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Guest Column: Five Reasons Why I’m Psyched for the Watchmen Movie

More than 20 years after publication, after building a dedicated fan base and after a previous disastrous attempt, Alan Moore’s fantastic graphic novel Watchmen is finally turning into a big-budget movie. When I first heard the news I was cautious about being excited. After all, the story is huge; it’s a long comic with lots of focus on character over action, and subplots, backstory and parallel tales abound. But after seeing all the promotional pictures and trailers, I’m absolutely looking forward to seeing the movie. Here’s why:

5. The Story

Watchmen, first and foremost, is a wonderful story. As a deconstruction of the Superhero genre, Watchmen raises questions that we might not always think to ask, and many of them are left for us to answer for ourselves—Why do these characters dress up and fight crime? Is it right for vigilantes to break the law in order to save lives? What about just breaking the law? What makes a superhero—powers? Heroism? Do you have to be a good person?

Around the detective story and eventual big finish, Watchmen weaves characters with complicated motivations and relationships, plenty of secrets to be revealed and kickass moments all around. The subtlety of the writing and the understatement of emotional moments will be fantastic to see brought to the big screen by the cast, and if the movie’s anything like the comic, will require repeat viewing to catch everything.


Guttersnipe: Partisans

The other week my friend Brendon Bennetts visited. Brendon is a comics writer and professional improviser and has the best comic timing of any human being I have met in person, which mostly manifests itself in waiting until I have my mouth full and then saying something devastatingly funny. In the aftermath, while I fight to breathe, he smiles gently.

We are both New Zealanders (though I live in Australia) but, despite the New Zealand election being held on November 8th, our major topic of conversation was the American election and our fervent hope for an Obama presidency.

When this waned, Brendon asked if he could borrow some of my comics.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “Alias is good, or New X-Men, or you might like New Frontier, actually, or–”

“Not superheroes,” Brendon interrupted.

Brendon thinks that most superhero comics are immature and uninteresting. I maintain that many are totally awesome, and also wicked sweet. I consider this anti-superhero stance to be something to batter down whenever possible, like unto the Hulk smashing the Juggernaut — especially since Brendon is the man who introduced me to Warren Ellis via The Authority — but I was so exhausted by watching a debate on healthcare in Arizona (imagine, we marveled. There are countries where people aren’t automatically entitled to healthcare!) that I caved and ransacked my shelves for non-spandex offerings:

Polly and the Pirates, by Ted Naifeh, Oni Press.
Fantasy Classics and Gothic Classics, Eureka Productions.
Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale (no relation), Bloomsbury.
Tales From Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan, Allen & Unwin.
PS238: To the Cafeteria: For Justice!, by Aaron Williams, Dork Storm.

“There,” I said ungraciously. “I hope you choke on them. With your EYES.”


Blog For A Beer: Hail To The Chief

This has been a pretty intense week. Elections and politics and CNN beaming holograms into their studios… But there’s one bit of election news that you may have missed: Stephen Colbert won, then lost the US Presidency… in the Marvel universe. Ah well, he’ll always be the president of my heart, much as Al Gore has been for the past 8 years.

It seems Obama will be the President of the Marvel Universe’s America, too. Good luck with that, buddy. His real life counterpart only has to deal with a crumbling economy, an unpopular war, and strained relations with other countries. Marvel Obama has to deal with boring superpowered assholes in spandex. And Wolverine.

It got me thinking, though, how do you think Obama would have handled Marvel’s Civil War? Would he ever support the mutant registration act? Do you think Michelle and Storm will hit it off during White House state dinners? (They can talk about hair!) If he were president in the DC universe, who do you think he would prefer to deal with, Batman or Superman? Or Wonder Woman?

And most important of all: who would his arch nemesis be? (I want costume descriptions too, people.)


Top 12 Latin Superheroes

I recently read Nameen Gobert Tilahun’s excellent article (published here in Fantasy) critiquing’s list of “Top 25 Black Superheroes of All Time.” It got me thinking about the relative lack of Latino superheroes (though there have been more recently), and the stereotypes and other oddities about the way Latinos are often featured in comics. I wondered, “Who are the biggest Latino superheroes?” Here’s my personal Top 12, ranked according to a highly unscientific combination of historical importance, popularity, and my own personal fondness (or lack thereof) for the characters.

The list includes Rictor, Isaac Mendez, The White Tiger, Kennedy, Spider-Man 2099, The Question, Araña and more


Crossing Lines: Deconstructing Black Superheroes

A few months ago came up with their list of the Top 25 Black Superheroes of All Time. As a life long comic book/superhero fan I was anxious to check out who they considered the best. Some of their choices I cheered and at others I cringed so hard I worried that my face would stick that way. However, cringing in regards to black superheroes is not that unusual.

