“Jessica Jones” Is Nobody’s Super Hero.

A good detective…

When Jessica Jones was introduced in Alias, the Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Gaydos comic from Marvel’s adult-themed MAX imprint, it didn’t skimp on the violence or the sex. The first encounter between Jessica and Luke Cage was...memorable with a bit of kink thrown in.

Some SPOILERS follow…

I’m fine with anyone who says where Jessica Jones,  the Netflix TV show is coming from, is somewhere they don’t want to go.   They probably would be happier with lighter superhero fare like Supergirl. You can’t get much less grim and gritty than Superman’s cousin.

The original plan was to binge-watch all 13 episodes over two weeks.  It took closer to a month.   At various times I found the show to be intense, meandering, exciting, boring, violent, talky, sexy, contrived, memorable and forgettable.  It’s not an easy show to wrap your arms around, but Jessica Jones provided many moments hard to forget.

As the title character, Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a complete mess.  She drinks too much, she lives and works in a dump of an office in a crummy apartment building, she pisses off her best client, blows off her best friend, and sleeps with the husband of the woman she murdered.    She’s rude, surly, selfish and thoughtless. She’s not a nice person.

Jessica Jones has a much bigger supporting cast than Daredevil and while gal pal Trish Walker (Rachel Taylor) and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) are big assets, the amount of face time given over to Jessica’s neighbors Malcolm (Eka Darville), the drug addict with a big secret,  and the crazy twins upstairs Reuben and Robin are big drawbacks every time they get more than 30 seconds of face time.  They simply didn’t interest me as they were there mostly to fill the 60 minute running time.

Reuben’s banana bread and unrequited love for Jessica means a bad end for him from Kilgrave and Robin’s annoynace powers crank up to ten after he exits the show.   I hated every time they showed up siphon screen time.  Even when Reuben gets snuffed it does nothing but move an irritating second banana off the screen and gives another one even more chances to be irritating. Big mistake Jessica Jones writers!  I was hoping Kilgrave would make her die slowly.

…always finds a way…

Death is not in short supply on Jessica Jones as they practically stacked corpses.  I was initially stoked for the show, but ended up lukewarm  over a show most critics gushed over.  Instead,  I found myself echoing a few who came out feeling as let down as I was.

We thought Jessica Jones was the newest Marvel superhero show, but what it is is the story of a rape survivor still being tormented by her rapist. Jessica is an alcoholic, antisocial, abrasive and damaged woman who cares about nothing and no one, not even herself. That’s what the show was going for and it succeeded, but the unpleasantness of her personality as well Jessica’s lack of likeability made it hard to completely pull for her.

As a survivor, Jones is always on guard, uncomfortable and hostile to strangers and wary of even simple acts of kindness lest there be some hidden strings attached.  Only

Jones is damaged, teetering on losing her grip on sanity, drinking to numb herself from feeling anything and pushes her only friend away so she won’t get dragged down in her misery.   Kilgrave has violated her mind, body and soul and nothing she fears more than him repeating the violation.  It’s not your standard super-hero vs. super-villain dynamic.

David Tennant was fine as Kilgrave, the bane of Jessica’s existence,  but he lacked imagination. Make a guy stand and face a wall while he pees and craps on himself? Nasty, but far from lethal. If you’re going to make everyone in a police station hold their guns on each other, then make them pull the trigger and let the carnage ensue. Lethal would be Kilgrave walking into an air control tower and telling the staff to make planes crash into the ground and each other or instructing the doctors, nurses and patients in the hospital to kill each other.

Kilgrave delighted in torturing Jessica mentally with his sick mind games and dropping bodies all over the place because she wasn’t ready to commit to taking him out. Jessica should have listened to Breaking Bad’s Mike Armentrout about the foolhardiness of “half-measures.” If you’re going to be a villain, go all out and really pose a threat to our anti-hero. If you’re a hero, stop dicking around with your half-baked schemes and take out the villain before he drops more bodies.

