The light, it burns ussss...
Since I just did an installment of the Overlooked Manga Festival on Monday, I figured I'd try something different with today's post. After all, it's hard work talking about manga all the time, and being positive all the time. Sometimes I need a change, and that's why, today, I want to discuss The Worst Damn Comic in the World.
I know, I know. With so many bad comics out there, how can I justify singling out one as the worst? I can't. For every irritating Mark Millar effort at hamfisted social relevance in tights, there's a creepy Ken Akimatsu romp about half-naked teenage girls flashing their asses at ten-year-old boys. For every Cable Vs. Deadpool, there's an Eiken. For every Mary Jane dying of radioactive spider semen, there's a Mallard Fillmore doing anything.
Therefore, I do not claim that my Worst Damn Comic in the World is actually the worst damn comic in the world. I believe everyone has his or her own worst comic, tucked away deep within the heart. For that matter, my Worst Damn Comic is liable to change at any time, the moment I pick up a comic that's bad enough to wipe the memory of my current pick from my mind. I fear, however, that the badness is strong within this one, because tonight I read the first ten issues of Rob Liefeld's X-Force, and I still think this is the Worst Damn Comic in the World.
As you can see, my current Worst Damn Comic in the World is JSA #82 (April 2006), written by Paul Levitz, drawn by George Perez, and inked by Bob Wiacek, part of the sprawling "Infinite Crisis" crossover. An obscure choice, but that's the way I am--I'm a connoisseur. While I can appreciate the bold, robust, uncomplicated badness of a Gwen Stacey/Green Goblin sex scene or a Chick Tract rant against Catholic goddess-worshippers, I also have a taste for subtler flavors.
So. JSA #82 opens on a dark and stormy night, as Power Girl arrives at JSA headquarters. She's greeted at the door by the caretaker, Ma Hunkel.
At this point I tip my hand and admit I have a horse in this race, because Ma Hunkel is my favoritest superhero of all time ever. She originally appeared in Scribbly, a comic by Sheldon Mayer about an enterprising boy cartoonist. Ma Hunkel was Scribbly's next door neighbor lady, who (unbeknownst to Scribbly) routinely transformed into a superhero known as the Red Tornado by climbing into long underwear and putting a pot over her head. In this fearsome disguise, no one was able to guess her identity or even realize she was female.
I love her and want to be exactly like her in every way.
I'm pretty fond of Power Girl, too. I'm not totally sure why, since she has fifty different crappy origin stories and is so boring that original artist Wally Wood decided to entertain himself by making her breasts bigger in each issue, just to see how long he could get away with it before someone noticed...and no one ever did. She also has one of the prototypical dumb superheroine costume designs, with a hole cut into the front for cleavage-display purposes. (From time to time, a writer will insult the intelligence of readers by trying to explain the boob window. Spare me from efforts at "logical"--or, worse, "empowering"--explanations for skimpy superheroine costumes. Porn films don't spend twenty minutes explaining why the TV repairman forgot his pants.) But I'll be damned if I don't like her. She's one of the few raw powerhouses in the super-female population, and she's got a great toujours gai attitude, like a broad who's been around the block a few times and slammed a few buildings into people's faces along the way. Amanda Conner's drawings of her in recent years have been particularly good; she always makes Power Girl look drunk.
I'm supposed to be talking about that JSA comic, aren't I? Okay, okay...
Power Girl has just come back from a trip to Earth-2. If you don't know what Earth-2 is or what Power Girl was doing there, then tough titties, sister, because this comic is not going to waste time telling you. She's brought back an apparently hard-won artifact: the diary of the Earth-2 Lois Lane. We then flash back to Earth-2 Lois writing in the diary. Also, Earth-2 Lois is a million billion years old.
A confession: when I first read this, I knew about Earth-1 and Earth-2, being a fan of Silver Age DC comics that often exploited Earth-2 to show us shocking alternate-universe events like Lois and Clark getting married, but I had no idea that the Earth-2 versions of the characters were older than their Earth-1 counterparts. I asked my husband Andrew what the deal was. The explanation took twenty minutes and involved the "Infinite Crisis" crossover, the 1980s "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover, the classic Flash #123 ("Flash of Two Worlds!"), Higgs particles, and the Dharma Initiative. But I needed it, because it's not explained, or even mentioned, anywhere in the comic.
Anyway, Lois is super old. And is in a hospital for some reason, maybe because she's old, I don't know. And she goes on about her world being an illusion, but doesn't explain that either. Then we flash back to what she's actually writing about in her diary. And what she's writing about is a completely unrelated story about Superman and Batman.
It can't be Lois's memory, since she's not actually there for it, but it must be an event of great significance, since this is the one thing from her diary we get to see. And Ma Hunkel should most certainly not "trust the story," because none of her questions are ever answered. I do want to stop for a minute, however, and praise George Perez's artwork. There are times he lays down the tiny lines a little too thick, because that's his thing, but it's nice, solid, old-school work, and for the Batman/Superman flashback he adopts a clean Silver Age style. I like it when Batman has his Bat-Eyebrows drawn on.
