When Birds Go Bad (Birds of Prey V2)

Volume 2 of Birds of Prey begins exactly where volume 1 left off, in a battle royale pitting Black Canary and Huntress against the still unidentified White Canary. The panels are dynamic and spectacular; there is movement, athleticism and pure fury depicted in each and every one.

And much to my pleasure, these women can fight. In fact, when backup arrives on the scene for Huntress and Black Canary, Hawk, the one male in their super group, promptly gets his super behind handed to him by a girl…the White Canary. This is definitely not a comic that is interested in showing the girls as anything but self sufficient fighters. Even if they do have to do it in their under garments.

But the most interesting thing about Volume 2 might be the plot line that leads the birds, and Black Canary in particular, straight into the role of vigilante. It seems that the battle has been nothing but a clever ruse on the part of the mysterious White Canary, and the Birds of Prey have played right into her hands.

Black Canary has been framed for the murder of one of the criminals she fought in Volume 1, and this fight was staged in order to place her out in the open spaces of the city, where she could be spotted by news cameras acting the role of violent vigilante.

As Oracle watches helplessly on the TV from the safety of the Batcave, Gotham City’s finest enter the scene, ready to arrest Black Canary, and her group. As Black Canary so aptly states, “that witch chumped us all like a first date gone wrong.” And she didn’t even buy them dinner first.

This is, of course, the crucial moment. Black Canary must decide whether to trust in the law, or cross over completely into the role of vigilante.


This is Gotham, and her boss is the former Batgirl…which path do you expect her to choose?

The next page is composed of two large panels which depict Black Canary using her sonic scream against the Gotham police which Huntress uses her crossbow to shoot one officer in the hand which delivering unto another a direct kick to the face. In an expository box of Black Canary’s private thoughts at the bottom of the page is the statement: “Goodbye reserve JLA membership.” Not only has she led her team against the law, she has led them into breaking their bonds with the Justice League. The birds have officially gone rogue.

The rest of the story is lighter on action and heavier on plot movement. The White Canary makes good on her promise and kills an associate of the group, a man called Savant. His partner delivers a message to Oracle (former Batgirl) and then kills himself before her eyes. Things are grim, and getting worse by the minute. Next it is revealed (on a television set strategically placed in a gritty, graffiti decorated Gotham alleyway) that the White Canary has made good on another of her promises, the broadcast is revealing the secret identity of Black Canary as well as the details of her personal life.

This seems to momentarily cripple Black Canary, but it only serves to fire up Oracle. She acknowledges her complacency over the last few years, as well as her over reliance on technology which she has allowed to become out of date.

The volume ends with a splash of Oracle after she has set some sort of system overhaul of “the grid” into action with the rather ominous command, “data womb. Priority code, omniscient.”

The grid, and the birds, are going to strike back.

This volume, even more than the last, built up a tremendous amount of pressure by the end, so much in fact that I almost screamed when I got to the last page. I have so many more questions, and still no answers!

  • Who is White Canary?
  • What is her problem?
  • Why are the birds of prey trying to save Oswald Copplepot, aka the Penguin?
  • And how are they going to get Black Canary out of this seemingly hopeless situation??

I hope volume 3 gives my anxiety some relief, although I’m not going to be counting on it. Gail Simone seems to like to draw out the disquiet and discomfort, in both her characters and her readers. Smart woman, I will be heading to Earth 2 Comics this week for my next fix, er, installment.

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This Blog is Going to the Birds

Okay…this isn’t academic, really, but as I was searching for images to place in my soon-to-be-posted second edition to my Birds of Prey series of blogs, I came across this video.

Were these two involved?!  Since I entered this new incarnation of the series blindly, I have no clue. But this video amused me…so I had to share it.

Stay tuned for my review/commentary on Birds of Prey, Vol 2!

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Helen Parr: Just Another Sub-par Female Comic Character, or Something Quite Incredible?

