So, yeah. I read comics. And graphic novels on occasion. And no, I never really grew out of it.
Comics can be wonderfully subversive, and include all kinds of subtext for LGBTQI people. After all, many comics are sci fi/spec fic/fantasy-based — genres that traditionally push the boundaries of what is considered a “norm,” and expand into explorations of gender, sexuality, and sex, as well as provide windows into queer sensibilities and orientations that you just can’t find in commercial TV and even commercial movies.
And as a lesbian growing up in a very small rural community, I found that I could relate to the mutants, for example, in the X-Men comics or Spiderman (who was my fave), each of whom had something different about them (i.e. a power or ability) that they had to keep secret from others, something that would probably have inspired fear and possibly loathing among people who did not have such mutations.
That was a metaphor for a lot of us growing up queer, and might explain why quite a lot of us ended up in geekdom, as comics fans and readers and watchers of spec fic and fantasy. Because we could relate to that whole sense of being “other” and feeling alone and not able to share a certain part of ourselves that we knew wasn’t something bad or horrible, but was something others would try to make us feel bad or horrible about.
Comics can also be places for people of color to find representation — though I am not at all suggesting that POC rep is the best thing ever in comics (especially so-called “mainstream”). There’s lots of work to be done in that realm, but it’s happening. Witness the fact that Marvel is FINALLY releasing a Black Panther movie next summer, and it looks AMAZING.
I also found some strong women rep in comics when I was growing up — Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batwoman, for example but let’s dig a little deeper. How about women SCIENTIST rep? DC’s first African-American woman scientist/superhero was Bumblebee (Karen Beecher-Duncan), who debuted in 1976 and joined the Teen Titans a year later. Even earlier (1963), Marvel’s scientist Janet van Dyne (the Wasp) was one of the founding members of the Avengers (Michelle Pfeiffer is slated to play van Dyne in the forthcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp) And how about Sue Storm (formerly the Invisible Girl), who also had scientist cred to her name?
This kind of rep was also among supervillains like DC’s Poison Ivy, who debuted in 1966 as botanist Lillian Rose (later Pamela Lillian Isley). During the 80s, her backstory got a sexist makeover, but think about the fact that when she debuted in ’66, she was a Ph.D. in botany. Fortunately, she’s been made-over again and is now girlfriend to Harley Quinn, in an open relationship (which will be portrayed in the forthcoming Gotham City Sirens)
And there are a slew of diverse women appearing in comic ‘verses currently, like young African-American engineering prodigy Riri Williams, who takes on the mantle of Ironman and becomes Ironheart (she designs her own iron suit).
Point being, comics — as sexist and backward as some can be (the overly sexualized physical appearance of women being one of my major issues, but I digress), they nevertheless open all kinds of doors for subtext, acceptance, and possibility and now there are all kinds of comic companies open with incredibly diverse staffs that are putting out some really amazing things.
My colleague, fellow writer Lise MacTague and I, who do the Lez Geek Out! podcast, have talked about this for a while, about how today there is so much more queer rep (and strong women’s rep and men and women of color rep) in comics than when we were growing up, which is oh, so super cool because we get to dive right in and savor.
Which brings me to this week’s little gem that I ran into on Twitter, where I follow a bunch of comic writers and artists and also fellow geeks. A Tweet crossed my timeline about a comic called The Courier, and the cover had me intrigued:
So I followed up because it looked kind of post-apocalyptic (and I love me some post-apocalyptic stories).
The Courier: From the Ashes is currently a 5-comic series available through Zenescope Comics (but also through Comixology, on Amazon…you can put the Comixology app on your iPad…just sayin’…).
The plot is basically thus:
In 2033, a pandemic wiped out pretty much everybody except for about one percent of the human population. Half of those were immune and the other half mutated into these creepy subhuman creatures (reminiscent, perhaps, of the Will Smith movie I Am Legend).
So The Courier takes place decades later in 2097 after the surviving humans patch together various socially stratified strongholds across the U.S., between which are wastelands riddled with subhumans (called “primals”) and outlaw gangs as well as those who aren’t fortunate to be able to afford a place in a stronghold. But in order to get goods (like, say, medicines) from stronghold to stronghold, you need couriers who can navigate these wastelands, and you pay them well to do it.
Eve Harper is one of these couriers (The Courier in the series), and she’s one of the best. So she takes a job that involves a brutal, scary drug dealer and things definitely don’t go as she had planned and end up putting her at major risk.
