Me, I love lists! So I thought I'd post one of my own on the good old blog, specifically centering around achievements in comics this year. I spend a lot of time on this blog being critical Sarah. I thought it might make a nice change of pace to celebrate the year 2013 in comics, through five (by my standards) noteworthy comics. These are my choices. What are yours? Sound off in the comments section!
I am a big admirer of year-end lists. Yet there are reasons not to be. Lists can reduce the year's output to a simplified collection of already well-covered moments. They can inadvertently steer a body away from searching deeper into the records of pop culture, to discover objects on one's own. They can define taste, instead of interrogating it. On the other hand, such lists can still introduce a person to a movie or book or play they'd never consider otherwise. Or, lists can force one to reconsider something long filed away as inconsequential or lost. And, let's face it, there's a lot of entertainment to be had in seeing critics praise art you already appreciate. I guess what I'm saying is, your mileage may vary.
Me, I love lists! So I thought I'd post one of my own on the good old blog, specifically centering around achievements in comics this year. I spend a lot of time on this blog being critical Sarah. I thought it might make a nice change of pace to celebrate the year 2013 in comics, through five (by my standards) noteworthy comics. These are my choices. What are yours? Sound off in the comments section!
I'll start with my most anticipated read of the year: March. I actually gave Congressman John Lewis' graphic memoir to my father for Christmas. Largely inspired by his connection with and consumption of the 1957 comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, this book is the first of three to chronicle Lewis' life and his involvement with the Civil Rights movement. The first volume deals with Lewis' young life, and Nate Powell's beautiful black and white art quickly draws you into Lewis' perception of the world around him. Particularly striking are the book's opening moments, when a young Lewis preaches to the family chickens, and the closing pages, which involve a paddy wagon full of arrested individuals driving "off-screen" as they sing about overcoming great obstacles. Lewis and co-writer Andrew Aydin intended this story to teach future generations about civil rights and the work of Dr. King, just as that 1950's book taught him. There are many lessons throughout the book, but it never reads as dry or didactic, only engrossing and awe-inspiring.
Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga arrived on shelves in the spring of 2012, but it's been on my mind ever since. The story of two parents trying to raise a child in a mixed-up world might seem old hat by this point in human history, but add in intergalactic wars, ghost nannies, robot princes, and a cat who can tell when you're lying, and everything old becomes new again! Staples' down-to-earth pencils and ink ground this space opera in human concerns, like what happens to a body after pregnancy, or how to get a job when one's entire family is on the run from two sides of the same war -- and while I don't discuss lettering much in this space, Staples' handwritten narration gives a glint of the sassy grown-up child these parents will raise. Of course, Vaughan's signature sense of humor and heart saturates the plot, but it is his dissection of narrative as life-sustaining, and family as the forge that shapes and even melts our sensibilities, that define the book. Released in increments to give Staples enough lead time to craft the tale well, this creator-driven work engages with its audiences' real-life concerns in a visceral, vibrant way.
How to talk about Young Avengers? I've read interviews where writer Kieron Gillen equates the team book with the adolescent act of starting a band. It's also clear the entire short season of fifteen issues is meant to be a metaphor for being eighteen, for being on the cusp of adulthood, of learning one's possibilities and limitations. Hailed by many comics sites as something new, a pop-infused story that addresses ACTUAL young people (instead of middle-aged readers who grew up with Superman and The Simpsons), this book was labelled Tumblr bait by cynics, even as optimists embrace its shirtless Noh-Varr scenes and emotional roller coasters. What can't be disputed by anyone is the genius of the artwork -- Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton sculpt classic comics facial expressions into pop art shots, and muck about with traditional layouts, even breaking borders between panels to connect their isolated teenagers. This book may be ending soon (I blame the need to boost Loki's age, in order to appease Tom Hiddleston fans, I suspect), but its appeal lies in its "flash-in-the-pan" nature. The Young Avengers save the world, then go for Korean barbecue afterwards; the sad truth of adolescence is that good nights like that aren't meant to last forever.
Astro City brought me back to reading comics on a monthly basis two years ago. So it's only fitting that the series' return should end up on my "top of 2013" list. Now published under Vertigo's banner, Astro City hasn't lost a step, even after vanishing for a time due to scribe Kurt Busiek's health concerns. The new group of issues has examined both the heroes and regular citizens of the titular city, with covers from painter Alex Ross warmly inviting us into Busiek's bright world. Interior artist Brent Anderson has made the transition from pen and paper to digital, and his work remains as clear-eyed and emotional as ever. Meanwhile, Busiek builds and builds his superheroic universe, adding in call responders to a hero hotline, a giant alien presence intent on studying humanity, and a potentially unhinged fourth wall-breaking miscreant -- while revisiting old faces, including a retired family man, a stuntwoman psychic, and our first-ever look into his Wonder Woman stand-in, Winged Victory. At the end of each issue, a tiny street sign alerts us that we are now leaving Astro City. When the book was on hiatus, that notice struck me as bittersweet. Now the story continues, and I can't wait to come back.
