My Captain Marvel

This weekend Marvel’s Captain Marvel film opened. That’s this Captain Marvel.

Not this Captain Marvel appearing in Shazam! (long story, copyright but if you want to dive into the rabbit hole start here) which is the original Captain Marvel.

There’s no sign of new Marvelman/Miracleman comics let alone a film, but I’m sure his day will come.

It thankfully isn’t this Captain Marvel.

The Captain Marvel film isn’t even the first Captain Marvel that Marvel Comics produced.

This Captain Marvel had his own series which struggled hard for 16 issues before enjoying a revamp but even though he had a better costume the series struggled.

It wasn’t til Jim Starlin took over with #25 bringing in a more cosmic flavour, while bringing in characters like Drax and Thanos to tell a story which today would have been a major crossover, with its own series and everything but the 1970’s were cheaper times so readers could pick up issues cheaply as they came out. Well, readers in America that is. Over here many of the issues either weren’t distributed or had suck a low distribution they may as well not come over from the States. So to read this story which dived from one title to another (Captain Marvel to Avengers to Warlock to Marvel Two in One) involved some serious work.

This was my Captain Marvel that I grew up on. There were other Captain Marvel’s (at least two) after this one, not including the one currently packing cinemas but that run by Jim Starlin that ended with Captain Marvel dying not because of Thanos, but because of cancer, is among the best run of SF/superhero comics you’ll ever find.

There’s now pretty cheap trades collecting all these stories so when you’ve enjoyed the Carol Danvers version, go back to the comics for the best run of Captain Marvel done so far. You won’t regret it.

Harlan Ellison and Me.

I met Harlan Ellison once at a SF convention in the 1980’s (a story for another time) and he was an extraordinary character who would engage you in conversation if he thought what you had to say was worth listening to. I’m glad to say he did so with me and we had a chat which ended up with him swapping a signed copy of The Glass Teat (one of my favourite books) for my Marvelman badge, which I hope he still has. Sadly I no longer have a signed copy of the book as that was lost in time but I did manage to get myself a rare British copy in Ebay around a decade ago.

Ellison was still a fearsome person but he did sometimes talk bollocks, but it was always entertaining bollocks, or much of the time he says vastly important things about creators and writing that needs to be said and listened to. Sometimes this even reaches the mainstream media as opposed to just the SF ghetto. 

Ellison’s message of paying writers for their work and respecting them is important as ever in a age when journalists are being asked to work for free to provide ‘content’ , and writers are generally not as regarded as well as they should be.

Sadly, Harlan Ellison had a stroke at the weekend and although friends are reporting him to be recovering, the stroke has left him paralysed down one side. I only wish him well and I treasure his writing for what’s it’s given me over the years as The Glass Teat is one of the main reasons I write my half-arsed reviews and stuff on this blog and Ellsion has given me masses of entertainment as well as educating me over the years. I look forward to him giving me loads more and wish him well.

What I thought of Miracleman #6

Thoughts about #1#2, #3 #4 and #5.

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I do have to say the covers for Marvel Comics reprint of Marvelman/Miracleman have been poor to middling, especially the limited edition covers but this is the first one I’ve though was actually really nice and that Alan Davis put some effort into.

As for the interiors, this issue takes us to nearly the end for the Warrior material as Marvelman and Mr. Cream look to head to find Liz Moran who has been abducted by Emil Gargunza. This also features another one of those lovely Alan Davis panels that made the series a joy back in 1983.

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Much of this episode is setting things up, but it’s also when Moore & Davis started experimenting with layout which gave us this lovely half page.

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Much of the rest of this issue is reprinting The Red King Syndrome drawn by the great John Ridgeway. Not only is it a pretty crucial story in terms of the larger saga but it’s a fine example of just how much talent Warrior had in those days in the early 1980’s. It’s also a story I was dreading to see in colour again as the Eclipse Comics version mucked it up so just what would Marvel and Steve Oliff do to it?

I needed not worry one jot, It’s beautifully coloured.

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It’s a fantastic part of the story but it’s the final reprint of this issue that is probably the highlight. I Heard Woodrow Wilson’s Guns is essentially the ‘origin’ of Dr. Gargunza and it’s a messy walk through history for Gargunza as he reveals to Liz Moran who, and what, he is.

