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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Women Like Part Three

It is time once again for Comix Connection Counter Monkey Extraordinaire, Nicky, to share a new installment of her ongoing essay on comics women like! So with no further ado...

What Women Like Part Three by Nicole Wagman

Hello again, everyone. It's been a while; I hope you all checked out and enjoyed some of the suggestions last time, because I have more! It would appear that what everyone seemed to think was most lacking last time was the quintessential comic book subject of super-heroes. Or perhaps in this case, it would be more appropriate to say super-heroines. Well, you're in luck, because I don't think there's ever been a better time to be or to get interested in super-heroines!

We'll start with my favorite solo-superhero comic of the year: Power Girl!

By Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner, it's twelve issues of pure, unadulterated super-heroine genius. The first compilation is out now, and the second one will soon follow, and you'll wish this romp of a book could just go on forever! (A new creative team took over with issue #13, but they haven't been around long enough for me to comment yet. You'll just have to check the new issues out for yourself.) This is the perfect book to start a new reader with because you don't need any lengthy back-story or convoluted continuity to figure out what's up, since this is the start of a brand new chapter in the life of the one-and-only Power Girl. She's trying to set up a new secret identity and that involves everything from finding an apartment, bathing her cat, starting up her company, and taking her new protegee Tara to the unwanted prospective boyfriends, battling the Ultra Humanite for control of the city, and dealing with crash-landed alien party-girls. That's all just normal life for the time-pressed leader of the Justice Society of America!

She's a super-heroine with powers on par with Superman, but you've never met a super-hero who's quite this real. Girls, don't let the drool-worthy art of Amanda Conner fool you: this is the perfect super-hero story for you! And of course, the art is drool-worthy, and not just for the obvious aspects; the facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission! Remember the bwa-ha-ha days of the original JLI? Well, Conner's skill at depicting exasperated eye-rolls and disgusted confusion is ready to give Kevin Maguire a run for his money. From apocalyptic, city-destroying fight scenes to the everyday travails of bathing a filthy kitty, the life of a super-heroine has never looked this beautifully entertaining!

So here it is, ladies: if you're thinking about getting into super-heroes, this is the comic to start with! No requirement of prior knowledge (it's not an origin comic, but it is designed as a great starting point for those who've never heard the words "Kryptonite" or "Kent" before), great sense of humor, intense drama and beautiful fight scenes, and the seeds of what's sure to become a brilliant cast of supporting characters. You'll laugh, you'll grimace, you'll nod in commiseration, you'll stare in awe, you'll outright giggle. Power Girl puts the ridiculous fun back into the super-hero story, then wraps it up with a pretty bow and punches it into the sun. I can't possibly recommend this book enough.

And while we're talking about powerful leading ladies, who can forget Wonder Woman?

DC's first and still-greatest girl-wonder, Diana has just hit her ultra-impressive 600th issue! And starting with the anniversary-anthology issue #600 (with an intro by Linda Carter, the return of Perez to Wondy's world, and a great "girl talk" short-story by Amanda Conner, along with a plethora of other goodies), a brand new type of Wonder Woman story has begun. With #601 it's a brand new world for our Amazonian Princess, and a great time to jump on board because the gods have gotten all meddlesome and now everything is topsy-turvy. New origin, new costume, new story arc, new enemies...this one's got it all! I don't know where they're planning on going with this new take on a classic, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be cool. This ain't your momma's Wonder Woman!

...but I asked mine, and she likes it, too. ;)

Od uoy ekil erom otserp ni ruoy srewop? Come gander at the Magical, Marvelous, Mesmerizing...Zatanna!

DC's fishnetted-and-top-hatted master of illusion, Zatanna has her very own ongoing series at last. It's written by Paul Dini--who is Zatanna's biggest fan, and there's no one who writes her better--and drawn by Stephane Roux, and it looks beautiful. Again, it's not a book that you need a lot of prior knowledge for; it's pretty easy to figure out what's going on: she's a stage magician who knows actual magic, she fights evil magic users, and she casts her spells by gniklat sdrawkcab...I mean, by talking backwards. Zatanna has been a member of the Justice League on-and-off over the years, but currently she's a solo act. She does have assistants for her stage show who look like they'll develop into an entertaining supporting cast, and the first story arc features Police Officer Dale Colton who asks for Zatanna's help with an inexplicable murder case that turns out to be the opening salvo in a supernatural crime war. He looks primed to stick around as well, but as the first arc has only just ended, who can say? It does make for a great starting point though, if you don't feel like tracking down the first few issues or waiting for the collection. Either way, grab your magic wands and your top hats and rabbits, and emoc gnola rof a dliw, lacigam edir! arbadacarbA!

And not to leave out the ladies of Marvel...anyone see Iron Man 2? Remember Tony's lethally-efficient assistant and secretive Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Natalia Romanova?
Well, the Black Widow now has her very own solo-comic as well, and if you thought she was dangerous in the movie, you really haven't seen anything yet! This lady's done everything from spying for the KGB to running the Avengers. She goes toe-to-toe with the powerhouses of the Marvel Universe with nothing more than her Widow's Bite wrist-stingers and a devastating sense of strategy. Lately you may have seen her in Captain America helping Bucky fill his no-longer-late mentor's boots, and she's currently hanging with the original Cap as a member of his Secret Avengers, but now she's got her very own series by novelist Marjorie Liu and the beautiful, beautiful art of Daniel Acuña. Someone's gone hunting for Natasha, but she's not a woman you piss off lightly because she hunts back. Hard.