I've written and written and written about Daredevil. About Mark Waid's interrogation of fear and fearlessness, of perception and obsession. About Chris Samnee and Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin and Javier Rodriguez and their consistent, snappy artwork. About my appreciation for a book that actually addresses disability, even if its central character is essentially sighted, given his radar sense. So what haven't I praised about this title? What's left to write about? I'll tell you what's left -- lawyer and Dare-love interest Kirsten McDuffie. She's amazing. She's basically Lois Lane, except she was in on the secret identity thing from the get-go. So I guess she's more like Linda Park, a woman Waid has had some experience scripting in the past. In the latest issue of the Dare-saga, Kirsten flirted with danger by addressing New York citizens via some sort of super-microphone during a crisis. In the process, she officially won Matt Murdock's heart, as she set everyone straight about the fear-mongering Sons of Serpents, a group of racists intent on creating mob rule in the Big Apple. Corny, sure. But Kirsten's heroics are just as important as Daredevil in this book; that is a refreshing change of pace for a love interest.
Hawkeye is a book about what Hawkeye does when he's not being an Avenger, usually when he's hanging out with the other, cooler Hawkeye. Also, it's about his dog Lucky, who loves pizza. Helmed by writer Matt Fraction, artist David Aja and colorist Matt Hollingsworth, this book has been a fan favorite for months, even as it's gotten a bit behind schedule, shipping-wise. But it's worth the wait. Fraction's decompression of time can be trying when read a month at a time, but his current insistence on telling street-level stories from a variety of perspectives, including Pizza Dog's, has brought a lot of enjoyment to me, personally. Aja's work can be sprightly and perceptive (as when Hawkeye leaps through the air naked, and a little Hawkeye mask covers his unmentionables; or when a phone conversation with Kate is split into thirty-something distinct panels). Hollingsworth gives everything a purple tinge and a cartoony look that makes Hawkeye's world seem pretty basic, even as the writing deepens Hawkeye's descent into poor behavior. With Clint Barton's book, come for the humor, stay for the inventiveness and emotional gut punches!
I don't know if it's because I've been teaching theatre history and trickle-down tradition this fall, or because I've been thinking a lot about how my generation's viewed in the media, or because of the blog posts (and one particular Howlround piece by OU colleague Ira Gamerman!!!) I've been reading, but lately I've spent a lot of time considering the concept of legacy and one's conversation with the preceding generation via art.
Whatever the igniting spark, the fire roared to life last week when I opened the latest issue of Young Avengers. In its first few pages, our intrepid young heroes pleaded their damned-if-you, damned-if-you-don't end run to Captain America. His response was not "Avengers, Assemble!" -- as you can see above. Of course, Cap's being controlled by a dimension-hopping parasite in the form of Hulking's mother (aptly named Mother), sooooo parents just not understanding is a big part of the book. And appropriate to my ponderings about how generations communicate with one another over time (as when Renaissance artists looked to the Romans and Greeks to breed innovation in their own time).
Now some readers out there are critical of the unsubtle tone writer Kieron Gillen takes with a book about a bunch of teenage vigilantes moving from the drama of sixteen to the maturity and self-reliance of eighteen. Most complaints I've read mock the book's chummy relationship with its fans on Tumblr (the alien Noh-varr's shirtlessness alone could launch a thousand picto-blogs), but other complaints center on the youth of the intended audience. The book is for tweens or teens, folks argue; it's cutting-edge panel construction and kooky characters can't make up for its lack of a traditional plot and tugging at the heart-strings heroics. But why shouldn't Young Avengers, a book about teenagers, largely for teenagers, be celebrated by the audience of young men and women who populate Tumblr? Furthermore, does broad-based appeal outweigh an appeal to youth culture, or an appeal to something new in comics?
Personally, I think Cap's "Father Knows Best" attitude is hilarious -- particularly since his hand-waving away the threat of Mother is followed by Kate Bishop, aka the female Hawkeye, turning to her fellow teenage heroes and declaring that the world is ending, so the Young Avengers should assemble already. Idealism versus pragmatism at its finest. But what does all this have to do with legacy and talking to the past through art? For me, this moment showcases Gillen's awareness of comics history. Young Avengers, in its many "short season" stories, has always been about a bunch of aliens and young kids trying to live up the legacy set by the likes of Thor, Cap, and the rest of the Avengers. Hence, the team being named Young Avengers. Gillen comments on that here, with Cap's paternalism and experience actually hampering the kids' organizational efforts. By hanging a lampshade on the older generation of heroes, he retains the sense of history that dominates and contextualizes the Marvel universe, while allowing enough room for the reader to see how Kate Bishop, Wiccan, Hulking, Loki, Miss America, Noh-varr, and various others will have to operate differently. How will they deal with matters? Not by reasoning with adults, or making elaborate battle plans. They'll use magic and bickering with exes and lying to teammates. They'll take their rightful place as heroes by acting like young adults becoming adults. They'll take stabs at saving the world until they find a way to save it. And I find that as innovative and impressive as the amazing layouts littering this comics run. Certainly, Young Avengers deserves to be loved for all the traditions it will set, and others will later talk to and break.
Young Avengers #12: Kieron Gillen, Writer; Jamie McKelvie, Penciller; Mike Norton, Jamie McKelvie, & Stephen Thompson, Inkers; Matthew Wilson, Colorist.
POST-SCRIPT: This is an unrelated note, but its importance cannot be overstated. It's been brought to my attention that I've tended towards abelist language in posts littered throughout my blog history, mostly terminology concerning mobility and mental illness (making pejoratives of "crazy" and "lame," for example). I am sad to say I used such language without thought, and will avoid all such usages in the future. I am sorry if use of such terms caused offense.
A lot of time is spent in this space bemoaning or championing comics trends. Sometimes it weirds me out how much energy I aim at a field I am not actively employed in at the moment. As a playwright, my primary concern should be my chosen field, shouldn't it? After all, there are thousands of attacks on my "dead" art form every day, and just as often, thousands of articles and blog posts pointing out how theatre artists need to work together to reach their audience, etc., etc. Why not spend my time disseminating that information, when comics are mainstream enough to make billions of dollar at the box office?
The best answer I can come up with is that I like to look at things with a sideways glance. I like to think most of the articles I write about diversity and business and feminism and disability stretch beyond the six-panel page, and say something about the American art scene, and our culture at large. Whether others agree is a matter of debate, though I doubt it's a question anybody else spends their nights pondering. But I am a part of a theatre community, and I need to tend to it as much as I tend to my own thoughts.
All that being said, recently Howlround has been putting out excellent articles about gender parity, women, and their role in activating the theatre, pushing it towards equality. I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment, and thank the contributors for giving me much food for thought, and point any interested readers to their great content, including work about theatre in post-feminist America, an interview with the amazing Lydia Diamond, and this gem about leading culture, instead of following it. Give these a read, when you have a chance, and take part in the conversation, if you feel so inclined. I know I plan to get more involved over the coming weeks and months.
But back to looking at things sideways! Because even as I caught up on my feminist theatre reading this week, I watched a nicely paralleled concern pop up over in the comics world. Yesterday, DC released a list of "Essential Graphic Novels" in the form of a 121-page booklet meant to help the consumer better understand the (mostly recent) history of its comics line, as well as provide librarians and retailers the opportunity to pick and choose among its top promotions. Now I've spent time on the revamped DC website, and I've found what's in print and what's out of print highly suspect. The pull list seems largely based on character popularity vis a vis the New 52's arrival, or the leaving of a writer for one of the company's competitors. (Hence the reason why Greg Rucka's fantastic run on Wonder Woman, and Mark Waid's groundbreaking work on The Flash are not available on DC's site.)
Of course, sales should dictate what's in print, but by generating an essential list of what to buy, the DC higher-ups are not only editorializing about the worth of individual stories; they're crafting a marketed opinion about an entire line -- picking what consumers ought to invest in, as opposed to allowing consumer trends to dictate the market. Rather than learn from their customers, they're telling them what to want. Not super surprising in the given "WE'VE GOT A SUPERMAN MOVIE COMING OUT, WE HAVE TO CASH IN!" climate. But problems abound when the bottom line is all that matters to an organization.
Problems such as this: DC devotes a total of two pages to its female superheroes. TWO PAGES. Just to get some perspective, let's look at the page count across the board for iconic DC heroes:
Batman and Superman (surely listed in order of popularity at the moment) rate five pages each. Green Lantern gets three, all volumes likely penned by co-controller of DC Comics, Geoff Johns. Even less well-selling heroes like The Flash and Green Arrow get two pages, one wisely serving as a poster image of each hero to make up for the lack of pre-New 52 content. But the women of DC Comics are all bunched together. Unlike the men of DC Comics, they don't stand out enough to be separated from one another. And they only deserve two pages of content!
I'm just ... I don't even know what to say at this point. DC has told me repeatedly they don't care about reflecting my experience. I'm used to that. But to then tell me what little reflection of my experience they do offer isn't all that essential ... well, it stings. It's shoddy marketing, and it's shoddy craftsmanship. But like the ladies at Howlround, I aim to do something about it. I have identified the issue. Now I need to force the culture to keep up with female (and hopefully male) consumers.
Outside of continuing to agitate for more female representation in mainstream books, and monetarily and vocally championing independent books that target women and create strong women, I also want to provide a space to talk about where people are finding essential female hero reading, since DC generally ain't providing it (check out its best-selling section to see how many ladies make the top list). With that in mind, I'm going to post my own list of essential female stories -- DC and Marvel-based -- now. My choices are mainstream, mind you, but I'm focusing on some favorite characters whose best works are often left well off the DC essentials program; likely, they can be found by scrounging around at the library or one's local comics emporium, or God help us, via Amazon. Hopefully, I can give women, or interested men, a window into seeking out diverse experiences in a medium that is currently screaming for only teenage boys to buy into its collection.
ESSENTIAL DC SUPERHEROINES (AND THEIR STORIES):
Wonder Woman, Aka, Princess Diana, Aka, Diana Prince, Aka, The Maid of Might
Greg Rucka's run on Wonder Woman, starting in 2005, is seminal for me. I had never really given Princess Diana much thought before picking up The Hikitea, the cover of which tantalizes with an image of her boot in Batman's face. Beyond showcasing plenty of action, Rucka's attention to Diana's old-world ways and how they clash with modern American society provides most of the book's conflict. She acts as an a U.N. ambassador for her island of Amazons, and global mistrust of her feminist mission lays the groundwork for our heroine to be attacked on all fronts, simply because she is a powerful woman. How Diana deals with that, by making a tremendous personal sacrifice, proves to the world and the reader what a true heroine she is; still, there are some rules in man's world she cannot overcome, such as charges of war crimes late in the run.
Rucka's Wonder Woman is a flesh-and-blood tower of strength, who fights to protect others, even to the point of losing her sight, and committing murder. Those who claim she is too contrarian, or that she's too old-fashioned to last in today's grim and gritty, "post-feminist" climate, need to read this book.
Essential stories: The Hikitea, Down to Earth, Eyes of the Gorgon.
Full Run: Wonder Woman volume 2, issues 195-226.
I only picked up Gail Simone's set of Wonder Woman tales after a friend gave me the first volume as a gift. Sporting beautiful artwork from none other than Nicola Scott and Aaron Lopresti, Simone's Wonder Woman is a woman first, and a leader second. Simone makes it clear that her good, loyal heart is what inspires people to follow her, and her search for truth is what keeps readers along for the action-packed ride. Also, she lets the talking gorillas who attacked her in the first issue live at her house! How can you not love her?
What's most engaging about this run of books is how Simone triumphed over some truly terrible editorial mandates prior to the start of her run. She takes Diana's stupid job as a spy, and makes secrecy part of Diana's inner conflict and outer fight. She takes her stilted relationship with fellow espionage agent Nemesis, and lets it bloom organically, while admitting the two come from worlds too different to ever build a life together. She lets Wonder Woman pine for children of her own, and if that's not a step forward for a female character's perspective, I dunno what is!
Essential stories: The Circle, Rise of the Olympians.
Full Run: Wonder Woman volume 3, issues 14-44, Wonder Woman volume 1, issue 600.
Batwoman, Aka, Kate Kane, Aka, Dedicated Solider, Aka, Out and Proud Lesbian
It's odd that many of the female characters I love come from Bat-books. What is it about an emotionally stunted playboy that allows space for strong woman to step forward and take up his mantle? Whatever the answer, I'm glad Kate Kane exists. Greg Rucka's incisive 2006 remake of a character originally intended as a romantic foil for Batman provides oodles and oodles of "Hell, yeah!" moments for the reader. First, there's Kate's admission of her homosexuality, a truth that gets her kicked out of military service. Then there's her adoption of the Bat-mantle, which gives her new purpose and a new way to serve her country. After that comes stellar gothic storytelling, with Kate looking otherworldly while she stalks the night and fights werewolves.
In more recent times, J.H. Williams' work on the character as both artist and author leave Kate always feeling like Kate, even as his current run on the book can get confounding. She is the Katniss of comics for me: always surprising, always brave, always true.
Essential stories: 52, Elegy, Batman: Blackest Knight.
Full run: Detective Comics 854-860, Batwoman volume 1 ongoing.
