Ladies in Superhero Movies

Dear Gwyneth Paltrow,

I know I should never read USA Weekly, especially after the whole “Vinnie” thing. (Vincent Lecavalier is hockey player from Quebec; I doubt he goes by Vinnie.) But someone linked an interview of you, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Liv Tyler about your roles as heroines in superhero movies, “Girls want to have fun, too.”

I would just like to correct you that women do in fact enjoy comics. In fact, we’re rather a growing audience. I know what you were told by the boys, but there are some really amazing women in comics, both with super powers and without.

Which, by the way, Pepper Potts is one of them. And out of the three of you, your role as Pepper was the most kick ass. Pepper actually helps destroy the bad guy, instead of getting captured by him, unlike Tony Stark. (Okay, I haven’t seen Incredible Hulk, but I’ll still bet my pennies on Pepper.) And I wouldn’t doubt the power of a well-tailored suit to make you attractive on screen.

Perhaps you’d enjoy reading a more positive take on Pepper than your own.

Thank you,

Woman who reads comics and enjoys superhero movies

Marvel Movies and Super Boys

Prozacpark made a post about Superheroines, Women, Marvel Movies, and that Avengers movie and how superheroine movies are few…in fact, zero. She also talks about how a She-Hulk movie would be totally awesome.

And I can’t help but agree.

What will Marvel be making instead of a She-Hulk movie?

2009 – X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men Origins: Magneto
2010 – Iron Man 2 and Thor
2011 – Spider-Man 4, The First Avenger: Captain America, The Avengers
2012 – Ant-Man

Okay, we’ll assume that X-Men movies will have some super women in them, but they’re definitely focusing on Wolverine and Magneto.

What’s the line-up Jon Feavreau told USA Today they wanted to go with for The Avengers movie?

“The ones Marvel is talking about now are Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man and Iron Man. I would love to see that.”

Okay, those are all the first Avengers, except the Wasp. You know the only woman on the team. At least, we’ll have Samuel L. Jackson to have a minority interacting with the team as head of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’d love a She-Hulk movie. I’d love a Ms. Marvel movie. I’d love to see the Wasp on the Avengers team like she’s supposed to be. It would be a great way to introduce the non-comic audience to a least one female Marvel superhero.

Seriously, they’re making a Thor movie? How bad is that going to be, especially if they make him talk like they do in the comics?

I’d much rather have an original She-Hulk movie where they cameo the Hulk and show him in all the previews too.

But at the very least, give the Wasp her due and put her in the Avengers movie.

Breaking Through the History Comic Books

At Emerald City ComicCon a month ago, one of the most thoughtful questions asked was by a woman at the DC Nation Panel who wanted to know what comics she could start reading without having to know the background of every single character, team, and storyline since the 1940s. Dan DiDio did a pretty horrible job at answering it, especially considering how he is Mr. Slick, basically muttering Wonder Woman and deflecting the question to Gail Simone. (You know, the only woman on the panel…)

I think this is an important question for comics. This is an important question for the creative team and the marketing team. They market the hell out of crossover and big “events” like Infinite Crisis and Civil War, but they are only marketing to the established audience. Yes, they need to take care of their current readership, but they also need to invest in new readers. Comic readerships isn’t strong and any slight up is because there are, frankly, just more people in this world. New readers aren’t going to pick up these crossovers.

So what do new readers need to know about comics in order to break into the giant, loaming history of the big two, DC and Marvel. To jump in without reading an entire backlog.

Start at #1

Sure, some title like Uncanny X-Men are almost to #500, but there are new titles starting all the time and many of them are not involved in the big crossover events. Yes, they might feature B-level characters and they might be by new writers; but those writers might be better than you think. So pick up #1 and thumb through it. See if it catches your eye. That’s how I started reading Bendis’ New Avengers and BKV’s run on Mystique. Sometimes, they run a long time and other times they die off quickly. You take a chance, and you can always stop reading if it doesn’t work out.

Canon. Sm-anon.

Canon counts, but then it doesn’t. Big events come and they go. Characters always have major things in their lives that remain constant and major traits that stick with them. For instance, Batman will always see his parents murdered and Iron Man will always be an asshole playboy and an alcoholic. However, creative directions will change depending on who’s writing and who’s editing. Sometimes they change out of pet-peeves, such as how Slott hated that She-Hulk slept with Juggernaut so he made an alternative universe She-Hulk do it instead. And sometimes they change canon because it was sexist/racist/homophobic like how Lux Luthor tried to defeat Superman with pink Kryptonite which turned Superman gay. Don’t take canon too seriously.

