Archive for May, 2010

Night Nurse and the Struggle to Address Non-Mainstream Culture

Texas Tech associate librarian Rob Weiner is making with the comics scholarship again, this time with a paper in the International Journal of Comic Art about the very short-lived Marvel series “Night Nurse.” Marvel apparently figured it had a typical “girls-only” comic, but writer Jean Thomas (wife of Roy Thomas, longtime comics writer and editor) had other ideas…

In the first issue, Carter actually breaks up with her boyfriend in order to pursue her nursing career. In later issues, she fends off the chief of police and faces down a killer.

“From its cover, Night Nurse looks like it would be a typical nursing comic, but it’s not,” Weiner said. “The stereotype of the submissive nurse isn’t there.”

By the fourth issue, the series had begun fleshing out side characters and tackling deeper plots, Weiner said.

So he finds it telling that the series, written by a woman and starring a strong female character, was cancelled so quickly.

“I think Night Nurse ultimately wasn’t successful because no one knew what to do with it,” Weiner says. “It was really pretty progressive for the time, even though the Women’s Movement was in full swing.”

Of course, the biggest problem comics (and frankly, every other form of mass media out there) have had with covering non-mainstream groups has been that the writers, artists, and publishers have often had no connection at all to the groups they were writing about.

Sure, sometimes, you ended up with a woman writing a comic about a woman, or an African-American writing about other African-Americans — and sometimes you get white writers who just do an astoundingly good job of writing non-white characters.

But for a lot of comics like “Night Nurse,” there was a mandate from the higher-ups for “Let’s have comics about women!” And then, when the comics about women didn’t sell as well as established characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, the higher-ups decided “Let’s have no more comics about women!” And that was that.

Again, this is the sort of thing that almost all mass media has problems with — there are plenty of TV shows out there where all the lead characters are as pale as they can be, and there are apparently a lot of Hollywood execs who’ve decided they never want to make an action movie with a female lead (which is gonna make filming a Wonder Woman movie a bit difficult). Still, it often seems like when comics misstep on issues of race, gender, and class, they misstep as embarrassingly as they can.

Night Nurse still exists as a Marvel character — she’s now an occasional associate of Dr. Strange and often shows up as a guest star whenever a superhero needs medical treatment. But there’s something very cool about a ’70s comic focused on drama and adventure that featured non-superpowered women as the main characters.

So I’m glad that Jean Thomas was given the chance to produce those four little issues of “Night Nurse,” and I’m glad Rob was able to use his paper to throw a little light on the series. Kudos for him, and as always, I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll have for us next…

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A Dose of Awesome: Spock and his Car!

This is awesome.

No, seriously. This is awesome.

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Power and Wonder

Power Girl #12

Power Girl is visiting Terra’s underground home in Strata. They visit the local spa, which has the side effect of completely dropping all emotional barriers — something Kara isn’t sure she’s all that wild about, since she’s used to keeping her emotions more under control. After meeting Terra’s family and eating dinner with them, she heads back home. Back on the surface, Satanna does the nasty with Dr. Sivanna (Um, yuck?) in an attempt to get him to help her kill Power Girl, but Sivanna don’t care — he got his jollies, and he has her thrown out. Power Girl gets back to her apartment, gives her horrible, horrible cat a proper name, settles her debt with Fisher, beats up an offended alien, throws ’70s-style sleazeball Vartox off the planet, and gets some good news about her company.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Just tons of awesomeness going on here. This is pretty much Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner saying farewell to all these characters, so the good guys get good endings, and the bad guys get bad ones. We get cheesecake, we get action, we get humor — all of this title’s strongest points. We get lots of Amanda Conner’s brilliantly expressive artwork and all those really cool details that you might miss on first glance — the stuff Kara almost eats in Strata, the laser pointer she uses to play with her cat — and all those wonderful facial expressions and body language. Only thing I had my doubts about was the sequence with that Strata spa — looked like they’re trying to set up some future lesbian subplot for the benefit of Judd Winick.

Officially, this title is going to continue, but I’m considering this the last issue. Palmiotti, Gray, and Conner are moving on to other projects, but colossally hacky writer Judd Winick is taking over the comic with the next issue. It’s depressing that DC considers him someone they want futzing around with their intellectual properties. Aside from his deficiencies as a writer, the biggest problem with Winick may be his shallow grasp of drama — the only items in his bag o’ tricks are killing characters, throwing in new subplots about homosexuality, and afflicting them with HIV. Ain’t nothing wrong with those in moderation, but Winick’s got no grasp of moderation — just ham-handed, clumsy overkill on his obsessions.

The “Power Girl” comic is probably going to go through a severe personality change and a steep drop in quality — and I’m not going to be there to watch the disaster. Let’s let this last issue be the character’s coda — at least until Palmiotti, Gray, and Conner make it back.

