Posts Tagged ‘Gail Simone’

I needed to do a fun article. It’s been a weird couple of weeks in the House of Sam, so I’m gonna talk about one of the stranger and yet awesome categories of comic book characters – Gorillas. No, not the beloved alternative/hip hop/electronica group, but rather our gloriously rendered, hyper-intelligent simian cousins who populate the world of DC Comics. While television viewing fans have come to know of frequent Flash villain Gorilla Grodd, it’s worth noting that the comic book universe home to the Scarlet Speedster has at least six sentient apes running around with the goal of either helping or hindering our favorite heroes. And with the possibility of more apes appearing on The Flash via the proto-Gorilla City of Earth-2, I thought I’d give all you lovely people a rundown of villainous and heroic primates with the potential to grace our small screens, or maybe the big one.StrangeAdventures75

 

 

But First: Why Are There So Many Gorillas?

It’s a question worth asking due to the sheer number of intelligent gorillas roaming the DCU. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel has its own sentient apes, but not as many as its main competitor. The answer comes down to age, and not the silver one that most people associate with the proliferation of monkeys in media. While the Silver Age is definitely known for its heavy use of science fiction tropes, gorillas were hardly absent from fiction or comics prior to the era of sci-fi shenanigans. Edgar Rice Burroughs introduced several ape characters in the Tarzan novels from 1912-1964 and the early Tarzan films featured his chimp pal Cheeta. During the Golden Age various jungle related comics had their title characters regularly confront enemies of the gorilla kind even if it was only on the cover. No, as a company, DC has been around longer and thus they’ve gone through at least two phases of popular culture where “gorilla movies” drove sales. From King Kong to the first Planet of the Apes franchise, giant and/or intelligent primates have never quite left the media landscape. DC Comics just happened to have more characters who survived the ebb and flow of popularity.

 

Gorilla Grodd

Yes, I know The Flash has put Grodd much higher on the radar than anyone could’ve imagined, but he’s still an interesting character worth looking at a little more. Introduced in 1959, in the comics the residents of Gorilla City (originally located on regular old Earth-1) gained their intelligence from an alien who crashed landed in Africa, but it was later retconned as a radioactive meteor because comics! Grodd, upon gaining a massive boost to the old noggin, basically decides to start taking over the world, like immediately. The only variations of his plan usually involve taking over Gorilla City from intellectual rival King Solovar or deciding just to destroy humanity inGrodd general. Gotta change it up every once and a while. Like his television counterpart, Grodd is telepathic and telekinetic, which makes him a pretty formidable opponent for the Flash since Grodd’s disdain for humans in general makes it easy for him to use people as canon fodder in order to get the upper hand. There were, however, a number of plots where Grodd could change into a human and others where he took over a human’s mind almost permanently, so we’ll see how far the live action show wants to push it. He’s also pretty game to team up with other villains – joining Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom and Vandal Savage on numerous occasions – so keeping my fingers crossed for Captain Cold to show up on his doorstep in Earth-2!

I do believe he also has the most television and video game appearances of any DC gorilla, showing up in everything from the Super Friends to Justice League: Unlimited to Lego Batman.

 

King Solovar

Part of the original group of gorillas gifted with hyper-intelligence, Solovar has been instrumental in keeping the peace between Gorilla City and the human world. Where Grodd seeks power, Solovar keeps his brilliant mind tempered with wisdom and humility. Which is probably why the two are always at odds, though it seems to depend largely on how into taking over the world Grodd is that day before settling on messing with Solovar. He’s definitely made a play for the throne plenty of times, but where his rival is concerned Grodd will go the extra mile to make the king’s life a living hell. For instance, Solovar fancied a female gorilla named Boka and intended to marry her. Grodd, learning of this thing called happiness and falling for Boka as well, built a machine that emitted a type of radiation that made solovarothers instantly like him, causing Boka to turn her affections towards him. Then he used it to become King of Gorilla City. Then he tried to take over Central City. That’s the world of gorillas in the DCU. In the DC Animated Universe, however, Solovar appeared as the Chief of Security for Gorilla City sent to stop Grodd from, of course, taking over the world. Luckily, Flash and Green Lantern were there to lend a hand.

Given the rivalry between Grodd and Solovar is a pretty major part of their backstory, it would be interesting if the live-action show tried to play this up. Since Grodd is a newcomer to the nascent haven for intelligent gorillas, it wouldn’t surprise me if he tried to take over the place with his opposition led by Solovar. It would be a great juxtaposition for the show as well, giving the STAR Labs team a group of allies against Grodd and his brood should the occasion arise.

 

Tolifhar

He may not be one of the more well known gorillas of the DCU, but this genetically modified white-furred gorilla is a favorite of mine purely because of his appearance in Gail Simone’s excellent Wonder Woman story, The Circle. A former follower of Grodd’s, Tolifhar was and remains the leader of the Gorilla Knights, a group of gorilla warriors created purely to fight superpowered beings. Thankfully, tolifhar-gorilla_knight-1Diana convinced them to switch sides and allowed them to stay in her home for a while. Hilarity definitely ensued. To be fair, it’s hard not to instantly like a gorilla in plated armor who also happens to sport one hell of a scar over his left eye. Plus he’s written by Gail Simone, so automatic awesome.

Like Solovar, it wouldn’t be hard to work Tolifhar into Earth-2’s Gorilla City as either a supporter of Grodd’s or one of Solovar’s elite guard. Either way, it would be pretty cool to see Grodd fight one of his own kind and Tolifhar, without question, could give him a run for his money. Extra fun would be Barry and the rest of the STAR Labs gang working alongside another gorilla who is just as capable and intelligent as Grodd, only nicer. Or at least less gung-ho about killing all humans.

 

Ultra-Humanite

A character who’s had an up and down career in the books, the Ultra-Humanite was one of Superman’s first recurring villains during the Golden Age until Lex Luthor rose in the ranks of Supes’s punch card. He was also a regular human being at the time with delusions of grandeur intent on taking over the world. Like ya do. When he was brought back during the Silver Age, he looked less man-like and more ape-like on account of transferring his consciousness into a large white-furred gorilla. Again, like ya do. Please note, though, that the Ultra-Humanite isn’t one of the Gorilla Knights turned bad. He’s just a dude crossing lines in science that man, or ape, was never meant Ultra-humaniteto cross. His backstory changed here and there, but the running theme was that of a man constantly doing body swaps to keep his superior mind alive. Back in the 40s he even had his brain placed in the body of movie star Dolores Winters. It may have been a means to an end, but he wasn’t complaining about his time as a woman.

