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Where are the good dude conversations in comics?

"This book, kind of by accident, is the most interesting female book out there, because it's just chock full of all these really strong, interesting, different women." -- Kelly, 3 Chicks podcast episode #28, referring to Batwoman.

"I really like the way this book is coming together in terms of the female characters. I don't think there has been a book like this since, probably, Gail Simone's run on Birds of Prey, where you have so much estrogen in play and as many multi-tiered relationships." -- Sue, 3 Chicks podcast episode #28, referring to Batwoman.

You may ask why I listen so closely to the 3 Chicks podcast that I can actually quote statements made by the podcasters. Well, I had to pause it lot - I'm not quite that creepy! Anyway, while I was listening to the ladies' excellent podcast, they both said stuff about Batwoman that made me think. And why I start thinking, long posts get posted here on the blog! Yes, I know you wish I would just spend my time watching Misfits on BBC America. You do wish that, don't you???? (Honestly, I don't know if Misfits is even on BBC America. I imagine it is, and I really ought to watch it, because I've heard it's really good. Say, did you hear they're "Americanizing" the show? Because that always works out so well. Wait, where was I?)

Anyway, Sue's and Kelly's discussion Batwoman #2 was interesting, and their enjoyment of the relationships between the many female characters was a key point in their discussion. It made me think of the fact that the relationships in Batwoman aren't just good because they're between women, but because they're between well realized characters. When Kelly talks about the women in Batwoman, it made me think about the men in so many other comics. The implication and/or outright stated intent of the 3 Chicks is often that we need more well written women in comics, but that stated intent implies that there are well written men in comics. Yes, men dominate the character rosters of comics, but are they particularly interesting characters? Well, I decided to find out (of course I did!).

So, I thought about what makes an "interesting character." For women, there's the famous Bechdel test, which is that a movie (or, I suppose, any other piece of fiction, although it was first applied to movies) must have: A) Two female characters B) who talk to each other C) about something other than a man. The awesome Alison Bechdel first came up with the test here, in a 1985 strip of her long-running Dykes to Watch Out For. It's certainly not a perfect rule, but it is interesting. Anyway, I thought about what the same kind of rule would be for men - the "XY-Bechdel test," so to speak. It's easy for comics to have two male characters who talk to each other about something other than a man, so I decided to look for comics where the two male characters talk about something other than the plot. Characters in comics often talk to each other simply to advance the plot, and stereotypically, men like to talk about what's happening rather than why it's happening. And God forbid any of them talk about feelings! So that's my test: A comic must have: A) Two male characters B) who talk to each other C) about something other than the plot (this includes recapping someone's power set). I decided to look just at the comics I bought in October (so far - I'm skipping the final week of the month because I don't feel like waiting until then to post this), September, and August - that's a lot of comics, and anything more and I might go insane. So let's see if Batwoman is fascinating because it features women having interesting conversations, or whether it's fascinating because it features anyone having interesting conversations! Here we go!

Action Comics #1. Writer: Grant "Read the new book about me, or I'll lay your soul to waste!" Morrison.

None.

Action Comics #2. Writer: Morrison.

Dr Irons and Lex Luthor debate using torture on Superman.

All Nighter #3. Writer: David Hahn.

None.

All Nighter #4. Writer: Hahn.

None.

All Nighter #5. Writer: Hahn.

None.

All Star Western #1. Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.

I suppose I can count when Arkham tells Hex about being a doctor, even though the conversation only lasts two panels.

Animal Man #1. Writer: Jeff Lemire.

Can we count the "interview" between "Jeff Lemire" and Buddy Baker that serves as a recap? I guess I will. It's a pretty good conversation, after all. Other than that, none.

Aquaman #1. Writer: Geoff Johns.

The "recap" conversation between Aquaman and the annoying blogger counts. Interestingly enough, it's a pretty well written conversation, even though I hate the "meta-ness" of it all.

Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X #1. Writer: Brian Clevinger.

At the very beginning of the book, Robo is talking to Steve Jobs about an iPad.

Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X #2. Writer: Clevinger.

Phil and Robo talk about Robo almost dying.Powell and Robo talk about fixing Robo's gun (which I imagine will tie into the bigger plot, but doesn't seem to right now).

Atomika #12. Writer: Andrew Dabb.

None.