After being seriously disappointed in the portrayal of the heroine of the Fantastic Four series, one might find it odd that I chose for my film critique a movie that some, including film critic George Wu of culturevulture.net, believe to be heavily inspired by the Marvel quartet: The Incredibles. It is true that the creators of The Incredibles seem to have shuffled around the powers of the Fantastic Four and redistributed them amongst the Parr family, Bob being comparable to the Thing, Helen to Mr. Fantastic, Violet to Invisible Girl and the baby, Jack-Jack to the Torch. Only Dash seems to have found his inspiration elsewhere, perhaps, as Wu suggests, in DC’s Flash. But what was the purpose of all this borrowing? Is he paying homage? Is it, as Wu suggests, satirical?

This decision and the questions that arose from it only made me more interested in what it was that writer/director Brad Bird was attempting to do with the film. Most interesting to me was the reassignment of Mr. Fantastic’s super power to Helen, otherwise known as Elastigirl.

When the film opens, Elastigirl, by her own admission, is in no hurry to settle down and conform. Yet after the lawsuits break, (1954 Comic Code reference, perhaps?), there is a fifteen year fast forward and we are reintroduced to Helen as Mrs. Parr, a very normal, very settled housewife. She has no characteristics of Invisible Girl as far as superpowers go, that is left to daughter Violet, but like the Invisible Girl she is obsessed with her marriage, her children, and the domestic space in general, and as a result she is adamantly against Bob and her son Dash’s desires to be anything more than normal citizens, for fear this will disrupt their family life.

In George Wu’s review, he discusses the fact that Stan Lee was the first to add this “ingredient of real-life banality” that Invisible Girl of the Fantastic Four contributed to her super-group, and which Helen Parr herself seems to now be completely immersed in. Though it is true as Wu states that in The Incredibles the heroes are no longer involved in anything but the humdrum of “normal” life, none of them appear particularly happy about that fact. Helen is not the beacon of conformity that he paints her as in his review, and she is also far from a meek and mild manner domestic partner a la 1960s Marvel female character. She accepts their current lot in life because she is fiercely protective of her family and believes she is doing what is best for them. They are stuck in a world that discriminates against the superhero, therefore Helen’s message of compliance, though perhaps misguided, is well intentioned and certainly not passive in nature.

This is why it is Helen, not Bob who is thrust into the position of team leader when Bob’s impulsiveness and desire to relive his glory days in secret gets him into trouble. She proves herself to be just as strong, just as able, just as super as her big, strong husband, perhaps even more so. It is she who pushes the kids into action, it is she who talks her husband into allowing them to work as a team which enables them to overcome the threat of Syndrome. She stretches, and it is this elasticity, pardon the pun, which allows her family to bend rather than break when they face adversity.

As George Wu points out, The Incredibles isn’t perfect. It does have some clichéd elements, which are probably in place to pull in the younger audience more than anything else. But by viewing it through the critical lens of an apprentice comic book “scholar,” a new light is shone upon the classic Pixar tale. And through this lens one is able to see that The Incredibles succeeds in an area in which many products of the comic book / superhero genre have failed, in giving a decidedly human face to the extraordinary. And additionally, it creates a likable, admirable hero out of a female, wife and mother. That is a feat that was long overdue and is, in fact, quite super.

Works Cited

The Incredibles. Dir. Brad Bird. Perf. Helen Hunt, Craig T. Nelson. Pixar, 2004. DVD.

Wu, George. “The Incredibles.” Culture Vulture. 2004. Web. 29 Oct. 2010. <http://www.culturevulture.net/Movies/Incredibles.htm&gt;. Web.

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Superhero Wear A la Mode

While researching for my forthcoming blog on the Pixar film, The Incredibles, I was reminded of this particular sequence with the scene-stealing Edna Mode.

Though hilarious, this scene also highlights the importance of the super-suit in regard to both image and safety. A commanding and powerful looking suit that highlights the musculature of the hero may be important, but, as Edna Mode points out, safety first. This scene is satirical in nature, as it is clearly poking fun at the old style and impracticality of superhero garb.

