Review: Headache

Headache

Writer: Lisa Joy
Artist: Jim Fern
★★★★☆

Sarah is an 18-year-old girl who also happens to be the Greek Goddess, Athena. In her life, there’s no such thing as hyperbole. Hera, her evil stepmother, is out to kill her. The bad boy she falls in love with is Hades, king of the underworld. And the philandering father whose approval she always seeks and fails to attain is none other than Zeus, the ultimate deadbeat dad. Now Sarah must embrace her destiny and take on the gods in order to stop them from destroying mankind.

Sounds awesome, right? The moment I laid eyes on this, I knew it was right up my alley. If there’s one thing I love more than the Greek myths, it’s the Greek gods living in modern times, and Headache delivers that in spades.

We follow Sarah, a young woman in a mental institution who dreams she’s really the goddess Athena. After breaking out, she begins regaining her memories, following someone who looks like her (dead) mother to the house where most of the Greek gods now live. There, she meets Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Hades, the lot of them. I would have liked to see a lot more of the interplay between the family here, but we do get an amazing spread with each of the gods chatting away around the dinner table.

But this is Sarah’s story. She figures out Zeus and the gods want to create another Armageddon, have mankind destroy each other because the gods were no longer needed or worshiped – a simple, but effective plot. Through it, we see many different sides of Sarah, which I love. She’s vulnerable, strong, confused, smart, everything a well-rounded character should be. Plus, she eventually kicks ass.

There are tons of funny moments throughout, plus a great mix of emotion and action as the story moves forward. Best line had to be one coming from Zeus about his daughter: “I was worried she’d want to save mankind.  Turns out, she just wants Hot Pockets.” 

There were a few things I didn’t like, mostly in the way the story flowed – at times it seemed things happened from moment to moment just because the story had to move forward. Hephaestus and Aphrodite, Diana and Apollo, for one. It was nice seeing them, and Hephaestus did serve a purpose, but they felt shoehorned in at the time. (Thinking about it, it’s a very TV way of doing things, which makes sense.)

That aside, this is a good book from a woman who has credits like Burn Notice and Pushing Daisies (!!!!) under her belt. Get if you enjoy Greek myths, capable female leads and saving the world shenanigans.

Headache was released on May 4th from Kickstart Comics.

Disclaimer: This copy was sent to me from the lovely folks at Kickstart. This in no way influenced my review.

Posted in Kickstart, Review | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Single Ladies [Put a Utility Belt On It]: Barbara Gordon

Editor’s note (a fancy way of saying Emma talking about herself in the third person at three in the morning): This is the first of a four part series on the gender identity and presentation of the four post-crisis female members of the Batfamily- Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and Katherine Kane- that Emma first teased us with back in January. She has yet to show any remorse for either the delay or the awful Beyonce related pun.

Barbara Gordon as Batgirl by Phil Noto


For pretty much all intents and purposes Barbara Gordon is the progenitor, the first serious and lasting addition to the Batfamily who went on to create and maintain a powerful legacy of her own by mentoring not only both her successors as Batgirl but several other young women including the similarly disabled daughter of her nemesis The Calculator. Her power and influence as Batgirl and especially Oracle is unquestionable, but what about Barbara Gordon the woman? Who is she and how does her personal expression of femininity inform her actions and her legacy?

Babs presents an interesting and unique opportunity to explore women in genre fiction because of not only how voluminous her canon is relative to her most popular and frequently cited contemporaries (Buffy Summers and Ellen Ripley), but also because of how completely and iconically her canon portrays her as both maiden and mother, which is something that not even Wonder Woman can claim despite her much longer and more cohesively collected history. When asked about why Wonder Woman’s role in Final Crisis was so diminished relative to Batman and Superman, Grant Morrison echoed an often heard sentiment, that Wonder Woman should be to all women as Superman is to all men but stated emphatically that has never truly been the case. The ideal that despite her problematic origin and early material by her creator, she should or could go on to become a universal symbol of womanhood is very much in line with one of the core themes of the DCU; the relation of the individual to the iconic. Except that doesn’t appear to be what most women invested in contemporary genre fiction are looking for. As a kind of pop culture godform of female strength, Diana has proven to be quite effective, but she has never been able to deliver any kind of noteworthy insight into or commentary on the experience of being a woman.

