A Highly Recommended Terrible Idea: Transformers More Than Meets The Eye (2012-2016)/Transformers Lost Light (2016-)

Are you looking for a new comic series to start reading? Or looking for a pile of finished trade paperbacks to pick up and read over the holidays? Do you not know I like using question marks and tangling people in my thought spirals? Did I just insult one of your favourite comic series if you already know which one I’m talking about?

The first two answers are all up to you, dear readers (and so is the third, come to think of it), but the answer to the final one is … nope. In fact, I am about to try the gargantuan, though maybe not Galactus-sized, task of recommending four plus years of a Transformers comic series to a non-Transformers audience. Just in time for that series to start a new season (yes, it comes in seasons) with a new number one issue.

In case the title wasn’t fair warning though (and it probably wasn’t), this post is most likely going to be long, and recommending and describing this series is not going to be simple. Starting with the fact that I am recommending a series that leads you to the ever increasing realization that the starting premise was a terrible, terrible idea. The worst of ideas. And yet you end up really liking the characters who came up with the idea and went along with it and enjoy following along on their adventures.

Yeah. Awkward.

There are other pages I really wanted to share (the original argument, plus the preceding page of this argument, for example) but - control, control, control.

I seriously think the alternate title for the series could have been/could be Transformers: Bumblebee Was Totally Absolutely Right. [The Death of Optimus Prime]

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Catwoman: The Anniversary That Eventually, Kind-of Got Remembered

In case you missed it, Catwoman finally got her own A Celebration of 75 Years hardcover collection. And it is very possible you indeed missed it. I could (rather rightly) blame life circumstances for my missing the book’s release date, but in the course of trying to track down a table of contents to sate my curiosity (and then to write this when I found out a certain comic was included) I found more people surprised to hear that she had one and that it was already out than information on the book’s contents.

This … may speak to the amount of care and effort that went into curating the collection and to promoting its release, even given the spotty nature of collections in general. And it may make it not all that surprising that I have to give a content warning. Over a celebration/best of collection. So, discussion of the selections for the collection under the cut and warning for rape/rape aftermath and domestic violence. And general whorephobia and terrible narrative treatment of women.

I'm also bummed because this collection actually has a good cover, which ... not all of her trades do. To put it mildly.

But mostly warning for the cover and first page of the issue they picked to kick off the post-Crisis, pre-New52 section of the collection/continuity.

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Review: The Second Mango and Climbing the Date Palm by Shira Glassman

I really have no idea how to start this (seriously, this opening has had multiple failed attempts plus weird, frustrated placeholder text :P) soooo a) I’m doing a book review! b) it has lots of queer representation! and ladies! and dragons! although there’s really only one dragon (is that a spoiler? I think it might be, with enough sleuthing skills) c) head below the cut for as spoiler-free a review as I can do of the first two books in the Mangoverse fantasy series by Shira Glassman.

The cutest cutes that ever cuted.

I’m not reviewing a comic so finding a read more image is slightly harder but luckily the author loves cute art of her characters so here are two of the series’ leads, Shula and Aviva, drawn by Tumblr user nobunaganoran.

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Review: The Transformers: Robots in Disguise #33

Normally this would have some kind of really clever title, but I think I’m getting sick (again!) and this is an honest to goodness review, not one of my discussion posts (not that the two are really that separate?). Plus, “Starscream’s Legs” is probably not the most illustrative title this could have. But, below the cut, find a rather spoiler-laden review of an awesome issue of, and good jumping on and/or catch-up point for, IDW’s current Transformers comics. 🙂

Note: Oh, wow. This turned into kind of a lot about Starscream. Densely packed, well done issue though, so it makes sense. Extra kudos to John Barber and Sarah Stone. 🙂

Did I seriously have to clarify twice that it's not just plotting and scheming feelings being expressed there? And, yes, that question is indeed rhetorical.

I think Starscream is as pleased with this issue as I am. Also, well, prepare to be punched in the feelings, because, knowing the contents of the issue, I take that smile partly as his very characteristic scheme-y smirk, but also an expression of him being genuinely excited and happy about who’s back. And not just for plot-y reasons.

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Review: The Movement #1-6

I am going to start out this review by saying that The Movement is not a comic I buy when it comes out or that I otherwise financially support. And that fact is in no way an indication of my feelings about the series (or maybe it is, just not in the way you think), so read below the cut for some spoilers and a lot of thoughts and feelings about this series:

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Review: Catwoman (2011-) #25 – Zero Year

I actually bought an issue of New 52 Catwoman yesterday … and am going to recommend that you do the same.

Yes, I may be tired of Catwoman in peril and Catwoman contorted unnaturally covers. Just maybe.

A cat-tastiic Catwoman cover and only those with flexible spines are actually contorted.

Given your feelings on how Catwoman has been handled since the reboot, you are either thinking “Why would I need any encouragement to do that?” or wondering what exactly could cause me to make such a statement and whether or not I’m ‘really’ sure that’s what I want to say. In which case, yes, yes, it is.

There does seem to be some slight wackyness, but she 'is' ziplining in a superstorm and only her upper body is really supported.

Still no wacky contortions, although several statements that will become important later on in this review.

Now, my recommendation is not without some reservations but if you have missed having someone you can recognize as Catwoman and can afford it, please give DC your vote of approval by purchasing a digital or print copy of this issue. If not, and you are interested in reading it, then find a way, even if you cannot give your financial vote in support of the writing and art on this issue of Catwoman.

 

Originally, I had planned on giving Catwoman’s Zero Year issue a cursory flip-through and then moving on, since it seemed more promising than the regular New 52 fare for her but I did not have particularly high hopes since it was still in the New 52 DC universe with its particular editorial mandates, aesthetics, and continuity, but I was so impressed by it that I ended up purchasing it (after giving it a very thorough flip through and tearing up a bit over having a recognizable Catwoman back and several nods at her previous continuity).

Plus, presenting herself as a "present" is also problematic as regards representation of sex workers.

Now if she just hadn’t stolen that dress off of a working girl passed out drunk in a back room, because even if she put her gold outfit on her instead, that’s still not okay.

On a second, proper read-through, some problems do stick out, and I will get to those, but this issue ‘is’ an enjoyable, coherent read and an enjoyable and also recognizable take on Catwoman and a Catwoman-type story. The Catwoman here does remind me very much of the very young Selina from post-crisis, pre-New52 continuity when she first began living on the streets and having to add more nuance to her views on morality (as well as try to survive when she did not quite have the skills or experience and quickly got in over her head). This is both good and bad since while transferring that type of characterization onto an older version of Selina is not necessarily a problem (and she is given wonderfully engaging emotions and expressions by artist Aaron Lopresti), this Selina also has the skills of a much older and more experienced previous continuity Selina.

And, yes, it takes her 'one' page to take down three armed assailants. With no previous experience.

Maybe she just has divinely given whip powers?

And that is a problem when this Selina explicitly states that she is not Catwoman, that she is not a master thief, and that she has never used a whip before, and she only has climbing gear because it happened to be in a backpack she spontaneously stole off someone earlier in the day/story. And yet she knows exactly what each of the items in the backpack is, can use the grappling hook, rope, and a police baton to scale a building (in a severe storm), take down two armed guards who she failed to get the jump on, sneak into the building, disguise herself and successfully pass (until she is literally caught spying at a keyhole in a backroom) in behaviour and speech as a member of high society, use a (rather long) whip not just at all but to execute very tricky moves successfully and without injuring herself, engage in physical combat in high heels, bind multiple combatants, and then get back out of the building without getting caught and with all of her loot in tow, again in a severe storm.

 

I love Catwoman and I am so happy to see her again and in a coherent, concise adventure, but as much as I enjoyed this issue and the visual and narrative nods at the previous Catwoman, those nods just don’t quite make sense with Selina’s previous background and origins removed and with what is explicitly told to us in this issue about her abilities and experience. But I am also aware that this story is meant to be in current continuity and that it can at most slightly tweak what came before it, especially since this creative team was only on this single issue, so a restore to her previous characterization and character origins (which actually make for a very cool, compelling story if you can find all the right issues and get them put in order or if you go here and enjoy someone else having done the work for you 🙂 ) was not exactly in the cards. And it also means including and referring to things such as Selina’s possible kleptomania, which is a creation of her first writer in the New 52, Judd Winick, and not a trait the character previously had, her stealing having originated as a means to provide for herself out on the streets and later, once she resumes thievery under the guise of Catwoman, to provide her a change of employment and new means of supporting herself and those under her care.

