Ghost Projekt #1
Mind the Gap #1
Pretty Deadly #1
Rocket Girl #1
Velvet #1 (2013)
We'll start this all-female protagonist column with a controversial selection, Adam Warren's Empowered. At six years, seven original graphic novels, five specials and two hoighty-toighty deluxe hardcover compilations, Empowered has been one of the most successful super-heroines in the U.S. market. On the other hand, the themes of female bondage, sexuality, competency issues, and a sometimes arch approach to "girliness" probably hasn't helped its feminist standing. The long form, multi-story editions have had their ups and downs, but overall, I still buy them happily without reservations. I find the specials much more bothersome, as they feel like filler material from an anthology, not so much because of the guest artists, but because Warren writes them as such. "Nine Beers With Ninjette" is basically a secret origin story for the long time supporting character, recapping her history to date without much elaboration. I assume this is meant to initiate the theoretical new reader, but I'm not sure there's enough story here to truly entice, and fans of Takeshi Miyazawa's art won't find it in the core volumes. At least when Maidman got his spotlight story, it was to flesh out a satellite character, not play Marvel Saga with Ninjette's tales across multiple volumes.
I don't recall when I ordered this book, but I think I picked it up cheap on liquidation. Recently, a television pilot was ordered by NBC, and the back issue became a hot commodity, so I figured I ought to see if there was any steak to go with the sizzle. Based on the first issue, not so much. It's a bunch of hoary post-Cold War commie stereotypes investigating a secret weapons lab in Siberia that conducted unethical, possibly supernatural experimentation. A couple of ugly Americans seem poised to be P.O.V. characters, but the only characters you're likely to root for by the end are police inspector
I'm a big fan of 48 page introductory issues for a standard-sized cover price. I wish I were a bigger fan of the story itself. Creator Jim McCann sets up a very involved mystery around the assault of an affluent young woman who is somehow tied into a grand conspiracy with sinister agents. He layers in dense clues and presents levels of involvement that range from real world espionage to metaphysics. Where Rodin Esquejo offers lovely covers for Morning Glories only to have Joe Eisma shits on the interiors, here Esquejo sees the entire project through. The RIAA-baiting lyric excerpts from songs I know and like (fuck you Phonogram) put me into a positive frame of mine, as does momentary cosplay from a well loved mid-90s grunge video. The problem is, after all that time and effort invested, I don't care about any of the characters or their situations by the end of the extended debut, plus a few actively annoyed me. I was reading it while the tepid Rebecca Hall vehicle The Awakening was supposed to be playing in the background, but the bland ghost story kept winning my attention. Admittedly, Rebecca Hall's pretty awesome, but still...
Pretty Deadly #1 (Image, 2013, $3.50)
Here's the only book in a column covering heroines that features actual real wimmens in both major creative roles. Curiously, there was a hubbub over an L.A. comic store staffer tearing the book in half before a well-known comic reviewer to show his displeasure with the issue. He wasn't wrong about the book being pretentious, but it's also challenging in its surreal narration and bending of genre in a way that intrigues. Keeping up with a column theme, it has strong supernatural leanings, but in a western setting, and has something to do with the incarnate daughter of Death itself. I can't tell you if I like Kelly Sue DeConnick's script at this early stage, but the art of Emma Rios is perfect for whatever this thing is, and I certainly want the opportunity to explore it further in trade paperback.
I kind of hate it when an artist gets first bill over a writer, not because they don't deserve to be on "top," but simply because it's a harmless industry convention. Well, and I'm more likely to enjoy a book from a proven writer than an artist who enlists an editor friend to co-create and write a book. Rocket Girl is such a book. I think Amy Reeder's art is very pretty, but the story is just a collection of tropes, as much from lightweight sci-fi as from kidcentric TV. Also, for some reason the 1986 setting seems to demand that the supporting cast be made up visually of Kyle Baker characters circa Why I Hate Saturn, but without any of the wit. It made me recall that Baker got more story mileage out of his 1986 three-issue adaptation of Howard the Duck: The Movie than what I saw here, which is rather damning, don't you think?
We've got women writing women and women drawing women and that's great, but unfortunately, the best of these books was by two men crafting a story of the most interesting woman. Speaking as a non-fan of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting on Captain America, I was pleasantly surprised by how thoroughly I enjoyed their teaming here. Set in 1973, macho icons of the period are reunited through analogues, but pale in comparison to