The show peaked at Episode#10 with its huge body count and then dragged its ass to a finish I saw coming a mile off.  When you’re only telling one story over 13 episodes there are going to be peaks and valleys and there were plenty of both.    Here we had a tough woman who didn’t want to be saved or redeemed.   Jessica only wanted to be left the hell alone.

I liked Jessica Jones, even if I didn’t love Jessica Jones and while it limped to a padded-out, obvious end,  I enjoyed watched her end up as much damaged goods as she started.   Still drinking hard.  Still bitter as hell.  Still along.  Still with a broken door to match her broken life.

…to get her man. In bed.

The Dark Side of the Funny Books

“Avengers Ass-semble!” (art by Kevin Bolk)

You’re never too old for comic books, but I’m too old for the same old comic books.   I grew up on superheroes but I’ve aged out of Superman, Spider-Man and The X-Men the same way I aged out of Kool-Aid, Spaghetti-O’s and Fruit Loops.   Times change.  Tastes mature.

Sexism goes on.   It’s not always obvious when you see it, but sometimes it’s all up in your face and you can’t deny it.  Comics are a visual medium first and “Good Girl Art” or “cheesecake” if you prefer to call it what it is has been around as long as there’s been comics.   The thing which makes sexism in comics so insidious is as genre dominated by male creators you’re going to get their attitudes passed on to their male consumers and some of those attitudes are decidedly overtly sexual, demeaning and violent toward women.

You’re an Avenger, Natasha! Just kick his ass and be done with it.

 

What’s wrong with this picture? Besides everything, that is?

Don’t try this at home, kids. Seriously.

Characters like Power Girl, She-Hulk or Red Sonja are so over-the-top in the depiction of hypersexuality with their scanty or barely there costumes which are totally unsuitable for fighting can’t be confused as anything but colorized eye candy.   These aren’t people as much as they are flying boobs and massive butts breaking up stuff and punching out bad guys.

It’s the sneaky type you may initially arch an eyebrow about that burrows into your brain.  Stan Lee made The Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards the Smartest Guy in the Marvel Universe, but he had the nasty habit of saying the most sexist shit to Sue Storm when she wandered into a panel.

“Just like a woman!  Everything I do is for your own good, but you’re too scatter-brained and emotional to realize it.”

Reed to Dr. Doom:  “Why battle a female, Doom when I am yet defeated?”
Dr. Doom:  “My sentiments exactly, Richards.”

“…now go make me a sandwich, woman!”

“I’ll explain later, woman! Just do as I say!

Sue:Reed, I’ve been such a fool.”
Reed: “Not a fool, Sue, but a female.  You COULDN’T have reacted differently!”

But as time when on simply being a patronizing macho dickhead wasn’t enough.  John Byrne‘s run on the title is second only to Lee and Jack Kirby‘s for longevity and quality, but Byrne, notorious for being the man who put Superman in a porn flick, took Reed far beyond mere condescension of his wife and upped the ante to straight-up verbal and physical abuse.

How do you snap your wife out of it when she’s been turned into a mind-controlled dominatrix? Slap her around a bit.

The motive for this ugliness was Reed’s master plan to free Sue from a villain’s control.  But if the biggest brain’s in comics solution is to start slapping her like a drunken brute on Saturday night kicking around the old lady because she burnt the cheeseburgers, how smart is he really?

This made me uncomfortable when I first read it in the Eighties and it’s still unpleasant.  But it wasn’t the first a superhero hubby knocked his wife around.

Hank Pym (Yellowjacket) backhanded Janet Van Dyne (Wasp) when he had enough of her lip and whacked her one.

The more things change…

Years later, Mark Millar and Brian Hitch repeated the act in The Ultimates.

,,,the more they don’t.

Super-villains have never been reluctant to hit women and kill them if the means justified the ends.   That has changed and now there seems to be a competition among writers to see which one can come up with a scene that pushes all sorts of hot buttons.   The prolific and popular Brian Michael Bendis did exactly that during his run on The Avengers in a story where Dr. Doom captures the team and tells Ms. Marvel exactly what he thinks of her.