And in case you're worried about keeping up with the convoluted history of a super-spy, don't be; there's a nicely summarized recap of her life in the back all the way from her infant orphaning through her time as both villain and hero to fill you in on any details you desire. And did I mention that it looks really, really pretty? Because it's every bit as beautiful as Natasha herself--although thankfully not as deadly, or we'd all have expired from poisoned paper cuts! (And in case one book alone isn't enough to satisfy your need for Widow action, Secret Avengers is off to a pretty great start as well.)

But while all this solo-stuff is fun, what about some team-ups? Well, it doesn't get much more girl-powered than Heralds, a five-issue mini-series that just finished up from Marvel.

The cast features Hellcat, Emma Frost, the Invisible Woman, She-Hulk, Valkyrie, Monica Rambeau, and Abigail Brand Agent of S.W.O.R.D. The story starts with Emma Frost's birthday party, but things get out of hand when the festivities are crashed by prehistoric dinosaurs and cloned scientists. What's really going on is that the Nova entity has returned and it wants a host, and a young woman named Frances who looks a lot like the late Frankie Raye wants nothing to do with it, so chaos of course ensues. What's great about the story, though, aside from the delightfully rendered destruction and mayhem, are all the character interactions. It's written by Kathryn Immonen and penciled by Tonci Zonjic, and their delicate, humorous touches are perfectly suited to a story that's more about what's in your head and your heart than what kind of power you can channel through your fists (although there's plenty of that, too). In fact, I have to say, Heralds #5 features the best "mom moment" of all time on page 14. It's nothing big, nothing flashy, but it's perfect...just like the rest of the story. The collection will be out at the end of September, but if you hurry, we still have copies of all the issues...unless someone else gets to them first!

But while we're on the topic of girl-powered teams, don't forget about the epitome thereof: Birds of Prey!

That's right, the Birds are back, and they're better than ever! Er...if they survive their first story arc, that is! The original Birds of Prey comic ran for an impressive 127 issues before ending so that the cast could go their separate ways (like to lead the JLA for example). But it was missed too much, so now it's back! The new series seems to have a pretty similar cast to the old one, and is even being written and drawn by two of the creators who made the first one so cool: Gail Simone and Ed Benes. For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept, the Birds of Prey are a team of female heroes run by Oracle (Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl). She sends her agents to hotspots around the globe that she picks up on with her crazy computer skills, sort of like a street-level Justice League.

The original Bird and Oracle's right-hand-gal is Black Canary and they'll be joined again by longtime teammates the Huntress and Lady Blackhawk. Right now they're also joined by the new Dove and her partner Hawk (who's a guy, yeah, but don't hold that against him. We don't really know why he's there, but to be fair neither does he. It's okay, because he's been a source of great entertainmeeeeeh...hmm. Source of excellent assistaaaa...erm. Well. A source of much aggravation, at least. Zinda may kill him soon, in which case: no more confusion! Yay! But I digress; I've actually got no problem with Hawk being there. I mean, he does fit the bird motif...from the strictly avian stand-point...;). But BoP has always been an ensemble book, so anyone could show up at any time, from Big Barda to Misfit. (You don't have to have a fowl-inspired name to be tagged by Oracle!) Considering Oracle's current mentoring of the new Batgirl, I wouldn't be surprised if Stephanie Brown appears pretty soon.

Give the new series a try, or pick up the collections of the old one, because Birds was an excellent book that ran the emotional gamut from bleak despair to plain-out silliness (and furthermore it gave us the rematch we've all been waiting for since 1988: Barbara Gordon vs. the Joker!), and I'm sure this new version will be just as great. A team of girls, led by a girl, and written by a girl. It doesn't get much more girl-power than that!

And while we're on the topic...that new Batgirl series I was just talking about is pretty excellent, too!

So if you like Babs in Birds of Prey, check out this story of the original Batgirl getting back to her roots to train the newest to bear that mantle. Poor Steph has always gotten short-shrift, but now finally she may have found her chance to shine. Give it a look!

Speaking of team books with interesting line-ups, check out Atlas, as in The Agents Of.

These guys were heroes in the 1950's fighting against the evil Atlas Foundation. Now they're back, and this time they're running the show--and running Atlas, too! But they aren't evil...they're just pretending to be. They're run by former FBI Agent and former Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jimmy Woo and a more motley collection of heroes has rarely been gathered and never have they worked so well together as these Agents do.

The Agents in question consist of the immortal Gorilla-Man (go on, guess what his power is), Marvel Boy a.k.a. The Uranian a.k.a. Bob (who grew up on Uranus where his scientist dad fled to escape the Nazis), M-11 (the Human Robot), Venus (a siren of myth), and Namora (the Atlantean "Avenging Daughter" and Sub-Mariner's cousin). They seem to currently be in the process of adding the 3-D man to their roster. What's really fun is seeing how these misfits not only interact with each other, but also with the rest of the Marvel Universe, given that everyone else thinks they're villains and they're working hard to keep up that pretense while really doing good.