Stay tuned for more “Incredible” filled blogs soon.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 1960s Marvel and the Role of the Female

It is safe to say that Marvel comics in the 1960s had a clear vision. And it seems that part of this clear vision included portraying women in a certain light. I say this because all of the female characters within these episodes of Spiderman, Fantastic Four and Hulk that I read through gave a eerily similar portrayals of their female characters. The females, it seems, had only to make a choice. Would they be a good girl, or a bad girl? This singular choice determined their existence.

Let’s begin with the good girls. They all, sad to say,  resent men for their heroic ambitions, because heroic amition means less time for them. They also spend copious amounts of time getting in the way and placing themselves in situation where they will need rescue. Yes, from the very men whose heroism they resent, either consciously, Like Doris, girlfriend to Johnny Storm or unconsciously, such as Betty, love interest to Peter Parker. These characters are transparently weak and needy.  Neither of them seem to think beyond window shopping and how make their boyfriends jealous. If you want to be a good girl, you have got to submit to societal standards which include these less than attractive characteristics and you must cultivate an overwhelming desire for men which is so fantastically strong it takes over your entire existence. Am I exaggerating? Hardly.

But I wasn’t terribly surprised to see the way in which the young females were portrayed in Spiderman and I wasn’t surprised that the Torch’s girlfriend was painted as a controlling over dramatic nuisance either. Frankly I am getting used to the female love interests playing the role of distraction, motivation, victim, but little else.

But Susan Storm was a surprise to me, and a disappointment.

Even her super name, Invisible Girl, carries connotations of weakness and portrays her as a lesser caliber super hero than her male counterparts. She is no Human Torch or Mr. Fantastic, she is but a girl, not even a woman, and her claim to fame is her ability to disappear. She is by far the weakest member of her super group. She is often there simply because her love interest, Reed Richards, is and she cannot bear to be separated from him. In fact, this need to tag along is how she became a super hero in the first place, according to the Fantastic Four origin story. “My boyfriend is going on a dangereous mission to space? Well them, by golly, I am too!” Or something to that effect.

Which brings up the next point, she is also the weakest in terms of emotional vulnerability. She is obsessed with marrying Reed, AKA Mr. Fantastic, and is constantly clinging to her “darling,” mooning and fawning over him like a love-struck adolescent. I suppose calling her “girl” is accurate after all. And even after they are married, she is more concerned with being able to go on her honeymoon than she is with the safety and well being of humanity. What kind of super hero is she?

Sadly, the only strong females portrayed in the 60s Spiderman and Fantastic Four comics were those that played the role of villains. And these women were depicted as conniving, evil temptresses who used their attractiveness and sexuality to “play” the men in their worlds, villains and superheroes alike. These women were bad girls, of course, but they were also often depicted as being the masterminds amongst their criminal cohorts, even though the ofish male villains were not always aware that they were under the influence. These women were calling the shots and using their brains.

So what is the message of these early Marvel volumes? To be a good girl is to be weak, pathetic and needy, not to mention completely obsessed by the opposite sex? And conversely, is the alternative to good = weak simply strong = bad? Women are not so one dimensional, Marvel! But if I had to chose, I’d much rather be a madam medusa than an invisible girl. It just seems like the former had a little more control over her own destiny. And a really spectacular power to boot.

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Bird Watching: Part 1

The Birds of Prey series is apparently a new incarnation of an old series, but I am entering their world as a complete newcomer, a stranger in a strange land. I made the choice to cross the threshold into the text without doing any background reading, to see just how privileged of an environment I was attempting to assimilate into.

But before I dive right into the meat of this issue, I am inclined to believe it necessary to discuss why I chose this particular comic book in the first place. What I am most interested in, in regard to the study of the comic book super hero, is how the heroines are portrayed, past and present, as well as what can be their projected portrayal into the future of the genre. I am also interested in analyzing the female superhero because I have always seen the comic genre as a male centered genre. It is my intent to discover whether these female stars are drawn in the manner they are in order to please this primarily male audience or if their audience is primarily male because the ways in which they are portrayed is unappealing to a female audience. This is just the kind of egg / chicken debate that I enjoy, so here I am.