Wonder Woman makes perfect sense to men. The Amazon Princess from Paradise. It’s a perfect compliment to the fantasies of the billionaire playboy and the alien superman. Diana’s fatal flaw is that she is Woman Denatured. A woman with all the icky things that men recoil from taken out, as illustrated by her Pygmalion origin; the baby made of clay. Wonder Woman’s most reoccurring story is each successive writer’s attempt to re-define and in some way humanize her which- given it’s ubiquity- never seems to take no matter how many times she has her powers taken away or is forced to live undercover as a mortal human. It all comes across as a man’s increasingly desperate attempts at understanding women, giving her canon an irretrievably fractured quality.

Barbara Gordon never required any such extreme measures. To the outside observer, she seems ancillary to Batman with her Adam’s Rib origin and guise, an idea that is laughably absurd to even the most casual reader. Barbara did not start life as a clay simulacrum of a woman. She was introduced as a librarian chafing under the doting eye of her policeman father and the tedium of her comfortable existence, an all too real experience for many of the women in the audience. Despite the accidental nature of her first adventure as Batgirl- foiling Killer Moth’s attempt to crash a costume party- crime fighting has always been a primarily intellectual pursuit for Barbara. Even before she took on the Oracle persona, her greatest skill and the focus of most of her stories as Batgirl was her intellect. From the beginning, Barbara sought to prove her intellectual equality if not outright superiority to the men in her life, mostly by arriving to the same conclusions they did before them.

Although she boldly appropriated Batman’s symbol and demanded his respect, Barbara never intended her creation of the Batgirl identity to be a feminist act, unlike Power Girl who joined the JSA explicitly to prove that women had a place in the superhero community. Babs was on a personal quest, and at first it was even more about proving it to herself than anyone else as she frequently downplayed her role in solving crimes, sometimes even to preserve the egos of the men around her. Even after she was paralyzed and became Oracle, Barbara retained her desire for anonymity, this time seeking a level of it that obscured her gender entirely.

That desire for anonymity and isolation may have begun as an effect of her shooting and difficult rehabilitation, but it took on a new dimension in her interactions with the Suicide Squad and the deep impact that Amanda Waller had on her personality and goals as Oracle. Through her time at Belle Reve, Barbara came to understand a completely different perspective on crime fighting than what she had been used to as Batgirl. Instead of the vigilante approach of patrolling a limited physical area and reacting to crimes in progress, Amanda Waller had carved out a position where she could proactively respond to situations across the country or even the globe, which became the original basis of the Birds of Prey when Barbara left the Suicide Squad. In addition to her operational model, Barbara emulated Amanda’s cool detachment from her operatives, as evinced by the botched mission that resulted in the feud between Babs and Power Girl. It isn’t very clear when Barbara’s primary goal changed from proving herself to becoming the most important mother figure in the DCU, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that it started when the anonymity of the Oracle persona was broken in a meaningful way when she met Dinah face to face for the first time and crystallized when she took in Cassandra Cain.

There’s an important distinction to be made between her activities with the Birds of Prey and her role as the coach of Team Batgirl. While both became safe spaces for female superheroes to operate on their own terms without having to answer to male authority they reflect two distinct impulses; Barbara’s desire for sisterhood and her desire for motherhood. As far as we know, Dinah was the first woman that Babs shared an intimate connection with that encompassed both her life as a superhero and a civilian, which opened Barbara’s world view to the idea of sisterhood and became the cornerstone of the Birds of Prey when it shifted from being Barbara’s attempt to emulate Amanda Waller into the combined efforts of Babs, Dinah, and Helena.

While the story of the Birds of Prey has never been a fairy tale, Team Batgirl is perhaps the harshest test that Barbara has faced as it was the moment in which she became a mother. Much like her first true meeting with Dinah, Babs’ role as surrogate mother for Cassandra Cain was thrust on her by circumstances rather than something she sought out. Her relationship with Cassandra was likely doomed to a tragic end from the beginning by what amounted to an ongoing dispute over parenting styles between her and Bruce. While Barbara saw a wounded soul who needed nurturing and time away from the violence that defined her life from birth, Bruce was fascinated by what David Cain had accomplished with his daughter and sought to leverage Cassandra’s gifts towards his war on crime, which resulted in several heated exchanges between the two. This tension only made Barbara push Cassandra harder to learn to speak, read, and write that created a deep resentment in Cassandra that has likely never fully healed given their estrangement and Cassandra’s eventual formal adoption by Bruce. Her declaration that she had been Batgirl for him when she relinquished the name and costume to her successor Stephanie Brown upon his death made her feelings about Barbara and their time together abundantly clear.

