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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 5)

BitchPlanet05Cover

Kelly Sue Deconnick (writer), Valentine De Landro (artist), Image Comics

In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Pages 11-12 Overview

The scrimmage between the NC team and the guards begins and sees its first score. An injury on the field creates a different score to be settled.

Like with the previous pages depicting the team, these are given the two-page spread to emphasize the space of setting and give room for the many bodies in panels. De Landro creates a symmetrical mirroring of left and right on the double-page to emphasize the two sides of the game, the reactive antagonism within the story, as well as spotlight the Liu twins.

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Cells 1 & 2 stretch the entire width of the two pages, establishing the space of the arena which appears to be a modified exercise yard and then the pre-game posturing of the two teams. An announcer tells us who they are: “The A.C.O. Naughty N.C.s versus the A.C.O. Grappling Guards.” The guards have their arms up in postures of bravado. This practice bout is for “education and entertainment.” The entertainment part is clear, but who is being educated and in what way is ambiguous. Certainly the NC team is still learning how to be better players, but they’re also about to learn (again) that the rules made and enforced by others will always be used (sometimes quite flexibly) against them.

For the rest of the analysis, click through to PopOptiq.

http://www.popoptiq.com/cell-by-cell-bitch-planet-5-part-5/


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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 4)

BitchPlanet05Cover

Kelly Sue Deconnick (writer), Valentine De Landro (artist), Image Comics

In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Pages 9-10 Overview

With the turn of a page, the issue takes us back to the conversation between Father Josephson and Makoto “Mack” Maki. Gone are the assistant and the video screen. Tonally this scene is more intimate and more subdued. Emphasis has to be on the emotional shifts, and they are subtle. Maki keeps his internal thoughts and emotions tightly guarded, and Valentine De Landro has to subtly show them and cannot risk distraction.

These pages show a literary communion. Josephson’s goal, by sharing drinks, is to bring them together in service of his plans for the ACO team and the financial betterment of the Duemila conference. However, at every panel break, we see the tension of the communion. Maki doesn’t want to be involved, and it is only through manipulative coersion that Josephson succeeds. BP5-9-10-full

Page 9

Cell 1: Josephson is foregrounded, though we see only his torso. He’s taking up space, being afforded, visually, a casual importance. He pours two drinks, an act of communion to connect on the issue at hand. Maki sits on the couch behind him, visually much smaller, facing away from Josephson slightly. Even in this long shot De Landro expresses Maki’s worry through the tilt of his eyebrows. He says, “Six weeks isn’t a lot of time.”

 

Read the rest of my analysis over at PopOptiq!

http://www.popoptiq.com/cell-by-cell-bitch-planet-5-part-4/


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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 3)

BitchPlanet05CoverIn Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Pages 5-6

The 2-page title spread and credits. This spread juxtaposes the lofty diction of the Fathers’ decree of their punishment with the faces of the newly formed ACO Megaton Team. And as they are in the action of the story, the two are at odds.

The Fathers’ liken these women, “beyond correction or castigation,” to an illness–cancer–which must be cut out of the body before it is destroyed. Feminism here, the revolt against the expectations of women in society, is cast as a serious threat to society, not a force that might strengthen it by elevating the oppressed to fully participate and contribute. To keep their hold over society, the Fathers’ law is pitched with a mythic or biblical diction. Though these women are being cast out, the Mother is called upon to give their souls mercy. The Mother is the only salvation left to them.

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Asserting against the Fathers’ word is the collage of faces. The mix of facial features, skin tones, and expressions gives image to the term “intersectional.” What is striking is the diversity of the team, and yet, each has an expression of contained aggression–some serious, others with a slight smirk or raised eyebrow to suggest a tinge of enjoyment. They come from different places, carrying with them the punishment of various crimes, but now they are a team.

For the rest of the article, click through to PopOptiq.

http://www.popoptiq.com/cell-by-cell-bitch-planet-5-part-3/

 


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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 2)

BitchPlanet05CoverIn Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Page 3-4

We step back from the screen to see who is watching: Father Josephson. He has a conversation with his wife before meeting with Makoto Maki who will later be revealed as Meiko’s father.

