Wonder women

Are women in comics ("Fatal femmes," May 18) treated like second-class citizens? You mean, like in real life?

As one of the fanboys you wrote about in your article, I have to admit that you hit a couple of proverbial nails on the head. At the very least, you voiced an idea that's been understood, but largely unspoken, by both consumers and professionals in the field for decades. Not bad. I am, however, a little concerned about the fact that you chose only to drag the depths of the medium for the worst examples the comics field had to offer in support of your posit. The best talents in the medium have always avoided the sick, misogynistic bullshit that's marred comics, and superhero comics in particular, since the days of Siegel and Shuster. It's not fair or accurate to cast a blanket condemnation across the medium when it negates or demeans the efforts of the point men (and women) of the art form who have struggled to create great comics without succumbing to the stupid stereotypes of the day.

Yes, comics fans are geeks (yours truly included). Very observant. By and large, they live up to the stereotypes of being sexless, antisocial adolescent dopes. It would, however, be a mistake to assume that that description encompasses the whole of comics readership. I understand your article was intended only to depict a particular thematic thread that has reared its ugly head throughout the history of comics in this century, but I believe it's a trend that may be nearing its end as more sophisticated and mature talent enters the field. This side of the issue needs to be given some airtime as well.

Is there a lack of role models for girls in comics in general? Have women been misrepresented and demeaned by superhero comics? You bet. But it's not too different from mainstream media such as film and television in that way, is it? This trend is therefore symptomatic not just of comics, but of the media culture in general. The problem is deeper and wider than the fanboys; they just don't hide their hangups as well.

All things considered, I think the real issue is this: The misogynistic content, not to mention the overall quality of the stories, depends on who the specific creators working on the book are. The same character will be either meat for the grinder or a kickass three-dimensional character depending on who's putting the story together. The good writers have always avoided the crap you're attacking. Why not give them some richly deserved ink? It can't hurt to investigate something other than the lowest common denominator of the subject you're covering, right? Here, I'll give you a heads-up on where to find them:

··· The Dark Knight Returns (DC Comics) by Frank Miller features a teenage Robin named Carrie Kelly who's a far more human and capable character than the Boy Wonder ever was.

··· Promethea (Wildstorm Productions) by Alan Moore (the same cruel, chauvinistic bastard who crippled Batgirl) is probably the best serialized heroic fantasy being published anywhere in the world today. The main character is a refreshing blend of nebbishness, vulnerability, and unexpected dignity and resourcefulness that's neither helpless ingenue nor overblown cartoon amazon.

··· The warrior women from Transmetropolitan from DC and Planetary and The Authority from Wildstorm Productions (all written by Warren Ellis) are simply the toughest, coolest, smartest supergrrls in comics, period. They stand toe to toe with the guys, face the same dangers, and usually wind up taking the same lumps in the process.

··· Francine and Katina from Strangers in Paradise (Abstract Press) by Terry Moore aren't a couple. Really. What they are, however, are a couple of the deepest, most wonderfully flawed people in love you'll ever meet. The fan base for this book seems to be a straight-down-the-middle mix of hopelessly romantic boys and girls.

··· The women of Love and Rockets (Fantagraphics) by Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez just rock. They constitute the bulk of the cast, and their adventures run more toward the "just trying to get through the day" variety. Love, death, friendships, punk rock, and no spandex in sight. And, hey, they're even, y'know, ethnic too!

You should be able to find these books at any decent comics shop; I suggest Awesome Comics at Abrams and Royal or Keith's Comics at Mockingbird and Greenville.

That's my five cents' worth.

Roberto Bustos Jr.
Via e-mail

Comic Books are written for a largely male audience? No shit!

At first I thought about prattling on and on, listing comics that have female characters written in a better light. But I thought better and decided to point out a few of the bigger issues I have with your article:  

When you take the small handful of examples of comics writers' maltreatment of female characters out of the context of their storylines, then it becomes very easy indeed to become an alarmist--even more so when you look at the Women in Refrigerators list. However, when you set these in the ongoing story of a book that has been running, in some cases, for 30 to 50 years, it's not as bad as it seems at first.

A good number of the Female Heroes listed in Women in Refrigerators were killed off during D.C.'s mid-'80s house cleaning, where they got rid of hundreds of dead-end characters and paradoxes in an attempt to move away from the camp left over from the Golden and Silver ages.

