Bitch Planet: The Comic My Cynical, Feminist Heart Has Always Wanted

Bitch PlanetSunday, March 29, 2015

For the past few weeks, my friend Ashley has been trying to get me to read Bitch Planet, the new comic written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Valentine De Landro. Sometime around then, I’d also read a review on the comic which basically criticized it for not being everything to everyone, for not exploring this or that enough, and for being mildly disappointing – standard fare when examining a new comic written by women, aimed at women, and about women and their issues. The review didn’t necessarily put me off Bitch Planet – quite the contrary – but I was still wary of it.

You see, periodically people will laud some girl-centric comic as the Best Thing Ever for Female Readers and full of Awesome Female Role Models and demand that I read it or risk losing my Chick Card. Three examples that I can think of are Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by Roc Upchurch (until recently, anyway), X-Men: Primer by Brian Wood and penciled by Olivier Coipel, and Lumberjanes by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson and illustrated by Brooke Allen (for the most part).

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Charles Soule’s She-Hulk: A Crime in Progress

she-hulk coverSunday, March 8, 2015

Today I read She-Hulk: Law and Disorder, written by Charles Soule and illustrated by Javier Pulido and Ron Wimberly, the newest trade of the She-Hulk revamp, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘What the fuck did I just read?’

The trade, published in October 2014, includes six issues that cover Jennifer Walters’ (aka She-Hulk) fall from well-respected lawyer to her rise as the founder of her own firm. Along the way, she deals with shitty partners who want her to exploit her superhero connections to get them more suits to making Tony Stark pay for the corruption of his subordinates to dealing with a crazy, unexplainable case that involves hypnosis, murder, and reality-bending.

Story-wise, I had no expectations for this trade. I’ve never read a She-Hulk comic before, and I’ve only Wikipedia’d her a handful of times. What I got, oddly enough, was a procedural legal comic with superheroes/a less funny version of Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. Ms. Walters starts off every issue and every case very professionally and is very much the lawyer. She understands the procedure to get someone political asylum and knows that even a slam-dunk case can be tied up for years in court. Inevitably, she will get pissed and Hulk out and ruin a thousand dollar suit to beat someone up and get them to do what she wants. Then it’s time to smile at the reader because the case is closed.

As I’ve said, I’ve never read She-Hulk before, and I have no idea if “procedural legal comic with superheroes” is the common format. For all I know, it is. That being said, this combination didn’t quite work. Ms. Walters clearly wanted to be a lawyer, but the writer clearly wanted her to be She-Hulk. He kept making her lose her temper and make horrible, unethical decisions – such as taking a plane to Latveria and almost starting an international incident with Dr. Doom. I would have been much more impressed if Mr. Soule had explored Ms. Walters’ identity as a lawyer more and forced her to behave as an ordinary citizen. In fact, he alluded to this in issue 4, “The Zealous Advocate” when Matt Murdock (aka “Daredevil”) tells Ms. Walters that “Just because we can do those things, doesn’t mean we always should.” Dr. Kevin Trench (aka “Nightwatch”) in issue 6 “Blue: Part 2” basically reiterates the point when he says, “I’ve got my charity work, and my medical practice is going strong. At a certain point, I think a person needs to focus. I decided I would rather be excellent at one thing than mediocre at several.” Maybe that’s Mr. Soule’s problem – he would rather Ms. Walters be mediocre at several things. Either way, the writing fell flat. It wasn’t even funny.

That being said, the real disappointment was the line work and coloring. The cover art, done by the supremely talented Kevin Wada, was what initially drew me to the trade but what ultimately prevented me from buying it. This is a comic book trend that I really hate: pulling a bait-and-switch with the artwork. I understand that it’s common practice to make variant covers, and that’s a really cool way to get in new or inexperienced artists or artists who can’t necessarily do comics. The variants are almost collectors’ items, and it’s wonderful to see how different artists interpret the characters.

But why on earth do some editors like to get cover artists that are more talented than the actual illustrators? Why would they tease and disappoint the fans that way? I’ve seen this on X-men comics, Buffy comics, almost every Runaway cover, and the Firefly covers, to name a very few. I am always disappointed, even if the actual penciller is really good. It’s just not what I expected or wanted or was looking forward to. It is massively disappointing.

She-Hulk spreadArtists Javier Pulido and Ron Wimberly are dramatically different from Mr. Wada. Mr. Pulido utilizes a style similar to David Aja (from the Matt Fraction Hawkeye revamp) and the Hernandez brothers (Love and Rockets) but with less skill. His paneling is sloppy, such as in this example where he not only inexplicably does full page spread panels but also chops up the characters, making them look disjointed.