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The episode ends on a lovely little Quatermass inspired ending that in colour, is fantastic.Go buy it to see how fantastic.

 

Next issue sees the last of the Warrior reprints, and the first Eclipse reprints. I admit to being a bit nervous in seeing how they’ll be handled (will Marvel recolour them?) but not only that, any new reader reading this story for the first time will get a bloody great shock when they go from Alan Davis to Chuck Beckum but we’ll see what the reaction is when #7 comes out….

What I thought of Miracleman #5

Thoughts about #1#2, #3 and #4.

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Marvel’s Marvelman/Miracleman reprints start in this issue with the first episodes of The Red King Syndrome. It is beautifully coloured by Steve Oliff which enhances the original art of Alan Davis which was pretty bloody impressive in the first place and it doesn’t detract from Moore setting up his characters for the next part of the story.

In the first book, Moore has introduced his characters. He’s made clear who is who to an extent as obviously to anyone familiar with these stories due to Warrior will know there’s more revelations to come but for new readers this is very much all about coming to terms with what’s happened and waiting for what’s coming next.

This is also the issue which features one of my favourite episodes of Marvelman, One of Those Quiet Moments.

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It’s a lovely little moment before all the big stuff kicks off but it’s designed to show that actually Miracleman is going to help humanity in the event of a nuclear war, or at least this is what he promises to the young boy he’s talking to.

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After this things fall apart with Mike Moran/Miracleman’s wife, Liz going missing which prompts Miracleman to enlist the aid of Mr. Cream to find out just who exactly has abducted Liz.

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To find out who it can be either use your memory or buy this issue in print or digital.

The rest of #5 is made up of a nice little Young Marvelman story with lovely John Ridgeway art. It’s a nice little story but doesn’t add anything to the main story apart from allowing Moore and Ridgeway to indulge in some whimsy and this is a good thing as there’s not enough of this in superhero comics today.

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The issue is rounded off with some original Alan Davis art, and a Marvelman and Kid Marvelman reprint from the 1950’s which is I suppose a way to set up readers for the next issue and I’m staying cryptic as to what I mean for new readers, but any old Warrior readers will know exactly what I mean.

As Marvel’s reprints draw closer to the Eclipse material it’s getting interesting to work out what they’re going to do with it. Are they going to recolour it (this would be a tragedy for John Totleban’s work) or leave the original colouring and of course, are they going to censor what those of us who have read the story know is coming up?

Next issue is I reckon, the last to contain only Alan Moore material from Warrior, which makes the Eclipse material due in #7. That’s going to be an interesting issue…..

What I thought of Miracleman #4

Thoughts about #1#2 and #3.

Issue 4 of Marvel’s rather splendid Marvelman/Miracleman reprints hits the end of Book One, A Dream of Flying, and it’s a defining point as this for me is when Alan Moore hits his stride as a writer on the strip. It’s also an ending which turns everything on it’s head.

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At the end of last issue Mike Moran had been kidnapped by pointlessly sapphire toothed secret agent Mr. Cream, and as this issue opens we see Miracleman being attacked by British soldiers to keep him away from the bunker which houses Project Zarathusta. He’s also bizarrely attacked by ninjas, as if the British army trained ninjas. They’d obviously have to be Geordie Ninjas, and there’s a comic strip all by itself…

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The build up to Miracleman arriving at the bunker is still a wonderful bit of storytelling as the army throws everything at Miracleman in the futile hope of keeping him away, or even killing him. We also see how utterly callous Miracleman is in his dispatching of these soldiers, which was something we’d not been used to seeing from our superheroes in 1982, though sadly today it’s a lazy device used by hacks to show how edgy they are.

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The art of Alan Davis utterly shines in these stories as he develops away from the style that Garry Leach introduced on the strip to this vaguely cartoony style, which suits the vaguely unreal (in a superhero context) story we’re reading. The panel where Miracleman meets Big Ben for the first time shows the sort of absurdity I mean as you’ve got the poetic, slim Miracleman facing off against the cliched superheroic look of Big Ben.

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The start of the next chapter of reprints from Warrior, also features the first example of censorship, at least in the Comixology version (the supposed ‘parental guidance’ edition)  which is clear from the panel below.

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Now I understand why they’d want to edit the word ‘nigger’ out of the strip if it was gratuitous, but in context, it’s part of the narrative and it is supposed to be an utterly shocking moment, but Marvel editing the word out took me out of the story. It’s a pity as Marvel have handled these reprints brilliantly, assuming of course, Marvel did this and it wasn’t Comixology so if anyone has a print copy and would like to confirm it’s the same there I’d be grateful.

Anyhow, after this there’s a fight scene between Miracleman and Big Ben which is suitably short, not to mention still quite funny as Moore parodies the superhero fight. In fact it’s interesting to see how much like superhero comics today this fight scene is. The scene though is a break before the final chapter of this first book which reveals Miracleman’s origins (or at least a part of them as more is to come in Book Two) and the person behind it all.

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How this plays out in Book Two is brilliantly done, assuming Marvel don’t cock up the reprints as there’s a lot of material in the next volume which is ‘difficult’ to put it mildly for new readers however for now the first volume of reprints ends with a mirroring of how it opened as we see Moore starting to develop as a writer not to mention Steve Oliff’s truly spectacular colouring of the original black & white artwork.

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The issue wraps up with reprinting the Alan Moore/Alan Davis framing pages from Quality’s Marvelman Special #1, the comic which started off part of the whole legal problems around the character and is now reprinted by the very company which kicked off 30 years ago. It’s not essential to the story but it’s a nice few pages for the completists. The trade collection of A Dream of Flying is out soon & I recommend it to anyone, especially fans of the medium and the superhero genre.

Next time in the Marvel reprints, it’s the start of Book Two, The Red King Syndrome.

EDITED TO ADD:

The censorship mentioned in this blog is also in the print edition. Not an impressive move by Marvel, though I understand why but they could have stood by the creative team. I can’t imagine Moore (not that he’d care about Marvelman anymore) being too impressed.

EDITED AGAIN TO ADD:

Comixology didn’t initially include the Warpsmith story reprinted from A1 #1 but updated the issue to include it. Ghostdancing is a nice short featuring a Warpsmith funeral which is exceptional because of the splendid Garry Leach art. It’s worth picking this issue up just for this strip alone.

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It’s not essential to the main story, but it’s a great bit of background to what’s to come in Book Two, and especially Book Three.

 

What I thought about Miracleman #1

In 1982, some 32 years ago I bought a copy of Warrior #1 from a newsagent in Queen Street Station in Glasgow. I was 15 at the time and that comic was massively influential upon me as it had genuinely adult strips in it from a writer called Alan Moore who I was vaguely aware of thanks to his work elsewhere. Moore had two strips; V for Vendetta, a dark and very adult story featuring things I wasn’t used to seeing in comics at 15, and the other was Marvelman. This is the strip that almost singlehandedly changed the face of superhero comics, not to mention was the start of the entire industry being woken up, and up til now has only been reprinted once by Eclipse Comics in 1985.

Since then the character has been in a horribly mess, the  history of which is superbly documented by Pádraig Ó Méalóid in his Poisoned Chalice series which is possibly the most comprehensive history of Marvelman and the messy legal issues around the character and the events, which meant most people who thought  these stories being reprinted would never happen, and the story which Moore passed onto Neil Gaiman actually being completed, can finally reach it’s conclusion.

So 32 years later, I’m now on the cusp of my 47th birthday and Marvel Comics have released their first edition of their Miracleman reprints which will reprint all the Warrior/Eclipse material and allow Neil Gaiman and artist, Mark Buckingham to complete the story.

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It’s an interesting package, more so as Alan Moore isn’t to be mentioned once in the book after washing his hands of Marvelman, which is again detailed in length in this interview with Moore’s royalties going to Marvelman creator Mick Anglo, and his family. Moore is instead listed as ‘The Original Writer’ which is a rather funny way to describe things as most people will know this is an Alan Moore work.

Anyhow, from the very first panel of the recoloured strip, it’s evident that Steve Oliff’s work is phenomenal.

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In it’s original black and white form this panel is nice, but the colours here add so much. The sky is brilliant and that little hint of dawn adds to the storytelling. Any worries this would be Stevie Wonder being let loose on the comic with a set of crayons like the Eclipse reprints were, is gone from the off, and in fact Garry Leach’s already stunning art is only complimented by the colour which is something I though would never, ever happen.

As for the story as it’s some of Moore’s early work, it’s easy to spot how traditional some of it feels. The use of thought balloons for example is nearly at Chris Claremont proportions in places…

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Considering the vogue now is for characters in superhero comics to have internal monologues without thought bubbles is a technique Moore himself started to use during his Marvelman run, and this was then copied by writers right up to the present day, it’ll be interesting to see a generation’s reaction who are not used to thought bubbles. This aside, I’d forgotten how fast paced the first episode is so that there’s a genuine excitement built up by the time we get to the point when the main character, Mike Moran remembers his magic word I’m 15 again and I’m dying to see what happens…

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After a brief fight where Moran has become Marvelman, Garry Leach unleashes one of the finest panels in any comic ever.

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I once saw the original of this. It’s an extraordinary piece of art but to see it fresh again like this is wonderful, and it reminds me how perfect an introduction to Marvelman it was for me, but it’s the next episode that Moore starts to show what he’s made off as it’s a conversation between Moran and his wife Liz shortly afterwards. This is Moran/Marvelman telling Liz of his life he’s now remembered and it’s a crucial episode, but for it to be mainly character based was somewhat of a revelation in 1982, and in 2014 it still feels real, or at least as real as superhero comics can get.

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The chapter ends after we’re introduced to a shadowy and violent figure who’ll be unknown to new readers, but anyone else who’s read the story will know who this is and what’s to come..

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I haven’t read these stories with fresh eyes since 1982 so it’s a joy to sort of relive the same rush of all those years ago, but as much as it hurts to admit, Marvel’s job in representing these stories is immaculate. Sadly, the rest of the issue is frankly, padding. Yes, the Garry Leach sketchbook is nice and seeing his amazingly detailed pencils is fascinating but lets be blunt, this is padding the package out.

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There’s then a two-page history of Marvelman which I’m chuffed to see was written by Mike Conroy, a familiar name in British comics, but ends on this paragraph.

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Which makes me assume that either it’ll continue next issue, or that Marvel are skimming over the messy history of the character but for the rest of the issue it’s pure filler with a Joe Quesada interview of Mick Anglo that’s interesting enough, but more reprints of Anglo’s original Marvelman strips fill up the rest of the issue and for $5.99 (or around £3-3.50) it’s a broadly uneven package that’s going to potentially put off casual readers who may not have read the Moore stories and want to see them for the first time. I do appreciate Marvel putting in the time to put Moore’s version in context for an American or a 21st century readership, but they overdo it.

I want them to get on with it, which is understandable, but I want them to do it because I’m excited in reading this story serialised in this way with colouring that complements the story. Now for #2 Marvel do seem to be saying there’s less pre-Warrior material, but we’ll see. Right now, I’m happy downloading these issue from the splendid Comixology site, before buying the hardcover collection Marvel will put out which will fill a large hole on my bookshelf that’s waiting for it.

Misogyny and Male Privilege in Mainstream Comics

There’s a lot of chatter at the moment in regards to the various issues with misogyny in mainstream comics, and in particular comics fandom as if this is somehow a new thing. It isn’t, but what is new is the venom, not to mention the sheer closed minded ignorance shown by fans and within the industry.

As people who have read my rambling blogs will know, I’ve been reading comics most of my life, and have spent around half my working life working in the industry in retail, publishing and distribution so this is me laying out a few credentials here before any passer-by chips in with a ‘well, what do you know’ load of bollocks. I’ve discussed comics as a medium with the likes of Will Eisner, Alan Moore, John Wagner and a load of other creators over the years. Basically I’m coming at this with just a wee bit of pedigree just in case anyone tries to rubbish my opinions based on what I know so now that’s out the way let’s move on.

Firstly, I’ve no problem with cheesecake. I love artists like Dave Stevens, Steranko, or the great damaged genius that was Wally Wood. Wood especially is someone who is as far as I’m concerned one of the best comic book artists America has ever produced but he could knock out either something so sublime and subtle..

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Or exactly the opposite..

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This isn’t about censorship but it’s about quality, and to make the point clear, there’s nothing wrong with what used to be called ‘Good Girl Art‘ as there’s a naive innocence in much of it even though it’s objectified images of women, it’s playful fun though as pointed out, it did just sometimes cross into soft porn it was mainly relatively harmless, if often crass.

The fact is that mainstream comics in the US are essentially power fantasies, so the male characters are strong defenders of the truth who look like wrestlers, while the women were sexy, but relatively chaste women who were initially window dressing in post Comics Code comics which was the status quo for women in comics up til the 70’s when women started to develop into nearly two dimensional characters (male characters like Spider Man had got acne giving them that much needed realism superheroes needed back in the early 60’s) and being treated nearly like people. Yes, they did dress like Disco Strippers, but Luke Cage also used to wear a tiara and if they can make him look sensible, then they can do that with female characters.

Sweet Christmas!

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The point of this meandering is to basically say that there was sexism and misogyny, that it was plain to be seen, but there was an innocence as things (Red Sonja’s metal bikini for example)  may have been ridiculous, but there were attempts to make things better for women on the page. There wasn’t the pornofication of women characters, though that was happening in Underground Comics but that’s a blog all by itself.

It should be pointed out that the majority of people working then and now in mainstream comics are white blokes with the odd exception like the great Marie Severin or Ramona Fradon it was mainly men so you can see how things developed which isn’t to say that someone like Chris Claremont (Claremont is now marginalised by many modern fans but without him Joss Whedon has no ideas) didn’t try as can been seen over the horrible tale of Ms Marvel’s rape in an issue of The Avengers but the problem was and indeed, still is, a lack of women working in mainstream American comics. This means we get a very male, often very middle class, very white and obviously very American view of reality which sometimes threw up drivel like Ms Marvel’s rape, or the downright mess that the character Power Girl became over the years.

It really wasn’t til the late 80’s that the real pornofication of mainstream comics kicked in, with artists like Rob Liefeld drawing people very badly but to staggering amounts of popularity. It’d be wrong for me not to post this image of Captain America as it’s so bad it never fails to make me laugh….

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But it was Liefeld’s women who were from another world.

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Women no longer started to look real, and the concept of Good Girl Art went out the window for this pornofied, utterly objectified version of women which tapped into an older audience as mainstream comics moved slowly away from being aimed at children and now at teenagers and older. I don’t blame Liefeld all by himself for this as that would do even a hack like him an injustice, but he’s by far the best example of this. There’s dozens more just as bad, if not worse but the Bad Girl Art style was created and as comics were driven away from newsagents and newstands thanks to the growth of the direct market, publishers went for more ”adult” material which in fact meant, tits,& arse with lashings of violence, which by the 90’s was joined by rape, gore, more extreme violence and women’s roles being defined in most titles as the ‘warrior maid/kick ass babe’ type, the ‘whore with a heart’, or the love interest waiting to be killed to give the male hero justification, or  Women in Refrigerators (WiR) as Gail Simone coined it.

Then there’s the subject of rape in mainstream comics, which isn’t to say it’s a topic not to be covered. It should be as Moore and Gibbons did in Watchmen, or Peter David did (within the limits of the Comics Code) in his excellent Hulk run but these writers didn’t use it to shock for shocks sake though when Moore used it in Miracleman #14 it was meant to be shocking and horrifying as it’s a key moment in the story, not to mention a warning for the horrors which follow.

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The problem is that writers with vastly less talent than Moore, David or Simone saw rape as an easy shock tactic which resulted in the obscenity which was Identity Crisis and the rape of Sue Dibney.

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After this the floodgates opened and what were fun children;s characters all ages could enjoy were turned into violent nutters, whores, or victims. The justification often given is that we live in a post-911 world and mainstream comics should represent that, which is true but this does not represent the world rather than a version of the world through male eyes and in particular, male eyes who’ve grown up seeing women as purely objects or plot devices in comics, so you get this grim world where writers throw around rape casually, or women are killed or maimed to make a point (yes, I’m aware of the Killing Joke before anyone asks) and we end up in a point where we have stuff like this from the fucking awful Red Hood and the Outlaws #1.

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Which is laughably defended by some as empowering for women because a section of male fans think what is empowering to women is fucking everyone around them, which brings us screaming out of providing a bit of backstory to the whole thing about male privilege.

There was always the attitude that girls were breaking into a boys world with comics in the US (unlike the UK where girls comics were huge business from the 50’s to 80’s when the weekly market collapsed) in the 60’s onwards but it moved from the ‘eww, girls have cooties‘ phase to something nastier as it is today where it’s genuinely unpleasant to read forums or the reports of women essentially being assaulted at conventions because they dress up as their favourite characters which seems to be free range for some blokes to grope, feel and molest their way round conventions.

I admit to still being puzzled by the whole cosplay thing, even back in the day when cosplay was called fancy dress and you used to have people pretending to be Mr. Fantastic by taping together a load of cardboard tubes, painting them blue and sticking them on their arms. It’s all harmless fun and should be treated as such though, as opposed to trying to cop a feel because it’s probably the only time you’ll get near a woman.

It’s also worth pointing out that mainstream comics do try now and then to give realistic versions of women and one such example was the splendid Alias written by Brian Bendis around a decade or so ago. It didn’t last and when the main character joined the mainstream Marvel Universe she moves from this real woman to one we see in superhero comics all the time with her tits and arse in such impossible poses that you wonder when her body will break.

There’s a very good article here by Kelly Thompson which details a lot of the debate, including examples of the infamous brokeback pose such as this.

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There’s always been sexy females in mainstream comics, but there was a vague attempt (within the context of the superhero universe) at realism in all but the very worst examples. Now this ridiculous idea that all women leap around fighting like Porno Jugglers with their underwear up their arse. It doesn’t serve the story, nor the context of the characters but it does serve the audience, or at least, a part of the audience. And again, I’m against censorship, and some porn is fine but there’s a context and a time and a place and it isn’t using children’s characters marketed at kids, or pandering to a core misogynistic and vocal group of fans who tend to dominate online debate.

Thankfully things seem to be changing slowly even though the debate over ‘fake Geek Girls’ continues, and people point out the inane insanity of the poses women are put through but it’s going to take a load of work to make things right and that’s going to start with Marvel and DC pulling their heads out their arses to appeal to more than 20-40 something males. Make superhero comics fun, enjoyable and most of all accessible without making them childish or excluding your next two generations of readers only know your characters through cartoons, or games, or toys rather than the source medium. Fans should pull up other fans groping women at conventions or shaming them, or calling them whores.

Before anyone says ‘but, but it’s an AMERICAN problem!‘ let’s not be so bloody stupid. I’ve seen the few women who used to go to cons here be ogled and groped, including one girlfriend of mine at a Bristol Expo around a decade ago. We’re not even talking drunken stupidity (of which I’ve done my fair share) but opportunism to feel some female flesh because you don’t know if you’ll ever get another chance in life to do so. There’s also been incidents going back to the UKCAC days which I’m not going to go into detail about as they were dealt with at the time & they tended not to happen again, but you get the point that if you sit back watching these things happen & don’t try to make it better then you’re making things worse.

There are a number of things horribly wrong with ”Geek Culture” and the modern mainstream comics fan ranging from an ignorance of the comics medium, to a concentration on things being AWESOME at the expense of anything else, and ooo, lots more I might write about another day but at the same time, for most people it’s about finding something fun and enjoyable so nothing spoils that more than being told you’re a slag because you’re wearing a short dress or you see the wandering hands some fans have.

It feels as if things aren’t going to change unless something very, very horrible happens to a woman at a convention, and even then they’ll be blokes blaming her. I hope it doesn’t and I hope the various campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic educate or shame enough blokes to stop what they’re doing and grow up. It really isn’t that hard just to keep your hands to yourselves and act like decent human beings is it?  Comics as a medium is just fine, but mainstream superhero comics are taking a kicking, much of it rightly so, which is why expanding the audience and thinking long term for the future is better than just running Marvel and DC for a core, mainly male fanbase while the parent companies run off and make summer blockbusters from these characters because Marvel & DC are now basically intellectual property farms for film & the associated merchandising spawned from these characters. This is why women are coming in. They like these characters but the core fan doesn’t want their boys club broken into. Tough. If you love the medium and the characters then celebrate the fact it’s not just a relatively small number of people who enjoy them now.

Sadly I don’t think things will ever be perfect, or indeed, get anywhere near it but if anything we should be standing up against the sense of entitlement from some fans, and also, praising those who do turn and want to change things.

And with that, I’m off to read some old EC Comics so I can look at some Wally Wood art….