Sunday, October 14, 2012

Comics, pornography and the long,
dark migraine of the eternal soul

Curiously, my review of DARK SHADOWS/VAMPIRELLA #2 got a lot of traffic this week, despite being only three words long. I made the mistake last night of trying to read the most recent issue of this series, but only got as far as the fourth page before I put it down in disgust. It's a horrible, offensive book and reads like the worst kind of fanfic.

There have been some cynical defenses mounted for the book, coming from no less than DARK SHADOWS majordomo Jim Pierson.  "It's fun to further expand the reach of Dark Shadows and hopefully expose the classic characters to new fans who might just be discovering Barnabas with the new Johnny Depp movie," he said in a press release prior to the release of this series. Yes, he's right, in the sense that this book is probably introducing new readers to the DARK SHADOWS name, but they're seeing nothing that resembles any iteration of the television series. Barnabas Collins flies like Superman, casually decapitates enemies with a flick of his wrist and gets into more fistfights than Lawrence Tierney on St. Patrick's Day. Anyone who has their interest piqued by this book is going to be sorely disappointed when they explore the DARK SHADOWS "brand" and discover it has no use for adolescent male power fantasies.

There's also the problem of combining DARK SHADOWS with such a tired, sexist character as VAMPIRELLA. For a television show produced in the 1960s, SHADOWS was shockingly ahead of its time in terms of gender politics, especially when compared to not-as-progressive-as-they-thought-they-were programs like BEWITCHED and I DREAM OF JEANNIE.

SHADOWS is known for its strong female characters and disproportionately large female fanbase, yet someone thought it was a good idea to pair this concept with VAMPIRELLA, the kind of book that looks engineered to keep women out of comic shops. There's a sickness in comics, which have matured a great deal in the last 30 years yet seem intent on clinging to regressive sexual dynamics. If the comicbook industry was a person they'd be required to register as sex offenders, and society has given up on the notion that those kind of people are capable of change.

Yet, there's hope. Not long after posting my "review" of DARK SHADOWS/VAMPIRELLA, artist/writer/musician MIKE HOFFMAN posted a more eloquent essay on his blog about the gross, backward sexuality seen daily in the comics industry. He says:
"Make no mistake, today's comic art is porn, it's just a matter of degree.  Porn relies on objectification, mainly of women, and this effects falls across a wide spectrum."
If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you're probably familiar with Hoffman's work. If not, head over to his website and take a look for yourself. He admits he's catered to the kind of mentality he's complaining about in the past, and he's not calling for anything as stupid as a boycott. Instead, he's asking artists to start taking responsibility for their work, and to recognize that what they do has consequences:
"What I want to begin here is a pledge list for Comic Artists, that they will no longer pander and if necessary die by starvation rather than continue and contribute to this miserable and negative trend.  As I've said I have contributed to it in the past, but enough is enough.  Are you brave enough, and do you have enough faith in your talent to go it alone--without taking the easy way out, demeaning women and yourselves?"
Unfortunately, I'm trapped by circumstance. Because I run a DARK SHADOWS blog I feel it's necessary to continue to buy these books so that I can stay informed about what's going on in the fan community. It's not easy reading these books, and having to fork over $4 an issue is insult to injury. But thems the breaks.

I also don't want to give anyone the impression that I've got a grudge against the comic's publisher, Dynamite Entertainment, because the same day I bought the embarrassing pieces of shit that are DARK SHADOWS/VAMPIRELLA #2 and #3, I also bought the latest issue of their great series, THE SHADOW. The problem of treating female characters like life-support systems for T&A is not unique to that company. It's a problem shared by just about every company that publishes comics, and it's time to retire these tired, destructive values.

I also suspect these sentiments are going to open the door to a lot of complaints from people who don't understand the point we're trying to make, and that I'm in for a lot of Spinal Tap-esque bitching about "What's wrong with being sexy?" I'm not sure if I've got the patience for those types of online arguments anymore, but there's a comments section below ... feel free to press your luck.


MissSpottyJane said...

It seems like they wanted to use the 2012 Barnabas character, I can't figure out why they didn't. I don't know what can be said about the strip club and brothel nonsense, it's too ridiculous and a bit depressing.

Hopefully, anybody stuck with some unwanted copies can unload them on eBay or something. The first issue didn't hint at how quickly things would head south. I'm glad I didn't buy any of them.

majkinja said...

It's getting worse, I read issue #3 few minutes ago and what's shown in this issue is so atrocious that it doesn't even deserves to be used as toilet paper.
It starts with an ultra violent fight scene which even with the most violent scenes in House/Night of Dark Shadows in mind comes off as a tasteless treatment of the DS characters.
Barnabas and Quentin have now lost any likenesses to Frid and Selby which actually is a good thing because I wouldn't like to see their likenesses in this trash.
I'm inclined to think MissSpottyJane is right about the creators wanted to present the 2012 Barnabas.

Quentin is all naked BTW after turning back to human form while the werecat woman keeps her skimpy outfit on. Maybe the creators thought this would appeal to the female readers, sigh, I don't know, it's so stupid.

Then they are going to some Greek inspired bath were everyone have sex. Some lame jokes that would have fitted nicely into the 2012 film occurs.

If you had problems with issue #2 then there's no way you're manage to read issue #3. I'm not going to read the next issues, that would be waste of time and money.

A shitty fanfic is what these comics are.

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