All too often black heroes are based on harmful and offensive stereotypes cleaned up just enough that the majority of people won’t object. For example: Patriot from the Young Avengers title, the leader of the group and grandson of the original black Captain America. He’s a hero and a great leader until we come to learn that he’s lied about the source of his powers and is actually shooting up a new street drug to gain super-strength. Or to take a hero from the list itself, D.L. Hawkins from the TV show Heroes; the only black hero on the first season and an escaped prisoner. Yes, it does turn out he did not commit the crime he was incarcerated for but he has committed previous crimes. Other black superheroes are simply two dimensional copies of a white hero given a more “street” background, a coat of brown paint and then called something like “Black” Goliath — who’s one of the heroes on the list by the way.


Comic Book Tattoo, ed. Rantz Hoseley

Comic Book Tattoo — an interstitial smorgasbord that clocks in at nearly 500 pages and has a list of contributors that span from established to up-and-coming — is undoubtedly one of the most interesting anthologies to come out in years. Each comic is based on a song by singer-songwriter Tori Amos and choices range from her most recent album, the rock-influenced American Doll Posse, to the hard-to-find early synthpop group album, eponymously titled Y Kant Tori Read.

The reason you should buy this anthology is simple: it’s awesome. The diversity of art styles in the book range from stark lines to photo-realistic to “cartoonish” to the avant-garde. And the plots are just as diverse. Almost every genre is represented — science-fiction, romance, paranormal, dark thriller, fantasy, and slice of life. The true thrill of the book is how none of these differences detract from the stories or seems jarring. They just flow from one to the next until you find yourself on page 300 without realizing it. You don’t go from a story of joy directly into one of pain; instead, you’re led in a slow wave of emotion from depressive to euphoric and everything in between.


The Objectification of Women in Comic Books

A handsome intelligence officer of the United States Army, Colonel Steve Trevor, crashes his plane on “Paradise Island” (an island full of Amazon women, what else would it be called, right?). Trevor is found by a beautiful Amazon Princess named Diana, who nurses him and subsequently falls in Love with him. When she learns about the war against the Nazis, she dons a costume of America’s red, white, and blue, and departs for the “Man’s World.” She is Wonder Woman — “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules, and swifter than Mercury”. She can fly like Superman, she can hurl heavy objects like the Hulk, and if you really make her mad, she’ll crack out her golden lasso and tie you up (especially if you’re male).

At first glance, she may look like an empowered, kick-butt, feminist super-heroine amidst a realm dominated by male super-heros. But is Wonder Woman really empowered? Is she really the icon of feminism in graphic novels? Is her message really all about defending sisterhood, freedom, and democracy?


A Critique of Muslim Women in Comics — AK Comics’ Jalia and Aya

“Jalila: Protector of The City of All Faiths” and “Aya: Princess of Darkness” appear in AK Comics, founded by Dr. Ayman Kandeel. Not to sound too negative in my introduction of these female super-heroines, but the images and roles of women in Kandeel’s comics are not an improvement from what we typically see in mainstream American comic books. These characters represent an unimaginative redux of unrealistically curvaceous and buxom super-heroines who look like clones of Wonder Woman and Catwoman.

Unlike “The 99,” the writers and artists for AK Comics seem to be more concerned with drawing voluptuous women rather than focusing on character development and original storylines. By bringing their characters into the spotlight, we can learn how incredibly significant it is to battle sexism and racism in comic books as well as how we can create a much-needed dialogue and understanding between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world.


A Critique of Muslim Women in Comics — The 99

While I believe there is very little known about the images and roles of women in comic books, the subject of how Muslim female characters are portrayed is even smaller. There is at least one comic company interested in realistic, nuanced portrayals of Muslim women: Teshkeel Comics. Naif Al-Mutawa’s The 99 shows us arguably the best depictions of Muslim female characters to have ever appeared in comic books.


Female, Muslim, and Mutant

Meet “Dust,” or Sooraya Qadir, a burqa-garbed adolescent Afghan girl who has the ability, as shown in the scene above, to shape into sandstorms and tear the skin off her enemies. She has been a member of Marvel Comic’s X-Men since her first appearance in 2002 and she currently appears regularly in the Young X-Men comic books. In the male-dominated world of comic books where female characters are depicted with large breasts and skimpy skin-tight (or lack of) clothing, it’s interesting to examine whether or not Dust and other Muslim super-heroines escape the sexual objectification and sexism that women often suffer in comic books. Are the Muslim women subjected to stereotypes? Are they doomed to the same fate of other female characters? Does the “male gaze” still apply? The answers are fairly complex when applied to the character of Dust and other Muslim characters in both American and non-American comics.