Of note on this two-page spread is the color transition repeated in the background of most panels. Blue on top, pink on bottom. The gradient is tempered with a gray to make it more subtle, but the connotative effect reinforces the hegemonic power divide that is the backbone of the series. Blue, the color of boys, on top of pink, the color of girls. Men are in power, even in the background color.BP5-3-4

Cell 1 continues world-building the Feed. The meteorologist, a pretty, big-busted woman in a strapless pink dress, predicts record-breaking heat on the west coast and mentions water-rationing. Additional text on the screen warns that people in arrears on taxes could have their water turned off–a harsh punishment that could cost lives in record-breaking heat. But this society lives and dies by its rules. Josephson riffs on the report, bridging smoothly from the Feed to his office. He’s apparently in “hot water” with the Mrs. and has his assistant get her on the phone, not using her first name but referring to her as Mrs. Josephson.

For the rest of my analysis, click through to the feature on PopOptiq!

http://www.popoptiq.com/cell-by-cell-bitch-planet-5-part-2/

 

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Cell By Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #5 (Part 1)

In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

BitchPlanet05CoverCover

Kamau pictured in deep purple and red, shown to contrast the top of the cover which remains the normal pink tones. Combined with the text “STEEL YOURSELF FOR HEARTBREAK” and “WHICH WIP WILL RIP?!,” the cover coloring and heavy foreshadowing set a dark tone for the issue which will pay off emotionally later with Meiko’s death. The exploitative hype of the text fits the women-in-prison exploitation genre and functions similar to their characteristic trailers’ scintillating text and montage of violence and nudity.

Page 1

Opening the story is a full page of 12 panels depicting the Feed’s pre-season news coverage of Duemila. The panels switch back and forth between the Feed host and the Sports commentator in the field. Like most news channels, breaking news headlines and stock prices scroll at the bottom of the frame.BP5-1ALL

Cell 1 depicts the host of the program, a woman with pink hair and a purple dress. Her text bubbles are pink. The effect is to align her with the holograms used on Bitch Planet to inform and control the NC’s. The newscaster has a similar job for society at large. She informs in a particular way that works to control the populace. The journalism of this world, and ours for the most part, no longer serves the people, if it ever did. It serves the money. If the news sells ads through content or audience numbers, it plays.

Read the rest of my analysis (700+ more words!) over at PopOptiq!

 


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Comic Review: A-Force #2

Just a reminder–I’m not reading Secret Wars at large, so the greater context and ramifications that might be reverberating off of other comic series throughout the cross-over event are going to be entirely lost on me. However, when our toddler asked to go to the comic store on Wednesday of this week, I asked for A-Force #2 to be brought home.

aforce2runawaysIgnoring all else, this issue was worth the cover price for one panel depicting Nico’s girlfriends from her time in Runaways, especially Arsenic (may she rest in peace). I miss that young lady.

Okay, but moving away from my Runaways nostalgia, the issue opened up new questions about how this Battleworld runs, developed the relationships between the A-Force women, and gave us a better look at our sky-clad mystery lady.

Marvel’s marketing blurb:

With monsters appearing on the utopian island of Arcadia and threatening its inhabitants, She-Hulk and her team of Avengers set out to discover the source. But when they stumble upon a conspiracy that reaches far beyond Arcadia, She-Hulk may just find herself on the wrong side of the law!

aforce2coverWith the help of their Sub-Mariner pals, the team figures out what must have caused a prehistoric shark to attack Arcadia. However, the A-Force is still shaken by America Chavez’s imprisonment. Some, like long-locked Medusa, start openly questioning She-Hulk’s leadership. Meanwhile, Nico brings the sky-lady home to hide her from She-Hulk, afraid that she’ll be turned over to Doom or imprisoned like America was.