Lady Flash: dead. Batwoman: dead. Sure, but they also destroyed about a half-dozen entire planets.

These stories ran for years in most cases. Think how rough it is for you to come up with a 1,500-word column once a week, then think about trying to work within the framework of established, well-known characters. Now try to be new and entertaining.

You wrote that Gerry Conway admitted his "guilt" in killing Gwen Stacey. What "guilt" is there to be had? She was a character in a comic book. In context, her death played well off of Spiderman's conscience. First, he had to relive his failure in preventing the murder of his Uncle Ben, and now despite his best efforts, his girlfriend died while he was trying to save her. As a story goes, this is the stuff of great tragedy.

These books are written for their markets, mostly male. Given the over-romantic notions of most of the male audience, a surefire way to engage their headspace is to threaten, or otherwise harm, the love interest. Just because most of comic fandom doesn't have the cojones to talk to a girl doesn't mean they don't fantasize about playing the knight in shining armor.

I also notice that you go on and on about the suffering of female heroes/characters, but give no mention of what the male heroes go through. The Green Arrow lost his arm, Aqua Man lost his hand, and The Beast has to cope with the onset of 100 percent blue body hair (real chick magnet there). Iron Man has had multiple heart attacks and lost his leg; they killed Superman; Alfred the butler had a boulder dropped on his head in the '60s; Geeves (kinda like Alfred, only for the Avengers) was brutally beaten and tortured, and I could be wrong here, but I think it's quite possible that Batman's childhood was not all that pleasant.

I have worked in and around the comic industry for more than 15 years. I have written and illustrated a handful of stories. I am pretty offended that you state that comic writers are "sick bastards."

I also believe yours to be a hypocritical article, coming as it is from a paper that derives large chunks of its revenue selling ad space to topless bars and phone-sex lines.

Cris Edbauer

Cool Kidd

Saw your mention of Sons of Harmony (Street Beat, May 18). You really think they're "no good at all"? Have you heard them? I'm used to the obligatory Dallas Observer slams ("cool" people hate anything popular, right?), but I'd hate to see SOH fall victim to criticism just because of their association with me.

Sons of Harmony is actually quite good, especially for a group of guys who didn't know one another six months ago. Now I know that "good" is a subjective word...they'd never be favored by the Observer unless they had a name like "900 Ft Jesus" and refused to bathe...but regardless of how you feel about the genre, most industry people have agreed that they're four very talented guys.

I'm proud of them, and I'm pretty sure that even if this "boy band" thing fades away into oblivion, they'll still have a potentially bright future.

Zac [Crain], a suggestion for a a brilliant career move: Go buy the CD when it comes out (off the Net to avoid having anyone seeing you holding it at Sam Goody) and give it a listen. Then write a soul-searching confessional about how you love their music and you don't care what the cool people think. Cool people love it when other cool people take a stand and redefine cool. Hey, the guy from Rolling Stone loves the new Hanson album, and he's never been cooler. One thing's for sure...your unabashed adoration of a boy band would jump out of your paper like a girl wearing a bra at Edgefest.  

What do you think?

Kidd Kraddick
Via e-mail

Zac Crain responds: I actually have listened to the CD, much to my chagrin.

Give it a rest

Is your paper a racist newspaper or what? At first, I really enjoyed your paper. It was a good source to check out the happenings in a new city. But now, every single week it seems like you pick a different black person or find something to do with black people to pick on. Does someone there belong to a neo-Nazi group or the KKK? Seriously, you guys need to give it a break. If I did not know better, I would think you had a secret agenda against black people.

And how many times can you attempt to tie Mayor Kirk to a story? You mention him when there is absolutely no reason to link him to a story. It is hilarous the way you try to put him into stories.

And even I know with my short stay here that Laura Miller used to write for your paper (you find a way to tell us every single week). But just because she used to write for your paper does not mean you have to jump on her bandwagon every time the wheels turn. You do not have to mention her every week. Gosh, give her name a rest too. I feel like I know her personally just from reading your paper. She does good sometimes, but not all the time. From a new Dallasite to you: Your paper has a great calendar, but lately, there has not been much else to it. Peace out!

Ashley Fairbanks
Via e-mail

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