Beauty, Story: Hubert Boulard Art: Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Letters: Ortho Translation: Joe Johnson.
Story: Hubert Boulard
Art: Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset)
Letters: Ortho
Translation: Joe Johnson

At first glance, Beauty looks like a classic “Be careful what you wish for” story. In these type of stories, the protagonist comes to regret a wish that has come true because its fulfillment exposes terrible unforeseen consequences. Or something essential has to given up in the bargain. Or the manner in which the wish has come true was less than ideal. This usually leads to either a tragic ending, or more innocuously a successful reversal of the wish. In the latter, the hero comes away chastened by the experience. It's ultimately a genre with a conservative message. The graphic novel Seconds was a modern use of this trope. In comparison, Beauty contains more traditional elements. It starts out as a mashup of the myth of King Midas with Cinderella. But writer Hubert and husband and wife art team of Kerascoët subvert the morality of the tale and turn the wish into a catalyst for personal growth and eventually greater actualization. Though not before the experience puts our heroine through the wringer.

The comic’s setting is the pseudo-medieval Europe of most fairy tales and fantasy novels. Kerascoët brings this world to life with the characteristic use of Ligne claire, bold, flat colors, and nonlinear perspective images, neatly composed on each page as a four panel high-tiered grid. The effect is a dense visual narrative which is far more iconic than realistic. This enhances the impression of an exotic world populated by mysterious magical forces. The character designs conveniently fit into easily-recognized archetypes: the poor peasant, the handsome knight, noble king, beautiful queen, or violent warlord.

Beauty, Story: Hubert Boulard Art: Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Letters: Ortho Translation: Joe Johnson.

This artistic choice serves the comic’s key narrative device. The heroine is a poor, put-upon girl named Coddie who is on the verge of womanhood. One day, she inadvertently frees the fairy Mab from a magical prison and is granted one wish as a reward. Coddie wants to be beautiful, but Mab cannot change her. Instead, she imparts on Coddie a glamour which creates the illusion of beauty to whoever sets eyes on her. As such, the story is constantly shifting between Coddie’s true form and her idealized appearance. Coddie is aware of her physical imperfections every time she sees her own reflection, but this also highlights her pettiness, superficiality, and shortsightedness. To everyone else, her ethereal visage simply disarms any valid objections to her questionable behavior. Kerascoët’s art easily conveys how when even in the company of other attractive people, Coddie’s illusory charm makes her seem otherworldly in comparison.

The disadvantages of being an incarnation of the feminine ideal becomes quickly apparent when shortly after her encounter with Mab, Coddie is spotted by several of her male neighbors and they later try to gang rape her. The women react to this incident by driving Coddie out of the village. It doesn’t take long for Coddie to become a Helen of Troy object of desire as people either woo, worship, and fight for her approval. Or alternately attempt to manipulate, capture, imprison, possess, or consume her. As her legend grows, so does the chaos accompanying her until it threatens to engulf the entire kingdom.

Beauty, Story: Hubert Boulard Art: Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Letters: Ortho Translation: Joe Johnson.

But Coddie isn’t an impassive figure. The granting of her wish connotes an obvious sexual awakening. So she behaves like an adolescent who suddenly becomes aware of the power she holds over the opposite sex. Coddie seduces a succession of powerful men as she moves up the social ladder. But unsurprisingly, she exhibits poor judgement and self-control. And her naive understanding of love and adult relationships causes greater misery for her lovers and the people around her.

Hubert and Kerascoët infuse the story with a number of modern touches. They don’t ignore the harsh social inequalities between peasant and nobility, not to mention the patriarchal nature of the feudal system of government. As a commoner, Coddie is easily tempted by the lavish lifestyle of the aristocracy. But unlike the typical fairy tale heroine, she doesn’t live happily ever after once she marries into royalty. Two other noble women in the story are forced to treat Coddie as a rival or a threat because of the inordinate amount of influence she exerts over the men. At some point, even the peasants (or at least the peasant women) turn on her after her attempts to alleviate their suffering backfires. There’s only so much one can accomplish when being viewed more as an object than a person. While not as blunt as Game of Thrones, the book's depiction of violence and misery can be fairly graphic at times.

Beauty, Story: Hubert Boulard Art: Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Letters: Ortho Translation: Joe Johnson.

Indeed, everything has gone wrong for Coddie past the midway point. But where most traditional storytellers would have been content to leave off with a cautionary tale about accepting one’s limitations, this is when Coddie begins to apply the harsh lessons of her life and gradually fights back. By the end she attempts to turn the tables on her tormentors and strikes a crucial balance. The results don’t necessarily violate the rules of the comic’s fantastic milieu, but the story's concluding point is persuasively up to date.


More NonSense: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Director: J.J. Abrams, Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, et al., Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, et al.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens came to movie theaters very recently, and the overwhelming positive reaction to the film is for our modern fandom the closest equivalent to a religious revival. Indeed, the film's title promises as much, possessing the most metaphysical wording from all the seven in the series. Of course, there's a great deal riding on the film's financial success, but spiritual longing has always been intertwined with worldly self-interest. And for better or worse, the world's most beloved Geek properties are already in the hands of massive, mostly uncaring organizations who stand to reap the greatest profit.

Off course, what's exciting to fans is the symbolic handoff of stewardship from franchise creator George Lucas to Disney. For almost forty years Lucas has steered Star Wars in accordance to his own personal dictates, both to great acclaim and heartfelt derision from fans and critics alike. He's given up ownership and responsibility for the franchise on more or less his own terms. And now Disney has just released a film with the purpose of fulfilling the deepest longings of Star Wars' most ardent worshipers by following in the steps of the Lucas of the original trilogy, while washing away the stain of the Lucas of the prequels and special editions. The fandom/religion/cult/movement had officially outgrown its founder.

As someone who saw the original trilogy during its initial theatrical run, Star Wars to me has always been synonymous with George Lucas. I'm somewhat disappointed that this occasion could have been used to make a more well-rounded appreciation of his accomplishments. But unlike some other old-timers, I've been fine with the film series continuing without him. For all its flaws, I really enjoyed TFA. Besides, a continuing Star Wars universe could use an Emo antagonist, a conscientious war objector who also happens to be black, and a kickass heroine who doesn't need anyone holding her hand. And all things considered, the original cast didn't look too bad. Face it - once TFA was in the works, the heroes of the original trilogy were probably going to lose their happy ending.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Director: J.J. Abrams, Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, et al., Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, et al.

And here for your reading pleasure are a few Star Wars links:

Yours Truly:
I haven't spent a lot of time discussing the franchise on this blog, but I did write reviews for a few Star Wars books: Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess and Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind's Eye.

Martial Arts:
How Yoda Helped to Invent Kung Fu
Can Donnie Yen Bring Kung Fu (Back) to the Star Wars Universe?
Sword vs. lightsaber: How the Samurai warrior inspired the Jedi Knights

The Long, Complicated Relationship Between Star Wars and Marvel Comics

Popular Entertainment and Culture:
How “Star Wars” changed the world
How Star Wars Helped Create President Reagan
The Force Awakens shatters records but can it also save Hollywood?

Why Retiring the Slave Bikini From ‘Star Wars’ is Excellent News
Please Stop Spreading This Nonsense that Rey From Star Wars Is a “Mary Sue”
“Star Wars” doesn’t have a heroine problem: Arguing over whether Rey’s a “Mary Sue” is missing the point
Some thoughts on Carrie Fisher

How Well-Meaning Tweeters Trended a Hateful Star Wars Hashtag
How 2 racist trolls got a ridiculous Star Wars boycott trending on Twitter

The Canon:
The Complete New ‘Star Wars’ Canon Timeline 
A Brief History Of Star Wars Canon, Old And New
Everything We Know About Star Wars' Post-Return of the Jedi Future
What The Force Awakens Borrowed From the Old Star Wars Expanded Universe
A Not-So-Brief History of George Lucas Talking Shit About Disney’s Star Wars
George Lucas criticizes “retro” feel of new Star Wars, describes “breakup”

The Prequels:
Not all the “Star Wars” prequels suck: Revisiting “Revenge of the Sith”
What It Would Take For ‘The Force Awakens’ To Redeem Star Wars
Kylo Ren Is Everything That Anakin Skywalker Should Have Been

The Latest Film:
Your Star Wars spoiler zone: Ars fully discusses The [REDACTED] Awakens
33 Questions We Desperately Want Answered After Star Wars: The Force Awakens
some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Rey
some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Kylo Ren
some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Finn
Some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Poe Dameron and General Hux
Pop Culture Happy Hour Small Batch: The Very Spoilery 'Star Wars'

The Nerds Talk:
Blue Milk
Stephen Colbert Explains Star Wars To Non-Fans
Weather Presenter Makes 12 Star Wars Puns In 40-Seconds
Which character is going to have the most fanfic?
The “Star Wars” fandom menace
From “A New Hope” to no hope at all
The K Chronicles: Star Wars
Tom the Dancing Bug: Chagrin Falls


Racebending Iron Fist

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1, cover by Kaare Andrews.
Cover excerpt from Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1

This is a response to an editorial written by Alexander Lu regarding rumors about the possibility of casting of an Asian-American male to play the part of Iron Fist. Lu’s objections are understandably about not wanting to perpetuate the “Asians know martial arts” stereotype. ‘It is almost as if someone took a look at the upcoming Marvel slate and said “oh look, Iron Fist. He has martial arts skills. Perfect time to diversify casting by bringing an Asian guy in…because they are good at martial arts, right?” This train of thought speaks to how subtle and subversive cultural stereotyping can be in an era where overt racism has become much more subdued ... it is definitely not worth the perpetuation of a long beholden stereotype’ Lu proclaims. He also mentions that Iron Fist is a C-list character and any attempt to recast him as Asian won’t be greeted as cause for celebration as a major character like when Miles Morales became Spider-Man. It would be better to rally behind certain newly-minted, popular Asian American characters, such as fan-favorite Amadeus Cho.

I find this part of Lu’s argument to be his weakest point. Who’s to say that Iron Fist won’t become a more significant lead character once he makes the transition to the screen, just like other C-Listers Jason Quill, Jessica Jones, Nick Fury, or Scott Lang for that matter. They all received a huge bump in name recognition from when they were simply confined to the pages of the comics. And sure, it would be nice if Amadeus Cho and any other character originally written as Asian were to receive similar treatment instead of racebending a pre-existing character like Iron Fist or Daredevil or Spider-Man. But I’m not sure why pursuing one desirable course of action has to exclude the other? Shouldn’t all options be put on the table?

And there is a pretty good reason to fight for an Asian American Iron Fist specifically, or at least as good a reason as any. Namely it’s the very problematic nature of Danny Rand as a white savior figure. According to Lu, “When Marvel and DC Comics hear cries for diversification, their first instinct is to turn to legacy characters like Red Wolf and Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Even with good intentions, these heroes simply do not cut it because their histories are fraught with cultural and racial tension.” He then goes on to explain how the new Ms. Marvel - Kamala Khan, successfully uses her “heightened abilities to serve as metaphors for very human experiences– not feeling like you belong as a minority…” Well, it seems to me that an Asian American (or even a biracial) Iron Fist would not only get past the white savior trope, it could also be used to examine similar themes found in Ms. Marvel. I’m disappointed that Lu seems closed-off to those possibilities. Given that Marvel intends to produce an Iron Fist series for Netflix anyway, not asking Marvel to consider an Asian American actor to fill the role feels at the very least like ignoring the issue.

And when it comes to the issue of onscreen Asians practicing martial arts, I think this needs to be approached with more nuance than being forced to choose between the two unsavoury options of white savior or pigeonholing Asians as martial arts masters. Regarding the latter, 2015 has been a watershed year for Asian representation in the American media. It’s not perfect, but Asians are starting to break away from traditional stereotypes. These shows aren’t simply re-inventing Enter the Dragon. And any role filled by an Asian actor no longer bears the brunt of being “the one” to represent the entire Asian American community to the mainstream audience. That would include a theoretical Asian American Iron Fist series. Not everyone with an Asian background knows kung fu or karate anymore than every Caucasian knows how to box and wrestle. Martial arts are a part of the Asian cultural mileau. But the more varied and well-written the onscreen roles played by Asian talents, the less entrapping the image of the Asian martial arts master.

But the martial arts genre in the West tends to be somewhat marginalized. Like superheroes before them, the martial arts films that came out of Hollywood after the kung fu craze developed a reputation for being cheaply-made, disposable crap. And if anything can perpetuate harmful stereotypes about any race or culture, it’s the image of simplistic, poorly-conceived, incompetently produced films featuring actors sleepwalking their way through forgettable characters. Doesn't that contribute to the negativity surrounding the trope of the Asian martial arts master? With some exceptions, live-action martial arts fiction has generally faded from the small screen, which is kind of a shame since the martial arts genre is a lively component of popular Asian media, whether it’s wuxia novels, kung fu movies, or anything produced in Japan featuring ronin and ninja. Having an Asian American Iron Fist won't be enough if the series itself unquestioningly preserves some of the source material’s orientalist assumptions. The Western martial arts genre could use a bit of evolution, given added depth and richer characterization in order to deconstruct a few old-fashioned formulas and be made more relevant to a modern, diverse audience.


Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 & Ms. Marvel #1

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1  Story: Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder Art: Natacha Bustos Colors: Tamra Bonvillain Letters: Travis Lanham Covers: Amy Reeder, Trevor Von Eeden, Jeffrey Veregge  Devil Dinosaur and Moon-Boy created by Jack Kirby
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1

Story: Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder
Art: Natacha Bustos
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain
Letters: Travis Lanham
Covers: Amy Reeder, Trevor Von Eeden, Jeffrey Veregge

Devil Dinosaur and Moon-Boy created by Jack Kirby

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur might be the most unlikely series to come out of the All-New, All-Different Marvel. Devil Dinosaur and his erstwhile companion Moon-Boy were the late Jack Kirby’s bizarre take on the longstanding dinosaur-meets-caveman trope. Their original series was quickly cancelled, and the pair have since only made intermittent appearances in the Marvel Universe. Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder pay homage to Kirby’s ludicrous prehistoric premise, but manage to fashion the source material into a more modern kid-friendly story about a preteen hero and her unique animal companion.

Lunella Lafayette is your classic gifted, resourceful child, only with a Marvel-induced twist. Too smart for school, she’s profoundly bored with her classes. Lunella lectures her befuddled teacher and classmates about evolution being a scientific fact and not just a theory. In turn, they mockingly refer to her as “moon girl.” Basically, Lunella’s the sort of young person the publisher hopes will be reading this title. But she harbors secret fears about being an Inhuman, and she’s fascinated with collecting alien technology. “My brain is all the super-power I need” Lunella declares. One day, she stumbles upon and inadvertently activates a macguffin that forms a portal to Dinosaur World. Guess what lumbering beast emerges from the other side?

Natacha Bustos and Tamra Bonvillain illustrate a bright and saturated world, whether they’re recreating a primeval forest or present-day Manhattan. Lunella comes across as fully-realized for a new character, not to mention an unapologetic nerd. Her frantic commuting to school on roller skate shoes of her own making is adorable and somewhat reminiscent of Tony Stark’s and Peter Parker’s own inventiveness. Thankfully, Bustos doesn’t try to reproduce Kirby’s outlandish designs. Her version of Devil Dinosaur is informed by contemporary artistic interpretations of tyrannosaurs, that is if tyrannosaurs were colored crimson. His mortal enemies the Killer-Folk look and strut less like stereotypical ape-men and a bit more like long-haired modern humans wearing fur coats. That’s probably for the best since ape-men were always problematic portraits for the primitive “other.”

Ms. Marvel #1  Story: G. Willow Wilson Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona Colors: Ian Herring Letters: Joe Caramagna Covers: Cliff Chiang, John Tyler Christopher, Sara Pichelli, Justin Ponsor, Jenny Frison, Soni Balestier, Judy Stephens
Ms. Marvel #1

Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona
Colors: Ian Herring
Letters: Joe Caramagna
Covers: Cliff Chiang, John Tyler Christopher, Sara Pichelli, Justin Ponsor, Jenny Frison, Soni Balestier, Judy Stephens

Kamala Khan has had a short but acclaimed career as Ms. Marvel, so it’s a little surreal that there’s already a new Ms. Marvel #1. It’s an oddly prestigious status symbol for a character to endure several relaunches. But as with The Mighty Thor, the new series represents a return to form for the original creative team after a lengthy hiatus. The issue isn't quite as smooth a continuation of existing storylines due to corporate synergy dictating that Kamala is now an All-New, All-Different Avenger. If the previous 16 issues told of her origin tale and journey as novice superhero, the new #1 marks an upgrade in rank to marquee character.

Funnily enough, the comic immediately drops the reader into the thick of the action with Kamala fighting alongside her fellow Avengers before they’ve even officially formed in the actual Avengers title. There’s a lot going on, and the plot can often feel clunky and disjointed. Moving past her job as an Avenger, much of the story focuses on Kamala’s strained relationship with would-be love interest Bruno, who’s reacted to her rejection of his romantic overtures by beginning to date another girl. Then there’s the changing face of Jersey City, which has become a lot more blasé about the surge in supernatural activity since the debut of Ms. Marvel. And there’s a subplot involving a slimy real estate developer who’s been illegally exploiting Kamala’s likeness in his efforts to gentrify the neighborhood, which could be a shout out to real-world grassroots efforts to use her image to combat intolerance. All these threads weigh the comic down with heavy exposition, which may or may not be a deliberate move to express Kamala’s overwhelmed mood. The results are however somewhat unrefined compared to past efforts.

The last ten pages shifts the narrative voice from Kamala to Bruno, accompanied by a switch in primary artist from Takeshi Miyazawa to Adrian Alphona. Both are already proven entities, but placing their work side-by-side highlights their stylistic differences. Miyazawa draws fantastic backgrounds and strong facial expressions. They lean towards the goofy and exaggerated. Alphona’s faces are softer, and he excels in the quieter, more introspective moments. His panel-to-panel transitions are smoother. It’s also interesting to see how Ian Herring adjusts the intensity of his colors to fit the style of the artist. There's a noticeable shift towards the cooler tones for Alphona's pages.


Video: California Christmastime

Go to: The CW, by Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III, et al.

As someone who's spent a lot of time in Southern California, this hits close to the mark. Happy Holidays!


The Good Dinosaur (2015)

The Good Dinosaur (2015). Directed by Peter Sohn. Written by  Bob Peterson, Kelsey Mann, Meg LeFauve. Starring Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Sam Elliott.
Directed by Peter Sohn. 
Written by  Bob Peterson, Kelsey Mann, Meg LeFauve. 
Starring Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Sam Elliott.

Coming out less than five months after Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur falls into the category of minor Pixar features occupied by Cars and A Bug’s Life. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since this effort demonstrates that the studio can also produce stories that aren’t hippy dippy psychological dramas aimed at adults. TGD possesses Pixar’s most gorgeous visuals to date, all in the service of weaving an old-fashioned coming-of-age tale designed to encourage kids to cultivate traditional values such as courage, self-reliance, or honoring the overriding importance of the nuclear family.

“Traditional” is currently a loaded word in America’s polarized political climate. Creationist/intelligent design advocates are certain to object to TGD’s pro-evolutionary stance. But the idea of an alternate timeline where dinosaurs have achieved sentience or coexist with humans is already a hoary Hollywood trope. The brightly colored, rounded geometrical designs of the dinosaurs would not look out of place in an older line-drawn or stop animation milieu. They sharply contrast with the most well-realized natural environments ever created for a Pixar feature film. The photorealism of the setting is staggering in its level of detail, especially the varied depictions of flowing water. And the expansive topography is meant to evoke the atmosphere of America’s Old West, but with dinosaurs instead of humans playing the role of homesteaders and cowboys. The humans are actually the wolves and coyotes of this imaginary world.

The ability to fabricate such carefully crafted allusions to touchstones like dinosaur/caveman stories and classic movie westerns is par for the course for the studio. Pixar has always been much more clever when it comes to integrating its popular culture references into the meat of the plot, in contrast to the more superficial humor often employed by its competitors. The reversal of humans and dinosaurs aside, Pixar doesn’t actually do anything subversive with its sources. They’re mainly mined for their sentimental value. What kid isn’t crazy about large prehistoric beasts, and what American child hasn't been inculcated to concede to the romantic allure of the Old West? A lot of the film is taken up in admiring the breathtaking vistas made possible by Pixar's talented animators and industrial-strength render farms, usually accompanied by an appropriate western-style musical soundtrack.

Not that the world-building makes any more sense than that of Cars. The film might have theropod cowboys engaged in an old-fashioned cattle drive, but there’s no context to explain its larger social significance. Sauropod dinosaurs might practice homestead farming, but there’s no reason given why that’s a better option than more primitive hunter-gathering methods. There's no evidence of the existence of towns or villages (unlike the upcoming Zootopia). Dinosaur civilization hasn’t advanced beyond stone-age technology, and even that’s made a little confusing because of their lack of opposable thumbs. As for the creatures that actually possess those attributes, it’s not clear how intelligent or how large the human population is, though they’re the only characters who wear any type of clothing. It’s best not to think about it, as the setting mainly exists to serve the story of an insecure young sauropod named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) who becomes separated from his family after a series of unfortunate events. He finds his way home with the help of a feral boy he eventually names Spot (Jack Bright).

These two are the most prominent juvenile characters found within a Pixar story, as there are no grown-ups to share center stage with them. They come and go to either hinder or help in Arlo’s quest. The film’s episodic structure involves the two children stumbling from one dangerous situation to the next. And this starts to get repetitive after the halfway point. But the heart of the story is the developing friendship between the gangly and easily frightened Arlo, and the small but ferocious Spot as they manage to get past their interspecies-fueled distrust and forge a familial bond. It’s not particularly complicated or original for a Pixar film. So the adult fanbase might find the slow pace, simple characterizations, and dearth of witty dialogue disappointing. But the kids will have someone to relate to with Arlo. And there's that magnificent prehistoric landscape to take in.

Webcomic: Body Pods

Early Stories Pt. 2: Body Pods by Jillian Tamaki.
Go to: Hazlitt, by Jillian Tamaki