Sunday, June 10, 2007

Swimming Against The Manstream #4

I hate summers in the Middle East. The heat just squats on your head and refuses to leave, and any act of mental concentration becomes a real chore...

7. May "Mayday" Parker (Spider-Girl, Marvel): This one practically explains itself - the daughter of Marvel's most recognizable and popular icon, consistently depicted by Tom DeFalco as being equal, if not superior, to the original (the cover of Spider-Girl #100 remains one of my favorites). At first, DeFalco made every effort to catapult Spider-Girl out of her father's shadow and make her more than just a distaff clone: she acquired her own enemies, had her own life, and often devised solutions to problems that Peter couldn't quite crack on his own. This direction was rewarded with an unshakeable fanbase that, while comparatively small, kept the series alive for so long that Spider-Girl became Marvel's longest-running female-centric series. Unfortunately, both the character and the series started getting bogged down with debris from Spider-Man's history (the return of the ill-conceived Scriers being a recent example), and as a result, "Spider-Girl" has become more of a continuity patch than a vehicle for the next generation.

8. Jenny Sparks (The Authority, Wildstorm): Kevin Church recently referred to Warren Ellis as "one of the most casually feminist writers in comics". I disagree with that assertion, primarily because Ellis uses stock characters in a way that neutralizes gender - yes, Jenny Sparks and Miranda Zero are examples of strong women, but their femininity means nothing because they're variations on the same trope Ellis always uses: chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, booze-swilling cynics who, in their heart of hearts, want to be heroes and do what's right. There's no real distinction between Jenny Sparks and Spider Jerusalem in terms of characterization, so the best thing I can say about Ellis is that he negates chauvinism by depicting women exactly the same way he depicts men (which misses the point, IMO, but it's better than the dominant trends these days). For this reason, Jenny Sparks almost didn't make the list, but unlike most Ellis protagonists, she actually got a send-off that was noble and poignant and self-sacrificing without being cliche. A far cry from being chopped up and stuffed in a refrigerator, Jenny Sparks goes out on perhaps the highest note a superhero has ever achieved, and that counts for something in my book.