Can You Measure…Heartbreak?

It’s worrisome to think that several generations of girls and yes, even boys, grew up learning that male and female relationships and gender roles were even remotely like how they appeared in the comic books. The famous Lois Lane/Clark Kent/Superman dynamic were a poor enough example for any young person to emulate. But the average romance comic book typically portrayed women as overwrought, distraught, needy, obsessive, unhinged creatures who were only happy if they cooked dinner and became pregnant.

As for the men, well, perhaps they didn’t get it so bad. One could grow up with worse attitudes towards the opposite gender as believing one should protect and provide for the women. At best though, in most of these stories the men were portrayed as little more than incredibly condescending father-replacements complete with smoldering pipe.

A Promise Of Heartbreak! from Falling In Love #48 (February 1962) is as unsettling in the depiction of the nervous breakdown of a jilted woman as it is unintentionally hilarious. This tale has everything! Obsessiveness, feelings of worthlessness, panicked, manic behavior, stalking of the former boyfriend and even a panel of woman getting slapped around to knock her back to her senses after an hysterical episode. This is an even worse portrayal of a woman on the edge than the one from Young Love #80, and I didn’t think those panels would be beat.

So, here you go. Eight pages of early 1960s pre-feminist drama written by and edited by old men craziness guaranteed to make the gangs at Girl-Wonder and WFA grind their teeth! Enjoy!

Yikes! Dude, RUN!

Of course, if I had written this story the ending would have turned out a bit different.

Superman’s Peeping Dog

I’ve been pretty pleased about the current team of Robinson, Guedes, Magalhaes and the others on the current Superman title. They are doing a bang-up job with the Atlas story line. It’s interesting and has me excited about seeing the following issue. In Superman #679 (Oct 2008) the creative team gave Superman a foe who could conceivably beat him to death without there being much of a stretch (though if it’s an iteration of a Doomsday clone I’ll be annoyed). They also did a good job of removing another, stronger player in the form of Supergirl from the immediate fight. Atlas would be no match for the cousins if they teamed up against him. Supergirl is still probably stronger than her cousin and should be able to take out Atlas, so removing her from the scene by having her fight on another front allows the drama required for Superman to rise to the occasion and defeat Atlas, the stronger and more vicious opponent.

One of the subplots that has me excited about the next issue is the involvement of Krypto. I love Krypto.

For those who were not paying attention, last month in Superman #678 (Sept 2008) Lois Lane and Clark (Superman) Kent are at home discussing among other domestic issues, the family pet. In what appears to be a simple flashback scene Lois is letting her feelings for the dog be known. She doesn’t care for the super-dog, considering him dangerous and uncontrollable. During their conversation Clark is fully aware that Krypto is keeping an eye and ear on the humans he considers part of his pack, the Kent family. This is where Robinson shows some cleverness without being expository and respects the reader enough to catch on.

What looks like an artistic device of a flashback is really a dog’s eye view of the Kent apartment from who knows how distant. Krypto is watching and is probably getting concerned about Lois’ attitude. Since the dog uses steel girders for chew toys it is probably not a good idea to appear to be a threat. Robinson shows the reader that by Clark’s emphasis on certain words he is not really speaking to Lois, but actually to the eavesdropping dog. Lois is obviously not catching on to her husband’s odd turns of phrases. By reinforcing that Krypto is a good dog and that the dog should also love Lois, Clark is making sure that his pet doesn’t do anything to harm his fragile, human wife while he is occupied elsewhere and is also ensuring that the dog would come to Lois’ aid if she required it by protecting a member of his pack. Clark knows Lois would freak out if he had to tell her this because Krypto is dangerous, so he doesn’t bother explaining it in depth to her or us, the readers.

This reinforcement of training for Krypto comes in handy later after Atlas knocks Superman out during a battle in the center of the city.

That’s right! That “Grrr” can mean only one thing!

Wolverine!


No, not really. You wish, fanboy.

What it really heralds is the promise of a great next issue featuring KRYPTO! Yay! DC better not kill him.

I can’t wait.