We already knew Doom wants to rule the world by any and all means, but when did he start talking like a Men’s Rights activist?   I like Bendis, but if I had the opportunity to tell him how much I hate that scene, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Pretty soon it wasn’t enough for the super villains to want to conquer the world and make everyone bow down to them.  They had to not only be bad guys; they had to be SICK guys who when they weren’t calling women “cows” and “whores”  pushed it further into darker lands comics had never gone before.

Marginalizing women as super-powered sex toys wasn’t enough.   You had to go there.  Rape them.

And that’s exactly what the comics did.  You won’t see the Hulk’s green boner a in a PG-13 super-hero summer blockbuster, but rape has become a common plot device (for men as well)  and its gone from the implied something bad’s about to go down here…

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…to the leaves no doubt what’s coming next.

 

I’m an adult and I’m not unaware of the dynamics of rape.   The Bill Cosby scandal has certainly been a wake-up call how sexual violence can go for decades with no one suspecting or seemingly caring.   Comic books were an escape into fantasy where might makes right and truth, justice and the American way won out over the forces of evil.  Of course, I learned when I was a boy this was a total load of bullshit.   Hey, what can I say?  Kids like to be bullshitted.

I’m not so sure if they like women depicted in the way they often are in comic books.  It’s either helpless and needing a man to come save them or they’re balloon-breasted bimbos whose super power is they can smother an opponent with their massive mammaries and gigantic glutes.   The perpetual victim thing harkens back to the pre-Comics Code days of EC Comics where shock, lurid violence and sordid situations were the standard.   The popularity of EC faded and was replaced by mostly harmless, tame comics featuring approved stories where good triumphed and evil was vanquished with a smile and a knowing wink.

We don’t need to go back to a code or rating system for comics.   Though I am mostly out of comics, they are still a genre of art and entertainment I enjoy greatly.   My two favorite comic books are Velvet by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting and Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark.   Both Image Comics titles are built around a strong female protagonist and neither features heroines with huge breasts posing suggestively in revealing, but preposterous costumes waiting for a man to come along and rescue them from a murdering rapist super villain.

Women and people of color are underrepresented in the comics industry and while more of them are landing gigs at Marvel, DC and the independents, there is a marked scarcity of non-super hero characters whom are believable or function as anything more than as well-drawn props.   Brubaker and Lark are not reinventing the wheel or created something never seen before, but what they are doing is going beyond the played-out beat up the baddies before they destroy the world reruns of mainstream comics.

It would be presumptive of me to say this is the future of comic books, but it is the future direction I’d like to see comic books take.  Crudely dumb sexism in comics might be excused as the unsophisticated politics of the time, but the growing popularity of rape is a troubling trend that bears observing.

Velvet Templeton is not “Jane Bond”, but if there were one she would be it.

 

 

Who Will Save Us From the Superhero Onslaught?

marvel_vs_dc

Like Superhero fights? You’re got six years worth coming soon.

I like super hero movies as much as the next guy, but there is such a thing as a saturation point.   Not all these movies interest me.  Not all these movies will be good.  Not all these movies deserve to made or even  seen.

What this onslaught of super heroes flicks reminds me is how in comics DC and Marvel will push more and more Batman/Spider-Man/Wolverine/X-Men/Superman/Avengers titles (there are about 10 or so monthly Avengers titles alone, not counting the solo superhero titles) and glut the market.   That’s great for a short-term bounce because who doesn’t like Wolvie and Bats?  It’s terrible for comic in general because other titles. better titles, less high-profile titles end up with receiving no attention.  This practically guarantee the only comics we’ll be seeing in the summer is the same old spandex same old.

Captain Marvel (DC Comics)

Hi, I’m Shazam! I used to be Captain Marvel but now I’m not. My new name is as lame as my costume.