While Barbara did attempt to mentor Misfit and Black Alice, it wasn’t until Stephanie returned from Africa following her supposed death that she made a sustained effort at creating a lasting relationship with a young hero. More than just recognizing shades of her younger self in Stephanie both in her determination to be Batgirl against any and all who would dissuade her and the violence she suffered at the hands of the Black Mask, Barbara saw an opportunity to redeem herself and her legacy for the mistakes she made with Cassandra much like Jim Gordon did when he retained custody of Babs following the dissolution of his marriage. Most modern readers readers are familiar with his ex-wife and son James Jr. through Batman: Year One, but further reading reveals just how poor the relationship between Jim and his son was.

Jim himself was a survivor of abuse plagued by the fear that he would abuse his own son and came dangerously close to it on several occasions culminating in Jim Jr pulling a gun on his father, ostensibly to protect his mother during an argument. This proved to be the breaking point that drove Jim’s wife Barbara to leave him and take Jim Jr with her to Chicago. Whether Babs is cognizant of it or not, her estrangement from Cassandra and fierce protectiveness of Stephanie closely resembles how Jim attempted to atone for his failures as a father to his son through his doting on Babs. However, there is more to Barbara’s devotion to Stephanie than simply righting the wrongs done to Cassandra. Her continued desire to find an heir following Cassandra’s departure to Bludhaven and eventual disappearance despite her admonishments to both Charley and Stephanie suggest that Barbara has reached a point in her life where she feels incomplete without someone to carry on her legacy as Batgirl, despite the greater operational capacity of the Birds of Prey. In that sense, Stephanie (as well as Cassandra) is truly a daughter to Babs whether or not either of them are willing to admit it openly. The same may be said in the future of Wendy Harris, but only time will tell.

Barbara Gordon as a woman is defined by her relentless drive for self improvement and her complete disregard for the limitations placed on her. She could have had a secure, easy life as a librarian. Instead she chose to carve out a place for herself at immense personal cost. As a feminist, she took the gains she made for herself and transferred them to her contemporaries through the post Hunt for Oracle Birds of Prey and her successors through the Batgirl mantle.

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Do You and Other Words of Wisdom About Female Geekery

This is, to be perfectly honest, one of those posts that should never have to be written but we don’t live in some kind of post-feminist utopia where women are taken seriously as equal participants in anything so I end up having to write this instead of wrapping up the second part of my long awaited series on the female post-crisis batfamily members.

This is a thing that happened. Neither piece represents anything remotely new in terms of the kind of vile attacks that female geeks are subjected to on a daily basis- in this case both from other women- but shit gets real when a female blogger gets targeted with violent language just for daring to attach a signifier of her gender to her blog title. Which is beyond obscene. Before even getting into the whole “hot girls” being geeks thing, I just have to say that these so called commentators have to stop centering hetero-normative masculinity in every single discussion about women and their self identification.

Women- heterosexual identifying or otherwise- do not pause to think of men every time they make a decision. It’s not the real world. That is kyriarchy fantasy land, okay. Give it up. It may come as a surprise, but women do actually think about themselves and each other before men sometimes. It’s a thing that happens quite frequently. Dee and Chantaal, for instance, when they founded this site didn’t really give a shit about what any man had to say when they named it “Girls Read Comics Too.” Their concern, which echoes my own motivations for contributing here, were to reach other women.

Female geeks are essentially members of a vast diaspora. While we don’t have a common physical homeland, we share the feeling of dispersal and isolation that comes from being a group frequently adrift in populations who are indifferent or hostile to us. Being the only female identified geek in any setting can be and frequently is  uncomfortable, alienating, and humiliating. What the Internet- and the web 2.0 platform in specific- offers is the potential to connect this vast diaspora into communities for the first time, which is precisely what many of us have done both consciously and subconsciously. Identifying as female in geek spaces online is not comparable to lighting a candle to attract moths- the moths will always gather, intention be damned- it’s firing a flare from a lifeboat for passing planes and boats to see. Occasionally we just want to talk among ourselves in spaces where we can vent our feelings in a setting where there is common ground and mutual respect. I’m not going to claim that female oriented or exclusive spaces are free of other elements of kyriarchal oppression (ableism, racism, classism, cissexism, heterosexism to name a few), but I do want to make it absolutely sparklingly crystal that the assertion of female identity in geek spaces- especially on the Internet- is rarely if ever done with male attention as the primary motivation. We do in fact wish to seek each other out and increase our visibility.