She is Catwoman, after all, not Magpie.

This really easily could have been changed so that her motivation is based in her own specific morality, not in kleptomania.

So, a number of the problems in this issue are down to the current continuity it must operate in, although it likely would have been possible to tweak the writing and art in order to still pull off the same story but with more sense as to what happens (such as Selina’s unusually good skill with the whip being toned down to fortuitous first-timer’s luck in how and where it hits), but some of them are problems not unique to New 52 Catwoman or the New 52 in general.

Of course, this could just be an orgy or something, but, again, that does note equate to villainy or depravity by default.

More of the lovely art aaaaand … decorative working girls. And a Selina about to steal the dress of the girl passed out on the sofa.

I know a number of people like to believe that Selina’s history as a sex worker and confirmed kinky person in the post-crisis, pre-New52 continuity was undone during that continuity (which it was not) and that a number of people have also expressed positive sentiments regarding her having no history of sex work in the New 52, but leaving that aside, regardless of whether or not Selina is a former sex worker in the new continuity, sex work and BDSM can and should still be treated respectfully. And that is not what happens here.

She only says "weird," which I could let pass, but this sequence is about showing how depraved the antagonist and his guests are and how terrible of people they are. Just replace that top dialogue box with commentary about having a costume ball in the middle of a crisis instead. And ditch the decorative sex workers from the previous page.

She only says “weird,” which I could let pass, but this sequence is about showing how depraved the antagonist and his guests are and how terrible of people they are. Just replace that top dialogue box with commentary about having a costume ball in the middle of a crisis instead. And ditch the decorative sex workers from the previous page.

It may not be “terrible” in comparison to other handlings of kinky and working people but there is also no reason to use sex workers and BDSM as visual and narrative code for “the bad guy really is a bad guy and these are terrible people the hero(ine) is surrounded by,” especially as the issue already gives us plenty of proof as to how cold, uncaring, and cruel the antagonist of this story is.

Also note that this is a small scale, local business grocers, not a chain store.

Real estate magnate’s party and the opportunity to wield wanton cruelty > a neighbourhood in Gotham having ‘rationed’ amounts of food, clean water, medicine, and batteries that already won’t be enough.

And using them as code for that implies that sex workers and BDSM and BDSM practitioners are inherently bad and terrible. That is ‘not’ an okay sentiment to perpetrate, so, please, creative types involved in making comics and tv shows and other media, stop it with the decorative sex workers and “scary”/”weird” BDSM. Include sex workers and kink and kinky people (and guess what? there’s overlap) in your stories, please, but include them as ‘people’ with their own experiences and stories to tell and not as set decoration or as shorthand for moral degeneration, sin, and evil.

And as for something that Selina could use as a whip and conveniently have right with her, why not a length of the rope she already had in her bag when she first set foot on the building? Or a belt from one of the guards she knocked out? It would be an even stronger nod to previous continuity and also avoid furthering the “the bad guy is a bad guy because kinky and sex worker things happen in his back rooms” thread of narrative implications.

 

So, again, the comic is not without its problems but it does present a Selina with her own personal moral code and desire to defend the disadvantaged against those more privileged and less caring and those are classic Catwoman traits and something to encourage DC to give us more of.

Don't ask me how she carried away that many batteries along with all her other gear in one little backpack while ziplining in the storm of the century though.

Catwoman, protectress of the East End and her fellow forgotten, or at least someone close to her.

All images used in this post are property of DC Comics and are used for review purposes.

Review: Sex Criminals #1 (2013)

Shouldn’t a comic series and a (first) issue dealing with female sexuality be written by a woman? And, even if one is BDSM friendly, shouldn’t the flogger on the cover be cause for concern? The answers are no and no. My personal headache in the form of E.L. James’ 50 Shades trilogy should be enough to answer both of those questions but continue on below the cut for my review of the first issue of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals.