Sexy, Sexy Fight Club

The Black Cat is a Golden Age comic book heroine that was targeted, perhaps unfairly, by watchdog groups for excessive violence and as being unsuitable for children. While I agree the latter issues of Black Cat were a product of an out of control industry desperate for market share and were not suitable for young readers, the earlier pre-Comics Code issues of Black Cat were pretty mild, standard superhero detective fare. Not that it was easy to keep up as the book went through several format changes in order to attract readers. Compared to the infamous Radium Cigarette issue there really wasn’t much in the earlier issues worth gathering the pitchforks and torches over.

What made some people concerned were not frank depictions of adult relationships and extreme violence but the occasional back-up feature depicting the Black Cat showing readers how to practice martial arts moves. All the martial arts features were purely defensive in nature but groups complained that children could use the information in the title inappropriately and possibly hurt themselves, others or if the illustrations are any judge, the occasional wandering Italian. Most of the time the wink-and-nudge was ignored or missed in the Golden Age. This shows parent groups and other advocates did not read, or if they did read the content, did not understand the medium and they focused only on the obvious.

Black Cat #11 (May 1948) is noteworthy for another reason other than the self-defense courses for women and it has all to do with the often over-looked subtext.

Sexy fetishes aside the two-page back up tale A Day With the Black Cat is an early depiction featuring a clear and disturbing schism between the civilian and superhero identities. I would be hard-pressed to find an earlier example so dramatic. This is a theme that would later become the foundation for superheroes for several decades as characterization and continuity would be introduced by creative teams expanding the genre. The Hulk, Doctor Fate and Batman are just a few examples of characters that expressed extreme differences in their personalities, in some cases completely different psyches that displayed they were not fully in control.

In the two-page story Linda Turner is a famous, wealthy and gorgeous (though probably repressed) actress. After a hard day at work she falls asleep in her dressing room only to be awakened by her other self, the sexy, sexy Black Cat. As the Black Cat explains, now that Linda is asleep she can behave in ways that Linda never would or could. In the dream, Linda wakes up as her other personality begins to rifle through a closet for sexy, sexy clothes to wear on a date with her long-time and probably equally repressed boyfriend. One could easily claim that every single item in the dream setting is full of meaning, from the closet to the items within it to the room itself. It is clear that Linda is at war with herself.

A fight ensues with both sides of Linda’s personality struggling for supremacy in her dressing room, a place which obviously represents Linda’s mind. Inevitably the sexy, sexy exhibitionist in fetish gear wins the fight and Linda Turner is bound, gagged and left on the floor. The triumphant Black Cat departs via the door, obviously in this scene taking control of the body and leaving the Linda personality, which was first seen in this feature wearing head-to-toe Elizabethan clothing, to be suppressed and forgotten in favor of a woman wears fishnet and leather.

When the Black Cat awakes she dons the same sexy, sexy dress she previously picked out in the mental “closet” and proceeds to replace Linda in her life. I think the boyfriend is in for a surprise or two.

Wow. To think Congress got all upset about the Judo.

Sleestak reviews: Who Can Save Us Now?

Like many comic book bloggers I receive about once a week or so an offer to review a book, comic or DVD in return for a free copy of the product. I usually decline the offer since until recently, I just did not have time to read or devote the energy to doing a review. One offer a few months back made my ethics-sense tingle. In return for a link and write-up (presumably favorable) the blogger would receive a free copy of the item from the promotional company. Even though I was gagging for what they offered, I politely declined since it seemed sleazy. I wouldn’t promote something I haven’t seen beforehand (unless I was getting paid for it). Even though I later purchased my own copy and can heartily recommend it now, I replied then that I couldn’t in good conscience do as they asked. I didn’t receive a response thanking me, which would have been professional, but I knew it was too much to expect from marketing shills. Other sites, I noticed, in their eagerness to receive some free goodies before it hit the stores did not hesitate in promoting their goods. To each their own.

