Sunday, September 30, 2012
Year 1986 remains most noteworthy in the annals of American comics for having simultaneously introduced two superlative graphic novels: Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons WATCHMEN. WATCHMEN generally enjoys the better critical reputation in the circles of comics-book elitists. But there's one department where the Moore-Gibbons work, with its rather shallow superheroine Silk Spectre, falls short. That's the department of the femme formidable.
In 1986 Miller had yet to start the downward creative spiral that recently culminated in the abysmal HOLY TERROR. He was at the top of his game, and with TDKR he showed protean playfulness in re-inventing the somewhat staid Batman mythos of the time. Arguably the Batman franchise was re-energized across the board thanks to Miller, and the influence of his depiction of his new Robin was a major exemplar of that energy.
To my recollection, up until 1986 no one had ever suggested that it could be desirable that the role of Robin should be essayed by a teenaged female. Today, certain comics-forums are replete with fans who bitterly resent that the character of Stephanie Brown, who briefly essayed the role in a few Batman stories, wasn't chosen to be an ongoing Robin. (She did get to be a new Batgirl for a few months, though.) I suggest that the idea of a female Robin might not have occured to anyone were it not for Miller's take.
Carrie Kelley isn't a particularly deep character, having been designed only for that Miller miniseries. Nevertheless, back when Miller had a great ear for the "voice" of his fantasy-characters, Kelley's voice had the resonance of youth, of eternal innocence born again in the dark world of the Batman. Kelley's Robin wasn't portrayed as especially tough, for she wins her only physical conflict in the miniseries through luck more than skill. Nevertheless, she was a good athlete, and she looked great in the Robin costume, whose splashy colors aren't being donned by the male versions of Robin these days.
I'm not quite so crazy about her later incarnation as "Catgirl" in Miller's follow-up series THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, so I probably won't cover that here. However, I'll admit that it's a logical development of the original idea, given the dark and perverse nature of the Miller imagination.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Americomics' long-running FEMFORCE was not the first comics-feature to present an all-female team of heroes, but it's certainly the longest running, having run over 150 issues. The charter members seen in the illo above include original characters Tara of the Jungle (on the vine), the She-Cat, Ms. Victory, and the Blue Bulleteer, who maintained a dual hero-identity, more often seen as a caped mystic named Nightveil. Of these, Ms. Victory was a revamp of a Golden Age heroine, Miss Victory, published by the long-vanished Holyoke Company. Over the years Ms. Victory and several other members or associates of the team received their own titles, but none had the staying-power of this "Legion of Cheesecake Heroines."
Helmed by writer/publisher Bill Black, Americomics (also called AC Comics) unquestionably evoked the nostalgia of readers familiar with the simple kinetic thrills of early superhero comics. In time Black's company revived a large number of public domain superheroes of the 1940s and 1950s, both male and female, as well as reprinting original adventures of nearly forgotten stars like Catman and the Phantom Lady.
FEMFORCE was never more than a good read, but its penchant for depicting superheroes as light, psychologically unconflicted fun made for a pleasant contrast to the angst-heavy antics of the Big Two during the 1980s and thereafter.