Monday, September 17, 2018

Faith #1


The Fairer Sex
Faith #1



A body-positive superheroine rates a (mostly) positive review

"Untitled”
Writer – Jody Houser
Artist – Pere Prez
Fantasy Sequence Artist – Marguerite Sauvage
Origin Sequence Art – Colleen Doran
Color Art – Andrew Dalhouse
Letterer – Dave Sharpe
Assistant Editor – Lauren Hitzhusen
Editor – Tom Brennan
Editor-in-Chief – Warren Simons
July 2016


Faith did something impossible…

I’m not talking about accepting that someone with a different body shape can be a superhero. No, I’m talking about making me read through the Crapbox’s old (and one new) Harbinger comics.

I did so purely as backstory on this character and I will admit to getting swept up in them and reading the whole mess instead of just the Jim Shooter ones. Valiant was Jim Shooter’s baby and the way these early stories go, I can feel some of his Marvel-ous influences with just a touch more realistic action. And the Harbinger title was his baby to write for the first ten issues, so he actually developed the first itineration of Faith Herbert/Zephyr/Zepplin.

Yeah, at one point she called herself “Zepplin”.

And that version lived in a universe with an evil analogue of Professor Xavier called Toyo Harada. Harada decided to collect his mutant homo-superiors, this time called Psiots because no one wants to fight Marvel’s lawyers, and use them to mold the world to his wishes. He’s such a bad guy that he calls his team of “X-Men” the Eggbreakers (as in “to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.” Harada recruited Faith, who worked with him until another Psiot figured out Harada wasn’t a good guy and went rogue. Faith and several other Psiots left with him.

The Harbinger series got a reboot in 2012. The story became even darker (which is hard to imagine as MANY Psiots died in the first series) and Faith took on a much bigger role in fighting Harada. Also even more weight was added to Faith (no pun intended in my prior sentence), moving her from looking thick to looking borderline obese. In truth, those original issues back in 1992 didn’t make Faith look that overweight. They made her look “big boned” but not truly “heavy.”

Now though, they’ve taken Faith as far as they can go with her appearance.

And I’m going to say it: while being accepting of all body sizes is politically correct in today’s society…there is a limit I am going bounce up against. And that limit is health. As long as the body size you are is healthy, then you shouldn’t have to change for anyone.

This is coming from a man who is technically 50 lbs overweight right now and struggles with type II diabetes. I know of which I speak. For many of us, being overweight is a combination of poor genetics and poor eating habits. Mix a little of both together and you are fighting off your body’s marvelous ability to absorb and store food for later…but in a bad way.

Where this goes all wrong is when you start looking at the unhealthy effects things like high blood sugar and high cholesterol can do to block up clean arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. And added weight leads to fat, enlarged body cells that are less effective at storing incoming sugar, meaning they leave more sugars in the blood supply. Sticky, artery blocking sugars.

I’ve had the lectures from my family physician.

What this shouldn’t lead to is body-shaming. It shouldn’t lead to anyone telling you that you have to be slim to be sexy or weigh less than a fixed amount to be attractive. Women are meant to be curvy and have some pounds on them. I find nothing more beautiful than a boldly Rubenesque stature on a female body. Anyone wanting stick-figures only, move along please.

But health is a separate thing and while we can be body positive, we also need to address the fact that there can be too much of a good thing. Like Baby Ruths. There definitely can be too many Baby Ruths. Delicious chocolatey Baby Ruths. Also that being large and carrying around stuff like my extra 50 pounds of flesh is likely causing stresses on my body that aren’t good for it and may eventually lessen my quality of life or the length of it. And this is from my doctor, y’all. Not just from me.

It needs to be said that I can both support a non-standard superhero body-type and also state that it should not endorse living a non-healthy lifestyle. My hope is that Faith can be BOTH. We’ll see about that.

How is Faith #1?

Well, lets dive in and see…

We begin our tale with what should be a brief synopsis of Faith’s life up to this point. Starting with her parent’s death at a young age, Faith finds herself growing up amid their stacks of comics, absorbing their simplistic moralistic mindset. Her own powers of flight and telekinesis are awoken by Peter Stanchek, on the run from the Harbinger corporation and Harada. And ta-da: instant superhero.



This is the bare bones of the second reboot origin. I was ready to turn the page and jump right in to the REAL story. But no. Not yet. Not even close yet.



Seems I missed quite a bit of what was going on in the second Harbinger series. Crapbox only spat out one of those, so I think that’s likely. Here we see Harada get defeated, some (most?) of the team dies off, Zephyr breaks off a romance with…someone?...and then hooks up with another group (is that Archer and Armstrong after the reboot?).

Now we can start the story? Right?

Nope.



One more page of flashbacks shows us Faith’s recent adventures in Los Angeles, defeating cultists, finding work and possible romance. Good going. Can we get started now?

I have to say before we turn the page, as a new read that this long of a synopsis is off-putting. I get there’s a bunch to catch up on, but you are literally weighing down my enthusiasm by not adding these elements in as the story progresses. I’m in. I bought the book. Introduce me to Faith gradually, not all at once.

Do something like this…



Faith is creeping around a cave…wearing a…is that a sword?



It is and thank goodness, because behind all of this “what makes a hero” jibber-jabber, Faith has found herself face-to-face with a rocky trollish looking creature, she pulls her sword and rolls her 20-sided… wait!...rolls?



Perfect opening. We find Faith in a group of gamers playing a fantasy role playing adventure and immediately I find myself drawn to her. What type of person, possessing of great powers, would find themselves still playing role playing games as the lawful good hero? Someone who craves the company of like-minded people, clearly a bit na├»ve, yet good hearted and…



…a bit of a loner. Someone who hasn’t fit in and wants to find a spot where she does. I get this character. The same way I got Peter Parker. She’s one of US. One of the picked on little people who spend lots of time trying to fit their puzzle piece shape in to place with the groups around them and society as a whole.

This was the opening the book needed. Nothing but this.

It comes out in the next page that this is Jay’s girlfriend. Jay is a coworker of Faith’s at the webzine where she did an interview with her “secret identity” and Jay knows she is Faith/Zepher because… well, let’s just let the scene play out shall we.



Nicely done. All the awkwardness of an early Spider-Man moment done with a twist toward Faith’s more upbeat optimistic character, all of which serves to provide background and character motivation. THIS is what we came for.

This odd conversation starts rubbing at the raw edges of Jay and Faith’s friendship, however. We end with Faith taking off and both parties probably feeling worse for their words.



Faith as a Valiant character is approaching 25 years in print, but the nice thing about the reboot in 2012 and the fact that Valiant hasn’t been publishing at the rate of the bigger powerhouses is that she still feels new to all this. And writer Jody Houser gets an opportunity to show just how new, first by almost passing by this guy doing a “b” and “e”…



…and then allowing him to draw down on her before mustering any kind of shield at all.



He pops one off from that prop from the Space:1999 show and it nearly costs both of them their lives.

Lucky for him that Faith can recover in time. Not lucky for his gun however. It ends up like the aluminum cover to your Aunt Edna’s casserole after she’s done baking it.



However, here’s the rookie mistake that you don’t see Spider-Man making anymore. Faith goes to deposit the guy with the cops and realizes she has no physical evidence of any crime having been committed. She’s so bummed by the time she makes it back home that she passes out without changing clothes even.



And that leads to this great dream sequence where Faith is an angel fliting through the sky on wings…when suddenly a sinister figure (looking very similar to the burglar she failed to properly catch) swoops by wearing a child’s balloon and plucks off her wings. She’s sent into a tailspin and lands ungently at the feet of…



…a party of "internet" cave trolls who promptly tweet out her secret identity. Her waking thought? I need better dice. (Nicely done, Houser). And of course she’s fallen asleep, as we all have once or twice, WITHOUT setting the alarm…



…so, yeah. Everything about Faith is relatable. She’s got the “everyman” (or woman) vibe down, yet there are enough quirks to her to make her interesting. And they put her in an new and different kind of environment for a superhero: since her boss knows about her, that gives her some needed latitude, even if it is still a bit uncomfortable...





However, that edge cuts both ways. Since Mimi knows about Faith’s alter-ego…



…she finds that she can ask for some uncomfortable favors. In this instance, having Summer’s Faith persona pen a column as a way to generate buzz for the webzine. Nice to see this diverge from the J. Jonah school of harassing a super.

And having others to bounce ideas off of gives the book an added dimension that most superhero books take for granted. That if someone knows your identity, you can call upon their smarts to augment your own.



