DV8: Gods And Monsters #1 (of 8). Brian Wood (writer), Rebekah Isaacs (art), Carrie Strachan (colors), Fiona Staples (cover). Wildstorm. 22 page story (and a 5 page sneak peek of Garrison #1).
I mentioned Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs’ DV8 Miniseries Gods and Monsters in last week's column as a good example of ‘doing comics right’ for both men and women and I thought I’d like to revisit that idea this week, and at the same time review a great new book.
Brian Wood’s DV8 is brilliant in its simplicity. It’s not doing anything revolutionary or overly complicated (well, not yet anyway) but it’s just solid writing for a cast of interesting characters and a thought provoking plot. And that’s really all any comic book needs to be excellent – well, that and some stunning artwork – which Rebekah Isaacs’ interiors and Fiona Staples covers are delivering with a bullet.
My memory of DV8 is hazy at best. I vaguely remember some of the characters and the fact that they always seemed like the more interesting cousins of Gen-13, which I guess, in a way, they were. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of Warren Ellis’ DV8 series (and later Michael Heisler's) from the late 90’s as I recall being intensely turned off by the art. It didn’t help that the series hit at a time when I was really starting to pay attention to the sexist imagery I was ingesting weekly from my comics, and starting to have a problem with it. If you browse the cover gallery of that series, you can see why someone starting to notice and object to the hyper sexualization of female characters probably wouldn’t have made it past the covers. So I can't speak to whether that series was any good or not, but I certainly can speak to this one starting off on the right foot.
The good news, at least to me, about Wood’s take on this new series is that I don’t think you need to know anything about DV8 to jump in. Simultaneously, I don’t feel like you will necessarily be turned off if you liked Ellis and Heisler's 90’s arc, as the same characters are all present, and their looks, though updated and modernized (and de-sexualized a bit) are still very much in keeping with those same characters from more than ten years ago. So it feels both new and original, and yet respectful of what has come before. There is a mention by one of the characters that none of them remember the last few years – suggesting that they’re all suffering from some kind of memory loss (likely thanks to the government or whatever big bad corporate entity it running things behind the scenes of their “team”) and this is nice because I think Wood is going to be able to keep it very continuity free and not bogged down in back-story.
And leaving back-story at the door can be a hard thing to do. Just ask Tom DeFalco, writer of the new Spider-Girl series, which I was anxiously looking forward to and just read a preview of on CBR, and which I found to be one of the worst info-dumps I’ve encountered in recent memory in a comic.
Opening with an info-dump or back-story dump is a mistake in just about any medium, be it comics, prose, or film, but I think in comics it can be particularly deadly. I really feel the key is to invest a reader immediately in the character and situation. Once you’ve hooked the reader with that, they're naturally more interested (or more likely to be interested) in that character’s back story, not to mention there will be plenty of time for the writer to feed it to a reader in small easily digestible chunks, rather than burying them in eight pages of info they don’t care about and don’t understand why they should care about. In Spider-Girl’s case I know almost nothing about the character, sans “daughter of Peter Parker, has Spider-powers”, so starting with eight pages of narration balloons (and a lot of them about The Punisher, and a villain, not Spider-Girl) is not going to win me over. I suspect with a reader that is already familiar with the characters and history – they also don’t need or want the info-dump because it's information they already have. So it’s lose/lose technique as far as I’m concerned and one that comics often falls prey to since we fans seem to have a crazy fascination with continuity.
Wood doesn’t bother with any of that. He not only dives in without any back-story info dump nonsense – but he actually dives into the middle of his story, and then backs his way out into flashbacks. Which is tricky, but in Wood’s capable hands, completely successful – i.e. he keeps the “telling” (via narration balloons) to a minimum and instead plunges us into the real story and action immediately.
