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Everyone’s A Critic | A round-up of comic book reviews and thinkpieces

Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting

To celebrate Women’s History Month, the Flashlight Worthy blog asked ten bloggers (male and female) to nominate their favorite comics by and about women. The range and quality of the list is a reminder that talent knows no gender—or genre: the nominations include Jessica Abel’s La Perdida, Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting, Alison Bechdel’s The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, and Fumi Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters.

If you’re reading this column, you’re probably hip enough to know that all manga does not feature big, sparkly eyes, but in case you missed that memot, Paul Gravett has an explanation and lists six worthy series that don’t have a sparkly eye in the bunch.

Sean Gordon Murphy sets snobbery aside to look at the good points of house styles.

Suzette Chan explains how Faith Erin Hicks tweaks the tropes of boarding-school stories in The War at Ellesmere.

Kate Dacey mulls over the dilemma of being a feminist and a yaoi fan in her review of Hinako Takanaga’s Little Butterfly.

Carlo Santos takes the second volume of Alice in the Country of Hearts as seriously as anybody is going to, and he does some nice analysis of how the book relates to its inspiration, Alice in Wonderland.

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Is Mark Millar sexist and racist?

from Kick-Ass by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

from Kick-Ass by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

According to blogger Erin Polgreen, the answer is yes. Making the case at (of all places) Spencer Ackerman’s national-security blog at the progressive website FireDogLake, Polgreen alleges that in books ranging from Superman: Red Son to Wanted to Kick-Ass, Millar portrays even strong female characters like Lois Lane, Wonder Woman and Hit Girl as inveterate second bananas to their books’ male protagonists. She also gets some shots in at what she sees as the dubious racial politics at play in Wanted and Kick-Ass, where the ethnicity of various non-white minor characters is played as a punchline.

It’s interesting to see an argument against Millar’s treatment of “minority” groups (women are, of course, the majority, but you wouldn’t know it from comics) hinging on something as comparatively innocuous as his female heroes not proving as heroic as his male ones, given the far more violent and ignominious fates he frequently doles out to his characters. For example, if I were in one of his comics, I’d take out a big fat life insurance policy on any gay and/or black people I knew in-universe the second he came aboard. And with regards to women specifically, you’d think the treatment of rape in books like Wanted and Ultimate Comics Avengers would have at least raised Polgreen’s eyebrows, if not her ire. But hey, we report, you decide.

What’s in a name? The return of Girl Comics

Girl Comics #1 (1949)

Girl Comics #1 (1949)

Yesterday Marvel announced a new three-issue anthology mini-series called Girl Comics, which will be edited by Jeanine Schaefer and created exclusively by women.

As you can see in the comments section for my original post, there’s been a mixed reaction to the project, particularly because of its title. You can also find even more commentary on it over in The Beat’s comment section, where they story broke.

So where exactly did that title come from? Well, as Douglas Wolk pointed out in the Beat comments section, it seems to stem from an old Atlas comic that was published from 1949-1952 (before its name was changed to the even more unfortunate Girl Confessions). Atlas, of course, is the company that eventually evolved into Marvel Comics and also published Strange Tales — which you may recognize as the name of another recent Marvel anthology. So there’s some symmetry there, and you have to wonder if they’ll be using any other old Atlas titles in the future (I vote for Bible Tales for Young Folk; you can find a complete list of titles Atlas published on Wikipedia).

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The Times‘ Manohla Dargis on women in Hollywood: “Women are starved for representations of themselves”

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker

This is not a story about comics — but in a way, it is: In a fairly devastating piece in the New York Times and a no-holds-barred interview with Jezebel, film critic Manohla Dargis lays out the sorry state of films made by and for women in Hollywood today.

Dargis presents the evidence in painstaking and depressing detail. First there’s the good news: hits like Sex and the City, Mamma Mia, and The Twilight Saga: New Moon have made it all but impossible to dismiss women as a “niche” audience. (Which stands to reason, since they’re 51% of the population after all.) The bad news, of course, is that these films — and most romantic comedies and Sandra Bullock vehicles, to name a pair of other standard and successful “femme-driven” film types — are not very good. Dargis argues that their success stems from a massive number of female moviegoers desperate to see themselves represented somehow, anyhow, on screen.

Another silver lining: women-directed films have some hot Oscar prospects this year, led by Kathryn Bigelow’s masterfully suspenseful Iraq War action-drama The Hurt Locker. But Bigelow had to struggle for years to get that movie made, while equally worthy male directors with similar track records cruise from one big-budget star vehicle to the next. And the critical success of The Hurt Locker or Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia can’t mask the fact that the major Hollywood studios released a grand total of 11 films directed by women this year. Want a comics connection? Soon-to-be Marvel parent company Disney had one; DC owner Warner Bros. had none. Meanwhile, perhaps Bigelow shouldn’t hold her breath on Oscar night: In the Academy Awards’ 81-year history, only three women have been nominated for Best Director, none of whom went on to win.

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‘Whenever your leads are white American males, you’ve got a better chance of reaching more people’

"Truth: Red, White & Black" star Isaiah Bradley, by Joe Quesada

"Truth: Red, White & Black" star Isaiah Bradley, by Joe Quesada

With its unique blend of Marvel-minutiae mastery and near-total frankness, Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort’s Blah Blah Blog on Marvel.com tends to be an extraordinary document even on days when it’s not touching the third rail of fanboy politics. But in his most recent post, Brevoort does exactly that, addressing the question of why, despite having a great big universe at its disposal, Marvel’s comics tend to star white dudes from the U.S. of A.

Responding to a reader question regarding the difficulty of sustaining books with international leads, like Captain Britain & MI:13 or Alpha Flight, Brevoort expands the issue, likening the situation to the plight faced by “series with female leads, or African-American leads, or leads of any other particular cultural bent”:

Because we’re an American company whose primary distribution is centered around America, the great majority of our existing audience seems to be white American males. So while within that demographic you’ll find people who are interested in a wide assortment of characters of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, whenever your leads are white American males, you’ve got a better chance of reaching more people overall.

Interestingly, Brevoort seems to view “American” as a far more key component for a book’s success than “white” or “male”: He goes on to speculate that books whose leads are black or female and American will have an easier go of it than books whose leads are white and male but foreign.

There’s an awful lot to chew on in there, from the assessment of Marvel’s audience to the characterization of their interests to the comparison of international characters with women or minority characters to the whole chicken-egg question of which came first, the demographic or the subject matter. Is Brevoort’s analysis a common-sense observation, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or something else entirely? What do you think?

Roundtable | Girls and fandom

This week’s controversy over the scheduling of a Twilight movie at San Diego Comic-Con raised an issue that we at Good Comics for Kids have been thinking about for a while: Why don’t girls’ comics (and their other enthusiasms, for that matter) get any respect? Even the comics bloggers who leaped to defend the Twilight fans often speak with contempt of genres aimed at tween and teen girls, an attitude that was on full display later this week when Yen Press announced it would be publishing a Twilight manga.

So I sent out the Bat-Signal to my fellow Good Comics for Kids bloggers and asked what they thought.

twilight-manga_l11

Robin Brenner: I find it especially distressing that the SDCC crowd, made up of fans who have been typically dismissed and marginalized by the larger culture including comics fans, fantasy fans, and sci-fi fans, seem to think it’s perfectly warranted to dump on fans who you would think they have a lot more in common with than traits to divide them.

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