That’s the story in these five comics, and someone at Zenescope Tweeted at me after I was raving about it on Twitter that there are more stories in the works, and I practically Twitter screamed in enthusiasm about it.
The story is grim, and there is violence (it is a post-apocalyptic America, after all), but Eve Harper is a badass, who knows how to handle herself in a lot of different situations (like, I know some of you will drool over her fixing her motorcycle…). I always worry in post-apocalyptic stories like these that feature strong women characters that somehow the strong women will be diminished and troped or fridged in service to male characters, but Eve remains front and center throughout, and it’s her story that we’re interested in, and how she’s going to get out of the major FUBAR situation in which she ends up. I like, too, that she ends up with an ally in a young African- American guy who also gets targeted by the people who have Eve in their sights, and the two of them thus work together.
One of the things I enjoy about post-apocalyptic fiction is the relationships that form, often out of necessity (like Max and Furiosa in Fury Road), between people of different backgrounds and whatever else. Stripped down to survival, you find the humanity in those you’re thrown together with, and things that might have been dealbreakers or insurmountable differences in benign circumstances aren’t even relevant in the more extreme circumstances of basic survival.
I love to watch these types of relationships play out, so I really like that Eve ends up allying with Franklin, this younger dude, and the two of them manage to forge a bond that they have to rely on out of necessity. You end up trusting people you barely know with your life in circumstances like these, because any hope of survival — even with someone you just met — is just that. Hope.
For the most part, Eve wasn’t OVERLY sexualized, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a little bit. I mean, seriously? What badass woman in a post-apocalyptic wasteland is going to wear just a glorified sports bra under a leather jacket? Pretty sure she knows better than that, especially since she’s traveled through these areas so much. A tank top I might be able to understand (unless it’s designed to do nothing but show cleavage), but I mean, c’mon. And why is she wearing skin-tight pants? This is a hellscape, friends. Not a night out club-hopping.
Comic eye candy, to be sure, but such a trope and so tedious. Decades of comics with unrealistically proportioned women…you’d think after all this time, after all this social upheaval, after all the cool things that are going on otherwise in comics and representation that we’d get women characters that are 1) completely dressed/realistically dressed and 2) built like regular women.
And I kept thinking about how women SHOULD be dressing when dealing with various shitscapes and monsters and I of course immediately thought of the character of Vasquez from Aliens as a possibility for The Courier (I mean, if The Courier became a movie). Badass soldier wearing a tank-top, but she wasn’t sexualized in ultra-tight pants and sports bra under a leather jacket BECAUSE SHE HAD FREAKING WORK TO DO, PEOPLE.
And I KNOW you remember THIS scene from that movie:
This is a powerful woman wearing a tank-top that does not sexualize her. The tank-top doesn’t show cleavage and it codes as utilitarian because she’s military, and she’s wearing it with military camouflage pants that aren’t skin-tight. Her fellow male soldiers are wearing tanks or T-shirts with their camo pants, as well, because it’s a hot environment and they’re drenched in sweat in the humid, hot ghost settlement whose residents were wiped out by aliens (though if you think about it, the humans were aliens to that world, too, since they were terra-forming).
Whatever. Point being, THE WOMEN IN THIS MOVIE (all two of them) DRESSED APPROPRIATELY FOR THE WORK THEY HAD TO DO. They weren’t showing cleavage or booty for a cheap sexy-time shot, and instead got to work, though we all know what happened to Vasquez. Still, she was heroic to the end.
So here it is, 31 years after that movie and courier Eve Harper is running around post-apocalyptic wastelands in ultra-tight trousers (that often show booty, especially on the covers) wearing a leather jacket that she keeps open and beneath that is little more than, seriously, a glorified sports bra.
Which had me all
Anyway. That’s one thing that bugged me about this series, though to be sorta fair, it bugs me about a lot of other comics I read with regard to their portrayals of women. Otherwise, this series has a cool story, interesting characters, and a major badass strong woman front and center.
And yes, I will definitely be continuing when the next installments are released for the next storyline and maybe, just maybe, Eve Harper will get some Vasquez-style combat pants and some decent shirts to go under her motorcycle jacket. But if not, I’ll still read it, knowing full well what she SHOULD be wearing while on her courier runs between strongholds.
Happy Friday and may the odds be ever in our favor.