1. ODY-C (No. 1, Nov 2014, Image) – Matt Fraction & Christian Ward
Rounding out our end-of-year depository of “best of” titles is Matt Fraction & Christian Ward’s ODY-C. An ambitious sci-fi retelling of The Odyssey with all the gender roles reversed, ODY-C poignantly began in part as a chance for Fraction, husband to fellow comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, to “write a classic, traditional, superhero for [his] daughter in a Wonder Woman mold.” Beyond the conceptual allure of an alternative feminist Ancien Régime, what is particularly exciting in this newest iteration of the hero-wanderer is the evocation, and sometimes invocation, of an endemic feminine melancholia. All of it made strange, and sacred, by the juxtapositioning of Peter Chung-adjacent, Cirque du Soleil props and Crazy Horse cabaret, Barbarella-inspired dream imageries. A bit of a hot mess? Perhaps. But even judged solely as a roller coaster ride, the observant reader will have much to salivate over in the way of floating phallus signifiers and the remnant detritus of a bygone galactic gender war. An introductory taste:
Sacking a siegeworld like Troiia takes time for Achea’s great conqueror-queens. / Three now remain here, the women that brought it all down to its knees and snapped the proud city’s neck. . . . Troiia’s proud man now reduced to a pet at the heels of the queen of Achaea-Prime. . . . Here stand three women that ended the war to end all wars for all time. / What would come next would be simple enough for her. / “Stations!” Odyssia cries. / And her ship comes alive and then thousands of women start moving as one. . . . Ithicaa-bound, now.
2. Bitch Planet (No. 1, Dec 2014, Image) – Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro
On top of this week’s pile of impulse buys is Kelly Sue DeConnick’s feminist-adjacent, women-in-prison, exploitation pulp comic Bitch Planet. Similar to the way certain viewers see Bladerunner & Alien as existing in the same shared universe, I couldn’t help but read Bitch Planet as the inevitable future sci-fi dystopia to Matt Fraction’s distant, premodern feminist utopia. Particularly rewarding for observant Easter egg hunters will be the Jenny Holzer-inspired advertisement injunctions (e.g., WE GET BY WHEN WE COMPLY, BUY THIS / IT WILL FIX YOU, etc). They dot and punctuate the bubblegum colored, Capitol cityscape. I especially got a kick out of the ironic plays on the old-school comic book ads: “HEY KIDS, PATRIARCHY! / X-RAY SPECS / The Perfect Way to See Through His Intentions / ONLY $1.00.”
If the title and/or the exploitation genre makes you cringe a little, you’re not the only one. DeConnick too had her initial misgivings. But as she points out in the back pages of Bitch Planet, her collaborator Danielle Henderson helped to facilitate and expand on the original feminist intentions. In Henderson’s own words: “The scenarios you see on TV shows like ‘Orange is the New Black’ are often based on actual events, but race issues aren’t confined to women in prison. . . . Penny Rolle might be my favorite Bitch [Planet character] so far; she’s not white, but she physically embodies non-compliance and ends up being the toughest motherfucker in the group. Penny is not afraid to take up space, literally or figuratively. She hearkens back to conversations I’ve had with fat activists, women who are on a mission to prove that health comes at any size as a way of freeing women from the social mores that insist smaller is better.”
3. Wonder Woman (No. 36, Jan 2015, DC) – Meredith Finch, David Finch, Richard Friend & Sonia Oback
Hmmm . . . I wonder what Danielle Henderson would say about the revamped Wonder Woman? Quite telling in the newest visual iteration of Wonder Woman is the degree to which DC has chosen to make her seemingly more diminutive and younger. It is almost as if they are in preparation for Gal Gadot’s girl-ish take on the character in director Zack Snyder’s 2016 movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Disappointing to be reminded once again that we simply can’t have a physically domineering Wonder Woman in Warner Bros’ new shared comic book universe.
On the positive side, comic book newcomer Meredith Finch has done a compelling job of transitioning the character out of the Azzarello & Chiang-era. No prior assembly needed, this is the perfect time to jump onto Wonder Woman if you’ve never given the warrior Amazon a shot. Particularly intriguing for feminist-minded readers is the coming conflict of whether or not to allow men inside the women-only Paradise Island. A sample of Finch’s dramatic dialogue: “How can throwing away centuries of tradition be right? How can ignoring everything that we have stood for be right? / I would rather die than live another day on an island polluted with the stink of man.”
4. Sex Criminals (No. 9, Dec 2014, Image) – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
By far and away the best title this week – if not the entire year. From the careful way the font and lettering is edited to the way each panel is meticulously thought out, Sex Criminals is in a class of its own in the way that it depicts the libidinal complexities of both women and men. Issue #9 is no exception as Fraction and Zdarsky delve deeper into the economic realities of the flesh trade. An enlightening excerpt: “Dancers are like contractors. You pay to work in clubs. Your first money of the night is like your stage rent. / Then, at least where I danced, you tipped out 20% to the bar, the staff, security, and DJ Jazzy Jag-Off. / Bring in $300 during a shift and less rent and tipout you walk out with $200. / That rate nets you $1300 a week – $30-something an hour versus minimum wage then – which came to $4.55 an hour. Math, motherfuckers. / And that’s how ‘a nice girl like me ended up in a place like this.’ / Because fuck minimum wage. / Because get paid.”
5. Afterlife with Archie (No. 7, Feb 2015, Archie Comic) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla
If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be a fan of Archie comics, I wouldn’t have believed you. But Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla have proven to even the most cynical among us that Archie still has a lot of life left – even in 2014. The newest issue of Afterlife with Archie picks up in between the midst of Thanksgiving holiday and the swell of the zombie apocalypse as Betty in particular attempts to preserve her sanity by rewriting and reconstructing her lost adolescent diaries. Trouble brews when the jealous Veronica suspects Betty of ill intentions. Betty: “…I don’t appreciate your tone, Veronica. If there’s something you’re implying . . . or want to ask me . . . just ask me, for God’s sake.” Veronica: “All right. / Are you writing about Archie in that slam-book of yours? / . . . about what his lips taste like when he kisses you?”