Toward the end of the book, the writer decided to tack on an actual villain for Zephyr to fight and I have to say that all of it felt very … unsurprising. It starts when Faith receives a test from movie star Chris Chriswell, who happens to be a “fan” of Zephyr.



Which leads to a stylized daydream sequence from Faith about the perfect date with Chriswell…



…and she ignores the foreshadowing brought on by her current boyfriend’s insinuations (perhaps jealousy even) about Chriswell…





…which means when she shows up for the photo shoot (admonishing herself repeatedly to not say anything stupid)…



…Chriswell appears to be just a few nuts shy of a Baby Ruth…if you get my meaning, but Faith is too caught up in herself to notice...



And if saying odd things wasn’t enough, he tranks Faith in the back of the neck…



…and then gloats over her unconscious body. 

 


I saw this coming six pages ago, which is exactly the first page we saw Chriswell on. That’s a bad and a good thing. It follows the trope of some of the hero's friends and fans becoming their worst enemies, while also doing it in a most predictable fashion. I’m not taking points off, mainly because the ending leaves you with little choice but to buy the next issue.

So there you have Faith. In a nutshell: she’s a genuine, likeable nerd and newly minted superhero who looks to have a bright future ahead. As for my hopes of what the book will do when it finally breaches that unspoken question? I don’t honestly know.

Does it need to? I think dodging it for a while will work out fine. It is kind of low hanging fruit, in terms of story ideas. Not to mention that Faith as a book is about so much more than that and has LOTS of other things going for it. However, I don’t think it can realistically avoid talking about it forever. Nor should it. There’s plenty to be said in the context of Faith and in the wider universe of fandoms that will most certainly attach themselves to her.

(Not once in this entire article did I use the words "elephant in the room." For that I am awarding myself a slice of pie for dessert.)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Chili #6


The Fairer Sex
Chili #6



A Tale of Two Also-Rans, part two:
The other girl that did modeling in a Marvel book


If you thought my knowledge of Cheryl Blossom ran on the thin side, wait until you see how little I know about the Crapbox’s next guest.

Chili Storm (WHO names their daughter after a bowl of spicy meat?) was the side character and friendly but saucy rival to Timely/Marvel’s popular Millie the Model. Millie was a huge hit for Timely and became one for Marvel as well. Millie is listed as Marvel’s longest running humor title, clocking in way back in 1945 and running an astonishing 207 issues. And those numbers don’t include spin-off titles like A Date with Millie, Life with Millie, Modeling with Millie, Mad about Millie, nor this title about the exploits of her rival.

Originally Millie was created by writer-artist Ruth Atkinson, one of the pioneering women cartoonists of that day and age. Following the first issue, Timely staffer Mike Sekowsky took over drawing duties for 17 issues.

After he bowed out, Millie’s look changed to something much like the classic 70’s Archie characters. This was due to the work of artist Dan DeCarlo, who set the series up after issue 18 and didn’t leave the book until 10 years later. His iconic style would show up revolutionizing Archie comics afterwards, where he created the new stylebook for the characters and is generally given co-creator credits for Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats and…Cheryl Blossom.

DeCarlo left after issue 93 and the title was taken over by two Stans. Stan Lee became head writer and he gave art duties to Stan Goldberg. They kept the series largely intact until September 1964 with issue 122, when the stylebook went from "slipping toward the Marvel superhero universe’s house style" to freefalling right into it (I’m gauging from covers, so issue numbers and mileage may vary). For four years the book tried to make that look work, but as cover art shows an abrupt change back, the book returned to the proto-Archie look around issue 154.

Chili is listed as a “friendly nemesis” to Millie, which in today’s terms means she was one salty bee-ouch. Take these two examples of interactions between the pair from an early Millie story:

Millie: "Sorry I'm late! I just got back from the salon!"
Chili: "Too bad they didn't have time to take you!"
Millie [ringing phone drawn in foreground]: "Oh, there's the phone."
Chili: "Wow! I'll bet you can also identify doorbells and auto horns!"

DAAAY-UM! Looks like this Chili is a dish served up cold and spicy.

But transporting her to her own title and striping out her favorite rival, de-fangs this she-wolf quite handily. She’s no where near as morally questionable as Cheryl, and comes across playing the Costello to her co-star’s Abbott. Let’s take a look, shall we?

"A Whale of a Time!/Chili Sails a Whale!”
Writer – Stan Lee
Penciler – Stan Goldberg
Inker – Stan Goldberg
Letterers – unknown (but probably named Stan)
Colorist – Stan Goldberg
Editor – Stan Lee
Editor-in-Chief – Stan Lee
October 1969

We begin the first and longest tale in the series with Chili’s long-term wealthy boyfriend Reginald Goldmine making an early morning wakeup call to find out if our stylish redhead wants to go out with him on his new fishing boat. Visions of yachts dancing in her head, Chili puts on her best sailor duds and heads to the docks.



Of course, when she gets there, she’s in for some surprise:



And this is the tone of the entire book. The situational nature of the humor owes a bunch to the ousted vaudeville comedians of black and white shorts like Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, Abbott and Costello. As we see from subsequent panels, Chili is the funny man…



…who her cast members get to react to as her “straight man”.



Love the facial expression on that fish.

In our present-day society, making the girl play the role of the one pulling stupid stunts has been greatly reduced. It is seen as demeaning to women. It is done on occasion, but usually there is a strong, capable female to act as a balancing example.

In this book there is none of that, as in the very next bit where Reginald gives Chili a fishing pole to cast…



…and she promptly "casts" it into the ocean.

Seeing all these old school routines (and they were old even in 1969 when this book was published) gets me so nostalgic. Temptation had me looking up Laurel and Hardy shorts, if you want to know the truth. The entire issue is littered with this type a humor, and that ain’t a bad thing.

Nor is it completely misogynistic in its application of humor. Like this part where the fishing rod-less Chili decides to use a bit of string from her outfit as her fishing equipment. Reginald poo-poo’s away the idea that she can catch anything without a hook and some bait, but…



…within a matter of moments she’s caught enough for both their legal limit. Also LOOK at those fish. Those are some of the happiest fish I’ve ever seen. If I ever go fishing, that’s the way I want my caught fish to look: serene. Like they were okay giving their lives up if it makes me less hungry.

Reginald disparages not just Chili, but all women in general. I foresee these two having issues later on down the line if they do eventually get hitched. Of course Reginald has been dealing with foolishness all morning, so maybe I should cut the boy some slack.

Especially when he has to deal with a potentially deadly situation as Chili spots a whale capable of completely destroying their tiny craft with a mere tail flick. 



Reginald tries to prove his manhood, only to eat those very words two panels later as the whale takes the pair on a crazy ride. Goldberg really gets points for his goofy animal faces. Look at that weird whale smile.



Anyhoo, the cops get involved, telling them first that they are speeding and that they don’t have a license for whale-back riding. When the young couple tries to defend their actions, the cops tase them and choke them both out. Who am I fooling? The PD wouldn’t do that. These are both white people. 



Note the whale who was happy just a moment ago is distinctly not impressed with these officers harassing people now. You know why? Because if he’d been a WHITE whale, they wouldn’t have even gotten pulled over. Those cops are just whale racists.

Okay, inappropriate racial overtones in what is basically a kid’s “funny” comic book aside, we end with Chili and Reginald causing the whale to beach itself. The police don’t allow them to just walk away from the mess either and the final panel has them “selling” the whale, an obvious play on the “Chili Sails a Whale” title of the piece. Makes for a bit of stretch to see that joke, but still grin-worthy.

 

Let’s see where we go next…

"The Chick Picks a Present!”
Writer – Stan Lee
Penciler – Stan Goldberg
Inker – Stan Goldberg
Letterers – unknown (but probably named Stan)
Colorist – Stan Goldberg

Remember back when we could call women “chicks?” I sure do. We even incorporated it into complements…as in “You’re one groovy chick!”

Nowadays, not so much. Somehow the term has fallen out of favor and appears to demean women more that act as a pronoun for them. Don’t believe me? Try to use the term on a woman you don’t know and tell me how that goes.

Title of the tale aside, we begin this piece with four of Chili’s unnamed side characters watching helplessly as she goes into full brain log-jam mode. Chili finally let’s them know she’s in a tizzy because Millie’s birthday is coming up and…



Chili’s better than that. She has to get her a present that’s neither too bad nor too good. I can see her quandary, even if her friends can’t. If you’re still having trouble, maybe this explanation will help.



Although after seeing her reaction to the offer of help…



…maybe that still doesn’t make much sense.