As with the first issue, this installment nicely weaves from action to character development. This is no small feat. In a comic like Iron Man or Spider-Man, or even Captain Marvel, the characters frequently interact with heavy sarcasm. That keeps the deep feels at bay. But A-Force’s characters are absolutely earnest. It takes a deft hand to move from girl-bonding character moments to out-and-out ass-kickery without making it feel campy, trite, or melodramatic. The title’s authors, Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson, totally pull it off in the writing.

Jorge Molina’s art is the other half of this success. His depictions of facial reactions build the fitting emotional tone. The sincerity stays true to the characters’ feelings and motivations without ever becoming over-the-top or ham-fisted.

As the twists of Battleworld revealed themselves to A-Force and they in turn attempted to piece together what this all meant, the narrative successfully got its hooks in me. aforce2page


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Comic Review: ‘Kid Code: Channel Zero’

kidcode1Okay, so I’m a middle-aged white woman. My relationship to hip-hop music and culture is, um, weak. I picked up Kid Code: Channel Zero out of curiosity, mainly, and to stretch my reading tendencies. The popping color and style of the art sealed the deal.

By Damian Duffy, Illustrated by John Jennings, Illustrated by Stacey Robinson

Kid Code is the first in what promises to be a long line of Black Kirby/Tan Lee productions. Kid Code: Channel Zero is a rollicking, cosmic, time-traveling adventure, fusing classic hip-hop culture and outlandish sci-fi fantasy in this alternate universe to create the ultimate mash-up. Everything’s a remix! And Kid Code and his comrades must fight against The Power, who eons ago sampled the first sounds made from the God MC and created the Dark Mix (a version of the universe that was never intended). Now there’s a race against and for time throughout the universe to assemble The Everlasting Cosmic Mixtape–nine tracks that can re-assemble the God Sample and help set things back on course.

Read the first eight pages as a sample pdf here.

Kid Code is an indie comic that retools the classic superhero good vs. evil conflict through the music and culture of hip-hop. The story starts with a remix of Genesis–this is the cosmological background for the God MC’s uni-verse, the story of the first freestyle. The uni-verse is corrupted by The Ultimate Hater, and now Knights of the Infinite Digging are tracking him (now known as The Power) down.

I can’t even begin to extrapolate the many layers of allusions embedded in the comic. There are geek-tastic comic book references, like the mock author names of Black Kirby and Tan Lee. Pop culture references to Doctor Who and Bride of Frankenstein. There are theological references like using the structure of Genesis or re-defining Akashic records. In fact, the cosmological references span many different cultures. There are even literary references to the likes of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Then there’s the hip-hop allusions. I’m sure I only caught a small percentage, like that protagonist Kid Code sports the high-top fade of Kid from Kid ‘n’ Play or that lyrics are used in dialogue–I noticed “samples” from Snap’s “The Power”, “The Humpty Dance,” and Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky.” In fact, in the same way that Kid Code is attempting to gather up lost shards of corrupted rhymes to rebuild The Everlasting Cosmic Mixtape, the audience might do a similar thing of identifying and gathering up songs that are being mixed into the narrative. Are there nine of these peppering the 40 pages of the book? I’m not educated enough in hip-hop to know. But I think the idea of structuring the comic to be built of sampled hip-hop songs is brilliant.

So the comic is incredibly smart, but it’s also a great deal of fun. It’s witty, sassy, and having a grand time adapting comic tropes to a hip-hop format. For instance, The Power is a classic villain, but with a wide grill that reads “CREAM” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me according to the Wu-Tang).  However, for all the fun it’s having, it also has an emotional core and a universal message of strength in the face of greed, corruption, consumerism, and struggle.

The illustrations are electric. They remind me of street chalk art–exaggerated lines with popping bright colors. The depictions of the story are likewise full of energy and vision. The illustration of The Power is that of a giant mouth, grinning and all teeth. His henchmen have t.v. heads. The uni-verse floats atop giant speakers. This art is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a comic book before, but I’d love to see more of it.

In short, I really dug Kid Code: Channel Zero. I have great adoration for mash-ups of high and popular cultures, bridging gaps between people of different interests, cultures, religions, and creeds. Kid Code does this with intelligence, wit, and artistic panache. Truly, I recommend checking this one out. Perhaps we can convince Rosarium to publish another one.

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Comic Review: ‘Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 TP’

You’ve heard it before. The familiar story of a female comics reader being first introduced to the wonderful world of graphic novels via Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Death. That was during my first year of grad school, almost 20 years ago. These now classic works started me on a path that would soon have me reading Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and now Kelly Sue DeConnick.

Fitting then that the third of her titles I’ve read, Pretty Deadly, would bring me so strongly back to Gaiman. pretty_deadly_emma_rios_kelly_sue_deconnick_image

Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 collects the first (and thus far only) 5 issues written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by her Captain Marvel collaborator, Emma Rios. The series is ostensibly a western. The setting is the wild west, and nature looms threateningly over human life. The characters fall under the western tropes: cowboy, rancher, wanderer, prostitute. The themes deal with life and death, vengeance, love, and loss.

But this is not life and death so much as life and Death, and this is where the similarity to Sandman is so prominent. The world of morals is mirrored by an underworld–the world of the dead. Certain supernatural beings move among human beings. Besides Death, the story also features the Native American gods of Coyote and Raven, both trickster gods, though the former is more malevolent than the latter. They have their own responsibilities and motivations, and humans are bugs under their feet.

Pretty Deadly reveals its secrets like threads of truth being woven into an old Indian blanket. The narrative doesn’t move in the normal way but drops the reader in the mystery of this world, letting it enclose around them. The story itself is being told by a dead bunny to a butterfly. Weird, no? And yet, upon finishing the book (and then rereading it) the bunny-butterfly frame narrative made perfect creative sense and also added a thematic layer of depth. Each opening dialogue between the two strange friends offered a commentary on the coming issue’s action, like the chorus of a Greek play. Still, the mythology being woven here is not the straight-forward didacticism of Sophocles. Pretty Deadly rewards the reread.

Although I wasn’t a fan of Emma Rios’s wispy, surreal style in Captain Marvel, her art here fits the story, setting, and tone perfectly. Her illustrations have an airy darkness to them that suggest the nightmarish aspects of the novel. While the fight scenes aren’t as clear plot-wise, they evoke the movement and tension of the action. When magical transformations take place, like when a reaper loses form, the style of her artwork flows with the blending images.

Pretty Deadly is a fantastic comic of depth, archetypal symbolism, emotion, wisdom, and wit. If you haven’t read it and are a fan of DeConnick’s other work or Gaiman’s Sandman, pick this up now. The second arc of the story begins in September with issue #6.

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Bitch Planet #4: A Closer Reading Part 4

Bitchplanet04Here you go–the final installment of the a deeper look at Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro’s Bitch Planet #4. For previous installments, see Part 1Part 2. and Part 3. Spoilers for the biggest, baddest ass-kickery and reveals of the issue.

Page 16-17

We get a repeat of the final bit of the Duemila intro vid from the last page for emphasis: “…or showmanship.” I can only imagine this emphasis is to foreshadow how Kam and team might win over the populace when they begin to play. They’re not going to be able to compete on quite the same athleticism level as professionally trained teams, but they are going to be able to put on a show like nothing the audience has seen before. We get a taste of just that on the next page.

Kamau tells Whitney to give her the list of prisoners she’s requested for her team. Whitney dislikes her tone. Whitney has a need to maintain the hierarchy of power, and with Kam already leveraging her position to make requests/demands, Whitney wants to maintain whatever true or illusory authority she still has. Kamau flexes her power again when she sees that not all of her requests have been honored and pushes Whitney to honor her choices. Whitney tells the guards to send over two of the missing: Penny and Meiko, both outside of the ideal weight choice for players, one over, one under. A third choice’s name has been X-ed out. Whitney explains that prisoner doesn’t exist, was a glitch in the register. Kam watches Whitney’s face closely when she says this but doesn’t question the explanation.

Penny walks over explaining she doesn’t run, and Kam explains the strategy: “I don’t need you to run. I need you to stop anyone from getting to Meiko.” Then we get the joy of seeing this in action. The play begins, and four women rush to get to Meiko. Penny dwarfs them all, gathering the four in her arms and carrying them away from Meiko. Penny laughs. Kamau comments on Meiko’s running: “Damn. Like a cheetah, that girl.” Whitney questions the strategy: “What happened to one-on-one?” “Penny happened,” Kamau explains. Meiko joyfully scores, yelling, “Suck it, chumps!” while she runs to the goal. Penny and Meiko have joy and pride on their faces. It’s a beautiful moment.Bitch Penny 01

The different strategy, questioned by Whitney, is what is going to give Kamau’s team a chance. If the Bitch Planet team were to attempt to replicate how the men play, they’d have little or no chance. It would be as embarrassing as Kamau first assumed it would be when Whitney approached her with the proposition. They need to play to their own strengths and play as a team. And this is a metaphor for how women might regain power within society–playing a different game than the men and working together to beat them.

Pages 18-19

Obligatory Shower Scene #2

After practice, the team is in the showers. The mood for the winning team, including Penny and Meiko, is celebratory. Penny exclaims, “Did y’all see my girl here? Like a bullet–pew pew pew pew!” And here I can’t help but notice the word choice connoting Meiko as a weapon. Taken with the earlier issue’s reveal that Meiko designed the ship that Megaton will be played on, I wonder if this isn’t more foreshadowing of how Duemila will parallel the war at large for women’s rights.

Kamau turns on the shower closest to the guard. And as Kam likely planned, the steam gets under the guard’s mask, and she ends up leaving by the end of the page. Meanwhile, we have more Penny and Meiko bonding as they continue to celebrate their win. Two other prisoners look on, seemingly disgusted by the display. Were they on the other team that got beat? Or are they disturbed by Penny’s naked body bear-hugging Meiko, also naked? As we’ve seen before in issue #1, not all women, not even all Bitch Planet prisoners, stand in solidarity. They may have all been convicted of crimes against the patriarchy, but that doesn’t mean they are all on board to fight it.

Again, this is a shower scene that is not sexually objectifying the women depicted. They are naked but not posed in any sexual way. Instead, each stands doing something–fists up declaring victory, high fives, hugs, simply standing watching. This is a strong contrast to the next part of the shower scene. Suddenly the depiction is turned on its head and de Landro gives us the gaze as Kamau goes to the back shower and turns on the water in front of the hole in the wall.

Now there is a voyeuristic gaze on Kam’s body. Her curves are accentuated. In a few panels, her back seems overly arched to push out her breasts. Twice de Landro draws an extra panel to show the hole. There’s no eye seen, yet, but each panel shows the hole in tighter close-up. Someone is watching.

Pages 20-21

And now we get the closest thing to a true “obligatory shower scene” from the exploitation genre. Kamau is shown full-on sexually. Touching herself, moaning, dripping with water, biting lip. This is performance masturbation–that of movies and late-night television–done for an audience. That audience is us. But it’s also for Tommy Peepers. Once his eye appears, Kamau says, “Gotcha.” This performance has been to catch him. Perhaps us too. We get to experience the gaze and have it be twisted and turned back on us. That’s a pretty keen effect of the different levels of sexualization offered to us by de Landro. Kudos.

Now Kamau springs into action, showing her lineage from the fantastic Pam Grier. She jumps up to grasp just beneath the shower head, pulls it out of the wall, and then uses it to break the tiling of the wall and expose Tommy Peepers. This is some serious Wonder Woman super-powered awesomeness.

Pages 22-23

Kamau hooks the watching guard, pulls him through the wall, kicks him in the nuts, then puts him in a headlock.

Then she really gets the upper hand. She has used her sexuality, in fact, her sexualization, against the man who objectified her. She has caught him in her trap, and now she pulls from him his name: Rick Weldon. She shows him clearly where he stands. She has intimate details of the three freckles on his penis. Unless he wants to be jailed for perversion, he follows her orders. “It means I own you,” Kam says, which is a pretty marvelous turn–making him the object of her ownership. She instructs him in the story he’ll tell about how the damage here happened, and that he’ll fix it all up and no more looking at the girls.