Ask someone you know who reads comics or ask your local comic book shopkeeper

Comic book fan always want to talk about comics. Trust me, I was in Hot Topic a few weeks ago with a co-worker, looking at a jacket with Alex Ross’ new Captain America design, and had a major history of Captain America geek out. A good friend will recommend comics you’ll be interested in based on the things s/he knows you like. You can also scan comic boards appropriate to your interests and gather recommendations there. (I’ve spent plenty of time on the Girl-Wonder boards.) In addition, take a trip to the local comic store and ask the storekeeper. If the store’s any good, you’ll be able to find a book based on what you’re interested in. With the storekeeper, you’re going to have to be direct such as character-driven plots with 2 or more women with lots of kick ass action. (My recommendation’s Birds of Prey.)

There’s always Wikipedia

There’s always going to be a character or team you don’t know and thankfully there’s Wikipedia. Besides editing it at the command of Stephen Colbert, comic articles often get updated weekly after the Wednesday new comic drop. I love comics, but I’ll be the first to admit that I spent time time on Wikipedia because I have no clue who Bouncing Boy is and some guy at Comic Con asked about 5 questions about him.

What suggestions do you have? What do you tell new comic readers besides handing out your recommendations?

Contextualization and The Watchmen

This weekend, I read Moore’s The Watchmen, and I imagine I might have a few posts on it. I find myself saying a few posts, considering the effect the comic had on the genre and on turning comics into something besides ‘those funny books.’ In addition, to being on all those ‘must reads’ and ‘bests of all time’ lists.

I say it because I’m not quite that enamoured with The Watchmen and think that parts of the text are very problematic. My thoughts need to come forth because when I go hand back the book to my friend Steve, he’s going to demand to know my thoughts and, while he’ll never accept my arguments, they at least need to be sound in my head.

A lot of essays and arguments against some of the more common criticism of The Watchmen is rooted in contextualization or what would happen if I could magically transport myself back to 1986-87 and read it there. (Or perhaps my mother decided to read it to a 3-year-old me instead of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…. Oh, think of my dystopian nightmares.)

I’m perfectly alright looking at context. I think it fits nicely in the millennial and Cold War panics of the final years of the Regan administration. It goes great with Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and my Dead Kennedy CDs. I’m certainly not going to fault Moore that Cold War’s over and we have a new terrorist-based panic.

All that said, if this is supposed to be “the greatest comic ever” or even in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I’m not sure The Watchmen would make it in. Not because it’s not a good read or fitting for its time, but because I’m not sure if it has the staying power to be the ONLY comic someone ever reads and the ONLY one to make these lists.

If we’re going to go for a Moore comic, I think V for Vendetta is a better comic, with longer staying power, and a stronger narrative/story,

(I do wonder if Persepolis won’t be added as a second comic, given the buzz and the film. (I have not read the text myself, so I can not make a good judgment call on this.))

Contextualization doesn’t save Moore from my wondering if The Watchmen will always be considered classic. If it’s enough of a universal story that readers will enjoy 100+ years from now.

You know, if a giant monster doesn’t eat us all first.

(Which wouldn’t you guess that The Watchmen as universal is what my next post might be about. Unless I write about Midnighter, because I think I love him.)

I am Iron Man or maybe you are

I was one of the many people who saw Iron Man in theater during its opening weekend. And I loved it. I’ll admit that it has problems: it doesn’t fully pass the Alison Bechdel Test and has questionable portrayals of Afghanis. It’s also pretty formulaic. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it.

Iron Man is the movie other superhero films want to be. It’s the cool kid of a sometimes not so great superhero genre. It’s what Spider-Man wanted to be and what Superman never could be. It delivered a simple story about an asshole arms dealer turned superhero with an appeal to both comic and non-comic audiences. You don’t feel like you need to know any back story unlike with the X-Men movies and your viewing is subtly enhanced if you know the back story unlike X3 or Serenity.

Tony Stark might be rich like Bruce Wayne and incredibly smart like Reed Richards, but Tony Stark’s also an asshole. An asshole like you and me. This is perhaps a powerful universal appeal that so far superhero films haven’t embodied.