Wonder Woman #44

Astarte, the sister of Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta, is now the captain of an alien ship that survives by raiding planets, killing their entire populations, and mulching them down into a biological gruel for everyone to eat. And she’s raised Theana, her daughter — Wonder Woman’s cousin — to be a cruel and merciless killing machine. Back on Earth, Achilles, Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, and everyone else try to fight off the invaders, but it may all be for nothing if Wondy can’t figure out a way to beat her cousin and defang her aunt’s treachery.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent action and characterization, lots of subplots getting wrapped up, and lots of old favorite characters making one more appearance. Nicola Scott’s artwork is, as always, fantastic. Writer Gail Simone has occasionally stumbled on this comic, but she knocks this one completely out of the park. And next issue is going to be her last one here, which is a big disappointment. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the upcoming writer’s abilities, but for now, it’s great to see Simone working near the top of her game.

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Titanic Pets

Tiny Titans #28

It’s an all-superpets issue, as Krypto, Streaky, Comet, Beppo, Ace the Bat-Hound, and the Bat-Cow take the spotlight, with introductions for B’dg the Green Lantern squirrel, Proty the protoplasmic shapeshifting blob from the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Titano the giant gorilla. Beppo discovers a delicious way to subdue a giant gorilla, Krypto retrieves a stick, Streaky heat-visions a mouse, and everyone makes plans for a new Super Pets meeting.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very cute stuff, great cartooning, and a lot of unexpectedly clever awesomeness. In other words, it’s a lot like every other issue of “Tiny Titans.”

PS238 #44

While Emerald Gauntlet and 84 have to deal with a fairly puzzling challenge on an alien world (They’ve been assigned to perform some tasks to advance the war efforts of the Argosians and the Emerald Ones, but no one’s actually told them that yet), Moon Shadow and Argonaut have to deal with the treachery of the Argosians — they take away Argonaut’s powers because they think he’s an inferior half-breed and they want him dead. But even when friendly Argosians take them in and protect them, they’ve still got lots of problems ahead. Are any of them ever going to make it back to Earth?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is a really, really talky comic, but it still goes pretty fast. Good action, lots of devious trickery by the Argosians and Emerald Ones, lots of great characterization for the kids. Having said all that, I’m still looking forward to getting everyone back home — I miss finding out what kind of shenanigans are going on back at the school…

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To Be or Not to Be

Kill Shakespeare #2

Hamlet, exiled prince of Denmark, has been declared the Shadow King by Richard III and told that he alone is the key to destroying the wizard Will Shakespeare. They travel with Iago to seek Shakespeare’s hideaway, but run into Shakespeare’s supporters. They are subdued, and when Hamlet is out-of-hearing-range, Richard orders the village where the rebels were hiding burned to the ground. That evening, their camp is attacked by marauders led by an archer named Tamora, but Hamlet is hidden by Falstaff — but is he plotting against Hamlet, too?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Definitely enjoying this League of Extraordinary Shakespearean Characters concept — aside from how much fun it is to try to identify the various characters we run into, the storyline is just crammed to the gills with betrayals, deceit, and intrigue — perfect for a story based on the Bard’s most famous tragedies.

Joe the Barbarian #5

Joe is a kid who may be the prophesied savior of a vast fantasy world — or he might just be diabetic kid who needs a shot of insulin before he dies. After Joe, Jack, Smoot, and Zyxy make their escape in Zyxy’s experimental flyer, they get separated, with Joe and Jack alone facing a new menace. Either someone left the family’s front door open, letting a stray dog into the house — or King Death has released his monstrous Night Dog to hunt down and kill Joe. Is there any way to escape? Or will someone have to make the ultimate sacrifice?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m really impressed by how intense this story is. Yeah, most of this is going on inside Joe’s head, but the nonstop danger in his hallucinations just helps remind you that Joe is actually in serious trouble — he’s home alone, in a very large house, with his medicine far away, and he’s got a medical condition that could kill him. Grant Morrison’s writing is still great, and Sean Murphy’s artwork is still outstanding. You’re reading this, aren’t you? Well, go pick it up!

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Lost Girls

Girl Comics #2

The second issue of this anthology comic focuses on stories with writing and art by female creators. After another great introduction by Colleen Coover, we get a lighthearted story about the Inhumans by Jill Thompson, a story about Dr. Strange by Christine Boylan and Cynthia Martin, a very fun story about Tabitha Smith and Elsa Bloodstone from “Nextwave” by Faith Erin Hicks, and a very, very cool tale by Kathryn Immonen and Colleen Coover about Shamrock, the Invisible Woman, Patsy Walker, and Felicia Hardy inside a hair salon. Plus we also get some biographical pieces about historical Marvel creators like June Tarpe Mills, Ruth Atkinson, Valerie Barclay, and Linda Fite.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Much better stories than in the first issue — loved everything Colleen Coover did for this issue, and the Inhumans and Nextwave stories were pretty good, too. I know this series is ultimately a gimmick, but it’s been a pretty fun gimmick.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #17

A week with Batman includes team-ups with Metamorpho, Merry the Gimmick Girl, Jonah Hex, Hawkman, the Creeper, the Inferior Five, and more. And it is all awesome.

Verdict: Thumbs up. No real overarching plot in this one, just a bunch of fun and unexpected guest stars. My faves were probably Metamorpho (with a very fun element-vs.-element battle with Mister Element), Jonah Hex (it’s amazing how cool the animated-version of Jonah Hex is), and the Inferior Five (I’ve always been a sucker for the Five). Yeah, this is a very light-hearted and kid-friendly comic, but if you’re a grownup who loves the crazy ephemera of DC history, this series was made for you.

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Friday Night Fights: Mud Slinging!

People, it’s the weekend. I know you may be used to the idea of starting your weekend by sitting quietly at home, enjoying a light meal of celery and bean curd, and catching up on your sock darning, but the rest of us can’t stand to see you treat yourself that way any more. That’s right — this is an intervention, and we’re going to set you on the path to healing and happier weekends with a little something we call… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

I might shoulda saved this evening’s battle ’til somewhere in December… but that’s way, way too far away, so we’re just gonna use it tonight. From January 1995’s “Jolly Ol’ St. Nicholas” story in the Batman Adventures Holiday Special (by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm), here’s Batgirl assisting Detectives Renee Montoya and Harvey Bullock as the mushy menace known as Clayface robs a department store:

There’s kicks-to-the-face… and then there’s kicks-through-the-face…

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Blood Types

American Vampire #3

In 1925 Los Angeles, recently-minted vampire Pearl Jones visits her old roommate Hattie, warns her that she’s likely in danger, and tells her to move somewhere safe. The European vampires hiding out in Hollywood send a few vamps out to investigate Pearl’s old apartment, but Pearl ambushes ’em on the way and effortlessly takes ’em all down. But she also falls prey to one of her breed’s few weaknesses — she has to sleep on nights of the new moon, and that gives the Euro-vamps an edge over her. Meanwhile, in our prequel from 1909 Colorado, Skinner Sweet revives from his decades underwater and gets hit with a dose of future-shock — he doesn’t know what a movie is, what a telephone is, he complains constantly that the nearest town elected a Hispanic man as the mayor. And he wipes out most of the town and wires a telegram to the lawmen who captured and killed him, taunting them into returning to face him again.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m really, really enjoying Pearl’s story. She makes a very appealing protagonist, and it’s fun watching her discover what she can do. Skinner Sweet is also a lot of fun, but I got pretty irritated about all the anti-Hispanic slurs he kept dropping. Yeah, yeah, it’s probably historically accurate — or at least as accurate as a story with vampires in the Wild West is ever going to get — but it does run afoul of one of writer Stephen King’s weaknesses — the guy just doesn’t do subtlety. It woulda been easy to communicate racism in the West in a line or two — no need to keep going back to that well over and over and over. This is probably a case where an editor should’ve tweaked things down a bit. Still, on the whole, I enjoyed the story, and I’m still recommending it highly, especially for all the fun in Pearl’s story.

Zatanna #1

Zatanna’s first-ever ongoing series starts off with a visit from a San Francisco police detective after one of Zee’s magic shows. He asks her to help investigate a murder scene — numerous mobsters gruesomely killed by magic. After she hypnotizes the lone witness to the crime, she’s able to see what he saw — a meeting of San Francisco’s organized crime leaders was invaded by a bunch of sorcerous gangsters looking to expand their business into the mundane world. The bad guys all seem to be new characters — the constantly grinning Brother Night, Romalthi, who can make people change shape, Ember, a dragon in human form, and Teddy, a very bad little boy. Zatanna makes her way to Brother Night’s mystical nightclub and confronts the baddies — she handles the henchmen pretty easily and warns Night to stay away from San Francisco. But Night has some more powerful allies he’s willing to bring forth…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Probably a good thing this is being written by Paul Dini, as he seems to be the biggest Zatanna fanboy in the universe — I mean, the guy went and married a magician who’s a dead ringer for Zatanna. We get a decent amount of magical mayhem and some very nasty new magical villains. And the artwork by Stephanie Roux and Karl Story is entirely excellent as well — equal parts cheesecake and horror, which is a pretty good mix for this type of comic. Superhero comics about magic-based characters seem to have an uphill climb (Anyone remember the fast fade “Shadowpact” pulled?), but I hope they can keep this title running for a while…