Warnings for some slight spoilers and potential NSFW content below the cut. Also …

The most embarrassing thing about picking this up to look at in the comics store was the male clerk thinking I had picked it up by accident and was embarrassed to be looking at a "naughty" book.

I have great appreciation for the hilarity of this back cover.

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Review: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Episode 1 (2013)

This review is delayed due to life stresses and a shortage of spoons (and a need for people to send me winning lotto tickets), but I am here to tell you that SHIELD is the NSA. Not literally of course, but there are disconcerting parallels and a way of narrative structuring that make the show highly uncomfortable to watch and that make it difficult to root for the title group, even without added issues relating to race and class.

Spoiler warning for under the cut: Continue reading

Red Sonja vs. Slut Shaming and Victim Blaming

Red Sonja’s scale mail bikini is not a weapon of feminist doom. I repeat; Red Sonja’s scale mail bikini is not a weapon of feminist doom. It is very tempting to think getting rid of her bikini and replacing it with a different outfit will somehow make her a “good” female character or make her feminist and that her costume automatically and inherently makes her unfeminist and a problematic female character but that line of thinking is erroneous and contains its own problematic ideas and ideals about femininity, female bodies, and female experiences.

Magical girl Sonja is so magical her breasts are able to request their own close-ups

Red Sonja knows that the best thing to do when being hotly pursued and facing imminent battle is to cue a transformation sequence (Red Sonja She-Devil with a Sword #73).

Underrepresentation, misrepresentation, and oversexualization of women in comics is a real problem. The very successful blog Escher Girls is based on submitted and administrator located images of comics (and games and other media) women sexualized out of context, drawn in ways that indicate no knowledge of how breasts work (Note that the criticism is not of the size of the breasts because women have breasts of all sizes and in combination with many different body shapes, heights, and hip to waist ratios. The criticism is of ‘how’ the breasts are drawn.) or of how the human body can actually move, and other problematic aspects of how women are visually represented on the page (or on the screen). I picked Escher Girls as an example in part because of the value it places on not including or permitting body shaming in redraws or other content submitted to and otherwise posted on the site, but it is far from the only place such discussions are occurring, both on and off-line, and the issues raised in them are ones that need addressing, including and especially by the big two comic publishers (Marvel and DC) and with long-standing and popular titles and properties, of which Red Sonja is one.

However, in attempts to address concerns and also in discussions about problematic character portrayals and visual depictions, people (and I do mean ‘people’. It is not just men who do this) can go for “easy” solutions that do not actually address what was being discussed and/or that bring in ideas and principles which are actually not female friendly and feminist at heart. A big part of this and what I will be discussing in connection with Red Sonja is the magical pants fix. It does not always involve putting actual pants of the character but the jist of it is that giving the (female) character a costume with more coverage in terms of fabric or other material will somehow make her a “good” female character and alleviate and address the concerns and complaints of female (and male) comics fans about how women are portrayed and drawn in comics. That is a more creator oriented angle and fix and while well intentioned by those executing it (or pushing for it, as with Dynamite’s (temporary) push on the previous Red Sonja run for costumes with more coverage than the scale mail bikini) is not always successful and does not inherently and automatically fix the problems with women in comics in general or with the handling of specific female characters in particular.

Clearly they disarmed her first.

Red Sonja’s most harrowing escape yet (Red Sonja #1 2013).

I hope someone is polishing her bikini during this.

And her triumphant escape. Or wardrobe alteration (Red Sonja #1 2013).

As well, on the fan end (or more on the fan end), discussions of these problems with the ways women are depicted visually and narratively in comics and discussions of particular characters (such as when the new, Gail Simone penned run on Red Sonja was announced earlier in the year) can veer into territory that includes body shaming and slut shaming as well as the setting of rules about what women can and cannot wear … all of which run counter to the ideals, if not always the practice, of feminism. There is nothing wrong with costumes for female comics characters that include pants or that cover all or almost all of their skin. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with costumes that cover much less skin or that can otherwise be viewed as particularly “sexy.” It is a matter of execution and also of ‘choice’. If either type of costume is ‘required’, ‘then’ it becomes a problem, whether the required costume is one showing a lot of skin or one showing little to none. Otherwise, both should be included and executed well. It is just as possible to sexualize a fully clothed female character out of context and contort her body into impossible to near impossible positions in order to show her breasts and buttocks at the same time as it is to draw a female character wearing little clothing and not put her into any of those unrealistic and extreme poses or sexualize her out of context.