A “wait-and-see” approach to the capes and costumes tsunami we are about to be hit with may be the smart move here.  Clearly Disney, Fox, Sony and Warner Brothers are fully invested and confident the ticket buyers are still hungry for more spectacle and special effects.   But I have my doubts.  The more comic movies made increases the odds many of them will tank and tank hard.

Something’s gotta give.  Or maybe it won’t.  Maybe there are enough comic geeks and casual fans out there willing and able to support 32 superhero flicks over the next six years response to DC’s announced slate of films saying I wouldn’t be that way about Marvel movies, but it’s not a fanboy bias for one company over the other to say a good movie is a good movie no matter who makes it and Marvel’s certainly made more than their share of really terrible super-hero crap fests.   For every Green Lantern  and Jonah Hex by DC, Marvel has stunk up the joint with Iron Man 2,  Elektra, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, Daredevil, and I haven’t watched Thor: The Dark World yet).

After The Avengers made a billion bucks every studio went in search for super heroes they could rush into theaters.   Be honest. Was anyone really hoping for a Suicide Squad, Inhumans and Lego Batman movie?   Not only are we getting a Captain Marvel movie from Marvel we’re getting a Shazam! movie from DC featuring a hero that used to go by the handle, Captain Marvel.  If this is confusing for people who read comics, there’s no hope for a civilian to understand what’s coming down the pike.

While I’ll see my share of these upcoming movies,  there’s no way I see all of them.   Don’t let this get around, but while I  enjoy a good superhero movie,  I’m an adult and adults enjoy filmed entertainment that has nothing to do with wall-crawling, dark knighting or shield-slinging.   I like James Bond movies too, but if Hollywood were making 32 spy movies just like James Bond that might be a few too many.

Nobody’s crystal ball is so clear they can predict what’s going to hit and what’s going to die a horrible death at the box office,  but there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for successes and failures.

Or as they say in comic books, to be continued…

comic book moviesRelated articles

Is Coming Out Gay Just Another Comic Book Stunt?

Astonishing Gay X-Men?

To be a man in your fifth decade and still reading comics is slightly embarrassing and that was reinforced when sitting next to my 13-year-old nephew at The Avengers and realizing I’ve forgotten more about every major character in the movie than he will ever know (or care) about.

I gave up comics this year.  I didn’t give up buying them every so often.  Old habits do die-hard.  I just took myself out of the never-ending cycle of 52 Wednesdays a year burning up gas and spending money to bring home another $20 to $40 worth of four-color funny books that after being read once or twice end up in filling storage bins in my basement.    Throw in the ridiculous cost ($3.99 for something that used to cost 12 cents) and giving comics up wasn’t a tough call.

I still read comic books.  Most of them are my brother’s “New 52” line from DC Comics.   Last year, fueled by desperation as much as inspiration, DC zeroed out its existing universe and rebooted their line with  brand new Number One issues, new costumes for Superman and his other super-friends and in doing so generated a buzz that garnered a ton of favorable coverage from the mainstream media and the interest and excitement of fans.

That’s how you create a buzz about comics.  You come up with a stunt.  Kill Superman and bring him back.  Kill Captain America and bring him back.  Kill Batman and…are you starting to see a pattern here?

Anyway,  The New 52 worked great.   DC knocked industry leader Marvel on its backside and out of the top spot, which for as minimal comic books have on pop culture is like being the tallest pygmy.   Movies based on comic books are big business.  Comic books themselves struggle to sell 75,000 copies a month, but DC is owned by TimeWarner and Marvel by Disney and they could give a shit if Superman sells in the thousands or in the dozens.  What their comic book companies contribute to ledger sheets of  their corporate masters wouldn’t pay for a week’s worth of office supplies.

What Disney and TimeWarner care about are the comic book properties.  You think they give a toot in a tornado about a damn comic book when one Friday evening of The Avengers puts more cash in The Mouse House’s pocket than 40 years Avengers comic books.