And that’s the power of the rivalry the two chicks…er, LADIES have, it isn’t something where they want the other to perish, lose their job, fail miserably, or any of those horrible things. They both just want to be Top Dog.

So after a VERY brief panel of Chili shopping around, she arrives at Millie’s (oh, a guest appearance!) and we get the unveiling of what she bought her…a pretty obvious joke when you think about it.



This felt like filler. Like Stan needed three pages and he threw these together in 15 minutes. Let’s move on, shall we?

"The Lady’s a Card!”
Writer – Stan Lee
Penciler – Stan Goldberg
Inker – Stan Goldberg
Letterers – unknown (but probably named Stan)
Colorist – Stan Goldberg

Now we get our one divergent story: Dolly Dimly. Dolly works as the executive assistant of Mr. Howard Hanover and her daffy antics had already been established in Millie. While in the comics universe this is all par for the course in the Archie vein, in the real world, someone would probably attempt to get Dolly some help. Read these exchanges below to see what I mean…



Dolly is a complete ditz and I’m seriously worried she might have more than mild mental retardation. How does this woman take care of herself?

I guess these are questions for another time. Right now we have to deal with Dolly attempting (at the behest of her friend) to procure a birthday card for her boss. Note that as soon as she goes into whatever the late 1960’s had in place of a Holly’s Hallmark, the guy LEAVES and makes it plain that he’d rather not see Dolly anymore. 



Imagine this poor dear’s life. She’s attractive in universe. Just look at the stares from the guys across the street in the first panel on the first page. But she is literally as dumb as a post. Non-functioning, is what I mean. How could you have a lasting relationship with someone so slow on the uptake? I mean, you couldn’t. Her life must be a series of guys abandoning her as soon as they find out she’s “special.”

But enough of that melancholy thinking, let’s just make fun of her obvious mental handicap instead.

First, she gets confused and thinks she’s in a doctor’s office, which she tries to leave. The desperate salesman works hard to get her to stay.



Then we go into an abbreviated “who’s on first” type wordplay routine…



…that “Love you to blow it!” line at the bottom. Man, ’69 Stan Lee! You were skirting offending someone’s sexual mores with that one. Good thing these were only read by kids back in the day.

The jokes in this are kind of “miss and miss and barely hit.” You know no matter what the sales guy says that Dolly will misinterpret it and therein lies the gag. You wait for it and expect each pitch will be sailing at least into center field. Instead many of these foul out or completely don’t connect at all. By the end, we are almost as frantic as the salesman…



…who, in parting gets a couple of good zingers started. Like the ending that finishes the joke from the panel above…



…and this bit as she leaves the store and we wrap up. 



Dolly Dimly had a chance at some seriously great comedy gags, and yet these pages didn’t really pay off. Better luck next time, Stan.

"The Man for Chili!”
Writer – Stan Lee
Penciler – Stan Goldberg
Inker – Stan Goldberg
Letterers – unknown (but probably named Stan)
Colorist – Stan Goldberg

Last up on our list is this little three-pager where Chili sees a hot guy come into the office and wants to nab him before Millie can. It is an odd sort of tale that has the guy act like a typical hard-to-get butt hole…



…throwing out lines that I’ve usually watch ascribed to women who are uninterested in a guy who is hitting on them.



This hard to get routine appears to be working on Chili, much like Cheryl being attracted to Seymour just because he ignores her. Comics are now showing me how I’ve been going about dating all wrong.



And the pressure ratchets all the way up as Millie arrives AND the guy discloses that he’s working with Mr. Hanover on a big ad campaign…



Chili finally gets the guy to leave with her by asking the guy out to dinner, and while she’s glowing at the though of landing one before Millie got her paws on him, I’m secretly thinking the guy is gay and Chili’s in for a biiiiig surprise.



Instead the book proves it’s the 1960’s.



Included with the issue are FOUR single page pin-ups (shown below) which I suppose is some kind of staple in female-centered funny books of this era. Something the Cheryl aped but in less pages.






The issue was a bit off for me. The jokes weren’t as funny as the Cheryl issue, but the humor they were inspired by makes me want to go back to those classic days of comedy and spend a few hours youtubing those greatest hits.

Might be a good idea for all of us to do.

Drop me a note in the comments and let me know what you thought of these two.