Ultra-Humanite has made a few appearances in the DC Animated Universe where he’s taken on the very sci-fi form of a big-brained gorilla complete with throbbing veins to let us know just how smart he really is – just in case you didn’t know. I did appreciate the animators and the writers making him distinct from Grodd by giving him more refined tastes in music, art, and culture on top of his superior scientific skills. Again, it would be pretty fun to see the STAR Labs posse either going up against Ultra-Humanite or reluctantly working with him. The effects team has gotten pretty good at animating gorillas after two episode with Grodd, so I think this is right in their wheelhouse.

 

Monsieur Mallah

After Grodd, Monsieur Mallah is my favorite of the DC Comics gorilla faction. Seriously, it’s a gorilla with a beret and bandoleers toting a machine gun. How can you not squeal with delight whenever he shows up to make life inconvenient for the Teen Titans? First appearing in Doom Patrol in 1964, Mallah was the result of experiments on animals by a French scientist trying to boost intelligence. Mallah was one of the success stories, reaching an IQ surpassing Einstein. When a colleague became jealous he rigged an explosion and made sure the object of his jealousy got caught in the blast. Only the brain survived, transferred to a computer network by Mallah and eventually stored monsieur-mallahin a cylindrical case that showed off the still functioning organ while sporting a sweet skull face. Now known as the Brain, Mallah served as his personal assistant and bodyguard, helping him create the Brotherhood of Evil and causing general mayhem.

It wasn’t until Grant Morrison took over Doom Patrol in 1990 that any hints of romance sparked between Mallah and the Brain (yes, the joke has been made), but oh my did sparks fly! And like all of the crazy and insane ideas Morrison comes up with this one worked like gangbusters. Points to you if you find any of the fanfiction that’s sure to exist. The pair made frequent appearances on Teen Titans and Young Justice and proto-Superman even managed to take them down on Smallville. I can only imagine how awesome it would be to have Mallah and the Brain open one of the breaches between Earths 1 and 2 and wreak some havoc on Central City. Cisco would have a field day with these two.

 

Sam Simeon

First appearing in 1964, Sam was the latter half of Angel and the Ape, acting as partner to the very human Angel O’Day while also working as a comic book artist. Simeon didn’t so much hide that he was an ape as the people around him just assumed the big, burly, hairy ape-like guy at the desk was just an ape-like dude. When the book was revived in the 1990s, Sam was revealed to be Gorilla Grodd’s grandson angelandtheape2(though this conflicts with another book that claimed Sam was Grodd’s brother) and used his psychic powers to project the image of a human for people to see when they came to the detectives. Only when his concentration broke could others see him for what he was.

This one might be a long shot for The Flash considering the familial relation to Grodd, but it would be pretty sweet if Joe West ran into a normal looking dude named Sam only to find out the guy is actually another psychic gorilla. Like nana Cross always said: You can never meet enough psychic gorillas. Don’t believe me? Go read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael.

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Part two of Dark Horse’s Conan/Red Sonja talk at Emerald City Comicon concludes with co-writer Gail Simone! If you haven’t read part one with Jim Zub, I strongly encourage you to do so on pain of death! That I will somehow accomplish through the internet…once I’ve mastered magic? Okay, just know that the interview with Jim Zub is fantastic as well. Gail was lovely to talk to and it’s always great getting her insights on the comic book world and how much we’ve grown as a community.

Fun fact: The Dark Horse booth was across from the ECCC equivalent of San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H, so there were times during the interview where, after I asked a question, there would be a swell of cheers coming from the room as if the audience was showing their approval. So know that my confidence was running high from all that.

Also, look out for the special guest appearance by Dark Horse’s Publicity Coordinator, Steve Sunu. Hi, Steve!

Author’s Note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: I talked to Jim yesterday about Conan/Red Sonja.Gail-Simone-Red-Sonja1

Gail Simone: Okay, great.

MG: He had a lot of glowing things to say about you. So, you wanna give us the real story about working with Jim Zub?

GS: Yeah, the real story is quite amazing. I haven’t done work with co-writers too often but when I have they’ve been really great ones and Jim has been really great. It was so fun when we first started talking about, “Well what do we want to do?” We’ve got four issues and this type of a team-up hasn’t happened in forever. It’s very exciting, we’re both very excited about it. So it has to be epic!

MG: Yeah!

GS: And so then we started thinking about what would be epic and we decided to tell a story that spans a lot of time. And so, ya know, we write our separate pages and then we both go over each others pages. And I think it worked very well, I think it’s very seamless and makes a really exciting, fun story. I’ve known him for years, he’s a great person, he’s a great writer, he’s a great collaborator. So it was great. And then when the art started coming in and it’s so fantastic, it’s so gorgeous and people have been coming up to my table all convention and telling me how gorgeous and how much they love the art and how excited they are about the story so I think we hopefully hit our goal with it.

MG: I read the third issue right before the con so I’m all caught up with the bloodroot and everything. I was asking Jim about the idea of legacy and storytelling because each issue is narrated by a…is it a vizier? A teacher and the young prince?

GS: Yeah.conanrs3p3

MG: What does legacy mean to you in terms of these stories?

GS: Well, this is a character that’s been around a long time and people, some people, are familiar with her stories, some people aren’t but they still know who Red Sonja is for one reason or another; whether it’s a movie or an old comic or just seeing art and material out there they seem to know who she is. And that’s kind of a really cool thing. And then when you can take modern themes and use them with legacy characters and set them in a totally different and unfamiliar time period – I love that mixture of being able to be kind of current with the themes and the thought processes and the actions of the characters but the setting’s a completely different time.

MG: What do you feel is Red Sonja’s arc? In the Dynamite series but also in this one?

GS: She has a couple different things going on. The first arc was kind of more about how she became who she is and what formed her into the great warrior that she is and the second arc was more about “Do you still have friends and friendships and contacts and things when you become this person?” And then the third story arc that takes us through issue 18 is more about…emotion. It’s a lot more deeply emotional story than the other two arcs so she has a really strong emotional arc that she takes.

MG: And when you say that, talking about Sonja’s arc with “can you keep friends and be this person still?” It reminds me of how we are in general; we grow, we become a different person. Especially women in these [nerd culture] industries.conanrs3p4

GS: Well I think, too, there’s something to be said about when you become the best at what you do, then when you take a look around – who’s left? Who’s still standing with you or beside you? And sometimes that can be lonely and sometimes you can fall into really good friendships that are equal.

Steve Sunu: Sorry, Sam, just about two more questions.

MG: Okay, yeah. [to Gail] Next question: What was your favorite metaphor that you used as a descriptor for Red Sonja or for Conan?