Avengers Academy #17. Writer: Christos Gage.

None.

Avengers Academy #18. Writer: Gage.

None.

Avengers Academy #19. Writer: Gage.

None.

Batgirl #24. Writer: Bryan Q. Miller.

None.

Batgirl #1. Writer: Gail Simone.

None.

Batman #1. Writer: Scott Snyder.

None.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #10. Writer: Sholly Fisch.

Joe talks a lot to Matches Malone about the bad economy, but it's all in service of the plot, so I'm going to have to count this as "none."

Batman: The Dark Knight #1. Writer: Paul Jenkins.

None.

Batman, Incorporated #8. Writer: Morrison.

The first page is tough, because Bruce is talking to the investors about the Internet 3.0. It's part of the plot, but they also talk about applications that aren't totally germane to the plot, so I think I'll count it.

Batman: Knight of Vengeance #3. Writer: Brian Azzarello.

None.

Batman and Robin #1. Writer: Peter J. Tomasi.

Bruce explains to Damian why he's not honoring his parents' deaths anymore. This ties into the bigger plot that Snyder is doing with the renewal of Gotham, but it's enough about other things than that plot that I'm counting it.

Batwing #1. Writer: Judd Winick.

None.

Batwoman #1. Writers: J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman.

None.

Batwoman #2. Writers: Williams III and Blackman.

None.

Birds of Prey #1. Writer: Duane Swierczynski.

None.

Blackhawks #1. Writer: Mike Costa.

None.

Blue Beetle #1. Writer: Tony Bedard.

The first two pages with the principal characters are pretty good. Everyone is talking about Brenda's birthday party. Later, Jaime and Paco are talking about Brenda's party.

Blue Estate #5. Writer: Andrew Osborne.

None.

Blue Estate #6. Writer: Osborne.

None.

The Bodysnatchers #3. Writer: Pasquale Pako Massimo.

None.

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #6. Writer: Joe Casey.

On the first few pages, Jihad Jones and Butcher Baker talk about torture and worship. It's off-plot enough (and Butcher talks just enough so it's a "conversation" rather than a monologue) that I'm going to count it.

Captain Atom #1. Writer: J. T. Krul.

None.

Casanova: Avaritia #1. Writer: Matt Fraction.

None.

Casanova: Avaritia #2. Writer: Fraction.

Casanova and Luther talk about how Luther writes his songs, which is sort of about the plot, but different enough to count.

Catwoman #1. Writer: Winick.

None.

Chew #20. Writer: John Layman.

None.

Chew #21. Writer: Layman.

None.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #3. Writer: Ed Brubaker.

Riley and Freakout talk about Freakout's fall off the wagon, which is part of the plot, but it's also about Freakout's personal life, so I'm going to count it.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #4. Writer: Brubaker.

None.

Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier #4. Writer: Andrew E. C. Gaska.

Thomm and Eryc actually discuss fashion briefly, which is odd but counts.Some of the ghosts discuss what's wrong with their leader's hands (they're cut up and that's how he likes it).

Cyclops #5. Writer: Matz.

When one of the soldiers returns to active duty, his friends talk trash to him a bit.

DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1. Writer: Jenkins.

None.

Dark Horse Presents #3.

None.

Dark Horse Presents #4.

In "The Protest," Dara Naraghi's story about growing up in Iran, the boys talk a little bit about soccer.

Dark Horse Presents #5.

None.

Deathstroke #1. Writer: Kyle Higgins.

None.

Demon Knights #1. Writer: Paul Cornell.

None.

Detective Comics #881. Writer: Snyder.

None.

Detective Comics #1. Writer: Tony Daniel.

Bruce and Alfred briefly discuss Bruce's love life.

Fables #108. Writer: Bill Willingham.

None.

Fables #109. Writer: Willingham.

None.

Fables #110. Writer: Willingham.

Yoop and Bufkin talk about eating monkeys and other things.

Fear Itself #5. Writer: Fraction.

None.

Fear Itself #6. Writer: Fraction.

None.

Fear Itself #7. Writer: Fraction.

Rick lends Winslow his push mower.

The Flash #1. Writers: Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato.

Barry and Dr. Elias talk about reducing traffic congestion.In the flashback, Barry and Manuel talk about fighting for a girl.

Flashpoint #4. Writer: Johns.