Batgirl, Aka, Cassandra Cain, Aka Deadly Assassin, Aka, World's Greatest Hero
When approached about writing Cass Cain, the at-first mute successor to Barbara Gordon's cowl, Kelly Puckett said he was intrigued by the thought of a plucky, charming girl also being an expert, deadly assassin. Here was the chance to write a teen who had no words to express the anguish she felt over her murderous training as a child, who chose to use her skills to fight crime regardless, as both a way of atoning and putting her life in danger often enough that she might ultimately die. This premise allows for stunning stories about nature versus nurture, guilt, sign versus spoken language, and how perception and memory shapes every single one of our relationships.
Cass was the first Batgirl to receive her own solo series, and to date, she is one of the few Asian characters to headline a book. Her evolution from terrified loner to leader and friend to every member of the Bat-family is hard-won, and despite her disappearance from New 52 continuity, her coming-of-age tale pretty much haunts my memory, precisely because every step she takes towards redemption is harrowing and hallucinatory.
Essential stories: No Man's Land, Silent Running, Death Wish.
Full run: Batgirl volume 1, issues 1-73, Batgirl miniseries, issues 1-6.
Batgirl, Aka, Steph Brown, Aka, Kinda Knows Kung Fu, Aka, Sucker for Second Chances
Stephanie Brown, how I love you. Not only do you have the benefit of a long history as an utter screw-up to sweeten your Batgirl rise to glory, you just never give up. Scribe Bryan Q. Miller recognizes that this is your true superpower. A reader can see it in early moments of your lifespan, when you spar with Cassandra; she hits you so hard you throw up, yet you jump right back on your feet and schedule another fight session with her. But your strength really comes through during Miller's 24-issue run where you steal the Batgirl identity, then prove yourself worthy of the name again and again and again.
A blonde chick proving she's not quite as dumb as everyone thinks she is may not seem like great grass to mow. However, Miller gives Steph a self-awareness and sense of humor that draws you into her travails right away. More importantly, he establishes a partnership between Steph and Oracle that ends up saving an angry, emotionally crippled Barbara. Steph's Pollyanna attitude infects everybody she meets, and what's more powerful than handing out second chances?
Essential stories: Batgirl Rising, The Flood, The Lesson.
Full run: Batgirl volume 3, issues 1-24; Batman: Leviathan Strikes!
Birds of Prey, Aka, Black Canary, Huntress, & Oracle, Aka, Best Team Ever!
I like Chuck Dixon's version of the Birds of Prey (he had our heroines fight dinosaurs at one point!!!), but it wasn't until Gail Simone took over the book in 2003 that I was hooked. By adding Helena Bertinelli's volatile, socially isolated Huntress to the team, and by suggesting that Oracle, Black Canary, and Huntress are basically undergoing one unending therapy session via espionage and kidnapping scenarios, Simone unlocked the bloody, beating heart at the book's center -- female friendship.
Simone's focus on tiny, human moments make this a go-to reread for me. From Oracle's struggle with her disability, to Helena's quiet rekindling of her Catholic faith, to the sharp stabs of loneliness Dinah experiences when seeing Babs with her father, nothing about these ladies is ever off the table. Simone's books often get really, really crazy, as she adds colorful characters and nightmare situations to the mix, building to climaxes that often require half the DC Universe to save the day. But with Birds of Prey, there's always time for a heart-to-heart. Or a bar fight. That's just how things go.
Essential stories: Of Like Minds, The Battle Within, Endrun.
Full run: Birds of Prey volume 1, issues 56-108; Birds of Prey volume 3, issues 1-13.
Lois Lane, Aka, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist, Aka, Icon of Human Experience
This is a strange cover to include among a cavalcade of heroines leaping at your faces. However, I find it fitting, because Lois Lane is human. She can be hurt, yet she throws herself into danger, anyway. Because she is a truth-seeker. I'm convinced that the core to her relationship with Superman doesn't need to be the sinister "I'm gonna prove you're Clark, so you'll marry me!" nag of the Silver Age. I think she likes figuring things out, solving mysteries, bringing secrets to light for the benefit of all mankind. Superman is another challenge, and Clark is her match. The whole package makes sense.
Lois has had some good stories written about her in the past. And some awful ones. My personal favorite Lois stories arrived during Greg Rucka's run on Adventures of Superman (man, his name keeps coming up!). In this series, she is injured in a war-torn country while trying to save an American soldier, and uses her recovery time to rebuild her relationship with Clark, while also seeking out/confronting her sniper. She's just a wonder, this woman.
Essential stories: When It Rains, God Is Crying, Superman: Unconventional Warfare, Superman: That Healing Touch, Superman: Ruin Revealed, Superman: Red Son, Superman: Birthright.