GS: [laughs] Oh my gosh! Favorite metaphor? I don’t know. The thing – there is some metaphors but the thing that I like most about writing the Red Sonja character is that it’s pretty straight forward. It’s pretty grounded, it’s pretty filthy and bloody and sexy and all those things. I think that – in the second arc where she’s having trouble getting with somebody, nobody wants to be with her and she can’t quite figure out why or what to do about it. I think that – I wouldn’t say that’s a metaphor but I do think it’s something a lot of people do go through and could relate to. At least they’re telling me that online that they could really relate to her current problem. So I enjoyed telling that story. It was humorous but also it was still a little painful.

MG: And last question: Who’s the best Monkee?

GS: [laughs] Who’s the best monkey? Hmmm, the best monkey…? I don’t know. Gorilla Grodd, right?

MG: [laughs] Well I mean Monkees like the band.

GS: Oh the band? The Monkees?! Oh no!

MG: Since you’re such a Monkees fan.Michael-Nesmith-the-monkees-19107360-1217-790

GS: I am. Michael Nesmith. [laughs]

MG: [laughs] Yeah, no, I agree! I’m all there with you.

GS: I hate to say it –

MG: No, don’t hate!

GS: If I was going to have to pick one it would be him.

MG: All those Davy [Jones] fans, “NO, Gail! Curse you!”

GS: Gotta go with the lyrics.

MG: That’s right. The guy with the hat. Thank you so much, Gail. I appreciate the time you’ve given me. It’s all great. I love reading your work. I read [Now Leaving] Megalopolis as well. So fantastic.

GS: Thank you so much.nightwing butt

MG: I’m looking forward to all your new stuff that’s coming out.

GS: Me too. I can’t wait until it starts coming out.

MG: And is there going to be Nightwing butt in Convergence? You gonna have just like one shot – “NIGHTWING BUTT!”

GS: [sing-song] There’s some cute Nightwing stuff!

MG: [sing-song] Okay! Thank you so much!

GS: Thank you.

In the midst of the three-day walkabout that is Emerald City Comicon, I had the opportunity, thanks to the lovely team at Dark Horse Comics, to interview the writers of the Conan/Red Sonja crossover comic, Jim Zub and Gail Simone. First up was Jim Zub who was kind enough to set some time aside at his booth. The interview has been transcribed due to heavy background noise during recording. Jim Zub

 

Author’s note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: So, Conan/Red Sonja!

Jim Zub: Conan/Red Sonja.

MG: I read the issue the other night.

JZ: Issue three?

MG: Yep, issue three.

JZ: Awesome.

MG: So, if you can describe the process of working with Gail Simone first.

JZ: Sure. So, Gail was on the project first and she was the one that brought me on board. So even when I came into it she already had a couple ideas about how things could work. And I think the one thing that I’m really the most proud of that we worked out was – ya know this kind of a project, especially with characters who haven’t been teamed up in over fifteen years…

MG: Yeah, not since the movie, right?conanrs3p1

JZ: Right? You have them when they’re young and they’re vibrant and then you have them when they’re older. And both eras of the characters are really amazing. And it’s like, man, if this is the only time I ever get to write Conan, I wanna do it all and Gail had this great idea that we would show a story that evolves as they get older. So the first chapter is, ya know, when they’re young and impetuous and then as the things that they do in that first chapter come to roost in the later chapters.

MG: The bloodroot and everything?

JZ: Exactly. And so we wanted to create this – it enlarges the scope of the story and it makes it that much more epic, but it also allows us to show how the characters have evolved and how their attitudes have changed. So Conan has become much more serious. Ya know, in the early one Sonja is very harsh, she’s very prickly, and then as she gets a little bit older she’s a bit freer and Conan has sort of shut down after Bêlit’s death. He’s just, ya know, much more morose and kinda grim about the whole thing. And that – being able to show the contrast between them and the shift in time I feel like is one of the most – it’s something I’m really proud of in the series. And then, ya know, just being able to have this big sweeping adventure. You get to have that pirate, swashbuckling era. You get to have the ragtag thieves.

MG: Gladiatorial…

JZ: Exactly! We get to – literally it’s like a – the best of collection for me, it’s like the greatest hits of Conan and we just get to hit all these high notes all the way through. And that was just the best feeling. Ya know I can’t adequately describe…my name on a Conan book feels absolutely surreal.

MG: Is it one of those things that you kind of always dreamed of but never –conanrs3p2

JZ: Yeah, I grew up on it. I just never thought it would even be possible. Ya know I read the Conan comics growing up and I read the novels and that just felt like, well that’s what those people do. Not that I would ever be able to do that. So having my small little piece of the pie that’s pretty amazing.

MG: One of things that struck me with the third issue is that you’re really laying down this foundation of legacy. The storytelling to the prince. Is there something about that that just goes into the old novels or are you trying to play up the sweeping epic?

JZ: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean you wanna give a sense of…that this is not just an adventure that takes place in the moment but that it changes and it is recorded and it will be spoken of for a long time. I mean, that’s the nature of a legend, right? And we’re talking about two characters that are legendary and so being able to give it that – without trying to sound corny – that gravitas, like to say this is something that is – will be spoken of – this is not just these characters experiencing it but something that will echo outwards. And that’s, ya know, that great epic fantasy, that’s what they do and so that’s really very much the voice that was established even by Kurt Busiek when he was doing his run on the series and we looked to that and said, “Okay, we wanna run with it.” But Roy Thomas did that kinda stuff too. He would do this really poetic kind of prose and narration in his comics. It’s funny sometimes when you’re writing it you feel like, man, are we going over the top? But Conan feels like it can absorb it. It’s so big and he’s such a powerful character that even if it feels like you’re going too much you’re just right there. Like that’s where it should be.

MG: You feel like you’re going too far but, in fact, you’re not going far enough!

JZ: No, you’re right there. Right in the thick of it. You just wanna push it right to the edge in terms of the narrative quality or the intensity of those emotions and the poetic way you say it. And every so often I would find myself, I would write a sentence and I would go, “Am I nuts? Is this – did we – did we go tip it over the top?” And then we would, I would go back and I’d kinda read it out loud and my wife or other people would be like, “No, man, that’s totally Conan.” I’m like, “Wow! This is cool!” We get to really dig in on that kind of prose.

MG: Is there a particular metaphor that you’re proud of?

JZ: In the first issue we’ve got this – hold on, I – see I want to get the wording of it right and actually read it to you because I’m so proud of it.

MG: You have to do the voices too.conan-red-sonja-1-conan

JZ: Yeah, okay that’s a trick. Whenever I do a script and it’s got a – particularly licensed characters – I always read it back in the character’s voice so I feel like it has the right cadence. So, it’s corny but it’s totally useful.

MG: Lay on, Macduff.

JZ: Right here, right, so he [Conan] jumps over this gate and he smashes this guy in the face and as it’s happening the guard screams, “Gods above!” And he [Conan] goes, “Gods, you say? No, just a Cimmerian born with an appetite for things kept hidden behind steel and stone.” It’s just something, I don’t know, that’s like a badass way to introduce a character. He just comes out of nowhere and beats the hell out of people.

MG: Well why not?

JZ: It’s Conan, he can take that. So I’m proud of that one. I’m proud of the issue that hasn’t come out yet, issue four has got some – we go all epic. The original Howard stories – Robert E. Howard was actually – he was a pen pal with H.P. Lovecraft and you notice in a bunch of his stories he has a very almost Cthullian approach to the supernatural. Conan doesn’t just fight something, he fights something that could melt your mind or is beyond the universe’s ability to comprehend kind of stuff. And I always found that stuff very visceral and so I told Gail really early – we made a wishlist of all the cool things, ya know, we have a gladiatorial scene, and we have pirates, and we have this. And I said, one of my – on my wishlist was creature beyond the universe; creature of the unknown and she’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s do this!”

MG: I feel like Gail would be on board with anything.

JZ: I got to put one of those into issue four and all the prose around that makes me very happy.Wayward01A-teaser

MG: Especially with high fantasy because it’s like science fiction, it’s a sponge for everything. You can just – you’ve been doing that with, a little bit with Wayward and Skullkickers and then Samurai Jack. It’s all within kinda the same umbrella.

JZ: Yeah, totally, and I feel like…some people say to me, “Oh, you’re a sword and sorcery writer.” I’m like, “No, I wanna tell stories.” I like fantasy and I like magic but it’s broader than that. It’s about empowerment and it’s about excitement and I feel like these are great vehicles for excitement. In whatever I’m writing I want it to be action-packed and entertaining. Some of those are more comical and some of those are more serious but there’s an intensity to them.

MG: Definitely and I can’t think of a better way to end it.

JZ: Thank you so much.

MG: Thank you! I appreciate it and I loved having you on the podcast before.

JZ: It was a lot of fun, I really appreciate it.

MG: Yeah, no, you and Andy [Suriano] are like one of my favorites.

JZ: We’re having so much fun with [Samurai] Jack. The last issue, 20, comes out in, well it’s a little delayed now because of shipping, but it’s coming out in June and it is, like, it’s like our coda on the series. I tried to sum everything up and say, okay, if they never do an animated ending for Samurai Jack this is what I wanna say, drop the mic, and walk away.1 gOXhpN2a-nGNEnB24oR1sw

MG: Are they cutting you off?

JZ: Well yeah, but they gave us enough notice so we could go out the way we wanted.

MG: That’s good ’cause you don’t always get that.

JZ: Oh yeah, absolutely. The show didn’t get that! So, the last thing you wanna do is cut off the comic.

MG: Exactly. Thanks, Jim!

JZ: Thanks!

You were doing so well, DC Comics. So well. And then y’all had to go and screw it up again.

For the June mini-relaunch of DC Comics’ titles post-Convergence each book will feature Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker on a variant cover. As is the case with most themed variants, the cover art is released ahead of time to get readers excited and get them thinking about which titles they want to spend their money on for the cover alone.

So when DC released the variant art for Batgirl #41

BG-Cv41-Joker-variant-solicitation-68d7f-600x910

There were some understandable feelings of “WTF, DC!” coming from fans. This author included. Drawn by Rafael Albuquerque, the variant uncomfortably invokes Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke (1988) where Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, was shot and tortured by the Joker leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Oddly enough, The Killing Joke isn’t about Barbara at all, it’s about her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, and Batman with Barbara’s pain and suffering used to taunt and torture the two men. No wonder it’s one of the primary examples of the Women in Refrigerators trope, or fridging, where the death, injury, or torture of a woman is used to further a male character’s story. The book may have its fans, but it has plenty of naysayers, among them the book’s author. Alan Moore has since shown his regrets over the story, chief among them being the crippling of Barbara Gordon, which Moore states he was surprised went through at DC. By his own account, Moore was told by editor Len Wein that it was okay to “cripple the bitch.”

The silver lining to The Killing Joke is we eventually got Barbara as the computer hacking badass that is Oracle. Leader of the Birds of Prey and one of the most trusted heroes within the DC Universe, Babs became the poster child for the disabled community. In overcoming her disability by continuing to fight crime, Barbara proved her resilience to adversity, becoming a stronger character in the long run. After twenty years in the chair, however, DC decided to put Barbara back in uniform with the launch of the New 52. Unfortunately, the rebooted universe didn’t include erasing The Killing Joke from the current canon. Instead, Barbara had been disabled for about three years prior to the events of the relaunch with her #1 issue serving as her first outing in uniform since the surgery that gave her back the use of her legs.

What became obvious was The Killing Joke’s legacy as a defining moment in Barbara’s history, at least according to DC Comics. Luckily writer Gail Simone tried to make good on the aftermath of such a traumatic event, exploring Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and moving Babs’ story beyond being a victim. The current creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr have taken a similar approach. By changing her uniform and moving her out of Gotham City proper and into the Greenwich Village-esque Burnside, Batgirl has become the bright spot amongst the grimdark Bat-books. Colorful, fun, and unabashedly pro-feminist, Babs’ time in the wheelchair is a sore spot, but doesn’t define her. It’s certainly a plot point worth exploring, as the creative team continues to do in the current arc, but The Killing Joke does not a Batgirl make. Babs is presented as a confident, smart, and resourceful young woman trying to be both superhero and college student. Her problems come in the form of anime-inspired motorcyclists and social media, not dwelling on the Joker.

So why then did whoever is in charge of commissioning the variant covers decide that Batgirl as Victim was appropriate? Every book has its own tone and style and Albuquerque’s work couldn’t be more tone deaf in regards to Batgirl as a book. Look at the picture again. Babs is frightened and crying while the Joker draws a bloody smile across her face. It’s grotesque, but also another display of how DC Comics sees one of their most popular female characters. None of the other variants have shown the heroes as victims in such an uncomfortable manner and it’s disheartening that whoever is in charge of approving this cover thought it was okay. What’s more surprising is the cover Albuquerque did for Batgirl: Endgame #1, which feeds into the Endgame storyline in Batman.

batgirl_endgame1 - rafael albuquerque

It’s a much more appropriate cover and conveys the same information without diminishing Batgirl as a hero. Why this for Endgame but not for the book proper?

It’s just mind-boggling when one looks at other variants for Batgirl that have come out over the course of the New 52 that all have one thing in common: Batgirl is a goddam hero. In fact, here’s a gallery of those covers. Check out for yourself how previous variants have emphasized the fun and heroism of Batgirl.