The story begins with Copycat (aka Gem Antonelli) in an interrogation room being questioned about an event. Copycat begins telling her story and we flashback to the DV8 team (Evo, Sublime, Frostbite, Bliss, Freestyle, Threshold, and Powerhaus) being dropped somewhere. As they get their bearings they realize nothing is right – that the world seems to have no hint of modern civilization, not to mention two suns and a red moon. The story takes a very horror story turn from there with members of the team disappearing one by one and not returning. I don’t want to spoil the end because it’s a nice set up for the where the series is headed, but I will say it fits nicely into the series title.
Not to be outdone by Wood’s character work, Isaacs’ art is – in a word – stunning. The characters are expertly rendered and absolutely reminiscent of the originals but with appropriate and modern updates. For example, Sublime, a character whose costume has varied from just ridiculous to straight up obscene, has gotten an update that looks like a feasible costume for a superhero (or antihero) rather than a stripper, while still keeping her recognizable to old fans (I recognized her on sight).
Isaacs’ art also works for me on the most basic level – a level that I’m sorry to say I find lacking in a lot of artists working today – and that is simply that the storytelling is clear, easy to follow, and well-paced. It’s nice when it can also be beautiful, as Isaacs work here definitely is, but really, clear storytelling is the thing. As mentioned, Fiona Staples covers are impressing me right and left as well with gorgeous powerful designs (I assume each will feature a single character since the series is eight issues long and we have eight main characters). Check out Bliss on the cover for issue #2 below (due out May 19).
So, other than this being a good comic, what makes it so female and male friendly. Well for starters the team has a nice ratio of male to female characters (a 50/50 split actually). Additionally, Isaacs’ art doesn’t hyper sexualize any of the characters male or female, and they all look reasonably proportioned, well drawn, and particularly in the case of the ladies they pose, dress, and act like the superheroes (or anti-heroes) they are, as opposed to pin up girls and porn stars. And knowing what some of these characters powers are – I think Bliss’ power is pretty much about giving pain and pleasure…and the manipulation of both – it would be easy to exaggerate these characteristics or body types or costumes to ridiculous levels as it has been in the past but instead Isaacs keeps things more realistic and as such the tone matches perfectly with Wood's story. And this is how simple I really believe it is. Just make a good story with a solid plot and some interesting characters, then put a great non-objectifying artist on the book and you’re home. A book for men and women. A book that I feel like you can sell to both genders equally, and whose success doesn't rely on getting an a non-existent all female audience to buy it in droves. A book that doesn’t have to compromise or stoop, but can just be original and wonderful and yet still built for both men and women.
And while I'm here, DV8 certainly isn't the only book managing to pull this off. Other new books that I've been reading and loving and that seem to strike the easy balance of appealing to both men and women are Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's Demo; Scott Snyder, Stephen King, and Rafael Albuquerque's American Vampire; and Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's Stumptown. Nathan Edmondson and Brett Weldele's The Light is also off to a good start as is Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna's Black Widow (minus the first couple objectifying covers). Also, while I'm not in love with it yet, I'd also recommend Felicia Day and Jim Rugg's The Guild, which covers some nice ground. I find it a little tentative and the art a bit uneven overall, but there's real heart there and I can easily see the appeal for both men and women.
I feel like comics were a lot like this when I was a kid, when I was first reading. The X-Men I cut my teeth on at fifteen and sixteen always had a nice mix of male and female characters for me to relate to, and there was rarely overt sexist imagery for me to stumble on, and so DV8 feels like those books felt to me, and yet totally new and fresh, full of edge without being overly gritty and dark. Books like this, make me hopeful. DV8: Gods and Monsters is unlikely to be some groundbreaking, game changing series, but I guess that’s my whole point. To change the game, to make it palatable and welcoming to women without turning off men, you don’t have to burn the place down and start from scratch…you just need to massage what you already have…and what you’ve already done.
I mentioned in this column before about a positive/naïve post I was writing about getting women into comic stores in big numbers that was all “if you build it, they will come” blah blah blah, but reading DV8 makes me feel like maybe it doesn’t have to be naïve fantasy…and it’s so much easier than actually building something…because we really just need some minor renovation.
“Renovate it, and they will come!” Hmm. Not so catchy. We’ll have to work on that.