I guess when the Marvel kids talk about their foster family, that counts, even though icky girls are involved in the conversation.

Flashpoint #5. Writer: Johns.

None.

The Fury of Firestrorm, the Nuclear Man #1. Writer: Simone.

Ronnie and Trev talk about football.Jason confronts Ronnie about race, and later Ronnie yells at Jason about the story he wrote in the newspaper.Jason and his father have an "After School Special" moment.

Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #3. Writer: Lemire.

None.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1. Writer: Lemire.

The grandfather and the grandson talk about fishing.

Generation Hope #10. Writer: Kieron Gillen.

None.

Generation Hope #11. Writer: Gillen.

None.

Generation Hope #12. Writer: Gillen.

Kenji and Gabriel talk about Gabriel's aging and his indiscretion with Pixie.

Green Arrow #1. Writer: Krul.

I guess Emerson talking about the future of Q-Core on page 1 counts.

Green Lantern #1. Writer: Johns.

Hal tells Gary he doesn't have his rent.

Green Lantern Corps #1. Writer: Tomasi.

When Guy is waiting for his job interview, he talks a bit with the other applicants. I'm going to count it!John Stewart giving up is a depressing conversation, because he's a big quitter, but it still counts!Guy and John talking about why they didn't adopt secret identities counts, I should think.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #1. Writer: Bedard.

Kyle and his friends hanging out, despite the presence of an icky girl, counts.

Green Wake #5. Writer: Kurtis Wiebe.

I guess the conversation Morley has with Jake counts.

Grifter #1. Writer: Nathan Edmondson.

None.

Hawk & Dove #1. Writer: Sterling Gates.

None. (Hank's recap of his origin doesn't count.)

Hellblazer #282. Writer: Peter Milligan.

None.

Hellblazer #283. Writer: Milligan.

None.

Hellblazer #284. Writer: Milligan.

None.

Herc #5. Writers: Greg Pak and Fred van Lente.

None.

Hero Comics 2011.

The "story" about how Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg, and Sam Kieth came together to create the first story in the book counts. So does the Elephantmen story by Starkings, because it's essentially plotless.

I, Vampire #1. Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov.

None.

Justice League #1. Writer: Johns.

None.

Justice League Dark #1. Writer: Milligan.

None.

Justice League International #1. Writer: Dan Jurgens.

I guess Rocket Red and August General in Iron's insult-a-thon counts. The people outside the Hall of Justice seem like part of a larger plot, though, so I'm not counting them.

Kill Shakespeare #12. Writers: Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col.

None.

Kirby: Genesis #3. Writer: Kurt Busiek.

None.

Legion Lost #1. Writer: Fabian Nicieza.

None. (I did notice a nipple slip on Dawnstar, however. Some editor missed that!)

Legion of Super-Heroes #1. Writer: Paul Levitz.

None.

The Li'l Depressed Boy #6. Writer: S. Steven Struble.

Surprisingly for a book with little plot and two male protagonists, nothing really counts in this issue.

Loose Ends #2. Writer: Jason Latour.

None.

Men of War #1. Writers: Ivan Brandon and Jonathan Vankin.

None.

Mister Terrific #1. Writer: Eric Wallace.

None.

Moriarty #4. Writer: Daniel Corey.

None.

Moriarty #5. Writer: Corey.

Moriarty and George Orwell have a long conversation, some of which obviously advances the plot, and some of which just seems like two guys shooting the shit, 1914-style!

Morning Glories #11. Writer: Nick Spencer.

None.

Morning Glories #12. Writer: Spencer.

None.

Morning Glories #13. Writer: Spencer.

Jun and Hunter talk about Ike moving back in, even though the conversation isn't very long at all.

Near Death #1. Writer: Jay Faerber.

None.

Near Death #2. Writer: Faerber.

None.

Next Men #9. Writer: John Byrne.

None.

Nightwing #1. Writer: Higgins.

Dick's conversations at the circus, despite another icky girl getting in the way, count.

Northlanders #43. Writer: Brian Wood.

Ulf talking to his father about their past and future counts, I should think.

Northlanders #44. Writer: Wood.

Ulf and his soldier talk a bit about shooting a bow.

Northlanders #45. Writer: Wood.

None.

O.M.A.C. #1. Writers: Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen.

None.

Optic Nerve #12. