Bad Fan

ww apes 80.jpgI’ve never been a good fan. I am grumpy, contrary and deeply perverse. So Gail Simone kind of sneaked up on me and, before I knew it, became my new trusted brand. I don’t think I really noticed till I was excited because she was writing Wonder Woman

I resisted reading Simone for so long because she was pushed at me in the same way Wonder Woman was, a woman in man’s world, a symbol—an icon all women and feminists should read or proof that the industry isn’t sexist, which is funny given her old website. That’s not her, though. (Sorry, Gail). In the end I picked up Wonder Woman because I liked her other work.

A friend loaned me issues of the female superhero team book Birds of Prey (DC, 2003-2007) and Birds of Prey: Between Dark and Dawn (2006) and I enjoyed it. I liked her use of marginal DC characters. But I really started to like Simone with Welcome to Tranquility (Wildstorm, 2007-8), Simone’s book (with art by Neil Googe) about a murder and its aftermath in a superhero retirement community. The book’s part of the charming superhero deconstruction or reconstruction with Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics line, titles like Kurt Busiek’s Astro City (Wildstorm), Grant Morrison’s shortlived “hairy-chested love-god Batman” and cartoons like, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. (In fact, Simone wrote what might be my favorite Justice League Unlimited episode, “Double Date,” featuring Black Canary, Green Arrow, Huntress and The Question on a nebulous date-adventure).

ww apes 250.jpgSpeaking of supernooky, I realize that I never really thought about the attraction between Huntress and Catman in Birds of Prey (#106-7) and The Secret Six (DC, 2008- ). You know, a hunter and a leonine guy. That pairing might be charming in Silver Age comics, but it’s often mechanical and bloodless now. Inside the story, though, I don’t even really notice how cute a coincidence their identities and their relationship is. Simone is smooth.

I should’ve realized I was a fan when I checked Killer Princesses (Oni, 2004) out of the library. It’s Simone and artist Lea Hernandez’ story about a super-assassins sorority. The assassins, Faith Hope and Charity, are insufferable people, but I didn’t slip the book right back into the book return. Controlling a reader’s loss of sympathy and protagonists’ increasing unreliability is no easy trick especially when, in so many comics, the protagonist is always a hero, even unsympathetic protagonists who do rotten things like the Killer Princesses.

Though I’ve tried, I’ve had a hard time liking the Amazon Princess. Wonder Woman herself is a topic for another time, but I think one of the problems with female comics characters has been that they are written as an idea of what a woman is or should be. For me at least, it’s worst with Princess Diana herself, probably because for Fredric Wertham’s evil twin, William Moulton Marston, “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world” (Daniels, Les. Wonder Woman: The Complete History. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2000: 22). She would be “dominant” while “loving, tender, maternal and feminine in every other way” (23).

Sniggering B/D jokes aside, who can write the perfect person? Who wants to read that? Luckily for me, Simone says: “I’m not interested in perfection, and I don’t think the readers are, either.”

Simone’s Diana is noble, virtuous, righteous even, but she’s not perfect. The easiest way to write an exemplary person is to write them from the outside, showing their impact on the world and other characters’ responses to them. Simone chose a harder route. She writes Diana from the inside and I like the funny, honest voice Simone’s given her. Diana of Themiscyra is still alien but her virtues are ones I understand rather than being generally well, “dominant,” perfect and untouchable. Diana’s strength comes from knowing who she is, as she tells a squad of superintellligent gorilla super-soldiers. (#14). And Simone, being a writer and therefore mean, targets this strength, her sense of self, making Diana decide if she will help a genocidal space warrior society, contaminating Diana’s self through her own lasso after a soulless man touches it and confronting Wonder Woman with horryifying Hollywood versions of her past selves—playing with the tension between Diana the person and Wonder Woman the symbol.

And, yes, I love superintelligent gorilla supersoldiers. I love space warrior societies. I really love 1970s style sword and sorcery barbarian Diana teaming up with Beowulf. With straps for her armor. And I love that in the space warrior and barbarian stories I don’t have to gloss over narrative about how females are for breeding or sap a warrior’s strength to get to the good parts. Though I admit, I have found barbaric brooding hilarious.

I enjoy Simone’s minor characters and humor and the effortlessness of her writing. If there’s anything we agree about at the Gutter, it’s that good writing should be smooth and appear effortless. And, in the end, Simone might not be perfect, but I trust her enough to read about characters I thought I didn’t like.


“Carol Borden is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”–William Moulton Marston

7 replies »

  1. Speaking of female superheros (I’m actually changing the subject a little bit)…
    I’ve been wondering if I have the right to be amused after I accidentally discovered this week that my dad and She Hulk attended the same law school. (Although probably not in the same class — but ya never know, seeing as how superheros never seem to age).
    — Chuck (commenting anonymously apparently — Movable Type won’t let me log in via my LiveJournal Account)


  2. What I found really interesting on Simone’s old website is the pains she kept taking to basically say “I’m not accusing anyone of sexism, BUT…” I suppose with comics you have to be very careful with that audience.


  3. i’ve thought about it for a while, chuck. you have the right to be amused. does your dad practice super-law?


  4. I think that for similar reasons I’ll never be a “good fan” as well. I’ve found a few voices that seem to be ones I follow, though. Right now one of my favorites is a web-comic by two women out of Detroit called “Sidekick Girl” that’s kinda fun.


  5. Thinking about what Dr.O said, I’m starting to wonder if there shouldn’t be a new term developed to distinguish individual sexism (i.e. the stereotypical clueless guy) from systematic sexism (i.e. the kind that comes out in hiring practices or in choosing to put female characters in jeopardy.) Too many people nowadays hear “sexist” or “racist” as purely pejorative terms – you might as well call someone a nazi or a fascist considering the knee-jerk defensiveness those terms evoke.
    But there is a kind of culturally-generated sexism that is invisible to most people (men and women both) such that discussions always seem to turn toward individual sexism – or even outright chauvinism. Maybe if we had another term for it, people wouldn’t unthinkingly (or even deliberately) conflate this social or cultural trend with the more common idea of what is sexist.
    Or maybe the problem is just that north american culture is so individualistic, there’s no room for consideration of social or systematic problems – everything has be be reduced to individuals, and blame or punishment assigned accordingly.


  6. Mr. Dave might have a point, I certainly find it interesting how uptight people get whenever systems or bureaucracies are “bent” to favor a certain group, all the while ignoring the fact that the system was created inherently unequal to start off… I think that also part of it might be due to the fact that unfortunately there’s a fair number of comic (and SciFi) nerds who are really and genuinely angry at women. They’re social misfits who’ve never dated, and really harbor deep resentment towards women, as if they seem to blame that on women (especially pretty women) instead of looking in the mirror. Perhaps a good many of them would say “that’s not sexist!” because they know someone who really does hate women, and that’s what they think all sexism is. Anything less doesn’t fit the bill, so to speak.


  7. I completely neglected to respond to this…
    >i’ve thought about it for a while, chuck. you
    >have the right to be amused. does your dad
    >practice super-law?

    Well … he did know Judge Wapner WAAAAAAY back. (Practicin’ in LA the way he did.) Does that count?
    Then there was the stage he got off the fast track, lived in a trailer home, and had his office in a converted old adobe jailhouse. (What kind of message does THAT send to your clients? That they’d be sent back in time to serve a sentence in a pre-statehood frontier jail? Thought that place was haunted)
    I suspect it was all a cover for something secret. But I have no proof.


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