Ultraman Vol. 3

Story: Eiichi Shimizu  Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi.  Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.
Story: Eiichi Shimizu 
Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi

Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.

This was an appreciated change of pace. Unlike the previous two volumes, Ultraman Vol. 3 doesn’t feature an extended battle sequence between the titular protagonist and a rogue alien. The book engages in more fan service and some much needed world-building. This results in a somewhat disjointed narrative. The first half of the volume fleshes out the relationships between Shinjiro Hayata and the members of the Special Science Search Party (SSSP), particularly taciturn agent Dan Moroboshi. The second half shifts its attention to detective Endo and his unsanctioned investigation into the serial homicides he correctly deduced were committed by aliens. This further deepens the impression that Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi are reimagining Ultraman as some kind of Men-in-Black inspired conspiracy story about extraterrestrials infiltrating human society.

The first thing Moroboshi does when throwing Shinjiro into the deep end is introduce him to a city populated by aliens, hidden somewhere on Earth. The SSSP supposably controls access to the city’s entrance. But that’s probably not true. Alien's might be getting out without their knowledge. And the city has at least one human resident, who goes by the alias Jack. Fans might recognize that the names Moroboshi and Jack refer to other bearers of the Ultraman mantle, so expect the SSSP to assemble an Ultraman squad in the near future.

Despite the euphoria from his successful battle in vol. 2, Shinjiro has reverted back to vacillating about whether he wants to be Ultraman. Moroboshi continues to give him a hard time while his dad Shin Hayata not so subtly pressures him into continuing his legacy. Meanwhile, colleagues Edo and Mitsuhiro Ide mysteriously plot his possible future. Shinjiro has no peers he feels comfortable enough to confide in and process the mixed signals coming from his various authority figures. His character arc is starting to contain shades of Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Story: Eiichi Shimizu  Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi.  Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.

And what about Endo and his famous teenage daughter Rena, who were introduced last volume? Their one face-to-face interaction involves a short argument over whether Shinjiro’s Ultraman, who saved Rena’s life, is the real deal. I wouldn’t be surprised if their relative positions reflected a real-world generation gap among fans about this manga, back in Japan. It’s also obvious that Shinjiro and Rena are being set up to be romantically linked, over Endo’s initial objections. But for now, Shimizu and Shimoguchi are taking more time advancing the plot than I would have preferred when getting their “New Age” off the ground.


Wonder Woman: Earth One

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Story: Grant Morrison Art: Yanick Paquette Colors: Nathan Fairbairn Letters: Todd Klein, Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter.
Story: Grant Morrison
Art: Yanick Paquette
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Todd Klein

Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter.

[this review contains spoilers]

Among comic book fans, Wonder Woman continues to be strongly linked to her original creators William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter. After almost 80 years, their version of the character is still considered definitive, which is sort of an issue. Since Marston’s death in 1947, DC Comics has been steadily moving away from their peculiar vision to make WW a little more compatible to an entertainment industry not always friendly to modern feminism, let alone a female supremacist social order prominently featuring female bondage and a veiled form of lesbianism.

Wonder Woman: Earth One is an ostensible return and update to her classic origin story. The writer chosen for this task, Grant Morrison, has a reputation for revitalizing iconic characters like Superman and Batman while retaining their core ideals. So it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’d eventually turn his attention to the last and reputedly most problematic member of the DC “Trinity.” To assuage any concerns, Morrison’s given interviews where he’s stated his admiration for the work of Marston and Peter, as well gone through the canon of feminist literature. So is that why the creative team for this book is all-male? Is it some kind of faithful imitation of the 40s workplace?

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Story: Grant Morrison Art: Yanick Paquette Colors: Nathan Fairbairn Letters: Todd Klein, Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter.

At any rate, Morrison and artist Yanick Paquette get many of the details right. The kangas, Purple Ray, Holliday Girls, Festival of Diana, a voluptuous Etta Candy and her “Woo woo!” catch phrase, and the numerous scenes of bondage, both voluntary (“loving submission”) and involuntary. Even Paquette’s ornate cover image of a regal-looking Diana wrapped in chains promises something different from the usual warrior woman interpretation. And yet, there’s something off about the story. A harshness that fails to capture the compassion at the heart of Marston’s vision of femininity (which was strongly informed by his polyamorous relationship with Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne).

Part of the problem is that the politics tend to get a bit reductive. The comic opens with a triumphant Hercules standing over a chained and kneeling Queen Hippolyta. He refers to her by the b-word, then spends several pages insulting her before she finally breaks free and kills the Demi-God, liberates her fellow Amazons, so they can slaughter his invading army. The deed accomplished, Hippolyta swears to live in a world without men. The story then skips 3,000 years ahead to reveal Paradise Island, a glittering utopia without a single male presence. The story itself is faithful to Marston’s original tale, but rendered more shocking by the explicit language and more detailed art. And with it, an uncompromising black-and-white view of gender relations begins to form in Hippolyta’s mind.

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Story: Grant Morrison Art: Yanick Paquette Colors: Nathan Fairbairn Letters: Todd Klein, Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter.

Paradise Island, as drawn by Paquette and colored by Nathan Fairbairn, is a gorgeous, pastel-colored wonderland that mixes gleaming classical architecture with curvaceous futuristic technology. The floral designs found on the flying motorcycles, invisible planes, and some of the fashions are suggestively vaginal. The Amazons, unsurprisingly, are all perfect specimens imbued with a casual sensuality found in fashion models and pin ups as they cavort on the pristine beaches and verdant forests. Morrison and Paquette underline this sultriness with much more open portrayals of lesbianism than found in Marston and Peter.

But perfection has a habit of quickly turning oppressive. Unlike Marston's creation, Hippolyta is dead set on maintaining her kingdom’s splendid isolation. There’s no outside threat (e.g. the Nazis of Marston's era) she feels deserves her attention, let alone requiring intervention by sending a champion. When she looks into her magic mirror and spies on the rest of the world, all she sees is a “wasteland beyond our perfect shores. The dreadful din is man’s nightmare of unending conflict… Their ’masculinity’ is a sad, broken aberration of nature. Genetically incomplete man. Always yearning for what he cannot be or own.” It’s no wonder that when the plane piloted by Captain Steve Trevor crash lands on the island, Diana is forced to hide him and concoct a plan to smuggle him out, lest he face summary execution. What’s Hippolyta's response to her daughter’s unexpected disobedience? She sends the gorgon Medusa after them both.

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Story: Grant Morrison Art: Yanick Paquette Colors: Nathan Fairbairn Letters: Todd Klein, Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter.

Her contemptuous attitude is shared by the rest of the Amazons. They react similarly to Diana’s actions with anger and aggression. And their view of the rest of humankind is equally unforgiving. Instead of treating the women in man’s world as worthy of their respect, they’re seen as being almost as debased as the men. When Diana’s jilted lover Mala first sets her eyes on the Holliday Girls, she remarks with obvious disgust “These are women of man’s world? Deformed, shrunken, bloated — domesticated cattle.” After listening to Elizabeth “Beth” Candy, the updated version of Etta, passionately defend Diana’s actions to Hippolyta, the physician Althea dismisses her testimony with “This is absurd. This girl is sick — her body mass grotesquely distorted.” That’s right, the Amazons are a bunch of pampered, body shaming mean girls.

Not that Diana does much better upon arriving in America. Her first contact with the U.S. military results in her tossing a hummer and questioning the masculinity of the soldiers, just because of their clean-shaven faces. She’s haughty and belligerent, demanding that “This broken man’s world must submit to the merciful authority of the wonder women of Amazonia. Then all will be well. Trust me.” It’s only due of the influence of Beth and Steve that she learns to moderate her views. “It’s not just man’s world out there… Sure, the patriarchy sucks, but we ain’t shy about telling ’em!” declares an always upbeat Beth. And Steve, who’s been recast as African American, admits to not entirely trusting his military commanders and points out that “My ancestors were enslaved by men with too much power.” His speech is a little on the nose, but both supporting characters come across as truly sympathetic, which is more than can be said for the supposably superior immortals who populate this book. When the Amazons insult Beth for being overweight, they become a metaphor for the kind of economic privilege needed to meet society’s unrealistic beauty standards. That doesn’t seem right for a Wonder Woman story.

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Story: Grant Morrison Art: Yanick Paquette Colors: Nathan Fairbairn Letters: Todd Klein, Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter.

This makes for a intertextually complicated read. On one hand, it’s impressive how eagerly Morrison uses so many of Marston’s classic elements. But the end results are as much a deconstruction as a homage. Instead of being paragons of empowerment, the Amazons express so many militant ideas they practically become the kind of man-hating straw feminists whose objections will be overcome by the understated nobility of Steve and the infectious optimism of Beth. Their perfection is an ideological conservatism to be surpassed by the wealth of experiences found in the outside world. And their Queen Hippolyta a 3,000 year old tyrant and overbearing parent any child would want to escape from, eventually.

Diana is a child of that isolated civilization. She’s spoiled and clueless. But she’s willfully looking for any pretext to rebel. In what is a complete reversal of the spirit of Marston's Amazons, Diana learns towards the end that she's a weapon created by Hippolyta to conquer man’s world, should the need ever arise. So Morrison’s Wonder Woman isn’t a saviour sent during a time of need, but a byproduct of Diana's rebellion against a narrowly defined role, and a self-conscious attempt to bridge the gap between the exceptionalism of the Amazons and the inclusiveness of Beth and Steve. But as with many rebellious kids, Diana still has a lot to learn.


More NonSense: Dawn of the Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

Critics and fans have observed that a common theme connecting the much-derided  Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice ( leading to a corporate reshuffling) and the more well-recieved Captain America: Civil War is how both comment on the current political climate in the U.S., namely the issue of America's descent into authoritarianism. Some have noted, with some dismay, that the titular hero Steve Rogers has now become an un-American douchey libertarian/unilateralist. It's also a 180 degree turn from the days when Tony Stark was the jerk telling Congress and the military to kiss his @$$, but is now willing to work with more government oversight because he once unintentionally created a genocidal AI called ULTRON who almost destroyed the world. On the other hand, unwieldy bureaucracies (the U.S. army, World Security Council, S.H.I.E.L.D.) have consistently let Steve down, and the government tossing his pals into a maximum security prison located in the middle of the ocean without due process isn't helping him change his mind. Good or bad, it's not entirely out-of-character for Captain America's cinematic incarnation. For all the hype, the filmmakers doesn't necessarily side with him on this.

Superheroes may not be real. The Manichaean world view the genre espouses doesn't quite fit the real world. But their central themes of authority and violence seem to have struck a familiar chord with film viewers. Or maybe it's the cool special effects that only the studios can afford.

Some have noted that with the release of X-Men: Apocalypse, the X-Men film franchise has not kept up with superhero movie trends. With Civil War's reveal of a dorky, bright spandex-wearing Spider-Man and the unexpected success of fourth wall breaking Deadpool, there's greater pressure on filmmakers to be faithful to the source material. Alas, Superman's red trunks will probably not be making a comeback given that they've been banished from the comics.

One of the more noteworthy features of Civil War was the number of Black superheroes on screen. Particularly important was the introduction of Black Panther. Unlike the Falcon and War Machine, he's clearly a hero who goes through his own character arc, and not just a sidekick. This primes the audience for the upcoming Black Panther movie, which reportedly has now cast Michael B. Jordan and possibly Lupita Nyong'o. That's a pretty strong cast. There's also an article on how Nate Moore, the lone African-American producer in Marvel Studios' film division, helped bring these characters to the screen.

DC Comics released a statement regarding their sexual harassment policies. While not addressing specific incidents, this is clearly an attempt to address regarding the allegations against Eddie Berganza and the firing of Shelley Bond. Honestly, the banal wording feels like an attempt to downplay/bury the controversy over DC's less than ideal workplace culture. It's the kind of culture which finds it acceptable that Berganza can be the editor for Wonder Woman: Earth One, a book about a feminist icon created by an all-male team.

Wonder Woman #37 by Darwyn Cooke.

R.I.P. Darwyn Cooke (1962-2016), who lost his battle to cancer. His family has indicated that donations can be made in Cooke's name to the Canadian Cancer Society and Hero Initiative. Cooke's distinctive style didn't ape trends toward more complex and murkier art, but often evoked a more classic age, making him one of the most recognisable artists working in mainstream comics. He's perhaps best known for DC: The New Frontier. and his adaptations to the Parker book series.

R.I.P. Maurice Sinet, a.k.a. Siné (1928-2016), French political cartoonist and activist known in his home country for his anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist, anarchist views. He founded the short-lived journal, Siné Massacre, in 1962, and L’Enragé in1968. He worked for a time at Charlie Hebdo until he was controversially sacked after being accused of anti-semitism (Siné was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause). Siné died after undergoing surgery at a hospital in Paris on May 5th.

There's an article on why Kate Beaton recently decided to return to her hometown of Mabou, on Cape Breton island, and how the move has changed her perspective. This piqued my curiosity about her planned book about Fort McMurray.

Here are some photos and panel recordings from the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF), which took place from May 13 – 15.


More Nonsense Jon Snow Lives!

Game of Thrones - Home

Sean T. Collins on nerd rage and the future of Game of Thrones.

Paula Young Lee and Arthur Chu on the Hollywood whitewashing of Asian comic book characters.

Harris Publications shuts down

March has been optioned as an animated series.

Comics professionals pay tribute to Shelley Bond.

Atena Farghadani was freed from Evin prison on May 3.

Zulkiflee Anwar Ul-Haque, aka Zunar, received the 2016 Cartooning for Peace Award.

James Harvey colors the recent work of Frank Miller, sparking a discussion on the decline in quality of the artist's work. But Harvey does convincingly demonstrate that in a collaborative project, the right partners have an impact on the final product.

Bryan Bishop on the evolution of the unofficially produced high-end lightsaber, which parallels the evolution of lightsaber combat as a martial art.