Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Batwoman: How Far The Mighty Fall

When DC first introduced readers to Kate Kane, the character and her story were met with universal praise. Not only was the story unique for featuring a gay female super heroine, but she was headlining one of DC's oldest properties, Detective Comics, and shocking above all else? It was really good. The stunning artwork of J. H. Williams III combined with Greg Rucka's pitch perfect take on the new character made for a memorable introduction, and it was an origin that was a hard act to follow. Over the last year since the beginning of DC's New 52, Kate Kane's solo title Batwoman has attempted to live up to that legacy forged in Detective Comics. It has failed to reach the same level of quality, proving that artwork alone cannot maintain a series.

Greg Rucka knows how to write women. Sadly, this is still a unique skill among comic book (and film and television) writers. Any writer, male or female that write women well (and the ladies don't do it well by default) is able to do so by depicting them as equally flawed and complex as their male counterparts. Accepting and recognizing that women face struggles differently is integral; but there is a thin line between realistically depicting women and relying on tropes. Mr. Rucka, in a piece for io9 about why he writes strong female characters, offers several reason why many writers falter in their depictions of women: ignorance and the acceptance of a lower standard are among them. Showing struggles unique to women is not evidence of doing the extensive research that is necessary as a writer. Without recognizing one's own ignorance, the final product may instead be unintentionally informed by  popularly held (un)truths. Strong women = Bitch. Sex is power. A woman's body is a matter of public policy. She was asking for it. As long as these sentiments exist, the playing field is not even for understanding and portraying female characters, and writers need to be aware of the societally informed bias they bring to their depictions. With fewer women seen in the pages of superhero titles, the quality of those depictions is even more significant and determines what is acceptable.

The New NEW 52 Batwoman
Batwoman's story was once a beautifully drawn and engaging journey to read. It is now a beautifully drawn comic that is harder for people to recognize as another mediocre offering because it comes in such an appealing package. In issue #12 of Batwoman, we see Kate's story juxtaposed with one of DC's oldest super heroines. The flaws are a little more glaring when the writing is applied to the iconic Wonder Woman. Co-writers W. Haden Blackman and J. H. Williams III begin by presenting the myths surrounding the goddess as shared from her own point of view. But who is she trying to convince of the truth? She comes across as very godlike indeed; she is completely detached from the reader. This is in contrast to the way she is currently being written by Brian Azzarello. We don't need to be convinced by an inner monologue that she is strong. Her stoic nature, unwavering courage, and the intelligence demonstrated by her actions tells us everything we need to know. Meanwhile, Batwoman finds herself fighting a new foe. The Bloody Mary of legend is a new lead in her continued attempt to rescue Gotham's missing children. Bloody Mary was a child bride that turned murderous when her husband cheated on her (but mind you she only killed the potential mistresses). Of all of the myths that have inspired Bloody Mary, the writers instead chose to create a villain motivated by the threat that someone "might take her man" (direct quote from the comic). What could have been an interesting new villain to add to Batwoman's rogue's gallery is just another one dimensional tale of a woman scorned, compounded by an equally one dimensional philandering husband. To add insult, Bloody Mary has the ability to reveal the nightmarish view of her foes to themselves. What Batwoman sees in the mirror is a vampire-like temptress. So she sees herself in nightmares as dangerous, yet more of a sexual object? It would have been more meaningful had Batwoman looked truly grotesque as her werewolf companion sees himself. Mark my words, an even lazier writer of the future will remember this Starfire inspired costume and use it in a reboot.

Another element that was a staple of Rucka's original introduction of Batwoman was the supporting cast; what we have in the book now is a pale shadow of the formerly varied group of strong characters.  In her time of need, Detective Maggie Sawyer fails to receive Kate's full support because of her duties as Batwoman. Maggie gives her an alternative to come clean about her frequent absences or end the relationship. This exchange is very similar to one between Kate and a former girlfriend in her first issue of Detective. It's a little soon in Kate's history as a character to repeat the same struggles without showing growth or a changed approach. Having recently failed to save her cousin and crime fighting partner Bette Kane from a brutal attack (the second time she's been seriously injured as Kate's partner), one would think Batwoman's interpersonal dynamics would have changed. In the brief view of Bette in this issue, her role as recovering victim is reaffirmed as she expresses fear that damage done by villain "The Hook" could still kill her. Her uncle even calls her his "little clipped wing". Both Kate and Bette are at the same place they were at the beginning of their stories, yet the wisdom of experience should have provided different approaches to similar obstacles (Kate and her relationships, Bette and recovering from bouts with villains).

Batwoman walks circles in her own book, which happens to mirror the direction of the storytelling
Without a strong writer to guide him, J. H. Williams III's artwork suffers as well. The layouts are as inventive as ever, Dave Stewarts' color still add to the uniquely gothic feel of the title, but what had once been admirable qualities are missing. The grimace seen on Kate's face when weightlifting or fighting; the motion and posturing informed by her military background; the strong presence demanded by Batwoman filling up a double page spread; none of these are present here. What we are left with is a character that appears to be briskly walking through her own book. Wonder Woman is shown as a buxom pouty lipped beauty, not the warrior of Cliff Chiang and Tony Akin (as seen in the current Brian Azzarello penned Wonder Woman). Our first frontal view of the warrior can be more easily compared to a blow-up doll than a fearsome goddess. We've seen better from Williams, stronger women that kick ass and hold their own beside Batman. Has he lost sight of those important distinctions because it isn't written in the script?

Which of these Wonder Women is more likely to kick your ass? (art by J.H. Williams III above, Cliff Chiang below)
Batwoman as a character is still rather new, and not all of her stories will be well written. But this early on, I won't settle for anything less than the high standard set by her iconic origin. There are too few superhero titles featuring female characters; there is no room for mediocrity. But because it resembles its former incarnation, this title will continue to garner undeserving praise. This is one reader that won't be fooled: a heroine can't just look strong, she has to be well written, too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

C2E2 2013: Still Taking Place at McCormick

8-16-12 UPDATE: Via their twitter, C2E2 organizers have confirmed that they are in fact keeping next year's show at McCormick (hears collective sigh of relief from fans).

Consider this story as seen through the lens of speculation, but several retailers at this past weekend's Chicago Comic Con (at Rosemont) were questioned by organizers of C2E2 concerning their convention location preferences. When it comes to feedback, C2E2 organizers Reed Pop are known for maintaining an open dialog with retailers, fans, and exhibitors. The McCormick convention center has been equally praised and derided by fans, and it is perhaps one of the only aspects of the show to be continually mentioned as a complaint. Hands down, Rosemont is more conveniently located to public transportation and has far more hotels considering the vicinity of the large O'Hare airport. But if you ask anyone attending C2E2 or Wizard World's Chicago Comic Con, convenience aside I would bet most would tell you McCormick is a far more attractive exhibition space than the older Rosemont. Personally, I would be disappointed to see C2E2 change spaces, especially if they moved to Rosemont, a space so heavily associated with the Wizard World of past. Despite the vastly different programming and guest lists, casual comic book fans still have a hard time distinguishing between the two conventions. Whether this loose polling of Chicago Comic Con attendees was an attempt to gauge the crowd for what attracts them to each of the shows or whether they are considering changing locations is yet to be seen. Either way, Reed Pop clearly wants to put on the best show possible and they are always open to listening to fans. If you feel strongly one way or the either, share your opinions with them via their Twitter or Facebook pages.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Chicago Comic Con 2012: Cons, They Are A Changing

Every year comic con gets bigger. The lines get longer, the guest list fills with more celebrities, the ticket prices go up, and a vocal group of fans are sure to lament how much it has changed. No, I'm not talking about International Comic Con, the show co-opted by Hollywood and universally lauded for being too big and too different from its previous incarnations. The comic con brand continues to be more about spectacle and less about comics, and that is as true of the Chicago show as San Diego. Despite it embracing the mainstream, San Diego remains the go-to convention for comic readers and creators. But with a complete absence of any comic book publishers on the con floor, Wizard World's  Chicago Comic Con has become less relevant to the comic book community. It is not the same show it was 10 years ago (or even 5), but it is still a fun undertaking for fans that know what to expect of it.