28d5eb6e462adb9b4892cff3054e5c34

Batgirl ’66 Variant by Michael and Laura Allred

Scribblenauts Variant

Scribblenauts Variant

Bombshell Variant by Ant Lucia

Bombshell Variant by Ant Lucia

Monster Month variant by Kevin Nowlan

Monster Month variant by Kevin Nowlan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Requiem variant by Mikel Janin

Robin Requiem variant by Mikel Janin

Batman 75th Anniversary variant by Cliff Chiang

Batman 75th Anniversary variant by Cliff Chiang

Steampunk Variant by JG Jones

Steampunk Variant by JG Jones

The Flash Variant by Aaron Lopresti

The Flash Variant by Aaron Lopresti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harley Quinn Variant by Cliff Chiang

Harley Quinn Variant by Cliff Chiang

Selfie Variant by Dave Johnson

Selfie Variant by Dave Johnson

Movie Poster Variant by Cliff Chiang

Movie Poster Variant by Cliff Chiang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The urge to name this Love in the Time of Wonder Woman was so strong, but I resisted the impulse. While there was an ease with which the rejected article title came, it didn’t quite capture everything I wanted to cover in talking about the 35 issue run of Wonder Woman. In the three years since the New 52 launched, the creative team of writer Brian Azzarello, artists Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, Goran Sudzuka, colorist Matthew Wilson, and letterer Jared K. Fletcher crafted a new origin for DC Comics’ first female superhero, one steeped in the old mythology of the Greek Pantheon but intent on forging ahead to create a new mythology with Wonder Woman leading the way.

For the record, though, if you’re looking for a place that will at least consider making references to the works of Gabriel García Márquez….Bam. This girl.

Moving on.

As, presumably, the introduction for new readers via the “soft reboot” of the New 52, the creative team were faced with the task of making Diana’s story within her corner of the DC Universe fantastical, entertaining, and above all else relatable. In order to do so, Azzarello and Chiang dove into the core tenants of Wonder Woman’s character as established by her creator, William Moulton Marston, and used those elements to build a story around two essential questions: Who is Wonder Woman and what does she stand for? The answer lies in the simplest yet most complex word, love. From love springs a multitude of emotions – mercy, compassion, tolerance, anger, rage, and forgiveness – all of which hinder and guide Wonder Woman in her personal journey of discovery, a journey she doesn’t make alone. Though love ends up being the answer, how Diana frames her revelations is within the context of family; her biological family of gods and demigods as well as the family she builds with her friends and rebuilds amongst the Amazons. The consequences of such a framework, however, brings about the destruction of Marston’s “paradise”, but I think that was Azzarello’s intention all along. In lieu of paradise, of some perceived utopia, Azzarello posits that family and community should be the goal and only by understanding and submitting to love can such a goal be accomplished.

wonder-woman1-interiorBefore we go any further, and because this article will mostly be addressing Wonder Woman from a writing and thematic perspective, I wanted to talk about Cliff Chiang’s artwork on the book. Of all the redesigns in the New 52, Chiang’s Wonder Woman continues to be my favorite and is definitely in my top five versions. Chiang manages to capture the Amazon in Diana – tall, athletic, broad shoulders – making us believe that this is a woman who’s trained her whole life as a warrior. Her athletic aesthetics, however, don’t come at the cost of her femininity. Diana is gorgeous but Chiang deftly keeps away from sexualizing not just Diana but most of the book’s female characters.

The modern, or ancient, redesigns of the Greek Pantheon are probably my favorite aspect of the book from an artistic hermes-5Astandpoint. Instead of keeping to the stereotypical depiction of the Greek gods, Chiang makes them the embodiment of their particular territory or job. Hermes the Messenger has the visage of a humanoid bird, Artemis the goddess of the hunt and the moon glows brightly while sporting antlers, looking like a marble statue, and Poseidon, lord of the seas, is a gigantic fish-like creature, a great and powerful reflection of his domain. My favorite design is probably Strife. Though her only otherworldly aspect is her purple skin, Strife looks exactly like her name. The shaved head, heavy makeup, and slashed form-fitting dress give readers an immediate sense of unease, that anything involving her will lead to trouble. Wonder Woman is definitely one of the most beautiful books from DC. It’s vibrant and bursting with energy and color thanks to Chiang and colorist Matthew Wilson.

Okay, back to the rest of the article.

The origin of Diana of Themyscira is often one of the first elements tackled when a new creative team takes over the book or DC feels like rebooting. Unlike Krypton blowing up or Thomas and Martha Wayne being killed in Crime Alley, Wonder Woman’s backstory of being molded from clay and entering “Man’s World” has gone through several iterations since she first appeared in 1941. Because of this malleability, Wonder Woman tends to embody the attitudes of women within the modern world – wonder-woman-6depending on who’s writing – but each retelling and reinterpretation is hit or miss depending on a number of factors, one of the most prominent being the socio-political climate. When Diana lost her powers in the 1960s in order to make her seem more like the modern day woman it was met with scorn from feminists like Gloria Steinem who accused the creative team of taking the most powerful female superhero and stripping her of her powers. The intention may have been to make Wonder Woman relevant to the modern readership, the change was inspired by Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel in The Avengers television show, but the response proved that, like Superman, Wonder Woman’s core audience of female readers looked to her as an ideal, something to strive for and emulate.

William Moulton Marston addressed this need for an iconic hero for women and girls in the 1943 issue of The American Scholar, writing:

Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.

Marston very much believed that the new world order would eventually be run by women and used Wonder Woman as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should…rule the world”. Unlike the violent tendencies of men and boys, girls and women had a greater emotional capacity that, he believed, made them stronger and better leaders. Wonder Woman was a figurehead for them to rally behind, a Pygmalion creation meant to embody all that women were capable of. Making Diana the princess of the Amazons who inhabited Paradise Island solidified Marston’s vision of a utopian culture of peace and prosperity run entirely by women. By venturing out into “Man’s World”, Wonder Woman brought those sensibilities captain-sensation-35with her as she fought Nazis and enemies on the home front, teaching and showing girls that violence wasn’t the only option but should more forceful actions need to be taken they were strong enough to break the chains or ropes that bound them. For all of the bondage imagery shown in Marston’s run, there were plenty of metaphors to be gleaned regardless of what “Dr.” Wertham thought.