Now back to the birds.

While gazing at the shelves in Earth 2 Comics, I noticed right away that there was a definite lack in female-centered series. But the Birds of Prey drew my attention in that there was not just one strong female portrayed upon the cover, but FOUR. Now we were getting somewhere! Yes, there outfits seemed inappropriate for a life of crime fighting, and yes, their most discerning feature was their physical perfection and flawless beauty, but still, four forceful female super heroes. And the series was written by a woman too. I had found my case study.

The action opens in an unlikely place for a super hero comic: the tundra of Iceland. The first several pages are focused on the interior monologues of a female character who is not introduced by name until the fourth page. When she is finally introduced she is described as Black Canary A.K.A. Dinah Lance, one of the world’s deadliest hand-to-hand combat fighters and the possessor of a scream that can shatter steel. She proceeds to get the better of four physically formidable would be child murders, aided by another female character, Zinda, who in true super hero fashion, fires rubber bullets from her helicopter. What is presented in this opening is classic super hero business with a twist. Life is being preserved, the weak are being saved, and yet there is a juxtaposition presented, between the tough as nails exterior and a sensitive, human interior.

When analyzing this opening scene, I took note of several things. First, I was taken by the use of the interior monologue. Right from the opening page, the reader is allowed to enter the psyche of this hero in a way that is often absent in other comics that I have read thus far for this class. The reader enters an advantaged space in which he or she knows Black Canary’s plans before she executes them, as well as her anxieties, fears and doubts. This is not only crucial to rounding our her character, for on the outside she is able to appear strong and without a crack in her armor, while internally she is actually very much human, but additionally it is a marked difference from the way comic heroes are often portrayed. Mentally, here was a character that I could relate to.

In terms of the layout of this comic, I found it to be lush, detailed and dynamic. The drawings were fluid from panel to panel and had an incredible depth to them. The artist, Ed Benes, gives the reader beautiful and sensuous female characters, yes, but most of all I was struck by the amount of detail put in their musculature. These women are strong and it is evident in each depiction of them. Also appreciated was the fact that although their outfits were skintight and skimpy, there were some practical elements to them, such as flat soled boots and kneepads and things of that nature. Still, it is obvious that the primary objective of the physical representation of these characters is most assuredly sex appeal. Still, they aren’t in stilettos, so that, I suppose, is a move in the right direction.

Getting back into the storyline, the third character the reader is introduced to is a wheelchair bound Oracle A.K.A. Barbara Gordon A.K.A. the former Batgirl. Like Black Canary, the mind of Oracle is also accessible to the reader. And it is through these inner thoughts that I was, quite unexpectedly, thrust into a world I was somewhat familiar with, Gotham City. But it is altered from what I am accustomed to. This Gotham, still dark, still gritty, still full of crime seems to be void of the Batman. Ms. Gordon is in the Batcave, now modified for wheelchair access, but Bruce and Alfred are not on the scene. And the crime is now being combated by a new set of supers. Oracle is attempting to get her now disbanded group back together, the Black Canary, Zinda, A.K.A Blackhawk and a third heroine, the Huntress.

Another old face surfaces towards the end of the volume, the infamous Batman villain, Penguin. Interestingly enough, just before this volume ends it appears that Black Canary and Huntress are interested in protecting Penguin, he even appears to  summon them via a spotlight which presumably used to call Batman and now calls the Birds. When they arrive,the group is attacked by an unidentified female, who stabs Penguin, and gets the better of both the Huntress and Black Canary, and the reader is left with a final image of this formidable female foe standing above a fallen Black Canary and a bleeding Penguin in a full page shot who taunts for someone to “save him, if you can.” The teaser for the next volume identifies her as the White Canary.

Like some of the earlier panels, this one is striking; the grit of this Gotham, the power of these female characters, and the binaries of light and dark, good and evil, hero and villain are brought into question in a single drawing.

This volume presents many questions and no answers for me, and leaves me anxious to get to volume number two.

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