But that’s all preamble, because what she really wants is a Megaton Team Patrol guard in her pocket. They’re partners now, she says. “First assignment, partner–get this shit cleaned up. Then you’re going to help me find my sister.”

Whoa.

So with that reveal, a few things fall into place. The person Kam was searching for in the register of players was her sister. Perhaps, even, hers was the name that was X-ed out on the team roster Kam had made. But this info also indicates that Kamau is likely the volunteer prisoner from the first issue, and the reason that she volunteered was to find her sister. That’s an incredibly cool reveal.


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Bitch Planet #4: A Closer Reading Part 3

Bitchplanet04Now we return you to your irregularly scheduled programming: a deeper look at Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro’s Bitch Planet #4. For previous installments, see Part 1 and Part 2. As you might imagine, spoilers ahead.

Page 12

Operator 1 asks Operator 2 (Schiti) what they’ve got for Megaton rules. “Hailey and Kailey,” Schiti responds. “Oh, God. All right,” the first begrudges. And they roll it.

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If there was any doubt that this comic has a strong satirical aspect, the intro to Duemila video should clearly put it to rest. The title is “Il Mondo del (The World of) Duemila for Dummies Women with Hailey & Kailey.” And on the screen, two disembodied faces with oversized mouths and pink hues say hello to each other: “Hi, Kailey!” “Hi, Hailey!” When the title screen becomes background and we see the two women in a medium long shot, they are shaped and dressed like Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. They begin by simply discussing the proper name for the game, but then go on to express how tickled your men will be when you fool them into thinking you share their passion for Megaton and that you’ll help him succeed at the office.

There are a number of assumptions and stereotypes in this video. 1) Women are dummies (see title). 2) Women would not have any reason to care about Megaton for themselves; they should only care about the effect caring, or pretending to do so, will have on their husbands or potential male mates. 3) Proper attire for a woman wanting to convince men of her dedication to Megaton (and them) is a push-up halter top and short skirt.

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Pages 13

The inmates are being shown this video on Bitch Planet. Kamau questions the choice with SO Whitney. “Best we could do, I’m afraid,” she responds. Kam asks about the other requests, to which Whitney says, “We’ve made a good faith gesture. Now it’s your turn.” The tension of whose play it is builds a game motif that stacks with the rules of Megaton. I can’t help think of Baudrillard with this: the simulacra of Megaton is used by the Fathers to hide the fact that society is a game.

Kamau knows this, but so does Whitney. Kamau’s next move is to ask why Whitney doesn’t wear the protective, plastic mask the other guards do. Kam mentions “protectorate militia don’t wear them,” indicating to Whitney that Kamau recognizes her as militia. Whitney says her office requires certain sacrifices, that “exposed skin builds trust.” But Kamau refutes that: “No one trusts you.” Whitney responds simply, “You will.”

The exposed skin comment makes me think of Hailey and Kailey. Which really just highlights the question of when exposed skin creates trust and when it shows vulnerability and are they different or just two ways of expressing the same idea. A scantily clad woman looks vulnerable. She gives an image of powerlessness through that exposure. Whitney’s exposure is finely measured out to promote trust but not powerlessness.

Meanwhile the guards are setting up barriers along the open gym floor.

Pages 14-15

Back to the video in a two-page spread. Now Hailey and Kailey are getting into the rules of the game. The two of them are captured in cheerleader poses. Meanwhile, the rest of the bodies in the video are male athletes. They are also wearing halter tops and short shorts. It shows off their muscles. The effect isn’t quite the same as with the women–the skin exposure doesn’t make them look vulnerable, largely because they are drawn in athletic poses accentuating their muscles. But don’t be mistaken, they are still objectified. These men are entertainers. They can gain judges favor through athleticism or showmanship. They are tools for making money and focusing society. They distract society from recognizing that their lives are also a game.

Duemila rules