Since Marston, the depiction of Paradise Island, later named Themyscira in the 1987 relaunch, and the Amazons have gone through as many changes as Wonder Woman. While Marston envisioned utopia with an all-female society, the exploration of Amazonian culture is a fascinating aspect of the Wonder Woman canon since the environment she grows up in acts as a reflection of the character. Some writers have utilized it beautifully (The Circle from Gail Simone, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson) and others not so much (Amazons Attack! from Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods). How much Diana embraces or fights against her Amazonian upbringing is no different than how any person might face their heritage and family. And it’s here where Azzarello’s stamp on Wonder Woman takes a sharp turn for better or for worse.

strifeThe two most controversial aspects of Azzarello’s reboot were the changes made to Diana’s origin and the Amazons. In the New 52, Diana was no longer molded from clay and blessed with life from the gods. Instead it was revealed that she was the biological daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus, making her a demigod. After finding her mother turned to stone and her sister Amazons turned into snakes as punishment from Hera, Diana becomes immersed in her godly family of half brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts. In the process, she receives one final revelation about the Amazons: to continue populating the island with female warriors, the Amazons took over ships with men on board, had sex with them, kept the daughters and gave the sons to Hephaestus.

Many a critic and Wonder Woman fan cried foul on this change in particular since Azzarello essentially turned the Amazons into rapists. I’m not here to argue that point because it’s a valid one, but I think I understand why Azzarello made the changes. Again, Marston saw an all-female society as utopia, it’s why he named the home of the Amazons Paradise Island. But anyone who’s studied the concept of utopia knows that it’s never an achievable form of society despite what the creator desires. There are plenty of historical examples and it’s rare that fiction ever depicts a utopian society as anything less than sinister. Azzarello is yet another author in this category. Prior to the discovery of Themyscira’s repopulation program, Azzarello laid the foundation that all was not well on Paradise Island. Wonder Woman was already living in London, away from the island, and her return with Zola and Hermes, plus the appearance of Strife, brings out the underlying antagonism of some of the Amazons towards Diana. Referring to her as “clay” in a derogatory manner, it’s clear that peace, tranquility, and love aren’t always present.

Azzarello is no stranger to tackling the darker side of comic book characters. Some of his best works for DC are Joker, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, and Superman: For Tomorrow, all of which highlighted essential aspects of the characters from Azzarello’s point of view. With Wonder Woman, Azzarello is arguing that Marston’s utopia is fallible and a myth in its own right. An all-female society is no less effective than an all-male society. The Amazons are, after all, still human. By distancing themselves from “Man’s World” they’ve lost their hold on an inclusive community. This is what makes Wonder Woman so WW-30dessential. She’s the bridge between the Amazons and the outside world, but only through taking the journey of coming to terms with her own identity and what it means to be Wonder Woman, a demigod, the God of War, and the new Queen of the Amazons, does she possess the wisdom to rebuild her family on Themyscira. She cannot separate these worlds any more than she can separate her identity. They’re all parts of a whole and by melding them she’s made stronger. It’s why she pleads with her sister Amazons to accept their brothers and protect Zola and her baby against the First Born’s army. They will be stronger as a whole, as a family, and it is simply the right thing to do.

LoveThroughout Azzarello and Chiang’s run, love is shown to be the root of Diana’s decisions and at the center of the conflict between her and the First Born. In their final confrontation, Diana ties it all together from a thematic perspective when she tells the First Born that his demand for love and power will never result in victory because he doesn’t understand that love is about submission. There have been several instances in the book where Diana was put into a position of submission – marrying Hades, tricking Artemis into “winning” a fight, the First Born’s proposal – but none of them were made out of an actual act of love. Compare this to what Diana has personally done out of genuine feelings of love; protecting Zola and her baby, forgiving a mortal Hera, helping Hades learn to love himself, and reuniting her sister and brother Amazons. She shows compassion, mercy, and forgiveness towards others because, at her core, her love for all living things is infinite. Fittingly, her last act in the final issue is an actual submissive plea to Athena to spare Zola’s life. By submitting to love and appealing to Wisdom, Wonder Woman shows us her true heroism.

I know I’m not the only one who has strong feelings towards Azzarello and Chiang’s run on the book, but I feel it’s been consistently one of the strongest coming out of DC and I’m sad to see the creative team go. There’s certainly plenty to unpack within those 35 issues, but this is just a portion of what I’ve taken away from it. But I’m interested to know what other people think.

Just, ya know, be civil. We’re all friends here.

warrior princess

Now that we know Wonder Woman will actually be appearing in Superman vs Batman and that she’ll be played by Gal Gadot, it’s time to start musing over how David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder will characterize the iconic superheroine. Obviously we don’t have any plot details on the movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some educated guesses as to how Goyer and Snyder might depict the original comic book warrior princess.

Warrior princess…

This is actually the most fitting and succinct description of Wonder Woman you’ll ever find because it encompasses the dual nature and complexity of the character. Diana is the Princess of Themyscira, an island exclusively populated by the female warriors of Greek mythology, the Amazons. With all the talk of Gal Gadot’s casting and the plethora of aggravating judgements of her body continuing, the common thread has been comments about how fans envisioned the look of Diana as an Amazon. We’ve been talking a lot about the warrior, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk about what motivates her: the compassion and love she feels for others. Gail Simone described the essential Wonder Woman movie as a “Disney princess who fights monsters”. Simone should know since she’s written the character, but she makes a salient point. When we think of Disney princesses, certain traits come to mind: kindness, determination, cleverness, love, and compassion. Nix the songs and apply the job of the typical Disney male lead to Diana and you have Wonder Woman. It’s not that far off from what Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, had in mind. He envisioned his superheroine as the embodiment of what be believed were superior, feminine traits, and reinforced them with the physical power and strength rivaled only by Superman.

Simone, along with George Pérez, Greg Rucka, Phil Jimenez, and, to some extent, current writer Brian Azzarello, have all locked into this characterization, striking the right balance between the emotional and the physical. In Diana’s case, they’re not mutually exclusive. She fights because she sees the injustices that humanity inflicts upon itself and her capacity to feel for the suffering of others drives her to help those in need. Conversely, her compassion prevents her from stepping over the line and killing her enemies. Like Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman’s first priority is to prevent harm from coming to others, even the people she’s fighting. Killing does not equal justice, but what distinctly separates Wonder Woman from Batman and Superman is her understanding that sometimes killing is a possible solution when all others have failed.

Death of Maxwell LordThere’s a reason the death of Maxwell Lord is so significant to Wonder Woman’s character development in Infinite Crisis. Snapping his neck (sound familiar?) is the last resort, but it’s a final act done in order to stop Clark from killing others but also to save Clark from the emotional trauma should he kill a friend, loved one, or any random person while under mind control, something she knows would haunt him the rest of his life. The consequences, however, are tremendous in terms of how the world views her and how Superman and Batman treat her. They don’t trust her like they used to because she crossed a line neither of them have dared to no matter what the circumstances. The reasons why can be found in the very core of each character. Clark’s power set makes him practically unstoppable, yet he constantly holds back from putting his enemies six feet under because of the responsibility he feels to uphold the virtues of humanity. Bruce’s “no kill” policy is so central to who he is that he can’t even bring himself to kill the Joker, a mass-murdering sociopath, because he’s afraid of what will happen once he crosses that sacred, yet blurred line.