Seriously. Listen to the lady with the weapons and the aerial advantage.

Red Sonja says that if you wanted a boobs and butt shot you should have put a mirror behind her because her spine does not work that way (Red Sonja She-Devil with a Sword #69).

This brings me to a trip to the comics store a few weeks ago to see if I could get a print copy of Gail Simone and Walter Giovanni’s Red Sonja #1 and to the interesting sample of artwork I got when I flipped through the store’s available back issues of Red Sonja comics from the same publisher as the new run, Dynamite. What I saw was part of the impetus for this post because I not only had my eye caught by a beautiful cover (pictured above) that had a wonderfully drawn scale mail bikini clad Red Sonja inside but also noted many issues where Red Sonja had been put into a variety of different and more “modest” outfits … and yet was fairly consistently being drawn in unrealistically contorted poses and sexualized out of context.

Seriously. Follow the lines of her legs up.

Unfortunately, Red Sonja realized too late that underneath the greater coverage provided by her barbarian furs she had no buttocks. Only two impossible legs that apparently fuse together somewhere underneath her clothing. (Red Sonja Unchained #2)

This hearkens back to my point about well-intentioned “fixes” because those issues were part of an intentional push by the publisher to address concerns about women in comics and because it is also possible to draw Red Sonja in both good and bad ways … in the same outfit. To flesh out my random sample a bit more, I read through the complete story arc that one of the issues (She Devil with a Sword #69) was a part of and kept an eye on the art as I read. All four issues for Swords Against the Jade Kingdom had the same cover artist, Walter Geovanni, and stability with the rest of the crew (barring a change in colourist on the last issue in the arc) … except for the person drawing the interiors. And it showed. Except for what I refer to as Red Sonja’s Xena the Warrior Princess cosplay outfit in the last issue of the arc, she wears her iconic scale mail bikini and in all four issues the amount of skin showing has no automatic correlation with how realistically she (especially her breasts) is drawn, her ability to take impossible poses, and the occurrence of inexplicable up-skirt panty shots and out of context sexualisation. Which are all real and valid and important areas of concern when it comes to how women are represented in comics and which do not (have to) involve any elements of body or slut shaming in order to discuss or address them.

Personal preferences aside, the problem with the Xena-esque outfit in She Devil with a Sword #71 (and the story’s prologue in issue #67) is not that it covers up little more than the scale mail bikini in the earlier part of the story arc did. It is that the Red Sonja in it is drawn in poses that are ostensibly action shots during battle but are actually designed to be up the skirt panty shots, complete with white panties made clearly visible by the (re)positioning of Sonja’s armor.

She should really do advertisements for laundry detergent.

The mark of a good warrior and barbarian is a pair of fine white panties, even in the midst of battle and after days on horseback (Red Sonja She-Devil with a Sword #67).

The same also happens in one of the issues with Sonja’s iconic scale male bikini, along with problems in how her breasts are drawn. Again, it is not a problem of size. It is how the breasts themselves are drawn, including or especially where they sit on the chest and how the weight and fullness are distributed.

Or perhaps they just puff up incredibly with anger and it was part of her bargain with the goddess that her breasts attach unnaturally high in order to amaze and confuse her enemies.

Red Sonja’s enemies may not be able to kill her, but her breasts will if they continue their migration up her chest towards her neck and head (Red Sonja She-Devil with a Sword #68).

At the same time, there are issues within that same story arc with Red Sonja wearing the same outfit or general amount of coverage as those two problematic issues … and her breasts attach how and where they actually would on a real body and distribute their weight and fullness in a realistic way and there are no out of context poses meant to show off (perplexing for a barbarian and one rather travel wearied and who rides horses bareback) pure white panties or panels that consist solely of close ups of Sonja’s breasts and/or buttocks.

Red Sonja squaring off for battle in part two of Swords Against the Jade Kingdom (Red Sonja: She-Devil with a Sword #69).

