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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Beau Smith Writes Good Women!!!

A few days ago, Ragnell mentioned that she liked reading Wynonna Earp. Which I haven't read, though I've been trying to find it all over the place. So anyway, I did the next best thing and read through the entire Smith run of Warrior. Because it is possibly my favorite comic ever.

It's a series I'm hard pressed to recommend in a lot of ways. It's crazy. The art is very stylized at the best of times and downright grotesque at the worst, the story is so much an embodiment of everything awful about nineties comics...the cheesecake/beefcake, the faux edginess, the over-the-top-ness, extreme violence...

And the plots were on *crack*. Okay, Emerald Fallout (aftermath of Emerald Twilight) was actually pretty sane (and awesome) but then you have the Vuldarian-power origin story that involved Guy Gardner joining a crazy cowboy's team to find magic water, with a hispanic demoness and nazis riding *dinosaurs* as their adversaries.

And it just got crazier from there. Non-stop, hyper violent, testosterone filled, and yet somehow awesome insanity masquerading as a comic book written by the self-proclaimed manly man of comics.

But you know what's really funny? For all that, there's one thing that can be said about Beau Smith. He writes some damn kickass women.

(GG:W 23)

The Unexpectedly Awesome Women of Warrior
It's funny too, because it's unexpected. I mean...*really* unexpected. But honestly, I think his women tend to rock. And I'm going to show you all why I think so:

Notable female characters in Beau Smith's Warrior:

Veronna:

(GG:W 23)

The Warrior Woman Veronna is the most prominent female character in the Warrior comic book. And in one sense, the riskiest too. She's an homage, and in some sense a satire of, the idea of the savage female native in old school adventure novels.

See, the noble savage warrior woman is a staple of a certain brand of pulp adventure novel. The tall woman wearing a snake, wielding weapons, we've all seen her. She's actually a very disturbing sexist and even racist idea, most of the time, the native (dark) woman waiting to be dominated and mastered by the (white) hero.


(both:GG:W 26)

And on the surface, Veronna is exactly that sort of character. In fact, her people are descended from those the Vuldarians (alien race Guy's descended from, long story) had been allied with centuries/millenia before. Her people have been awaiting his arrival for a very long time and she has been sworn to serve him in, as is obvious from the scans, any need he might have.

But there's a subversiveness to all this. If there's one thing that can be said for Guy Gardner's comic is that the only person clueless and out of sorts is Guy Gardner. The rest of his supporting cast are extremely sure, self-possessed and exactly where they want to be.

Veronna is the image of the noble savage awaiting mastery, but in practice, her actions are completely independent and self-determined. She goes where she wants (with no apparent culture shock or language difficulty, implying a previous knowledge of the country). She is the dominant personality in their interactions, he is the one confused and at a loss. Where the pulp adventure novel counterpart she satirizes would have been a concubine, she is instead a bodyguard/protector. (She becomes the bouncer for Warriors and even intimidates Captain Atom!)

Actually, in many ways, she's got the more traditionally masculine role. She's never been in distress or in need of rescue (backup, yes, rescue, no), and she's saved his ass many times over. In one particularly amusing bit of gender reversal, she is trying to save *Guy's* virtue from the mind-controlling Martika.

It helps that there is absolutely no sexual relationship between the two characters, and there doesn't, actually, ever seem to be the inclination to form one between the two characters. Their bond is deeper and more complicated than that.
--
Arisia:


(GG:W 20)

Now Green Lantern fans will remember Arisia as the very young girl who ends up artificially aging so that she can pursue Hal Jordan. Poor Arisia never really had much of a role outside of that and a friendship with Kilowog. She was a pretty empty character.

Warrior made Arisia interesting, gave her depth and characterization beyond her role as Hal Jordan's jailbait. She's physically an adult (still) and mentally somewhere in between. She could be silly, immature and willful, but she was also sweet and funny. She was a little sister to the entire group, but especially to Guy, and it was cute.

Her pinnacle moment as a character came in Warrior #30 when she comes face to face with Hal Jordan/Parallax. This is, of course, during that time between Zero Hour and his death. He tries to appeal to her love of him to understand what he's trying to do. It's not a terribly original moment, of course, but it does pack an emotional punch as adolescent infatuation wars with adult wisdom and knowledge and loses. She's saddened, disillusioned and hurt, but she's strong when she throws him out.

Poor Arisia ultimately ends up murdered by Major Force in Warrior #43, but damn if she doesn't put up one hell of a fight, even managing to actually cut his flesh at one point. She's overpowered in the end, but it's a hero's death. She dies strong and fighting.
--
Rita Muldoon:

(GG:W 23)

She gets the least panel time of the major female characters, but that doesn't mean she doesn't rock when she's got the opportunity. Like shooting a Nazi-Mount Dinosaur without breaking a sweat.

She's the Q of the group basically, the arms master. She's cool, competent and relatively undramatic. Thus she also gets the shortest description here. That doesn't mean she's not awesome though.

Hey, she's *shooting* a *T-Rex*.
--
Martika:

(GG:W 39)

Martika is a villain. She's unashamedly evil and best of all, there is absolutely no backstory or justification offered for why she's the way she is. Just like a whole bunch of male villains, she's evil because she's evil. She's a sociopath who likes controlling everyone around her and there's no deeper/more sympathetic emotions behind it.

Martika is also fairly unstoppable. In that picture above, that monstrous guy she's basically telling to sit down and be a good dog is Dementor, Guy's main enemy for most of the issues up until that point. A monstrous, evil, impossibly powerful guy. He kidnaps her intending to do to her what he did to other random victims, but she has him controlled in two seconds flat.

Martika's something of a stereotype in and of herself, the femme fatale with the power over men. That doesn't make her any less cool though. Especially as the only male character to break free from her spell on his own was Major Force. Guy himself only made it because of a mindlink with Veronna. (A woman saving him from another woman, I like it!).
--
Guy's Mom:

(GG:W 40)

Well, she's only really a background character who shows up during the tail end of the series, but hell, she's still his mom, so she goes here.

She's...well...she's a piece of work, to put it bluntly.

Let's just say that Guy takes very much after his mother, they're loud and red-haired and forces of nature, he's much more sensitive and even-tempered than she is though.

Yes. You read that right.

Heh.
--
Diana:

As weird as this probably sounds, I have to say, Beau Smith is one of the few writers I've ever seen who really seems to *get* Wonder Woman. In fact I would, seriously, love to see him write the series sometime.

(GG:W 20)

and

(GG:W 34)

See, to me, these two images juxtaposed together basically embody who I think Diana *is*. Diana is a warm, forgiving, understanding and empathetic person. She wants everyone to get along and work together and she's good at making that happen. She's a diplomat and a good friend, and she knows what you're trying to say even when you're having trouble getting it out.

But she's also a warrior. She teaches peace but she's not a pacifist by any means. She's a protector and a guardian as well as a teacher and she knows that sometimes you have to fight for what's right. And when she does go down in battle, she will make sure her foes will no longer be a threat as well.

Too often, I think, people forget one side in favor of another. They forget that she's a warrior, from a culture of warriors, with a system of morals and values that are much older than ours. Beau Smith is one of the few writers I've seen who hasn't forgotten that. It's very clear, I think, that he loves the character.

--

Ice:

Ice actually makes one appearance in a Beau Smith comic, the end of the Emerald Fallout issues where she remains on Earth to take care of things.

However she's a constant, incredibly powerful presence through the whole series. Her death becomes a very clear underlying issue throughout the series, a source of pain and tension, and unlike the Justice League issues, there is actually a wonderful sense of closure. (One that works much better than the I Can't Believe it's Not the Justice League version, in my opinion).

The fact that it culminates somehow in Guy and Bea sleeping together should be trashy and wrong, but somehow it manages to be very sweet. Two grieving people finding solace in one another. And afterwards, they are even able to find common ground and get along.

The emotion in Warrior tends to be sweet, powerful and far subtler than most comics tend to be.

--

Another awesome thing about Warrior's treatment of women is how often you see them. In most other comics, you won't see very many random women. I'm not talking about recurring characters, I'm talking about walk-on roles.

If you have a neurosurgeon taking care of one of the main characters of the comic, who ends up on the wrong end of an invading strike force, but remains calm and collected and able to fill the heroes in on important information, what sex is it usually?

What about a federal agent that happens to kickass, take names, and provide the heroes with necessary information without ever digressing into sexual innuendo or tension, what sex would you expect it to be?

What about a hardcore, mercenary corporate head with an eye for business and marketing who inadvertantly inconveniences/annoys the protagonist?

Or the guide that's actually a demon spy out to take them to the waters and then destroy them, coolly murdering would be attackers on the way before becoming a dangerous threat?

In Warrior, each of these characters are women. And they're not the only ones. There are a lot of women in the background. Many of whom are seen in traditionally male dominated fields. And they're not there to be temporary love interests or damsels in distress for the main character. Often they're there for only a panel or two. I don't think anyone would have begrudged Mr. Smith for making these characters male. It's not like it really makes a difference to the plot.

But there's a difference to the atmosphere to have female characters alongside men, even in the faceless roles. A lot comics tend to have "male" as the default state, "female" is always something other. Always a notable main or recurring character. Yet others, when they do have female minor characters, can't help but make a production of it. "LOOKIT ME! I'm including WOMEN! Isn't that *great?!"

In Warrior, they're just there alongside men doing their jobs, fulfilling their roles in the plot. A few are standard damsel victim characters, but so are the men. (Guy's first girlfriend is a commonly recycled victim character but then, so is Mace/Militia, his older brother, so it's almost fair.) And yet others are just there to *be*.

And it's nice!

Besides, Beau Smith is the man who brought Lady Blackhawk to the modern DCU and for that he deserves many accolades. :-)

7 Comments:

  • At May 14, 2006 11:47 AM, Blogger CalvinPitt said…

    I like that in that first Wonder Woman page, she's basically as tall as Guy. Because, as Ragnell would say, Wonder Woman should be tall damnit.

     
  • At May 14, 2006 2:18 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    *nod* She most certainly should! :-)

    I actually hadn't noticed that (not a visual person, me) but it *is* a nice bit isn't it?

     
  • At May 16, 2006 2:30 AM, Blogger James Meeley said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

     
  • At May 16, 2006 2:39 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    There are seven signs? Heh. I don't know about the whole "major blogging force" thing, but it was definitely a boost to the ego!

     
  • At May 16, 2006 2:42 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    What I said over in Ragnell's blog also applies here. Adding to that, I'd also say it's cool when a writer takes something which sounds like the most godawful cliche - e.g., the noble savage, the evil femme fatale - and makes it into something which seems fresh and fun. A big part of that, IMHO, is actually making them into people, rather than simply relying on the cliches to substitute for good character development.

     
  • At May 16, 2006 2:48 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) Development is a big part of it. When you take a cliche and actually make it a person, it usually stops being a cliche. Smith's pretty good at that.

     
  • At September 28, 2010 1:24 PM, Anonymous Kamagra said…

    I read in here that you haven't read Wynonna Earp you must read it because that's one of the best comics because it's not the common one.

     

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