Clark and Bruce have clearly marked where the point of no return is for them and refuse to deviate from their chosen paths. They’re more motivated by the fear of crossing that line and the repercussions it has on a psychological level. Diana, however, knows where that line is but she also understands that sometimes it has to be crossed because the aftermath may be far worse if she doesn’t act. What separates Diana from Clark and Bruce are the emotional stakes she invests in being a hero and how far she’s willing to go because of them. What would you do to save someone you cared for? How far would you go? Diana will kill if she has to not just because she’s an Amazon but because, sometimes, it’s the lesser evil. Wonder Woman’s heroism comes from trying to spare others from pain even if it means diminishing her own reputation. It’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make and it paints her as a hero who can believably live in the moral grey area. She can still be inspirational and an ideal to strive towards, but when push comes to shove, and there are no other options left, pray that it isn’t Wonder Woman standing in front of you.zzTrinity-Wonder-Woman-Superman-Batman

And that’s just scratching the surface of who Diana is considering the nearly 75 years worth of stories that have expanded on her character and that of the Amazon culture from which she hails. This isn’t a character you can just sum up in a scene and pat yourself on the back.  But how much characterization will end up in the Wonder Woman we see on the big screen in Superman vs Batman? If I were a bettin’ woman, I’d say the odds aren’t exactly in her favor. Diana will be showing up in a movie that is still being referred to via her male peers. Until a title is officially released, hopefully not one of the God-awful domain names purchased by Warner Bros. in the last couple months, we’re still looking at this movie as if it’s going to solely focus on Superman and Batman. Unless the title miraculously has the word “Trinity” or “World’s Finest”, we can expect Wonder Woman’s role to be smaller, leaving less room for significant character development. Not that it can’t happen, but it would have to be some amazingly well written dialogue. Possibly a one-on-one between Diana and Lois. Just no love triangle, please. Listen to Amy Adams.

Keeping in mind, however, the filmmaking team we have, what’s the quickest way to set up a female superhero so that we might know how badass she is in the most visceral way possible? If you said, “Have her smash through a building while lassoing a harpy,” then you’re probably thinking along the same lines as Goyer and Snyder. Not that it wouldn’t be cool to see that, I’m just saying that Diana’s warrior background is going to get way more attention than her pesky emotional side. There’s also the classic bait and switch maneuver of introducing us to Diana Prince first only to have Wonder Woman unexpectedly show up during a fight between Superman, Batman, and whoever the secondary villain happens to be who isn’t Lex Luthor.

Frozen and Catching FirePushing the warrior angle is the easiest route to bring Wonder Woman into the fold. It requires minimal explanation because all you need is something big enough to attract more heroes and BOOM! there’s Wonder Woman stabbing something with a sword while The Flash runs around doing whatever he’s doing. Is it the best way to introduce her? Yes and no. While it gives the audience something they can immediately grasp, it relegates Diana to simply “Action Girl”, which diminishes her complexity as a character. The irony being that the “Action Girl” trope is the one thing working in favor of Warner Bros. greenlighting a Wonder Woman movie. The two top-grossing films of the last month were The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen, both of which had female leads. The advertising for both movies, however, put more emphasis on the action. Katniss shoots her arrows, some political intrigue ensues, she gets attacked by birds while Peeta shouts at her, and then explosions. Anna proactively goes after her sister, Elsa, and then she’s chased by a snow monster, or Elsa is wielding her ice powers. Neither of these movies had  a lot of advertising that delved into the emotional stakes at the heart of both movies.

In justifying female action leads we’re inadvertently sidestepping emotional arcs in favor of attracting the same audiences just so we can say, “See, Hollywood, girls can bring in the box office numbers too!” The fact of the matter is that Wonder Woman isn’t “tricky”. The Hollywood system of producers and executives in charge of her cinematic future are the “tricky” ones, requiring a constant incentive to push movies through that they believe will attract the male demographic who are still considered the target audience for action and superhero movies despite the numbers showing viewership as relatively even across gender lines.justice-league-22-superman-wonderwoman-1

The comic books, the recent ones at least, at DC Comics aren’t exactly helping with Wonder Woman’s image as the few books she’s featured in emphasize the more militarized version. Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is at least motivated to protect others, but her protection only seems to stay within the realm of her Godly family. It gives her a personal connection and personal stakes in the fate of those she’s defending, but at the same time it makes Wonder Woman a hero focused on self-interest. This isn’t the same Wonder Woman of Greg Rucka’s Hiketeia who would protect and defend anyone who asked for her help even if they committed the crime. Geoff Johns doesn’t do much better with Diana. The beginning of Trinity War has her outright implying that the reason she doesn’t have a rogue’s gallery like Clark or Bruce is because she’ll straight up kill her enemies. The Wonder Woman of the New 52 actually strikes me as the most likely version of the character to end up in Superman vs Batman purely because her motivations have been streamlined, emphasizing the warrior above all else. It begs the question of whether Snyder and Goyer are planning to distill the character for the sake of simplicity or take a chance and strive for more. 

The silver lining in all of this is that we know this won’t be the last appearance of Wonder Woman and that, at the very least, her appearance in Superman vs Batman will provide the opportunity to further explore the character either in Justice League or, hopefully, her own movie. Even if they just emphasize the warrior, they could easily expand on the complexity of Diana in future projects. Whatever doesn’t work this time around can be fixed. Joss Whedon gave Black Widow a purpose in The Avengers, making her far more interesting than her initial introduction in Iron Man 2. So maybe, just maybe, Goyer and Snyder will get Wonder Woman right off the bat, but in case they don’t she’ll at least have a chance at making a second first impression. Her fans love her too much to let her go down without a fight.

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Red Sonja 2 Cover

This was originally posted at Word of the Nerd on December 5th

When last we checked in with our merry band of murderers in The Legend of Red Sonja, the Grey Riders – a group composed of various mercenaries out for the blood of none other than Red Sonja – were regaled with two tales of the “She-Devil With a Sword.” One was from a member of their group, a warrior monk out for revenge, and the other from a sea captain whose previous crew was saved by Sonja after the vengeance of a young woman went too far. For these two tales, Red Sonja writer, Gail Simone, brought in noted comic book writer Devin Grayson and novelist Nancy A. Collins to begin the narrative device of the Grey Riders gathering stories about Red Sonja as they journey to find and end her. In the second issue, Simone brings novelists Meljean Brook and Tamora Pierce to add some intrigue to the continuing legend.