Red Sonja squaring off for battle in part two of Swords Against the Jade Kingdom (Red Sonja: She-Devil with a Sword #69).

It is the same story and the same writer but not the same Sonja because of how well the art does (or does not) relate to the character. And ‘that’ is what makes (or does not make) a “good” female character. Not what shoes she wears or how big her breasts are or how much fabric (or metal or leather) she covers herself with, but how well her writers ‘and’ her artists treat her and what they do with girls who want to vamp it up in heels and fishnets or wet their swords with blood while wearing little more metal than took to make those blades or who like a well cut pair of pants or a bodysuit for saving cities in.

Those are not hob-goblins and that is not a defenseless woman to prey on.

Amanda Conner’s variant cover for the first issue of Gail Simone and Walter Giovanni’s Red Sonja

All of this brings me to the new run of Red Sonja at Dynamite and issue one of Gail Simone and Walter Giovanni’s comic of the same name, starting with the variant cover pictured above. Unlike the other variant covers and the main cover, this one correlates directly to a scene from the story and it is there I want to begin. That cover and the corresponding image from the scene it is a part of could easily be questionable and problematic in the vein of artwork and narratives showing beautiful (and beautifully drawn) women waiting to be taken advantage of in the vulnerability of sleep, or drink, or both … but it is not. The cover art is beautiful and so is Red Sonja but she is beautiful in a naturalistic way and the “story” of the cover art is not that she is there to be and about to be taken advantage of. Red Sonja knows those men are there and will not allow them to commit whatever acts they might think are acceptable or permissible because she is female, because she is scantily clad, because she is sleeping and unawares, because she drank and drank enough to pass out. And that is fantastic. Especially since that is echoed and reinforced in the scene itself and it is not done in a way that implies that if Red Sonja had not been aware and did not have the ability and skills with which to defend herself that she would have “deserved” whatever happened to her. In fact, one of the deciding factors for Red Sonja in how she deals with all but one of the men (the one who refuses to join in) is not that they came to her camp looking for money and food, since she would have given that to them gladly and can easily understand and would not be hard on those who have fallen on hard times. It is that they would take, especially after mistaking the meaning of her comment about the drink affecting her aim to mean that she could not successfully defend herself, advantage of what they perceived to be a helpless and vulnerable woman.

Being raised female in American culture, that is wonderful and powerful to read and see. Red Sonja, even from what little is seen in the first issue of her new comics run, wears what she wants, does what she wants, and is not ashamed of and will not let anyone shame her for that … or think that they can take advantage of her and be justified in it as a result. Which is also why I find the comments and discussions around her scale mail bikini problematic. Even when not raised in an especially religious or conservatively religious household (and other environs), there is still a strong purity culture and related cultural forces at play and much of it focuses on and causes harm to women and girls in what it teaches them about their bodies, responsibilities, choices, and actions. So characters like Red Sonja and Wonderwoman in their iconic and “problematic” outfits are wonderful when you have been taught and are constantly being retaught, reminded, and having ideas reinforced about how your personal worth and moral character are not just reflected by your clothing but also determined by it. And also that your clothing makes you responsible for the actions of those around you, specifically and especially men, and that if you dress the “wrong” way that you “deserve” what happens to you.

Red Sonja is a great, fun adventure and sword and sorcery comic and when executed well, as in the promising new run from Gail Simone and Walter Giovanni, is a comic that is in fact very female friendly, empowering, and dare I say feminist. And yes, I do dare. Because how many times do women get to see stories about women who dress and do as they want, including drink as much and as often as they like, and have those women not be the villains and not be made into morality tales to show what happens to “bad” girls who do not follow the rules?

Note: All images shown here are the property of Dynamite Entertainment and Red Sonja LLC and are used for review purposes.

Review: The To-Do List (2013)

Since a spoiler-free review really would not do justice to what was so great about the film and why I want to recommend and discuss it, warnings for slight (and more) spoilers ahead. If you have not seen the movie yet and do not want to have anything revealed ahead of time, please skip the “read more” cut and this post. Otherwise, read on for a list of some highlights from the film in terms of representations of gender and sexuality.

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