Posts Tagged ‘Comic Books’

So its been awhile. I know. 

The new job is awesome, but I have been putting in some long days .Actually, I am typing this up on my lunch break. THAT’S how crazy its been.  I will be better I promise! 

But here’s the real reason that I wanted to talk to you today.  There is this little article that @EllieSullie (and, unbeknownst to be until after the fact) @JulianGrant threw up on their Facebook feeds.

It pissed me off to no end folks.

I will be nice and link you to said article which you can read here.  The gist of the article is this, that the “strong female characters” we have been seeing in films lately are really just… to use the author, Tasha Robinson’s own words “Superfluous, Flimsy Character disguised as a Strong Female Character”.

She lists example after example of this: 

-Valka in How to Train Your Dragon 2

-Wildfyre in The Lego Movie

-Tauriel in THe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

-Dahl in Riddick

-Carol Marcus in Star Trek: Into Darkness

and more and more.  Here’s where I get ticked off:

The idea of the Strong Female Character—someone with her own identity, agenda, and story purpose—has thoroughly pervaded the conversation about what’s wrong with the way women are often perceived and portrayed today, incomics {sic}, videogames, and film especially.” 

This is an annoyance right here. The entire article focuses on films. If you are going to mention comics and video games, then guess what, you need to give examples of those too, which Ms. Robinson does not. (This is Speech 101 kicking in). However, I would like to bluntly express, in my post, I will NOT be talking about video games because I am not a gamer.

However, I am a TV/Movie/Comic Geek and Gender theory in mass media is one of my favorite subjects.

The other thing, she only gives one- yes ONE- good example, which is….. Emily Blunt’s character, Rita in the recently released Edge of Tomorrow. That’s it. One example of a positive (by her standards) strong female character.

I do agree with Ms. Robinson that there are a number of “wanna-be” SFC in mass media, but to give only one positive example is ridiculous. I ranted on @elliesullie’s post on this, and I realized there are a ton of SFC in film, television and in comics. So to balance out the negative article, here is a list (not completely comprehensive, because that would take probably 8 years to read) of strong female characters, through and through.

According to Ms. Robinson, to be a “legit” strong female character needs to do the following:

  1. After being introduced, do something that is “fundamentally significant to the outcome of the plot”. 
  2. If she is contributing to the plot, is it something other than getting hurt to motivated the hero? (I.e. what I always called the “damsel in distress” role).
  3. If the character could be replaced with a note on an inanimate object, then she is not useful to the plot.
  4. She cannot be the strongest/fastest/meanest etc until the male protagonist shows up who is stronger/meaner etc
  5. If she never needed to be rescued before, does she get rescued in this story to make the male hero look good?  (For comic fans- think of the old Fantastic Four or X-men comic books where all of a sudden Sue Storm got a nose bleed in the beginning of a fight or Jean Grey wandered off to fix her make up). 

So with that five qualifiers in mind, I would like to present to you some of the most kick ass “Strong Female Characters” in TV, Film and Comics.

(Some with explanations, but a complete list will be added and continued to update as time goes on). 

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  • Glenn Close as Monica Rawling, Season 4 of The Shield

A former professor of mine, PG, can attest how much I love this character. I wrote a paper (it was suppose to be only 10 pages, I wrote close to 20) for my final grade for his class on Monica Rawling. 

Why is she so kick ass?  Well she is one of the first characters I ever saw that DID NOT fall into one of the major categories (whore/saint/damsel in distress). She was all of them. Coming from a cop family, I am VERY picky about my police shows but Ms. Close just made my jaw drop on the first line she has. Throughout the season she plays a tough as nails police captain (which right there, being a female captain is hard enough), dealt with unpopular politics of a controversial asset forfeiture program she spearheaded and even went out with the Strike Team to kick ass and take names. She didn’t see herself above anyone else, and even though she was a captain, didn’t have an office. She planted herself right in the thick of everything (defiantly-lead from the front, not behind a desk).

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  • Black Widow (both in comics and portrayed by Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Captain America: Winter Solider

Ill be the first to admit that I have a girl crush on Black Widow. She has always been one of my favorite characters ever since I started reading the Daredevilcomic book. She is THE spy. She is NEVER the victim. I mean really, to be part of the KGB red room training is not something anyone could go through. Did Natasha ever go “woe is me, I was made into a KGB spy against my will?” No. She rolled with it and then turn coat and started working with America. So now, you have a KGB agent, who’s now an American agent? Hell’s yes. And if anyone questions her, she pretty much kills them. 

Now, with the film adaptation, I was slightly disgusted because in Iron Man 2, she was handled more like a trophy wife until the last 5 minutes of the film. Now in Avengers, Wheadon actually gave the character some depth, and then in Winter Solider, she actually seemed more….human… then in Iron Man 2.

@EllieSully pointed out that alot of the aforementioned article that makes me upset does force feed some ideas down kids throats (in regards to The Lego Movie) and that there wasn’t really much out there for kids.

I beg to differ.

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-Merida in Brave

I mean come on. She stands up to EVERYONE going “yeah, no I am not following tradition to be married off so we can get some land”, she is an early tomboy, “yes, I much rather play in the woods and shoot things with my bow and arrow”.  She realizes her mistake and does everything in her power to fix it, unlike the delayed realization with her mother.

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-Torunn in Next Avengers

I love… LOVE… Torunn. This Marvel animated movie (set in an alternate universe), is a story about the sons (and daughter) of the Avengers. The parents were killed by Ultron and they are being raised by none other than Mr. Bachelor himself, Tony Stark. 

Torunn is the daughter of Thor and is upset because she thinks her dad either left her and/or is dead. Understandable why she is upset.  She is very much into her heritage. So much so she goes to the opposite extreme to be Asgardian as possible- even trying to put words like “Verily” into her every day speech. She goes through the true hero’s path (stubbornness, fighting, loosing something she thinks is important, realizing that it isn’t important, saving the day— wow, sound like her father much??) Her journey is practically a mirror image to the Thor film. At the end of the day- even though she could return to Asgard and be with her family, she decides to stay on Earth and take care of her little “brothers”. 

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Agents Simmons and  May in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

There are various reasons why these two should go on the list. Simmons is smart as a whip, May is a tactical genius. Simmons creates all types of gadgets etc and geeks out reading scientific studies. May, well she is nicknamed (much to her dismay) “The Calvary” for a reason. These two, both being on the same show, display vastly different aspects  of a “strong female character”- both brains and brawn. Do they need to be rescued sometimes? Yeah that happens to even some of the male heroes on the show, so you cannot count it against them.

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Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller in Sons of Anarchy

There is a specific reason that I used the image above with that quote. I will agree with some people that the way Gemma handles things is not exactly ethical, but its coming from a good place. If they need to put a picture with the phrase “Mama Bear” then it has to be of Gemma/Katey. For those who haven’t seen the show, Gemma has been a victim of rape and also of domestic abuse. I am only using the word “victim” here to classify the plot. She was NOT a victim by any stretch of the imagination. She picked herself up, brushed herself off and in the moved on (to do some devious planning to retaliate against the people that hurt her, but you get the idea). 

Other Strong Female Characters: (listed)

  • Agent Carter (Captain America: The First Avenger and the upcoming Agent Carter miniseries on ABC)
  • Agent Scully (X-Files TV show and movies)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both television and comic books)
  • Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager
  • Hermonie Granger in the Harry Potter Series (Both books and films)
  • Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films
  • Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (both books and movies) 
  • Wonder Woman (Comics and the ever loved Lynda Carter TV Series)
  • Xena the Warrior Princess (TV)

Please feel free to comment and throw your two sense in here folks. The bigger this list gets the better! Support your reasoning and I will update this post (asap) with your reason on the list! 

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Look at it this way, the good old USA is a child compared to most other countries. The English have Shakespeare and countless other brilliant writers. Europe has the likes of Norse Mythology, the Grimm Fairy Tales. Greece and Italy have their pantheon of gods and goddesses in their mythologies.
What does the USA have? Yes, you can argue, we have stories like Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed and the like. However, that only reflects part of our history- the frontier days. What about after that? Can you think of anything? Not really.

So take a look at the comic books.  Superman is the protector of the world… but landed in the middle of a Kansas farm field. Captain America, skinny kid from Captain America, Vol. 1 Ish 1Brooklyn who grows up to fight the Third Reich.  Batman or Iron Man- the billionaires with the brain power to come up with gadgets not only for themselves but to share with the rest of the world (ahem, does that remind you of anyone recently? *cough* Gates *cough* Jobs)

I have sat in classes with professors who can correlate how comic book creators are a bit futurists. Captain America punching out Hitler on the cover of Captain America #1 nearly a year before we enter World War 2.

And not to make anyone upset- I am going to talk about 9/11 here for a moment.  If you are not a comic book fan, I need to explain the following picture below.  The Big 2 (Marvel and DC) plan story lines out months, if not years in advance. This gives plenty of lead time for the art team to work on the book. Books are usually (USUALLY) locked into printing at least a month before shipping. New Comic books come out on Wednesdays, so most local comic book stores have their shipments sitting somewhere in their store on Tuesdays.

Now in the original version of this post- a friend pointed out that in this day and age of technology he couldn’t believe that comics couldn’t be printed to coincide with major events.  I see his point, especially in this new age of digital comics. However, this first example- with Captain America- was back in the 1940’s.  There was really no way that Lee and Kirby could have truly known that we were going to enter into World War 2 nearly a year later after this issue was printed.

Even back in 2001, digital comics were still a thought but not fully implemented. Comic books get released weekly on Wednesdays. 9/11 happened on a Tuesday. So, with this particular copy of Adventures of Superman #596, the issues were either already in sitting in the back rooms of stores and/or on trucks out for delivery to comic book shops when the Trade Towers were hit. Did the writer/artist team know? If they did, I bet good ol’ Uncle Sam would like to speak with them.  Readers of this book were surprised to see the next few days when they got their copies the the image below- which in the story, is LexCorp towers in Metropolis.  Note the bottom panel of Page 1 of the book.

Adventures of Superman #596 (9/12/2001) Page 1

Adventures of Superman #596 (9/12/2001) Page 1

Adventures of Superman #596 Page 2 (9/12/2001)

Adventures of Superman #596 Page 2 (9/12/2001)

Comics not only weirdly predict things, but they also reflect the attitude of the people of this country. Here’s another 9/11 example from the infamous “Black Cover” Amazing Spider-man #36 written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by John Romita Jr. (with Scott Hanna on inks) was a tribute to New York City in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. Since the Marvel universe takes place in the real world (i.e. New York, not Metropolis) EIC Joe Quesada at the time, felt that the terrorist attacks should be addressed by the characters that live in the city. Who else better than every man, Spider-man?

Amazing Spider-man #36

Amazing Spider-man #36

Comics not only  predict/reflect major moments in history such as 9/11 or World War Two. Sometimes, they reflect societies attitudes about the world.

A few years back Marvel did a story line throughout all their books called “Civil War“. In the story, there is an incident where a school full of kids gets blown up- and its pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back with society. This causes the President to create a “Superhuman Registration Act” in which anyone with “powers” would have to register for the government.  The Marvel Universe is divided down the middle. One side (Captain America’s ideals) says no because then the government tells them who the bad guys are, they want to keep their identities secret and not let the supervillains have a way to get to a database and find out who they are. The other side (Iron Man)  thinks that it’s a good idea, that it would bring a quality control- for the lack of a better word- and also accountability to the superhero set.

It’s a brilliant mini-series written by Mark Millar (you know him from the Wanted and Kick-Ass movies) and drawn by Steve McNiven. However the issue that pulled my heart strings the most, was actually an issue of the first volume of “New Avengers” written by Brian Michael Bendis.

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

Luke later on in this issue, convinces Jessica Jones to take their daughter out of the country. Luke Cage  saying goodbye is the most heartbreaking thing on the face of the planet.

Now this series came out in 2006-2007. We as a country were already halfway through a decade plus long war (Iraq, Afghanistan) we were tired of it. Tired of the politicians. This was also the beginning of the  2008 political campaign.  If you take a look at people’s sentiments at this time, especially around the time this series came out.. you can feel the build up of resentment, anger and frustration pour not only out of us, but out of this book.

A hundred years or so from now, people will be looking at this books and making correlations to what was going on at the time. Just like a lot of us did with Shakespeare or books like “A Tale of Two Cities” or “Homer” while we were in school. Actually, I have sat through classes that dissect comics like this already.

So go and pick up a comic book. There are plenty out there that are non-superhero, superhero, horror or just plain goofy. Not only will it give you the mental/emotional distraction that you need, but you will be contributing to our cultural zeitgeist for your grandkids, great-grand children to stare and dissect.  Support these writers and artists who are telling stories about our society in a unique and interesting way that, until the birth of comic strips here in the good ol’ USA, was never even thought of. Things like this will survive for decades to come to explain how our society is NOW.

That’s why Comic Books Rock- they are an ongoing, evolving, time capsule.

I am quite tired of people looking at me funny when I tell them I am an avid comic book reader. Some cases they are surprised and thinkDr. Fredric Wertham “You are a chick, you shouldn’t like comic books”. However, most of the time, it’s because- despite recent films and tv shows-comic books still get a bad reputation.

Why is that? Well thank you Dr. Fredric Wertham.

Who’s that?

Well, here’s a little history for you: Back in the early 1950’s Dr. Wertham printed a book called “Seduction of the Innocent“. Before this book came out, comics like “Superman” or “Captain America” would each sell a million copies a month. Comics were the coolest thing since sliced bread back then. Heck- they were even part of rations for soldiers back in World War One and World War Two.

Like that cover isn't going to make parents wonder...

Like that cover isn’t going to make parents wonder…

Then this book came out. I know recently you must have heard that “Oh, its violent video games that make kids shoot each other. Or Marilyn Manson. Or Eminem” *eyeroll* I hear this way too much being in Chicago. But it is not true. It’s just regurgitated bad thinking and bad “expertise” back from Wertham.

If you can find a copy of “Seduction..” (which is rare) read it. If you are a comic book fan, you will laugh your butt off.  But for those who have never read it (or can’t find it) I will boil the book down for you ( I have read it).  Wertham’s argument for the rise of juvenile delinquency back in the late 1940’s/ early 1950’s was because of….. comic books. There is an argument in his book that little boys that read ” Batman” will become homosexual.

I kid you not. I really wish i was joking about this. In his book, and later on in his testimony, if you look at the examples that he gives of how comic books ruin children, its twisted to his argument. His “examples” are parts of panels blown up- like (for a current example) a panel of Spider-man swinging through Manhattan that is is normal as could be- Well Wertham would have taken just the crotch shot of the picture and blown it up.

If you read the book, the “research” that Dr. Wertham did was questionable at the least. All the kids he had in his study grew up in Harlem. One neighborhood of a major city in the country. He did not do test groups all over the country- just the kids that came into his clinic in Harlem, New York.

Right there, that should have been questioned. But I digress- the one thing all these kids had in common besides being troublemakers was that they read comic books. So of course Dr. Wertham made the correlation if you are a bad kid that beats others up, it has to be from the comic books you are reading!  But… there were over a million copies of a single title sold in a month. It would have been easier to find kids who didn’t read comic books!

Can I make a side note- did anyone who lived during this time think that the reason there was a rise of juvenile delinquency was because of a number of broken families post two world wars? Or the fact that there was a HUGE shift in ideology (not once, but twice) when it comes to gender roles?

But back to Wertham. Magazines (primarily ones like Good Housekeeping) latched onto Wertham and did interviews and so forth where he

With his four children by the two different woman pictured.

William Moulton Marston With his four children by the two different woman pictured.

got to further go off on his soapbox about how “Wonder Woman” makes girls to be submissive in the bedroom. This tells you the lack of credibility of Wertham. If you actually do some research on the creator of “Wonder Woman”, William Moulton Marston, you would know that he he was in a *very* interesting family structure. He lived with his wife and their children… and his “girlfriend” submissive and their children.He is also the creator of the lie detector. On the first draft of this post, a friend didn’t see how this is related to Wertham. Well a) Writers write what they know and b) if you actually look at the early issues of WW, if anything it taught girls to NOT be submissive, but more dominate.

Wertham’s interviews and book led to such an outcry from frustrated mothers that it led to comic book burnings and also a Congressional Hearing in 1954.  Wertham brought the industry to its knees and nearly severed the head. If you really want to get the full scope of how damaging this hearing was, you can read the transcripts from each day here .

However, in my humble opinion this hearing was completely a waste of time. I am not saying this as a comic book fan, I am saying this because, from a legal perspective it was.  Look at this snippet of Wertham’s opening testimony:

My testimony will be in four parts. First, what is in comic books? How can one classify them clinically? Secondly, are there any bad effects of comic books.  I may say here on this subject there is practically no controversy. Anybody who has studied them and seen them knows that some of them have bad effects. The third problem is how farreaching are these bad effects? There is a good deal of controversy about that.  A fourth part is: Is there any remedy? And being merely a doctor, about that I shall say only a few words.”

Even someone with a basic sense of law from watching shows like Law and Order would have thrown an objection in there for speculation.

If you think that is bad.. read this next part:

“Delinquencies against property; delinquency associated with violence; offenses connected with sex, and then miscellaneous, consisting of fire setting, drug addiction, and childhood prostitution. I may say the latter is a very hushed-up subject. I am not referring to what young girls do with young boys, but I am referring to 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-year-old girls prostituting themselves to adults.”

Really. Really? I mean, this is the biggest form of speculation… just reading this makes me sick. The previous sentence should be the textbook example of speculation. However, Wertham does, for the lack of a better word, redeem himself a bit.

” Now, nobody versed in any of this type of clinical research would claim that comic books alone are the cause of juvenile delinquency. It is my opinion, without any reasonable doubt, and without any reservation, that comic books are an important contributing factor in many cases of juvenile delinquency.”

Wait, so no in front of Congress Wertham begins to backpedal on the ” research was a sober, painstaking, laborious clinical study, and in some cases, since it has been going on now for 7 years, ” 

I could spend a few good days continuing to nitpick his testimony to the Congressional hearing, but that may only interest the lawyer types.

But like most things, the industry evolved. It got past the romance books, the capes, the horror and has become what it is today- even with a burst in the 1990’s that almost collapsed the industry a second time (due to economic issues).

So when you hear the argument that it’s Grand Theft Auto to blame for a kid shooting someone, no its not. Remember Wertham. Do you want someone like him to manipulate not only pop culture but science to prove something inaccurate?