“Dick, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

The New 52 was a great hook, but it wasn’t a revolutionary concept.  Many of the same artists and writers whose lousy stories ran the company into a ditch were now being tapped to pull it out.  Zeroing out their universe and starting from scratch liberated DC from decades of confusing and convoluted comic continuity .   Continuity is important to the educated in comics lore fan base, but their numbers are too small and the demographic too old for Hollywood to give a shit if a geek gets upset because Superman no longer wears his underwear on the outside.  The purpose of comic books are to provide concepts that can be mined by movie studios and turned into movie franchises. DC has failed to successfully follow Marvel in making the transition from comic book company to feeder system for million-dollar movies.

It no longer matters what happens in comics.  Not that it really ever did, but particularly not now.  Spider-Man, Batman and Iron Man generate millions in ticket sales and that second life on the silver screen means whatever happens to them in their paper and staples form don’t mean a thing.

What’s left for comic books?  Stunts.  Tricks.  Big cataclysmic events that shake up the status quo, shatter worlds, and change everything as we know.  Then six months later someone comes along and changes it all back.

The newest stunt:  Make someone gay everyone thought was straight or take a second or third-string hero and marry him off.   To his boyfriend.   HEY KIDS! GAY COMICS!

Marvel is allowing Northstar, their French-Canadian mutant speedster to marry his Black boyfriend.  Gay and interracial marriage?  Two taboos broken for the price of one.

DC’s response?  Follow the leader and announce a “major” character will come out the closet as a gay man.

Gay supporting characters and even gay heroes aren’t new.  Northstar has been out for years.  DC’s Wildstorm imprint featured a openly gay couple named Apollo and The Midnighter who were overt Superman/Batman stand-ins.   But their love affair ended when they were incorporated into the DC mainstream.  Odd that there weren’t many protests from the continuity-obsessed fans about that reboot.

Not Superman and Batman, but just like them.

Who will come out of the comic book closet?  It could be Batman.  It should be Batman.  But because it’s both so obvious and so perfect it won’t be Batman.  Batman is now on his third or fourth Robin.  He just keeps picking up young boys to be his “partner.”  What would you call a billionaire who’s never married, only uses women as props, enjoys dressing up head to toe in leather and prefers the company of athletic youths?

One of Bats current writers, Grant Morrison, fessed up in Playboy  the Dark Knight”s antenna isn’t picking up the wavelength of the opposite sex.

“He’s very plutonian in the sense that he’s wealthy and also in the sense that he’s sexually deviant,” Morrison said. “Gayness is built into Batman. I’m not using gay in the pejorative sense, but Batman is very, very gay. There’s just no denying it. Obviously as a fictional character he’s intended to be heterosexual, but the basis of the whole concept is utterly gay.”

“I think that’s why people like it. All these women fancy him and they all wear fetish clothes and jump around rooftops to get to him. He doesn’t care — he’s more interested in hanging out with the old guy and the kid.”

As someone with no skin in the game, I’m all for gay fans of comics being represented with gay characters they can relate to   An openly homosexual hero isn’t going to corrupt a kid’s mind anymore than most of the other crap DC and Marvel poop out every Wednesday.

Just don’t stop there.  Let’s see what happens when a gay superhero faces discrimination from a straight superhero who doesn’t want to team up with him.  Instead of fighting alien invaders, let’s have the Justice League or Avengers take on a homophobic hate group.

There have always been gay themes in comics as long as there have been comics.  It was just nodded and winked at and never spoken of in a serious way.   This feels like the latest in a long line of contrived stunts the major companies engage in passing it off as being socially conscious.   We’ll see if DC and Marvel are as seriously committed to their “evolution” as gay couples are to getting married.

Don’t look for the happy couple in the next X-Men movie.

Rebooted. Relaunched. Recycled.

Everything old is new again. Only more expensive.

This September DC Comics will relaunch/reboot 52 of their titles.  Big news, right?  Not as far as I was concerned, but it sure was for a lot of folks who wouldn’t be caught dead reading a comic book.

It made the front page of USA Today.  AND The New York Times, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, Newsday and even some rag in New Zealand,  Somebody in DC’s media relations department knows how to game the media.  Either that, or it was a really slow news day.