One of the other incredibly important reasons that women raise their voices as women in geek circles is the very ugly and very real erasure and bigotry that we suffer despite our considerable contributions both monetary and otherwise to the various geek communities of which we are a part. In comics, despite the unavoidable presence of female bloggers, readers, and creators there continues to be a strong contingent both within the major companies and the fandom at large who believe that if women are even entitled to participate in the fandom, they should do so on the terms set out for them by the hetero-normative male establishment. Thus we are forced to assert ourselves to remind them we exist and we intend our voices be heard, yet are frequently rewarded with bigotry and threats of violence.

The other side of the issue is the pressure to de-feminize both our engagement with geek culture and our bodies, as highlighted in the Salon piece. In many cases it simply is not enough for women to assimilate into the means by which media is consumed and discussed by the male segment of our fandoms. Our bodies must be policed as well. Women who are considered attractive by heteronormative male standards are to be seen and not heard; consumed as objects and never respected as subjects. For such a woman to speak in her own voice is a heinous crime. Apparently it is outright heresy to believe that Rosario Dawson- who has appeared in three live action and one animated adaptations from comics, collaborated with the highest profile “geeks” in the film industry (Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Miller, Rob Zombie), and co-created her own comic book- is authentic in her self identification as a geek. It’s an outright misogynistic lie. Why shouldn’t any woman confess to enjoying what are by Generation X and Y standards, quite common pursuits? Is it really that difficult to imagine that Mila Kunis, who has appeared in over a hundred episodes of Family Guy and worked on Robot Chicken, may have in fact reached out to explore some part of the geek culture that the characters she plays take part in whether in a professional or recreational capacity? Why isn’t anyone but Warren Ellis mentioning the fact that Helen Mirren wore a t-shirt eulogizing Harvey Pekar to the San Diego Comic Convention?

Behind all the misogyny and body policing of female geeks lies the very simple truth that there is absolutely no dichotomy between femininity and geek culture and women have been engaging with a geek culture of their very own for decades before the gatekeepers of male geek culture decided to validate any kind of female participation in their hallowed pursuits. Where- might I ask- is the line between my Monster High Frankie Stein doll and the Power Girl action figure who stands not six inches away? Mattel is selling an SDCC exclusive Superhero variant Ghoulia Yelps doll this year, and had an exclusive Frankie Stein last year. It’s a completely arbitrary distinction.

Women don’t magically become geeks when they engage in male dominated geek culture. Women become geeks when they apply the geek ethos to whatever they lay their hands on, whether it be fashion, doll collecting, or World of Warcraft and they will bring their feminine sensibilities- however those may manifest themselves- with them. A guy might repaint an action figure with an obscure costume, a girl might do the same or even modify a Barbie doll into her favourite mutant. Not every pursuit and insight that women bring to geek culture will be comfortable to men. It may be difficult to believe, but women don’t exist anywhere to comfort and reinforce male thought.

Attacking and invalidating women who choose feminine identities is an inherently sexist act that seeks to limit the ways in which women are allowed to express themselves, to deny them agency. As part of the dialogue surrounding the two pieces mentioned above, I stumbled into some pretty disgusting criticisms of Team Unicorn, a group of self professed girl geeks whose mission statement includes reversing femme erasure and bashing in geek circles, going so far as to define themselves as not being meant to exist. A specific piece of criticism against their parody of Katy Perry’s California Girls caught my attention. Team Unicorn was, according to one commenter, dressed to appeal to straight men. Again, I have to wonder at why the dialogue surrounding women and their choices has to be viewed through a lens of masculinity. Who is this person to discount queer female desire? When has it ever been a fact that queer women aren’t attracted to conventionally female presenting women? I’ll readily admit to having sexual fantasies about Rachel Maddow, especially when she’s wearing glasses, but I’m no less attracted to Cate Blanchett and why shouldn’t I be? Female sexuality- heterosexual or otherwise- conforms to none but the individual woman’s personal narrative. It’s just one more way that hetero-normative male geek culture seeks to control female participation, their desires must conform to expectation.

If you’re a woman who wants to assimilate into hetero-normative male geek culture, then do you. That’s a valid choice. However, these two pieces- both written by women- are emblematic of a very disturbing phenomenon. Out of some inexplicable need to exercise their sizable internalized misogyny, they attack the perfectly valid choices that other women have made, creating a fog of war around the place of women in geek culture as the misogynist element of the male population latches onto these attacks as validation for their disgusting behaviour. It’s nothing more than women quite willingly underwriting misogyny. It’s not a part of any kind of debate. It’s an ugly and ignorant campaign that has no place in the discourse whatsoever.

Posted in Misc | 15 Comments

Most Ridiculous Comic Book Movies: Angel’s Picks (Part One)

With Thor opening in theaters on Friday and X-Men First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger and Green Lantern not far behind it, 2011 is shaping up to be one of the biggest years ever for movies based on comic books and graphic novels. I figured now was a good time to reflect on some of the best and worst comic book movies. Up first are what I think are the worst of the bunch.
Batman and Robin
1997’s Batman & Robin may be the worst comic book movie ever made. This list may be in no particular order, but when I think of bad comic book movies, this one immediately comes to mind. It’s a movie so bad that the director actually apologized to fans who loved Batman Forever and went into Batman & Robin hoping for awesomeness, but instead got two hours of ice and plant puns.

For those of you fortunate enough to have never seen Batman & Robin, it’s a sequel to 1995’s Batman Forever, with George Clooney taking over the role of Batman from Val Kilmer. The story centers on the struggles of Batman and Robin’s tenuous partnership while they face off against Mister Freeze (played by The Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger), Poison Ivy (played by Uma Thurman) and Bane. Meanwhile, Alfred’s granddaughter, Cher Horowitz, ends up as Batgirl somehow. It’s a horrible mess of a movie, with way too many villains and a subplot that revolves around Poison Ivy using pheromone spray to pit the Bat and Bird against each other.

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Posted in DC, Films | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Kill Shakespeare

I am a lit geek. When looking around for which type of geek that I am, that is the label that I pick first. It might seem a little weird to be talking about my love of all things literary on a comic blog, but the truth is that I don’t make the distinction. To me (and a growing number of others) comics are literary. They’re a genre just like any other and they deserve to be taken just as seriously.

This definitely was part of the reason why I let out a truly unnatural squeal of delight when I got my hands on the Kill Shakespeare trade paperback. Okay, I’ll admit that I was a little late to the party, but the important thing to remember is the fact that I bothered to show up at all. Here it was, a comic series that combined two of my all time loves: Shakespeare and comics. It wasn’t just a retelling of the plays, done up with pictures but with familiar shorelines. No, this was better. KS has managed to revamp and revive the plays, reformatting them into a cross-play battle epic.

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Posted in IDW, Misc | Tagged | 1 Comment

Jonah Hex

One of my favourite books which I often wonder why people aren’t reading.  So I thought I’d post 5 points as to why everyone should read Jonah Hex

1) Done in One.  It’s a brilliant thing, as most of the issues are complete within themselves.  There’s no need to worry about years and years (or decades) of continuity, there are no crossovers, you can pick up an issue and that is all you need.

2) Amazing artists.  From Darwyn Cooke to Jordi Bernet to Edward Risso, there’s a long list of artists on Jonah Hex that make any comic fan drool.

3) The stories.  Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray tell amazing stories.  There seems to be no end of them with Hex.  I honestly believe they could tell these stories forever.

4) Westerns.  I grew up loving westerns.  I grew up watching them with my dad and JH fills a western need in my soul.  It’s a genre that’s under-represented in comics, in fact most genres are.  And I want to support this one.

5) An amoral hero. There is nothing better than an anti-hero.  For all that Jonah is a mercenary for hire, he has a morality that cannot be denied.

It’s a book I love, and it’s a book I feel you all should give a chance.  Because it’s one of the best books I read, and the art is stunning and amazing.

Posted in DC | Tagged | 5 Comments

Teenage Satan hits Boston

It’s all rumour and whispers now, but there are rumours of a new kid in school.  That kid?  Teenage Satan.

All I’m saying, is this is going to be AMAZING.  Believe me, I’ve had a preview, and you all want to be on this boat!

If you’re in Boston this weekend, check out the ifanboy post as to just what will happen there.

If not, add TeenageSatan666 on twitter and just wait for the news!

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