You know who was a really awesome artist, though? Sheldon Mayer. Check out the first page of the monthly Scribbly comic book:
That is some sweet stuff right there. And later in the issue Scribbly hangs out with cowboys.
Right. So the next thing that happens (and remember, this is a long-ago memory that both Lois Lane and Power Girl apparently consider vitally important) is that Batman and Superman fight the Gentleman Ghost.
This is the best thing that happens in the comic. On one hand, it's the most frustrating anticlimax imaginable; we go down a rabbit-hole of flashbacks-within-meandering-flashbacks to get a big reveal of a character even most nerds have never heard of? The hell? On the other hand, well, it's an invisible fellow in evening dress and monocle who rides a horse that's on fire, and there's never a bad time for one of those. That's what Locke should have found at the bottom of the hatch. It's what Dave Bowman should have seen when he touched the monolith. It's what "Rosebud" should have been.
So the fight with the Gentleman Ghost is pointless and baffling, but it gets a pass because it's the friggin' Gentleman Ghost riding a fire horse. Then the flashback ends. We zoom back to Lois, who gets a visit and a bouquet from Elderly Superman, and then it's back to Power Girl and Ma Hunkel at the JSA headquarters.
What the fuck? No, seriously, what the fuck? I can't figure out anything that's going on in this comic, and this page is like Sanskrit to me. Are they seriously crying because the alternate-universe Lois isn't pretty anymore? Because if so, I have some bulleted points of rebuttal:
1. That's fucking stupid.
2. How does Ma Hunkel even know that Lois looks bad? She's not looking at photos of Lois. She's reading her diary.
3. Why would Ma Hunkel, who's as old as Old Lois, care about Lois being young or pretty as a movie star?
4. How come the characters aren't weirded out by the existence of alternate-universe time-displaced copies of all their friends, but burst into tears at the idea of older alternate-universe time-displaced copies of all their friends?*
5. Ma Hunkel doesn't cry! Ma Hunkel puts a pot on her head and clobbers cat burglars, then poses so small neighbor boys can draw worshipful pictures of her! That's her thing! It's what she does!
6. MA HUNKEL NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
7. Seriously, that's fucking stupid.
Also, what's up with this talk about "the men" and how they never "get it"? (If that's so, I must be packing sausage.) Earlier in the issue, there was also some odd dialogue about shorthand and Wonder Woman's stint as the JSA's secretary; "Good thing she had a sense of humor, back before she met Gloria Steinem and signed on to that movement or whatever it was," clucked Ma Hunkel. That exchange didn't seem to have any point, either. Holy living crap...is this supposed to be some sort of women's perspective issue? Is that why it's so weirdly written? Is that why it has three unrelated female characters get together, only to sit around thinking about a fight Batman and Superman got into? And crying? Is that what's going on here?
You know, maybe this Worst Damn Comic in the World thing isn't such a good idea. I'm feeling the rage build, and I haven't even gotten to the stupidest page. To cleanse the palate, I promise to follow this long-winded rant with a four-page Ma Hunkel story, not featuring the Red Tornado, so you can see how awesome she is even when not fighting crime in her secret identity. Okay? Okay.
So Power Girl and Ma Hunkel have a good cry over Earth-2 Lois's failure to follow a lifelong skin-care regimen. (By the way, I'm pretty fond of Lois Lane, too. I think she gets a bad rap, what with the efforts to trick Superman into marrying her and so on. What people forget is that a) she's also a spunky girl reporter, and b) Superman fucks with her head all the time.) Oh, and throughout the comic Power Girl has made vague, unexplained references to some awesome responsibility placed upon her shoulders. I don't know what it is because I didn't read the rest of the "Infinite Crisis" mega-crossover, and Andrew, who did, can't remember what Power Girl's deal was. But it's pretty heavy, apparently.
So heavy, in fact, that, after her pity party with the Red Tornado, Power Girl immediately goes upstairs, takes off all her clothes, hugs a teddy bear, and cries.
(Aw, and poor George Perez bent over backward to make the art as non-exploitative as possible, drenching Power Girl's weepy nude body in gallons of shadow, and it barely helped at all.)
Whenever people start bitching about the treatment of female characters in superhero comic books, someone invariably responds, "Well, male characters are drawn with unrealistic physiques/dressed in skintight costumes/killed/depowered/raped, too." I will concede this point only after I see the following image in a Superman comic:
Not that I really want to see that. What I actually want to see is this:
So let's leave the Worst Damn Comic in the World behind us and read an awesome Ma Hunkel comic instead.
*When Andrew was explaining the whole Earth-2 time difference thing to me, I got hung up on the fact that most of the major DC characters have exact counterparts in Earth-2 who just happened to live a generation or more before the Earth-1 versions, but the two universes' respective Flashes are totally different: in Earth-1 it's Barry Allen, and in Earth-2 it's Jay Garrick. It'd be like finding a universe where I existed, and Andrew existed, and most of our cartoonist friends existed, but Same Difference was written by someone named Eric Dirk Lim. And we all lived in the 1950s. For some reason, I found this deeply unsettling. I'm sure that, if I were a DC superhero, I would not be able to think about anything except how freaky this was.