! You didn’t even seem all that upset when aliens blew up your barn! You didn’t even seem upset that your son wandered off without leaving an address for, apparently, years! I mean, running a farm alone must be hard work…couldn’t you use a strong back? Or company, at least?

In other words, Man of Steel has two moms that could potentially be really significant in Clark Kent’s life, and both, in the movie, are reduced to being complete background characters. I can’t think of a single action that either of them does that had any real effect on the movie.

And Supes has four parents, so he’s got double as many chances to have a meaningful and significant moment from his mother. Judging from the movie, though, all he gets from mom is clean laundry and cookies when he comes home after long trips.

Seriously? That’s sad. I mean, I got more from my mom than that. I learned all sorts of life lessons from my mom, and I’d guess most people have. So what is going on here?

The bad news? It’s not just Man of Steel. It’s not even just Superman.

Moms in Movies

Luckily, there have been a lot of really awesome superhero movies in the past decade. Surely we can find an awesome mom-character in one of them.

Okay, Spider-Man. Peter Parker doesn’t have a mom around, but he’s got Aunt May, arguably the nicest woman alive. But… it’s Uncle Ben who utters that incredible quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And it’s Uncle Ben’s death that spurs Peter to become Spider-Man. In the first movie, all Aunt May does is cook a mean Thanksgiving turkey and struggle to pay for her house. Oh, and get kidnapped.

She doesn’t even get a single genuinely important line.

She fares a little better in the next movie, Spider-Man 2, when she talks about why people need heroes, but …she doesn’t even know Peter is Spider-Man, so while this is a lovely moral statement, she doesn’t do much.

Batman: Everyone knows Batman’s parents die early on and it’s very sad and makes him want to fight crime his whole life. But do you even remember Batman’s mom in Batman Begins? I didn’t even remember her name, if that tells you anything. Martha Wayne has three lines in Batman Begins, and one of them is “Dear…”! Thomas Wayne is a doctor! He’s a philanthropist! He is a business man! He saves his son from a well and tells him not to be afraid of the bats, and that we fall to learn how to pick ourselves up!

Martha Wayne worries about nightmares and screams as she is shot by Joe Chill. *sigh*

Thor: I couldn’t even remember Freyja’s name. She doesn’t say anything, anyway.

Captain America: Sarah Rogers wasn’t in the movie. In comics, she died in Steve’s teens.

Fantastic Four: No parents.

Wolverine: No parents.

Iron Man: Maria Stark isn’t in the movie. Her husband, Howard, is very distant and yet still manages to be a major motivator for Tony.

X-Men: Okay, we’ve got a group film here, lots of potential. Magneto’s mom is ripped away from him during the Holocaust–I guess that makes her significant, but she’s not the instigator so I don’t think it counts. We don’t see Storm’s, Professor X’s, Wolverine’s, or Cyclops’ parents, so we can’t analyze them at all.

Rogue’s mom (Mystique) is in the movie, but considering she’s evil and abandoned Rogue at birth, I think we can leave her out.

Iceman’s got a mom, but neither of his parents do much other than send him away to school. No moms to speak of in X-Men.

Green Lantern: I had to look this one up, because, like the rest of America, I didn’t see this movie. But the internet tells me Janice Jordan has zero quotes in that movie, though there is at least an actress listed and she is named (unlike Rogue’s adopted parents, who don’t even get movie names).

That covers all the superhero films since 2000, and frankly, it’s getting depressing, so any further will have to wait. Besides, I think I’ve made my point.

What Do They Do?

The moms in these movies do share some characteristics, despite being overwhelmingly background characters. They don’t serve as the moral guidance that their husbands do, and they aren’t the ones who set the hero on his journey, but they do provide emotional “care packages” along the way–a reassuring word, a cookie, a hug after they’ve nearly been blown up by the bad guy.

These “care packages” have the potential to be important and significant, but for the most part, they are just the sort of throwaway comments that sound good but have very little impact.

These moms are universally patient and kind. And supportive, loving, and loyal to their (often dead) husbands. (Actually, that’s pretty sad, too–can no super-moms date after their husbands die?)

Those are indeed characteristics often assigned culturally–we expect “good moms” to kiss our boo-boos and ask us if we’ve found a nice boy/girl to date. But I find it odd that, in super-cinema at least, moms can’t be the moral tentpole–can’t even really have enough initiative to do something themselves at all, really.

Super Comics Moms

The thing is, Hollywood/Marvel/DC, you DO have great material to pull from if you want to make some legitimately super moms. You could start with Aunt May and Martha Kent, each who in TV shows and comics have managed to be incredibly significant to their sons.

I understand Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has a pretty awesome mom–probably expected in an Amazon society where she’s queen, but still–so you could go ahead and make that Wonder Woman movie already.

Hippolyta crafted Diana from clay. Despite being Queen, it’s good to know she has time for art.

And I consulted my SO, who has read a lot more comics than I have so far, and he says there are some other epic moms you could look into:

  • Steve Rogers/Captain America– In canon, he has an abusive dad. It’s his mom who teaches Steve Rogers to “get back up” after a fight. (In the movie, that moral moment was erased, and Steve gets back up just because.)
  • Genis-Vell/Captain Marvel-His mom’s a single parent, having impregnated herself with baby Marvel using her futuristic technology. (It’s comic canon, that stuff can be really weird, okay?)
  • Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern-His dad abandoned the family when his mom was pregnant, so he’s also the son of a single mom.

We Need Strong Moms

But maybe you’ll notice the problem with all the above moms in that “good mom” section: They’re all single parents. In that sense, it can be assumed that those moms have to pull double parent-duty–they didn’t get the strong mom stuff because they are inherently strong characters, they got it because there isn’t a dad around to do it. And that’s stupid.

While positive portrayals of single moms are really important and worthy of inclusion, there is a distinct dearth of strong-mom figures in a two-parent household. Either there’s no dad around to give our hero his “hero moment,” leaving it to mom, or mom is a supportive background character only. (Even Martha Kent and Aunt May fit into that analysis, as they both only really pick up the leadership slack after their husbands die).

That is a damn shame.

It’s bad enough that we can’t get a female superhero movie made: why can’t we have a super mom?

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