The big draw this year was no doubt the impressively large amount of celebrity guests. The longest lines were for wrestlers like John Cena and CM Punk, comic book legend Stan Lee, and actor / convention favorite William Shatner. Other big names included Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame, Scott Bakula, and Bruce Campbell. With such a large focus on the television and film stars, the cancellations were more noticeable. Vampire Diaries actors Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley were both no shows due to a change in their filming schedule; Kate Mulgrew's cancellation made the gathering of Star Trek captains less of an accomplishment; and Hayden Panettiere also found her filming schedule in conflict with the show. It is safe to say very few fans were sad to see that Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino was unable to attend the convention (the very announcement of him as a guest served as more of a deterrent than incentive). Not all of the long lines were for actors; comic book legends George Perez and Neal Adams had impressively large crowds queuing for sketches and signatures, as did Batman artist Greg Capullo. Whether fans came for the comics or the stars, the show was bustling even during Thursday's preview night and was pushing maximum capacity during its height on Saturday. The newer layout received equal amounts of praise and complaints. Having the celebrity signing area in the middle made more sense from years past when they were right in the front creating an immediate traffic jam upon entering the con floor; but booth numbering was difficult to navigate, with some vendors being shuffled around at the last minute. Very few creators in artist alley had positive sentiments to express about their experience. From the labyrinthian-like layout, last minute changes, and sometimes non-consecutive table numbering, many expressed feeling like they were given a poor position on the floor. Stretching against the back wall from one end of the con to the other, the position of artist alley felt like an afterthought. Lines for signings had no where to go and aisles were not consistently wide enough to navigate. If there is any aspect of the convention that has changed for the worse, it would be the disregard for this important area of the convention. Sadly, the damage may be done at this point since many local creators have vowed never to show at another Wizard World run convention due to past mistreatment. As a con goer and member of the press, I can say that my experiences with the Wizard World staff and volunteers was nothing short of pleasant and it is disappointing to hear that respected professionals cannot say the same. Local creators like Skottie Young, Brian Azzarello, Mike Norton, Jill Thompson, Tim Seeley, and Gene Ha were noticeably absent. Their reasons for not attending can only be left to speculation (or not if you follow some of their twitter feeds), but if you throw a show in a huge comic book town like Chicago, it reflects poorly to have such talented folks skipping your show.

The selection of vendors was varied enough to appeal to just about anyone coming through the doors. There were several apparel vendors, including Threadless, We Love Fine Tee's, and Superhero Stuff (these vendors appealed to men and women equally which was appreciated as well). I myself purchased a Black Widow tee from Superhero Stuff featuring the artwork of Daniel Acuna; since he was in attendance, I brought the shirt for him to sign and he claimed my request made him feel like a rockstar. Despite the many comic shop vendors, no one had a terribly impressive amount of discount trade paperbacks. Anyone that came to the show with a booth of $5 trade paperbacks would have cornered that market. The majority of comic shop vendors tended to lean towards the rare / key book market. This is unsurprising as long established vendors are more likely to commit to coming to show that has proven successful for them in the past (the newer show in town, C2E2 must be a younger vendor's game). Considering that attendance numbers have only gone up over the years, the potential for big sales is hard to resist.

Daniel Acuna signs my Black Widow t-shirt (like a rock star)

If this was my first Chicago Wizard World, I would have been more impressed by the experience. But knowing of the prestige it once held makes me nostalgic for the past. Chicago's was the first convention I ever attended and to have met John Romita Jr., Frank Miller, and Chris Claremont at the same show seems like an unheard of opportunity today. Back then, the likes of DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse were all in attendance and they hosted those legendary creators and many more. The number of panels on comic books used to be so numerous that it was impossible to attend each and every one; this year out of all of the panels, only 8 featured comic book creators. Attendants of Wizard World 2012 were more likely to have a difficult time managing the photo op schedule than panels. In attending two days of the convention, I also felt like I experienced everything the show had to offer and can't imagine I missed out by not attending all four days. As much fun as I had this weekend ogling the celebrities, buying comics and tees, and appreciating the impressive cos-play, I could not help but miss what once was. The evolution of the show from premiere comic convention to pop culture event is fairly recent and has yet to prove sustainable; the added competition from C2E2 will either make this show continue to differentiate itself by furthering the shift in focus from comics, or Wizard World could still step up their game to compete with the new show and claim its previous status as the second most important comic book convention in the country. Until next year's guest list and programming is announced, here's hoping the first time con goers of this year will have something new in store for them in the future, and something familiar for the rest of us.

One of my favorite cos-players of the weekend, Moon Knight

After spending two days at the convention, I ended up with quite a few images of cos-players and detail shots. In an effort to share as much of them as possible, I have created a Comic Book Candy Facebook page. This way anyone can more easily share the images by tagging themselves as well. You can find and "like" the page (and images) HERE

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cosplay and Crowdfunding: A Follow-Up With Molly McIsaac

Not too long ago, cosplayer Molly McIsaac expressed her desire to crowdfund her breast augmentation. Our response to her initial blog post garnered a lot of discussion, from other blog posts to angry unintelligible tweets. We reached out to Molly for a series of follow-up questions and she graciously answered; but before we get to her response, I'd like to talk a little further about the initial post / the response received.