Peter Parker (Spider-Man) usually gets toted as the character with universal appeal for his sad story and acceptance of heroism. “With great power comes great responsibility” blah blah blah. I know people who love Spider-Man, who dragged me to the theater to see the second one on opening weekend. All that said, I don’t think the nerd-emo-boy turned superhero is a true universal appeal. It doesn’t appeal to me. I want to smack Peter Parker. I want to smack a lot of nerd-emo-boys too. (Yes, I was at a convention last weekend, why do you ask?) I can’t ever see myself as Peter Parker.

Iron Man was different. Finally, a superhero movie was produced where the main character didn’t cry over his/her hard decisions or someone didn’t give a pretentious piece of exposition about the weight of the world. Tony went from hardboiled arms dealer to humanist superhero without so much as a lecture about serving the world. It was refreshing.

Tony Stark is either the asshole we are or the asshole we wish we had the money and privilege to be. An asshole with really cool flying armor and gear.

I’m so there.

Strangers in Paradise: That “Girl” Book

I finally gave in and read Strangers in Paradise Vol. 1. My excuse was that it was highly recommended, and I found it at the used bookstore. (Which is the nice thing about loving to read comics, but not being overly concerned about keeping them pristine.) To my surprise, or not, I really liked it. Like read it in two days really liked it, which is a pretty good feat in between working full-time.

Strangers in Paradise always appears on those lists. You know, the ones by pretentious male comic book readers making recommendations of books your girlfriend might like. It always starts off with “Well, have you tried getting her to read Strangers in Paradise?” Author Terry Moore is also know as a women-friendly writer of “girl” books and usually another title he’s worked on appears on the list as well.

I’m really uncomfortable with the classification and pigeonholing of Strangers in Paradise and another “girl” books in the “girl” book category. I can’t help but wonder, what’s a “girl” book? And what does a “girl” book that non-girl books don’t have? Does that make other books “guy” books? Or does it just lead to theothering of women? (Not to mention the implied othering of racial and sexual minorities with the baseline normalizing of the white, straight fanboy as the sole comic audience.)

Hazards of the job make me tolerate marketing calling it a “girl” book. They make me okay with Target’s “Chick Lit” and the goings on about “Chick Flicks” starring Hugh Grant or Patrick Dempsy. That’s marketing, that’s companies wanting to make as much money as possible. That’s a publishing company making sure that it’s on the shelf of Barnes & Nobles and Borders as they know women are more likely to shop for comics there than the local comic book shops. This is the same marketing that also wants me to buy new, improved toilet bowl cleaners and yogurt. A lot of yogurt. Yum. Yum.

But the corporations are probably not controlling the fanboy who decides to write the “girl” book post after his begging of his girlfriend to go to the comic store every week or having to justify how he just spend over $100 on that really cool statue of She-Hulk on e-Bay. If she picks up comics than it’ll be what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? Then they can have romantic weekends debating who would win Batman or Wolverine over burgers after sitting through two different convention panels which a guy on them did a “that’s what she said” joke.

My suggestion for fanboys is to find the woman who already reads comics. Who can tell you what issue of the New Avengers the entire team gets strung up naked in the Savage Land and how Batman could’ve totally not mended his broken back by working out really hard. Trust me, they exist. This is what my boyfriend did. Now when he goes shopping on e-Bay for those Alpha Flight comics, he also shows up with a box containing a She-Hulk bust and my lecture about saving money to buy a house doesn’t include sending the bust or the comics back. And if she’s not interested, I’m sure you can show her interest in her hobbies or the same respect as you expect her to show to yours.

And these books, like Strangers in Paradise, that I keep getting told are “girl” books, I’m going to classify as people books. People want solid stories about interesting, three-dimensional characters of all ages, genders, races, sexualities, abilities, etc. They want art that resembles what people, aliens, and creatures might really look like if you encountered them on the street. They want stories and art that are innovative and unique. Get that baseline and then we can start talking about targeted marketing.

I don’t see how a boy wouldn’t want to read Strangers in Paradise with it’s varied cast, thriller-plot, solid characterization, and good art. There’s even guns and violence in this “girl” book. The fanboy and his girlfriend should be reading it together. I think often times it’s not a “girl” issue preventing a newbie so much as a DC/Marvel have been in the comics business since the 1930s and it can be very overwhelming to try to figure out the back stories, not to mention expensive when you can’t get trades, for the person who’s trying to get into comics. No one has time to read all the Batman comics only to find out that Ace the Bat Hound and Bat-Mite aren’t regulars anymore. It’s much easier to pick up the first trade volume of a book like Strangers in Paradise and start there.

Besides, you can always get into the argument: Who would win Batman or Katchoo?

My money’s on Katchoo.