I mention this because from reading a number of reviews of the new superhero anthology book Who Can Save Us Now? attention seems to be focused only on the first story in the book, Girl Reporter by Stephanie Harrell. From the various sources I’m reading I speculate that a few of the many amateur reviewers (And I consider myself a complete amateur) are taking advantage of the offer of a free book by giving a perfunctory read of the first story and pounding out a paragraph of why they liked or disliked the collection as a whole. I understand the business model behind it, and the promise of a little free booty gets a lot of people all drool-y but it would be nice if the company chose their recipients a little more carefully. If a little publicity is all that the publisher expects or wants for handing out a promotional copy then, fine. Most of us are not journalists or professionals and our readership is low enough that I seriously wonder about the cost-effectiveness of handing out umpteen copies of a book or DVD.

The most obvious comparison to Who Can Save Us Now? is to an older anthology collection, Superheroes. Some comic books fans are familiar with the 1991 re-issue of this 80s collection. I first read this collection of short stories deconstructing the world of superheroes in the early 1980s. It had a great amalgam superhero cover and contained short stories printed in various magazines from as far back as the 1960s. In Superheroes there is a story similar in theme to Girl Reporter, as both stories feature a Lois Lane and Superman archetype. The former story is about an obsessed woman who tracks down the hero in his secret identity to fulfill her fantasies only to discover he really is a “strange visitor”, who only looks human and has nothing in common with humanity. Girl Reporter diverges from this idea in which the character doesn’t discover a monster but instead creates one. One of the amusing ideas about this story is that I think Stephanie Harrell completely and accurately nails Lois Lane’s character as a selfish, sex-addicted manipulator.

Who Can Save Us Now? is not Mayhem In Manhattan. Much of the anthology will appeal not to comic book fans looking for text adventures of their favorite heroes but rather those readers that enjoy the work of Chabon, Lapham and Grossman. These authors have found a niche in the neo-geek market and this book ably fills it. Several of the stories are not so much about heroics as they are about hope and even delusion. They carry the theme that there is a little hero in everyone. The emo Oversoul and Nate Pickney-Anderson, Super-Hero are two examples.

The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children is like Peyton Place on a dose of Marvel 616. One of the things that is difficult to do in these stories is get away from the mythology of Marvel or DC. Both of those companies have been around forever and there are very few original ideas left for creators to mine. Still, there are plenty of evil geniuses and superheroes to read about and several of the stories are fun, creepy and even scary.

One common theme in any modern story about superheroes is the new habit of creators making the characters act just like real people. Not in the sense of hopes and dreams and drama but in the style of such fare as The Boys by Garth Ennis. Kevin Smith penned a funny bit in Mallrats where a character was obsessed about the details of superhero anatomy and the physics of sex and the toilet, but that’s all it was, a comedy bit. Sooner or later all the fanboys wonder about it and even, in some cases, probably fantasize about it. I know there are entire websites devoted to the idea and featuring superheroes like the Fantastic Four having sex. Again, to each their own. I’m just not interested in Kitty porn.

Many modern writers have run with the idea and made it seem to be a central theme of their work. Okay, yes, we get it. Superman gets erections and Wonder Woman has a menstrual cycle. Unless it is an Harlan Ellison story or Wild Cards character please let the tawdry biological descriptions rest. It makes the eyes roll when every single story you read has a passage devoted to Ultra-Defecation, Hyper-Sex or the Super-Penis. Once upon a time it was edgy, new and humanized a character but now it seems trite, like the amateur fiction of a stereotypical fanboy.

Still, other than the occasional melancholy ending there is much to like in this collection. My Interview With the Avenger and the League of Justice (Philadelphia Division) tweaks some of the conceits of the Batman and the unfairly dismissed Detroit Justice League of America era.

If you enjoyed Fortress of Solitude and Soon I Will be Invincible then don’t hesitate to get this book. If you don’t care for those entries then it is still worthwhile as several of the stories are a modern take of the Silver and Modern Age of comic books. Basically, if I didn’t receive this book free I’d still buy it. I enjoyed most of the stories as they added a bit not only to the continuing legitimacy of the superhero as an art form but also to the canonical, what one writer, Devon Sanders at Second Printing!!, is calling the “New Mythology“.

You can order the book here.