Full run: Uh ... every Superman comic ever?
Linda Park, Aka, Wife, Aka, Mother, Aka, The One Who Keeps The Flash Steady
This beacon of love is about as sassy and straight-forward as they come. Merely mortal, Linda first appeared early in The Flash's second volume, and despite silly stories where she is possessed by a Scottish ghost, she quickly won Wally West's heart by constantly pulling him down to earth.
I'm particularly fond of Mark Waid's work on the character, as her concerns over her man-friend's growing powers mirror many a real-life relationship, where one partner worries the other might outgrow him or her. However, Linda always approaches her feelings with a level head, and despite being trapped in another dimension once, and dying that other time, she always finds her way back to her man, like it's no big deal.
Essential stories: Terminal Velocity, Race Against Time, Flash: The Final Night, Blitz.
Full run: The Flash, volume 2, issues 28-231, The Flash: Rebirth, The Flash: The Wild Wests.
ESSENTIAL MARVEL SUPERHEROINES (AND THEIR STORIES):
Captain Marvel, Aka, Carol Danvers, Aka, Keeper of the Past, Present, & Future
Kelly Sue DeConnick burst onto the comics scene in 2012 with a revamped Captain Marvel title. The twist? It starred Carol Danvers, formerly known as the oddly problematic Ms. Marvel. In the first issue, she took on the name of her predecessor, ready to do battle with whatever giant robots or military skirmished came her way. Instead, she was sucked into some sort time warp I still don't fully grasp, and she was put into direct competition with a former female fighter pilot/mentor, a conflict that has colored the rest of the series to date.
DeConnick seems very interested in how women inspire and influence one another. The supporting cast of Captain Marvel consists mostly of women, women who befriend each other, challenge each other, who are constantly striving towards a sense of achievement and place within their past, present, and future. Perhaps it was no accident that the first arc on the title led Carol on an Easter egg hunt across her lifespan. If she didn't know where she'd been, and who stood with her, she wouldn't deserve her name.
Essential stories: In Pursuit of Flight.
Full run: Captain Marvel, volume 1, ongoing.
Echo, Aka, Maya Lopez, Aka, Expert Mimic, Aka, The Only Deaf Character Around
My admiration for Echo is plenty well-known around these parts. She remains one of the few truly Deaf characters out there, and even in death, she still manages to school the epically insane Moon Knight. On top of all that, her journey of self-discovery, as dictated by wunderkind David Mack, spoke so profoundly to me, I'm pretty sure it's responsible for my Master's thesis.
Echo is a treasure precisely because she is always reinventing herself. Popular opinion might suggest she only becomes a stoic ninja, or gets super in touch with her Native American heritage, or acts out Marc Spector's schizophrenic hallucinations, because writers can't figure out how to let her stand on her own. But I would argue she is a flawed human being, with mimckry powers she barely understands, and a huge chip on her shoulder when it comes to personal responsibility. Watching her come to terms with her destructive actions, as all individuals must, provides a benchmark for all stories about those who live with disabilities. They deal with the same issues as any other person. They simply perceive those experiences through a more personalized, unique lens.
Essential stories: Daredevil: Parts of the Hole, Daredevil/Echo: Vision Quest.
Full run: Daredevil, volume 2, issues 9-15, Daredevil, volume 2, issues 51-55, Moon Knight, miniseries, issues 1-12.
Hawkeye, Aka, Kate Bishop, Aka Young Avenger, Aka, Hero of Her Own Story
Last summer, Hawkeye appeared and easily became the most talked-about book on the stands soon after. A large part of its critical and financial success stems from Matt Fraction's inclusion of Kate Bishop, an heiress/archer who fights alongside stalwart bro and long-time Avenger, (Hawkeye) Clint Barton. Kate has a bit of a rough history, currently being smoothed over in this volume, and in Young Avengers, so readers focus more on her daredevil antics than the brutal attack that motivated her initial jump into heroism. Not that we don't need heroines who rise above their trials, but violence is a well that's run dry in superhero comics. I'd rather see Kate flying high, quips a-plenty in her quiver.
And fly she does, under Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen's hands. Both writers give her the latitude to have a life outside of her fellow champions. In fact, Kate often reminds those around her that she's awesome, even if Clint isn't, and that she is the hero of her own story. Having now watched her leap out of a high-rise to save her fellow Hawkeye, and later on, stop burglaries in the middle of Hurricane Sandy, I'm inclined to agree.
Essential stories: Young Avengers volume 2, ongoing, Hawkeye, volume 1, ongoing.
Full run: Young Avengers volume 1, issues 1-12, Young Avengers: Children's Crusade, Young Avengers volume 2, ongoing.