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Bleakest Day

Brightest Day #2

Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch are trapped sharing the same body as Firestorm. They can’t figure out how to separate, and they’d really, really like to separate, since they both hate each other. Ray Palmer shrinks down to see if he can manually shut off the so-called Firestorm Matrix at a subatomic level. But the matrix doesn’t want to be shut off, and it tricks both of them into arguing with each other, which heats things up for the Atom. Hawkman and Hawkgirl discover that Hath-Set, a continually reincarnating foe from Ancient Egypt who’s been responsible for many of their deaths through the millennia, is targeting them again, and they resolve to go after him this time and kill him first. The Martian Manhunter returns to Earth, investigates Professor Erdel’s grave, discovers that he had a daughter, now in a nursing home, and visits her in the guise of her long-dead father — while talking to her, he learns that he was actually the second Martian Erdel brought to Earth — and the first one was a ravaging monster.

All that, plus a seemingly normal housewife discovers that J’onn J’onzz is alive again, so she kills her family and tears her skin off. Hey, everyone! It’s the Brightest Day!

Verdict: Thumbs down. We’re getting bait-and-switched with this one. DC nod-and-winked at us to imply it was going to be a less murderous series, and it’s defintely not. And I don’t have to keep wasting my three dollars on this crap.

Legion of Super-Heroes #1

I’m a bit amazed I picked this one up. I’m generally familiar with stories about the Legion — the futuristic superhero team from the 30th century — but this one really requires a pretty in-depth knowledge of the “Legion of Three Worlds” and “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” storyarcs from a few years ago. This is a grown-up Legion, largely distrusted by Earth because a villain named Earth-Man had absorbed the Legion’s powers and led his faction of xenophobes to attack all non-Earthlings.

Aaaaanyway, Earth-Man is now in custody, being drained of his powers. Saturn Girl returns to Titan for a visit, along with her children. The rest of the Legion learns that, as a condition of allowing the Legion to remain headquartered on Earth, the planet’s government wants them to accept Earth-Man as a Legionnaire. While Brainiac 5 starts building a special flight ring that’ll allow the Legion some control over the psycho human-supremacist, the Time Institute starts up operations on their new headquarters on Titan. Unfortunately, they choose to use their new time-viewer to check out the moment the universe was created — something that generally leads to disaster for anyone who tries it. Sure enough, the Time Institute explodes and destabilizes the satellites that keep Titan habitable. The Legion tries to save everyone on Titan, Saturn Girl tries to find her kids, and a tiny alien on Oa takes a Green Lantern ring to offer it to one person. Will the Legion save Titan? And who will be the new Green Lantern of Sector 2814?

Verdict: Ehhh, I really don’t know. There’s a lot happening here — always a challenge for any Legion comic, since they’ve got several dozen members — but most of it makes sense. On the other hand, some of the dialogue is spectacularly over-written, and the idea that the Legion would accept a villain like Earth-Man as a member, under any circumstances, goes past my ability to believe. I’ll give it at least another issue, but there better be some serious improvement before I decide to make this one of my regular reads…

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Buy Gold Now!

Booster Gold #32

Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis — the much-beloved team from the “Bwa-Ha-Ha” days of the “Justice League” comics — are back together writing Booster’s adventures now. Since they basically created Booster back in the mid-1980s, this could be really spectacularly cool… or really spectacularly awful.

Booster is stranded on the planet Daxam in the 30th century. His armor and equipment have been badly damaged because he showed up in the middle of the Great Darkness Saga, where three billion brainwashed Daxamites reshaped the planet with heat vision into the image of Darkseid. Booster is trying to assist some stranded alien tourists as they all attempt to survive the Daxamite barrage. Unfortunately, the shelter they locate is actually a deserted prison — or rather, an almost deserted prison. The one inmate who stuck around the diabolical Emerald Empress. Is Booster going to be able to beat one of the most powerful members of the Fatal Five and save all the tourists when he’s stuck without most of his powers?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s funny — and it could’ve gone the old familiar route of making Booster a complete idiot for solely comedic purposes. But they didn’t do that, thank goodness. Booster’s still a competent hero — but he’s funny, has his share of flaws and ego, and doesn’t get much respect from anyone. And it’s got its share of drama and action, too. If Giffen and DeMatteis can keep that mix right, they’re going to have a really great comic book on their hands.

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers Unleashed #3

All the mythological creatures get deposited in Central Park, leaving it up to the Pet Avengers to keep them all from running wild. And even worse, the immense monster that chased them all here is preparing to break through into our world, too. Can even the combined power of the Pet Avengers and all the mythological creatures stand a chance of defeating the monster? And even if they can, is something even worse on the way?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice all-ages story, with lots of chaos, action, and humor.

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