She-Hulk spread 2Mr. Wimberly is more adept, but his selection as the penciller for issues 5 and 6 is odd – he is clearly an artist meant to do more urban work and more action shots, but he’s saddled with a lot of phone conversations and one-on-ones. The end result is awkward angles and overly dramatic action that just doesn’t fit the story. What makes it worse is his new She-Hulk, a bulky, masculine creature with a completely new look. It’s not until the demons attack Ms. Walter’s law building that he shines, bringing out awesome character designs and well-plotted fight scenes. If that had been the bulk of the issues – proper action – then his issues would easily have been the best in the trade, even with the odd new character design.

However, in a trade riddled with problems, the true horror was the color work. I have no idea what the color artists, Munsta Vicente (issues 1 – 4), Rico Renzi (issue 5), and Ron Wimberly (issue 6) were thinking. Mr. Renzi is the most competent, choosing a bold, consistent color palette that complemented Mr. Wimberly’s work and improved the depth of the story. He’s best at backgrounds, skin color, and time warps, and even figures out a decent color palette for Ms. Walters, something that Mr. Vicente and Mr. Wimberly just cannot do.

Mr. Vicente’s bold, simple palette goes well with Mr. Pulido’s art work, but he has trouble pairing the colors in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and shows any understanding of color theory. Mr. Wimberly is a mess, switching the coloring of She-Hulk at least three times over the course of six pages, and even neglecting to color in the bulk of one page. I fully understand how difficult it must be to get She-Hulk’s coloring right, but I don’t understand how professional color artists could have gotten the entire trade so wrong. Was the coloring meant to invoke campy, earlier She-Hulks and 1940s coloring palettes? Would it have been better with different pencillers? Was there just some time crunch that made it impossible to really work on the coloring? I don’t know, but either way, it was exceedingly hard to read.

Though I’ve never read an issue before, I’ve always loved the idea of She-Hulk. She goes from perfectly competent but timid to a complete ball-buster. She takes no prisoners, doesn’t deal with crap, and looks like I’ve always wanted Wonder Woman to look (with the exception of Stjepan Sejic’s amazing version). She basically realizes her own self-worth, and it makes her beautiful, powerful, and admirable. Adding in a bit of cockiness and a temper just make her even cooler.

But then I read this. I see Mr. Pulido draw her as some rail-thin, leggy, green-skinned model. I see none of the male color artists bother to figure out how a woman would coordinate her outfits and make-up with her skin color. I see the writer toss her into a blender, mix her up, and then leave her spinning. I see disrespect, and I wonder why I should ever try to read another She-Hulk.

So here are my suggestions for the next attempt:

  1. Make sure that the inside art isn’t going to be a disappointment after the cover. That’s a sure-fire way to make people prejudiced against the actual stories and not want to pick up any other titles.
  2. Remember that Ms. Walters is a good lawyer. An intelligent lawyer. An experienced lawyer. Write her like that. Make your dumb comments about maxed out credit cards or whatever, but also make sure that’s she’s as competent in pursuit of justice as she is in the courtroom.
  3. Pay attention to your pencillers. This means choosing ones whose styles best reflect the story and editing them when they make poor choices. There is no real reason why the art couldn’t have been better – even without choosing new pencillers.
  4. Take time with the color. This is She-Hulk. She is very green. She deals with people like Hellcat and Tigra, both of whom have strong color palettes. The color is just as important as the line work and the story. Treat it as such.

Maybe, just maybe, if the next issue fixes these problems, I’ll give She-Hulk another go. Until then, I’ll stick with my Saga and Ms. Marvel.

*Note: I have since looked up some older She-Hulk pages and, yes, procedural legal comic with superheroes does seem to be the format.  That still doesn’t mean that Mr. Soule did a very good job with it.

When Your Government Betrays You: Gulag Voices and The Butterfly Mosque

gulag voicesSaturday, February 28, 2015

I don’t remember learning about the gulag system in school – at least, not in any real, informative way. Occasionally, someone would throw out a sensationalist number, saying something along the lines of “Stalin was responsible for the deaths of 12 million Soviet citizens” and might follow it up with “through the use of the gulag system.” What was the gulag system? No clue. I’m sure at some point someone must have called them prison or labor camps and said that political prisoners were sent there (along with any other criminal, dissident, or unfortunate soul), but I honestly don’t remember that much context. It wasn’t even until this past week that I learned the word “gulag” is actually an acronym. I thought it was a real word. Continue reading