Miss America, Aka, America Chavez, Aka, WHO ARE YOU?!, Aka, Not PG-13
Speaking of Young Avengers, my last pick for this overly-long blog post is Miss America, who just popped up in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's boffo new edition of the teen super-team. Miss America is a joy to behold. I literally have no idea where she came from. Like, seriously? What is her deal? Is she a time-traveler? Are her parents really as evil as they seem to be? Why is her costume so amazing? IT'S ONLY A JACKET, BOOTS AND SHORTS COMBO! THAT SHOULD NOT WORK SO WELL! Yet she owns it. Maybe that's all I really need to know about her ... for now.
Suffice it to say, I'm intrigued by her presence among the Young Avengers crew, especially because her major function seems to be the team heavy. She's real good at punching things, and how often is a woman given that responsibility? Outside of Wonder Woman, I can't think of any examples. It's nice to come full-circle discussing our lady heroines, especially with a character as chock-full of fun and potential as America Chavez is. She may be rated PG-13, according to her own rankings, but her journey would make for a great all-ages book.
Essential stories: Young Avengers volume 2, ongoing.
Full run: Teen Brigade, I guess? Young Avengers volume 2, ongoing.
So. These are just a few of my favorite female characters in superhero (or I guess, fantasy?) comics. Some of them do appear in DC's vaunted list, but I doubt any explanation is given as to why, nor are the volumes I enjoy highlighted, and I wanted to take some time to shake out just what makes each set of women important to me as a reader/consumer. I am a little sad that my DC list has less diversity than my Marvel list, and I wish I had more characters outside the Bat family to showcase from DC. But them's the breaks when a company is restricting anything but off-shoots from its original cast of characters, while getting rid of non-white characters left and right.
But I've said enough on this subject. Hopefully, it's provided some avenues to explore. Now I'd love to hear from you. Who are your favorite ladies in comics? What are your favorite stories? I've always got room in my library for more female-centric storytelling!
So much has grabbed my attention the last few months. The holidays! Producing February's Chicago Madness (the theme -- write a scene with your own M. Night Shymalan twist)! Working on curriculum and teaching for Silk Road Rising! Watching DC's disastrous choices involving Clark Kent and Wonder Woman's romance, the company's firing and rehiring of Gail Simone, as well as its weird blunder of hiring a homophobic writer while one of their top books pushes forward with the engagement of an awesome lesbian couple! Looking on as Marvel launched a new world of books that take artistic risks and build up a solid stable of writers!
But I haven't written about a lick of it. I wish I had a good excuse, or some particular bit of something stuck in my craw at the moment. Mostly I've been working, attempting to launch my next big writing project, and enjoying comics, along with an amazing read in Andrew Solomon's Far From The Tree. I haven't really mellowed out on discussing comics' reflection of our society, but I found I needed a bit of break from being up in arms about things, especially after the Christmas miracle that was Gail Simone's rehiring.
However, I have wanted for a while to share some books I think everyone might enjoy in the year of good old 2013. I haven't got anything ranked in a particular order, but if you want to start getting into comics this spring, here are some amazing reads that I am having boatloads of fun with, starting over at Marvel Comics, and continuing over the next few days, with other companies:
HAWKEYE, Aka, The Best Book I Had No Idea I'd Ever Fall In Love With, Ever!
Clint Barton, his dog named Pizza Dog, and most importantly, his brash and brave partner-in-superhero-fighting crime, Kate Bishop ... they all bowled me over when they rolled onto shelves last summer. Weird to use a bowling metaphor for a comic about archers, but I have no other way to explain how this book stunned me stupid when it arrived in my life. It hit me in the head like a bowling ball. A fun, cocky, mayhem-filled bowling ball -- all right, I need to stop this.
The point is, I have never cared about Clint Barton. Even when he was blasted deaf due to an explosion (of course, he was cured), I didn't care about him. But writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja have brought a clarity and amusement to Hawkeye's adventures, highlighted by Clint's translations of foreign languages into Pigdin French, and Aja's breaking down a bow movement or falling out of a skyscraper across several panels. It's impossible not to love the lug! Not when his book is this stylish, bouncy, and action-driven.
But the real heart of this enterprise comes in the form of Young Avenger Kate Bishop. Another Hawkeye, she outperforms "Hawkguy" at almost every turn, even as she forges a strong emotional bond with her mentor and predecessor. Kate is truly one of the great female comic characters out there, and even though her hero's journey starts in a sadly typical place for women in comics, she has since outshone that origin and become the second lead on a book that has done nothing but surprise me since it debuted back in August. Check it out for a fun ride.
