Monday, October 4, 2010

Dead and Alive

This is a gimme. I realize I have little to say about (Tyler Clementi) the kid who killed himself because his so called friends taped him banging a dude, then outed him on the internet. I hope, hope that he doesn't get forgotten in 24 months and instead can transcend the media cycle and narrative of "well, our culture puts an incredible pressure on kids to conform and that's terrible, but we're not to blame and we're certainly not responsible."

I'm not hopeful.

Instead of dwelling on that, I'm going to talk about one of my favorite (straight, white, male) authors who writes comics with female characters who don't have double D breasts and and have their heads on straight. (As usual, images aren't mine, I make no claim to them and I forget where I got them from. I think they're done by JH Williams for the first two, Ed Risso (I think?) for the third, fourth by Denys Cowan [purple] and the fifth by Raphael Albuquerque.)

Greg Rucka's post-Marvel comics bibliography (and not just his work with the Question) is basically revelation after revelation. Look at his 10 issues of Batwoman. He created a new Bat-person who'se confirmation as a vigilante felt painful, real, earned and...written today. It's not Bruce Wayne, who'se origin story "parents die, find bats, fight crime" is pretty easy to plug into any context.

Kate Kane's trajectory follows the same arc generally. The straight-arrow redhead gets kicked out of the Marines for kissing girls, becomes shiftless, Batman helps her up, after fighting off a would-be mugger and this inspires her to fight crime. (Oh, and the art is so fucking pretty throughout the run.)

And that's not counting Gotham Central, a 40 issue series he did with Ed Brubaker, focusing exclusively on the cops in Gotham City that aren't called Jim Gordon, in which the shadow of Batman is its own character. He also wrote Wonder Woman for 30+ issues, which expanded her rogues gallery and made reasonable and comprehensible her labyrinthine backstory. An island of warlike women who refuse male company is kind of arcane and easy to relegate into a view that's entirely academic. Putting that island thirty miles off the coast of South Carolina instantly focuses your attention.

Now, add that to his Queen and Country series, a book about the unglamorous side of espionage including assassination of an old Russian KGB guy as a favor to the Americans, the 6 cups of black coffee, sitting all day in an ops room filling out the crossword puzzle, waiting for confirmation so you can give confirmation to someone that will give the confirmation to the people on the ground who are dodging the Taliban (this was written before 9/11, by the way) to get a list of informants out of the country after the journalist carrying it got executed.

(There's also Checkmate, but that's really just Queen and Country in the DCU.)

It's in all of those comics that there's a human cost to all of the terrible things that happen, but also the possibility of rising to face and defeat the challenge, even if we have to improvise a response to a threat that has waited decades to attack us (Wonder Woman), even if there's a psychotic Caroll-inspired terrorist with WMDs and a similarly inclined posse to back her up (Batwoman). He writes characters as three-dimensional persons. He writes those persons the way I want to see them, granular, tired, beaten, with occasional moments of triumph.

Then there's the Question as the thesis of all of the above. Renee Montoya existed in the Gotham City Police Department (in Gotham Central), rising in the series as she got outed as a lesbian, her life began to disintegrate and then her partner got murdered. She found the man responsible and didn't kill him. She just left the Gotham PD, to become shiftless and depressed as a private eye. It was when she was a self-destructive alcoholic that the Question (Vic Sage) paid her a visit and paid her a not inconsiderable sum to do private eye work. They got caught up in the crossover de jour (52) and by the end, Vic Sage had beaten back her self loathing and self-destructive tendencies, but he had lung cancer and died, held by Renee in the snow trying to take him home.

Not that it got any easier after that. At the moment, she might have some millennia long-curse, an after-effect of Darkseid's invasion attempt, which the whole DCU had to scramble against. There's more to those stories, but I leave those to be discovered by you. It's easy to get lost in his stories, because they're internally consistent and the characters feel like they've always existed in their universe.

Cold ending, but it's what I've got. Today's song is Jack's Mannequin playing Crashin. I wish I could find a studio version, but it's not available to me. This version is more immediate than the record, which has a strange distance evident in the recording process for what I'm used to for Jack's. Either way, it's catchy and the lyrics are good. Hopefully, you can live with screaming fans in the background.

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