We start with Meljean Brook’s “The Undefeated” where a warrior, Gordrak the Beheader, tells the Riders of his experience with Red Sonja when the two journeyed together to steal a ruby from a demonic beast. Both treated the journey as a competition, goading and one-upping each other in the process while proving their skills in the heat of battle. Gordrak’s tale, however, paints Red Sonja as a cowardly warrior eager to instigate, but content to stay behind and piggyback on the accomplishments of others. He only has the ruby because Sonja tried to claim an undeserved reward. But that’s really just the story Gordrak’s telling the Grey Riders. What we see is an entirely different story.

Second is Tamora Pierce’s “Double-Edged.” While eating and drinking their fill in a local tavern, the Grey Riders are approached by a young girl who warns them not to seek out Red Sonja. She’s sworn to protect Sonja because of the service she provided in helping her mother, a priestess of the Goddess Sonja serves. Journeying to dance for the Duke of Edecon, the priestess and her daughter gain Sonja as a bodyguard when a group of brothers don’t take too kindly to being dismissed as guards. When things turn sour, Sonja steps in to fight them off, though the mother and daughter are just as capable at defending themselves. Unfortunately, the brothers and their father follow them, leaving Sonja and her charges no choice but to confront them with lethal force.

If the first issue was roughly centered around the idea of how stories can alter perception, this tales in this issue are linked through the themes of concealment and deception. Gordrak’s tale emphasizes the theme nicely with the artwork giving just enough credence to the narration to make his story appear true. But we quickly learn that it’s a ruse, that Gordrak is an ally of Sonja, having fallen for her in their journey. His story is meant to throw the Grey Riders off, distract them to give Sonja the advantage. The second story has several motifs of concealment seen through the priestess being physically covered, only to reveal her face and her blessings from the Goddess when she, Sonja, and her daughter are threatened. Sonja herself is also disguised, wearing a tunic over her armor at the beginning, and disguising herself in plain sight amongst the Grey Riders. She’s already one step ahead of them, they just don’t know it yet. It’s a fantastic way of tying the stories together through a second framing device, one that shows there’s more to the Grey Riders’ pursuit of Red Sonja than just a typical chase narrative.

The artwork in this issue is a bit of a mixed bag. I loved Mel Rubi’s work in”The Undefeated.” The artist previously worked on the Red Sonja solo book from 2005-2007 and it shows how comfortable he is with the character. Sonja is as devious and skilled as she is charming and sultry. It’s a good pairing with Brook who is no stranger to the fantasy/romance genre herself. The artwork by Cassandra James on “Double-Edged”, however, feels a bit disjointed. The character models and proportions look a bit off once the story proper begins, but that could also be the transition from Jack Jadson’s first page to James’ style on the next. The action, however, more than makes up for it and Sonja seems to have a perpetual “I don’t give a shit” look on her face that completely sells you on the character.

Final Thoughts: The stories are picking up. Is Sonja one step ahead or is she lagging behind to keep the Grey Riders in her sight?

 

LegendsSonja01CovAnacleto

This was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on November 6th.

When Dynamite Entertainment announced at Emerald City Comicon that Gail Simone would pen the new Red Sonja book back in March, the company and Simone drummed up excitement for the book, and one of pulp comic’s great heroines, through the release of multiple variant covers for the first issue, each drawn by a female artist. Not only did the variant covers garner more attention for the book, they also highlighted the plethora of talent amongst female artists in the comic book industry, allowing women like Fiona Staples, Nicola Scott, Amanda Conner, Colleen Doran, Stephanie Buscema, and Jenny Frison to put their own spin on the legendary warrior.

Inspired by the outpouring of support and demand for female talent in the industry, Simone and Dynamite embarked on a “bold new experiment in graphic storytelling” by bringing together some of the best female writers, in comics and traditional prose, to pen their own tales of the “She-Devil With a Sword”. The result is Legends of Red Sonja, a five-part anthology written by Nancy Collins, Devin Grayson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marjorie M. Liu, Mercedes Lackey, Rhianna Pratchett, Leah Moore, Blair Butler, Tamora Pierce, Nicola Scott, and Meljean Brook working within the narrative frame set by Gail Simone.

In the first installment, Simone quickly lays down the foundation of the anthology: A group of 12 mercenaries known as the Grey Riders are hunting Red Sonja. They all have their own reasons for wanting her dead, but along the way they learn of her various adventures through the stories of others in their travels. The two stories featured in this issue are Nancy A. Collins’ “Eyes of the Howling God” with art by Noah Solanga, and Devin Grayson’s “La Sonja Rossa” with art by Carla Speed McNeil.

Collins’ “Eyes of the Howling God” is told from the perspective of Eles, the learned assassin amongst the Grey Riders. A monk once in service of The Howling God, he was witness to the murderous and thieving Red Sonja who violently slew the human embodiment of The Howling God before robbing the temple statue of its ruby eyes. When Eles tried to stop her, she marked him for life, slicing her sword across his eye and setting him down the path of revenge. Solanga depicts Sonja as an ancient Laura Croft giving her a chain mail shirt and short shorts. It’s a little off-putting considering the setting, and the fact that she’s essentially fighting a werewolf, but I’m pretty sure Laura Croft found herself in some supernatural situations, so who am I to judge? Next up in Gayson’s “La Sonja Rossa” in which a sea captain tells the Grey Riders of how his La Sonja Rossabeloved ship, Lacrime Di Gioia, was brought down by a young beauty with revenge in her eyes, but Red Sonja valiantly fought to save the crew and those on board from certain death, supposedly going down with the ship though the Grey Riders aren’t buying the tale. McNeil’s art is a little harder to pin down. At times it’s a bit cartoonish, but about midway through the story that cartoonish aspects work in the art’s favor, giving Sonja’s fight with a giant squid an epic scope.

What I definitely admire about the book are the different stories within this first installment. In Simone’s main book, Sonja is a fairly balanced figure – an opportunist possessed of a strong sense of loyalty prepared to mete out justice at her own discretion. The anthology, though not connected to the main continuity, continues Sonja’s characterization by giving the reader two diametrically opposed versions of the warrior. Eles, someone from within the Grey Riders, sees her as a thief and murderer having witnessed her actions personally. His view of her is ultimately biased, but no more so than the captain of the former Lacrime Di Gioia. He, too, was witness to the impressive feats of Red Sonja, though his is a tale of bravery in the face of death. Neither has more merit than the other. If anything, their stories emphasize the fact that Sonja is neither one or the other. A warrior the likes of Sonja is capable of actions both virtuous and immoral. It’s what makes her human and legendary.

Final Thoughts: We’re off to a good start. Next up are Meljean Brook and Tamora Pierce.