As far as why the book deserves to be on this list--beyond the fact that it's just a great book generally--just take the two female members of the team, Venus and Namora. Venus is your "classic golden/silver age heroine" who stands there looking pretty while using her powers from a distance, while Namora's pure brawler.

You can't get much more disparate than that when it comes to "what girls are capable of." One sings to disarm her enemies with bliss; the other is happiest when she's got something big to punch. And it's fun to have the heaviest hitter of the team be not only a girl, but a princess to boot! It's that sort of dichotomy that Atlas does so well and that makes it a consistently excellent read. The book is fresh and retro at the same time, taking into account the characters' classic roots as well as their new modern role as villains-that-aren't. And have I mentioned that it just plain looks good?

Like your heroines more supernatural than superheroic? How about iZombie?

It keeps selling out and I'm waiting to buy the collected edition, so I can't speak personally for anything much beyond the first two issues, but it looks awesome so far! Gwen Dylan's dead and if she doesn't eat some brains every month, she'll go all mindless zombie flesh-craver on the living. Fortunately she works at a graveyard, so at night she just goes out and digs up the holes she filled in during the day and chows down on some foul-tasting gray-matter. Then she can go hang out with her ghostly gal-pal Ellie and their geeky friend the were-terrier Spots for an almost-normal life. That is, until the vampires move in and the monster hunters stop thinking "wow, she's cute" long enough to notice that's she's also postmortem enough to be their target. And then, of course, there's the fact that when Gwen eats a brain she gets the corpse's memories and her last meal was murdered. Now she's Zombie Detective, the dead girl hunting killers. It's written by Chris Roberson and drawn by Michael Allred, and it's just getting started! Perfect time to get in on the ground floor (or maybe six feet below that) of what looks to be a great new series!

And while we're talking supernatural, one can't forget Beasts of Burden!

They aren't really super-heroes, so this is sort of getting off-topic, but...they kind of count. They do super-heroic things, at any rate! This is a paranormal adventure story featuring a team of hero-dogs (and one very heroic cat!) who try to keep their neighborhood of Burden Hill safe from the Dark Arts and a vast assortment of things that go bump in the night. Or during the day. Or just whenever, really. Creators Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson won two Eisners with their sold-out short-stories featuring the Beasts of Burden Hill, and now the canines (and kitty) are finally back in some full-length adventures. This shiny new hardcover collects both the original short-stories from the old anthologies as well as the recent mini-series. And while they are talking animals, don't be misled; these aren't Disney stories! There's some bad magic going on inside the pages, so don't hand it to your five-year-old. It's certainly not Vertigo, by any means; just not G-Rated. But oh, my goodness, is it beautiful. It's all hand-painted by Jill Thompson, and if you aren't familiar with her incredible ought to be! Both the story and the art are good enough to stand on their own, but the marriage of the two is truly exquisite. And since there's going to be a special one-shot coming out soon featuring a cross-over with Hellboy, I think these furry fighters can be counted as super-heroic, despite the lack of capes and cowls.

But what about something that is appropriate for the youngest of youngsters? For that, I would have to recommend Power Pack!

The Power Pack are a team of pre-teen superheroes who get their powers from an alien "horse" and then have to fight the other evil aliens to save themselves and their parents. From there, they go on to a number of adventures to save the world and rail against bedtime. The team is made up of the Power siblings: twelve-year-old Alex (Zero-G), ten-year-old Julie (Lightspeed), seven-year-old Jack (Mass Master), and five-year-old Katie (Energizer).

The Power Pack stories have been great so far; lots of fun without being mindless, with really snappy art. They've been presented as a series of mini-series, with the latest being Thor and the Warriors Four. This series has the kids going to Asgard to save their grandmother which means that, naturally, Loki's going to take the opportunity to cause mischief. There's also appearances by, of course, Thor, Beta-Ray Bill, and Frog-Thor and the Pet Avengers, with a Hercules-as-babysitter back-up story. And don't worry if you don't know your Power Pack history, because the first issue starts with a quick one-page recap of their origin--plenty of info to set you up for the fun that follows. But really, do you need any more reason to check this book out than this "PONY!" cover?

I'm nominating it for "best cover of the year," anyone want to second that? ;)

And since I doubt I could possibly top that image with anything, we'll call that the end! Hopefully that's helped everyone fill their super-heroine fix! Got a favorite cape-clad lady I neglected to mention? How about a team book that does a great job of highlighting their girl power? Click on the "comments" button and tell us all about it! Got any questions? Eager to start fighting evil with one of the ladies listed above? Come on in and let us know!

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At 8/11/2010 7:48 PM, Blogger Lori said...

Really terrific job there, Nicky. There's *another* Saturday I'll have 2 work overtime so I can pick up a few of your suggestions. Thanks!

At 8/11/2010 11:59 PM, Anonymous Nicky said...

Bwahaha ha...I mean, uh, always happy to help! ;D


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