Two things the geeks at the NY Times ought to know:  First, comic book “events” last about as long as Superman stayed dead (which is to say not long at all).  Second, for the few of us whom actually still read comic books and thoroughly embarrassed to admit it, this is not that big a deal.  We’ve seen it all done before multiple times.

It’s not news to anyone who’s been reading comics with any consistency over the past ten years when a superhero “dies”,  changes their underwear and undergoes a “drastic” personality change. Batman will never wake up naked except for his utility belt with Robin sleeping with a contented smile in his arms. Spider-Man is never going to say he sure wishes Aunt May would up and die already and stop bugging him to eat those fucking wheatcakes.   Superman isn’t going to grab Wonder Woman, bend her over a table and give her the high hard one no matter how skimpy and tight her swimsuit/costume is.

Comics reflect fantasy far better than reality.  The reality is Superman died but he came back.  Just like Captain America did and Batman did and the Human Torch will.  Once you’ve conquered death, what’s a little thing like zeroing out your comics and starting all over?

Anything that remotely resembles reality isn’t going to happen to a mainstream comic book character and really, who wants it to?   Nobody really wants to see a fat, balding, flatulent, and arthritic Caped Crusader suffering from dementia.  That’s a royal downer because it looks, sounds, tastes and smells like real life and who the hell plunks down three or four bucks a month for four-color “real life” stories?

What I would like to see is DC not just pay lip service to Black, Latino, Asian, gay and lesbian superheroes by taking a second or third rater like The Atom or Firestorm,  give them an ethnically diverse Extreme Makeover, throw it out there for a year and then kill ’em off without mercy when the primarily White fanboy base doesn’t dig it.

For this particular comic book connoisseur of color it’s always been my belief DC kicked Marvel’s ass when it came to supporting books featuring women, but they trailed badly when it comes to getting behind minority superheroes of any gender.  Compare Luke Cage, Storm and the Black Panther with Cyborg, Vixen and Black Lightning and it’s not even a close call.  DC keeps trying to shoehorn diversity into its comics by making The Atom an Asian (and then killing him off), the Blue Beetle a Hispanic and Firestorm a Black guy with middling results.

DC has a perfectly good group of African-American superheroes with Icon, Hardware and Static from the now shuddered Milestone comics line, but for some reason they refuse to integrate them into the larger DC line.

Everything ch-ch-changes, but it always changes back.

I foresee problems here.   Comic shops have to order their books by figuring how many they can sell.   What happens when they order 300 copies of Aquaman #1  and find out nobody’s buying it, but the 150 issues of Captain Atom or Mister Terrific all disappeared off the shelves and its all sold out?

Another thing is if DC really intends to glut the market with 52 titles priced at $2.99, that’s nearly $156 bucks the faithful will have to pull from their wallets.   Will they?  Even comic geeks aren’t invulnerable to the economy.

This is nothing but a way to get the fans and fanboys buzzing.  It doesn’t mean there’s going to be more pages added, higher quality paper used, or a price cut.  Since most of the titles will feature the same writers and artists already working for DC it definitely doesn’t mean the comics will be any better.

The biggest con in comics is how DC and Marvel Comics perpetuate the illusion of change when all they’re doing is rearranging the furniture.  Nothing of any true substance changes in comic books.   It’s still perpetrating this corny myth of rich White guys and middle class White guys putting on a costume and going on to beat up criminals.   That’s a constant that never changes.

DC’s relaunching of most of their titles actually means little.  Nothing that is being done can’t be undone when a new honcho takes over.  Comics, like movies, say they are rebooting and re-imagining old characters and stories, but it’s driven by calculation, not inspiration.

Sorry DC, but I’m going to take a pass on your big event.  Congrats on all the cheap publicity you milked out of it.  But I’m no fool.  I’m confident by next year you’ll announce an even bigger “event” but you’ll still be making the same old boring comic books.

DC's struggle with diversity is literal as well as figurative.