DAREDEVIL, Or, My Favorite Story About Disability & Its Ties to Personal Power!
I already wrote about how amazing I think Daredevil is, and it's no secret that I absolutely adore Mark Waid's sharp, insightful writing. However, it doesn't yet go without saying that you should be reading Old Horn Head's stories at the moment. In fact, this week's issue, number 23, is a great jumping-on point! And if you know what's good for you, you'll backtrack and read the entire series to date.
Because this book will impress you with its thoughtful depiction of disability (or lack thereof), as much as it induces smiles with that catchy swashbuckler aesthetic. Each rotating artist has been given a lot to tackle by Waid, who challenges them to depict blindness in a visual way. Of course, Matt Murdock is only partly blind, and crackerjack pencillers, inkers, and colorists have taken every opportunity to put you behind the eyes of a man who "sees" with sonar.
I appreciate this derring-do because I often feel lonely reading superhero comics. There's rarely anyone disabled populating them, somebody who reflects my world view (even as I have adopted secret identities and kryptonite as translations of my identity). Often the disabled aren't allowed to share their perception with the larger readership. Waid turns that on its head for Daredevil; he treats Matt as a man whose abilities are directly informed by his disability, and we're in on the secret with him. We know why he cares about what he smells and what he hears. We know what's important without sight, the same way he does. And like us being in on the joke with Clark Kent, knowing he's Superman, we know blindness is not a weakness for The Man Without Fear.
CAPTAIN MARVEL, As The One Book I Know Led By A Female Fighter Pilot!
Okay, usually I'm not nuts about copious time travel and callbacks to comics history I know nothing of, but man, is Captain Marvel a wild ride! Not only does Kelly Sue DeConnick have a wicked sense of humor, Captain Marvel has been helmed by a team of artists who want to leave their mark on Marvel with weird viewpoints and dark stylizations.
Captain Marvel has blipped on and off my radar the past couple of months, after debuting last July. Frankly, the opening saga went on for two issues too long, with its time-traveling beguilingness quickly shriveling all my goodwill. However, since hitting a couple of stand-alone stories, DeConnick has developed the supporting cast, including a former Ms. Marvel, and let her heroine smash robots and other things with her fists, giving the whole book an afternoon serial, popcorn-y sheen. A sheen with one unique selling point -- the popcorn fun revolves around a woman for once, not a man! It's sad that this should seem novel, but given the fact that Wonder Woman is suffering to carry her own book right now, it's refreshing to see Captain Marvel ditching the "Ms." in her original moniker, and lifting pretty much whatever she wants over her shoulders, and tossing it in jail for all to see.
YOUNG AVENGERS, From Top-Notch Creators To The Top Of My Pull List!
This book JUST debuted last month, but I'd been waiting for its arrival with bated breath for what seems like years. Kieron Gillen and Jame McKelvie are an amazing team; they brought us the simply wonderful music-as-magic book, Phonogram. And their collaboration only improves with Young Avengers, which features so many mind-blowing layouts, I demand you buy it to personally feel the sensation of your eyes popping out of their sockets
I've never read Young Avengers before. But that's just fine, because Gillen deftly tells you everything you need to know about the characters in the span of a couple of pages. And the opening three pages provides all you really need to know about why this book will be amazing: there's a Ronettes song, Kate Bishop flying a spaceship, and Marvel Boy (or whatever his name is now) explaining away years of confusing continuity by dancing in his underwear and shooting at alien invaders. Simply put, this book is batty, but the teenagers feel fresh and real, and I look forward to seeing where the super-team of Gillen and McKelvie takes these marvelous, relatable teens.
One weird final note -- I also appreciate how Gillen rehabilitates Kate Bishop's reputation by opening the issue with her waking up in a strange man's bedroom. No judgment is made about Kate's appearance or decisions, as would happen in many mainstream books; there's also no cheesecake shots. Her opinion about how she feels is given precedence over what one presumes is a widely male readership's opinion on the subject. It's a refreshing take, and further cements my love for the character, and for Gillen's overall incisive depiction of the female thought process.
So, To Sum Up ...
What have we learned about my recommendations from Marvel Comics? Well ...
Kate Bishop is amazing, and I want to be her best friend. Daredevil routinely makes me cry with its dedication to exploring differences in perception. And Captain Marvel and the Young Avengers are well worth the time and expense, since they are tons and tons of fun.
Stay tuned over the next couple days for posts on DC's readable books, and independent books everyone should be picking up. It's been fun compiling this list, and I only hope to get people turned on to some good reading!
Playwright News & Musings on Comic Book Culture
Check this page for updates on Sarah's writing and thoughts on a great many topics, including but not limited to superheroes and disability.