First, I wanted to give the blog a break from b00b talk hence the delay in posting this interview. The recent search terms that have led to my blog have been heavily skewed towards breasts and that's something I'd like to avoid in the future.  Despite all of the disappointed individuals that make their way to these posts in hopes of finding "comic book boobs" or "power girl porn", they can still stick around and read about the portrayal of women in comics and one woman's desire to have comic book boobs (they will immediately see the lack of photos and promptly move on to the next google image search results - but here's hoping they read this first). It is worth all of the creepy search terms because this topic is deserving of further analysis. 

Borg cube cake has less hits than Power Girl porn? I'm disappointed in you, internet.

Feminism! And Stuff!

A lot of commenters liked to bring out the big, loaded "F" word! Sentiments shared included how getting a boob job isn't anti-feminist and how dare I imply as much, how telling another woman what to do was anti-feminist, how doing what you want with your body and making yourself happy was the ideal form of feminism, etc. My original post doesn't mention what feminism is or isn't, so it is interesting that so many people assumed that Molly and her decision went against my (unstated) feminist views. That is simply not the case. I believe one can get breast implants and still be a feminist. I believe one can still wear high heels, make-up, and (let's bring it back to the subject) cosplay and still be a feminist. There are women out there that would strongly disagree, and they have a right to their opinion. My original post was never about posing Molly's quest in relation to feminism, but in relation to the way she views herself because of cosplaying and depicting physically unrealistic characters. But while we're on the subject, the endgame for feminism isn't getting to the point where us women folk all agree on everything (or keep our opinions to ourselves when we don't). Sharing opposing views is an opportunity for learning, both for those speaking and listening.

Providing the ability to donate = Asking for donations

Many commenters brought up the notion of "if you don't want to donate you don't have to." This is very true. But you know how when you go to a coffee shop and see that tip jar on the counter? That's kind of what it's like when you visit Molly's website. She's not requiring anyone to donate, but the fact that is an option changes the dynamic of the conversation from responding to a personal choice to responding to a personal choice being partially funded by strangers. Comments are open on Molly's site as well, and she has engaged her followers on Twitter and Facebook concerning her decision. My post was just one more extension of the conversation, and I never discouraged individuals from contributing to her fund. The distinction between asking and allowing is something Molly and I disagree with as can be seen in her response later in this post.

Donating moral support

I never thought discouraging someone to get breast implants would be considered hateful, but boy did some readers think otherwise! What kind of bizarro universe do we live in where telling someone they don't need to have breast implants is considered negative? Dear readers, should I ever share my desire to surgically alter myself for cosmetic reasons, I would hope that more of you would offer discouragement than gleefully provide your support. If you think telling someone "go for the bigger boobs" is a positive sentiment, then you are most definitely a contributing factor to why women feel this way in the first place. Preceding that statement with "if it's what you really want" does not have the same impact as saying "you look beautiful no matter what".

Why getting new breasts isn't the same as other enhancements

Another baffling and frequent comment made was why did I care if Molly gets breast implants since it's like any other enhancement cosplayers undergo? This isn't coloring your hair, or putting on make up. This is an everyday, all day kind of deal so it is most certainly not the same. And while getting a tattoo or piercing can be just as permanent, those are meant to showcase the unique style of an individual. Getting breast implants is very much in part a desire to conform to a modern standard of beauty, even if your primary reason for doing so is to feel better about yourself. One commenter hit the nail on the head by stating "it [breast implants] is a temporary band-aid for a permanent wound." If someone states that they are getting breast implants to look a certain way, then yes, I believe it is possible for them to be truly satisfied. But if it is about wanting to feel a certain way? They probably aren't doing it for the right reasons and will likely be disappointed when their body issues remain unresolved.

Final Thoughts

Molly McIsaac definitely lives her life in a very public way, and I can understand why she would feel comfortable sharing this experience with her followers. I don't make it a habit to write posts about every woman considering this procedure, but her unique approach in accepting donations and her public status in the cosplay and comic blogging community made it a relevant topic for my blog. It was a "respond in kind" attempt at offering support, and sending an e-mail or leaving a comment on her site would not have had quite the same impact, nor would others benefit from the ability to participate in a larger discussion.  Whether in private or public, encouraging Molly to keep her natural physique isn't going to hurt her in the long run. 

The Interview

Many readers were equally curious about Molly's decision to accept donations and the implications of crowdfunding her surgery. Special thanks goes to Molly for answering these questions so thoroughly and offering further incite into her journey. Follow the jump to read the interview with Molly: