Graphic novels: Lots of women, plus some men

I was never a fan of the Jem cartoon so I was pleasantly surprised to find JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS: Showtime by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell (which I thought I’d already blogged about but apparently not) and V2, Viral (by Thompson and multiple artists) so much fun, though Showtime was definitely better.

As you may know, the cartoon’s protagonist was Jerrica, a young woman whose supercomputer Synergy gives her a secret identity as the rock star Jem. I never understood why she needed one but Thompson gives it her own spin here: Jerrica’s talented, but has too much stage fright to perform. When her father’s supercomputer comes up with a cover identity, she’s suddenly free (the text pages of V1 point out Jem never made it to comics so the authors are free themselves — they have no previous versions to compete with). Their sudden rise draws attention from rock reporter Rio, who worries Jem’s too arrogant for a wonderful woman like Jerrica, and from the rival group the Misfits, who like the Holograms much less than Rio does (but that doesn’t stop a romance from springing up between a Misfit and a Hologram).

By the end of the second collection, the Misfits have actually developed into something more than just nasty jerks. However the constantly shifting artists in Viral took some of the punch out of the series. I’ll still pick up V3, Dark Jem.

BLACK WIDOW: Deadly Origin by Paul Cornell and Tom Raney does a remarkable job piecing together the various inconsistencies in Natasha’s history — why, when she first appears in Iron Man, is she just a sexy manipulator rather than the deadly fighter she became later? Was she ever a ballerina? Whatever happened to her trusted right hand from the Bronze Age, Ivan?

The book opens with Ivan warning Natasha she’s the target of something called the Icepick Protocol, then he’s killed. Figuring out what’s going on gets Natasha thinking about her past and the memory implants she’s undergone in the service of the Red Room (an idea introduced by a previous writer) — when she told Daredevil she’d been a ballerine, she really though it was true. I really enjoyed this one.

SUPERGIRL: The Hunt for Reactron by Sterling Gates, Greg Rucka and Jamal Igle suffers from the same problem as the previous volume — it’s part of a big crossover with Superman’s series and huge gaps of plot are missing — the cops are hunting Supergirl for a murder that happened elsewhere in the event, then the victim turns up alive, also off-panel. I like the way Gates writes Supergirl and her relationship with Lana (though that blows up by the end of this volume) but the discontinuity is infuriating.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Accused by Kelly Thompson and Cory Smith has Carol Danvers now working as the new Accuser for the joint Kree/Skrull Empire (ruled by Hulkling of Young Avengers). When a settlement with both races living in harmony is massacred, Hulkling sends Carol out to play judge, jury and executioner — something that gets more complicated when it looks like the killer is the Kree half-sister she never knew she had. I still dislike the retcon that Carol’s really half-Kree but this made good use of it. The follow up volume, New World by Thompson and Lee Garbett, has Carol hurled into a dystopian future where Ove (son of Enchantress and Sub-Mariner) now rules and not wisely — can Captain Marvel turn things around? I liked this, but the rationale for breaking up Carol and Rhodey as a couple was dumb-ass.

IMMORTAL HULK: The Green Door by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett and Lee Garbett follows up on Or Is He Both? as Hulk, Doc Samson and Sasquatch continue puzzling out what the hell is happening with gamma radiation while the newest incarnation of Hulkbusters captures Hulk and chops him into pieces for storage (now I see why people refer to this run as a horror comic) — don’t worry, he got better. This and the third volume Hulk in Hell (which I reread and like better now that it’s in context) explain some of what’s going on — to wit, that the Hulk we’re seeing now is a protective father figure Bruce dreamed up (though given his childhood of abuse, he also fears him). And we learn why Jackie McGee is so keen on being a Hulk herself (“My anger gets dismissed — you smash up cities and they make you a founding Avenger.”). Looking forward to continuing with this run.

INVISIBLE MEN: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books by Ken Quattro looks at a variety of comics artists from the Golden Age, whether they were one-timers in the industry or building careers. While some worked directly for publishers, more worked through the studios that provided ready made strips to publishers and one passed for white. Their work includes the short-lived All Negro Comics, Voodah (a black Tarzan type), horror, romance and Phantom Lady in her raciest-looking period. Interesting.

#SFWApro. Covers by Campbell and Jack Kirby, all rights remain with current holders.

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