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Friday, 09 April 2010

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rob helpy-chalk

Hmm. The last I read of Kitty Pryde was in Joss Whedon's X-Men series. He did a great job writing for her. Roz Kaveny has argued that Kitty was the basis for Willow.

Do current X-Men stories with Kitty pick up after Whedon's series, or is that in some kind of continuity bubble?

NickS

Wow, that Milo Manara art is, as you say, genuinely infuriating.

For me, even the scan at the Kelly Thompson link reminds me, again, that it's been a long time since I read comics regularly.

It's interesting to read those John Byrne notes, I remember a friend of mine explaining that the reason they originally introduced Kitty Pryde was because they wanted to re-emphasize the "school" part of "school for gifted youngsters."

I also remember the early New Mutants having a number of strong female characters that weren't overly sexualized (e.g.). I was going to ask what happened to them, but wikipedia tells me that Rob Liefeld took over the book and now I don't want to know.

NickS

Thinking about the New Mutants a little more, I do think they provide some examples of the challenges involved in trying to generalize based on the "Kitty Pryde template."

It's really hard to get the tone right when writing young (superhero) characters, and it's also difficult to get the tone right when introducing characters who aren't sure whether or not they want to be superheros.

If the character is too weak or reluctant to participate they character can seem like a killjoy or, worse, a "boy hostage" who is more of a danger than an asset to the team. If they're forced to strongly into playing the superhero role it can distort the character to the point at which they become unrecognizable or just lack the freshness of youth and become just another superhero.

Also, still brainstorming, some other characters that I can think of that were introduced as young somewhat snarky female characters joinging an existing team: Jubilee and the purple girl which makes me think that Marvel certainly tried to see if they could create more characters that had the appeal of Kitty Pryde. For that matter Longshot, while male, strikes me as representing a related character type.

If you're introducing new characters into an existing popular group

SEK

Do current X-Men stories with Kitty pick up after Whedon's series, or is that in some kind of continuity bubble?

I believe this is in a continuity bubble, as Pryde was still in a bullet hurtling through space until just this past month. The Willow comparison's a strong one, though, in terms of how odd this portrayal of Pryde is.

I also remember the early New Mutants having a number of strong female characters that weren't overly sexualized

By virtue of them all being underage and the comic code being strictly enforced. Those early New Mutant books were really, for me, a revelation when I recently re-read them: Sienkiewicz's Steadman-esque art, especially with Warlock, was years ahead of its time. There's a genuinely horrifying issue about a giant bear, and I say this as someone who never found horror comics the least bit effective. (Days of Future Past has the same effect on me, albeit for different reasons.)

It's really hard to get the tone right when writing young (superhero) characters, and it's also difficult to get the tone right when introducing characters who aren't sure whether or not they want to be superheros.

Unless you're Joss Whedon, which is why Buffy was as good as it was. Though, you have a point about the attitude of the established heroic characters toward the neophytes: Whedon noted that one of the reasons they literally empowered Willow was that she had become a crutch, i.e. every time the narrative stumbled, they'd imperil Willow to pick it back up.

Rich Puchalsky

This particular transition is bad, but also in a sense inevitable. Remember the Batman series -- there have been more than one, I guess -- where he becomes a sort of amalgam or alternation of all of the different Batmen that have ever existed? If a comic book character becomes popular, they get depicted by different writers until they occupy a sort of topographic envelope consisting of the design shape to which that character can go in every direction.

And for female characters, one of the directions that they always can go is to become hyper-objectified sexually. Just as any female supporting character is eventually going to end up in a refrigerator, any female main character is going to eventually encounter a writer and / or artist who thinks "What do adolescent boys like? I know!"

I once, on some other thread here, wrote that I didn't understand why anyone was still interested in these heroes, which (Gary Farber, maybe?) rightly characterized as a sort of you-kids-get-off-my-lawn. But the thing that really changed comics, for me anyways, was the growth of the auteur. I can trust a particular auteur not to have a particular sensibility that makes it unlikely that they're suddenly going to think "Geez, what can I do with this character to shake things up? I know! A bunch of bikini shots!" Therefore I'm willing to pick up anything that auteur X, Y, or Z writes. But the popular superheroes are supposed to encourage following the character, not the creator. And therefore you always end up following them into inanity or worse.

Karl Steel

Sienkiewicz's Steadman-esque art, especially with Warlock, was years ahead of its time. There's a genuinely horrifying issue about a giant bear
Oh hell yes. I remember that story. Or I remember how it made me feel. Only thing close to it for creeping out the early 80s version of me was Swamp Thing. Sienkiewicz was my favorite. Sort of ruined Perez and Buscema for me, which I suppose was good.

Agreed that the panels above, in re Pryde, are an abomination.

SEK

This particular transition is bad, but also in a sense inevitable. Remember the Batman series -- there have been more than one, I guess -- where he becomes a sort of amalgam or alternation of all of the different Batmen that have ever existed?

I do! However, I don't see the hypersexualization of female characters to be inevitable, and the Planetary/Batman series demonstrates why: history isn't teleologiocal, and what gets one generation off (Batman as an armed vigilante) bores another (which wants Adam West); the next wants more violence (The Dark Knight Returns), etc. I know Rule 34 always abides, but I don't actually believe that's true. That said, I can't deny this:

any female main character is going to eventually encounter a writer and / or artist who thinks "What do adolescent boys like? I know!"

But as you note, it's a feature of any genre in which the writers rotate. That's what happens when you don't own your characters, however:

But the popular superheroes are supposed to encourage following the character, not the creator.

This isn't entirely true anymore, as for better or worse, we've entered an age of comic auteurs. I might not read every X-title, but I'll read any that Whedon or Warren Ellis writes. In this case, that's the first fifty issues of the latest iteration of the flagship book. That isn't to say this is always a success---Gaiman's Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader was an unmitigated failure, for example---but I don't think you can dismiss the fights-and-tights on the auteur basis anymore, as most of the auteurs are "slumming" or what-not with the mainstream books...and I think this is a good thing, because there's a good reason these stories have endured, and when they're in capable hands, you're reminded exactly what that is.

Rich Puchalsky

"what gets one generation off (Batman as an armed vigilante) bores another (which wants Adam West)"

But that's a sort of reason why it's inevitable, given a long time period. There will always eventually be a clueless writer for any particular character, and that clueless writer will try whatever kind of make-it-sexy is currently in fashion. Unless a generation wholesale rejects selling things through objectified female-identified sex, which I think is pretty doubtful.

"I don't think you can dismiss the fights-and-tights on the auteur basis anymore, as most of the auteurs are "slumming" or what-not with the mainstream books.."

Well, yeah, almost any auteur barring Alan Moore will eventually get bribed to do a mainstream superhero book. But they're doing it because the money is good, generally. It's generally not their best work. And when I do read one of those runs, I'm generally not thinking about the character in a sense in which I really care much about previous (or following) continuity.

One objection, though. You write:
"Consider that, in his concept sketch of her, John Byrne listed her measurements as "never you mind! she's too young for you anyway!""

But time has clearly passed within the comic universe since then, and the character is supposed to have grown into an adult woman, hasn't she? It's not inherently bad that her body looks different; what's bad is the stereotyped, objectified depiction. Saying that "the spirit of the character" is that she's always 14-15 and always too young to grow up becomes a different kind of objectification, if she's in a fictional world where other people do grow up.

Martin Wisse

Byrne might have thought Kitty too young for all that, but pretty soon Claremont had Colossus lusting after her and while a generation of fangirls had her as a role model, a generation of fanboys had her as their pretend girlfriend... The objectification was there, if in the background, long before Manara got to do his porn version of the X-men.

Sienkiewicz! ("How do you spell his name? B.i.l.l.") Now that was about the only time the New Mutants were interesting, before and after that either too bland to be interesting or just plain bad. I got the Demon Bear collection Marvel put out in the late eighties and it's awesome.

Hob

On the one hand: Oy. Bleah.

On the other hand: If you ask Manara to draw pretty much anything, it's pretty much inevitable that what you'll get will look like this. He's done some brilliant stuff, but he does have a one-track mind, and an extremely specific idea of how to draw the ladies. A biography of Margaret Thatcher would probably end up looking much the same, except maybe for the phasing through walls part.

Wax Banks

In fairness to Manara, isn't his purview softcore porn anyway? Doesn't he have a professional obligation to be tackily dismissive toward everything human and interesting about his 'character' anyway? As a teenager I used to sneak looks at his comics because they were dirty, and I suspect his target demographic isn't likely to care about Kitty Pryde as such.

I guess I'm saying: no one complains that Nailin' Palin doesn't do justice to the ex-governor's energy policies either. As long as you (the reader) bring all your own baggage about Ms. Pryde to the work, all his characterization/verisimilitude work is done for him; he just needs to flash a little teenage ass to sell books. I think the problem here isn't that Kitty is more meaningful an icon than (sigh) Storm, it's the indiscriminateness.

Doug M.

It's Milo Manara.

It's. Milo. Manara.

This is what he does. It's all that he does. He doesn't really do anything else.

He's actually an interesting case, because he has a real design sense and a strong and distinctive line. He's a really good artist. But he literally cannot go more than a page or two without putting a pouty, sexy woman -- clad lightly or not at all -- in the center of the action. (And he has a fairly short list of female types. It's not quite true that they're all the same woman, but they're all the same half-dozen or so women.)

In all seriousness, you could have Manara illustrate Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and it would come out looking /exactly like this/.


Doug M.

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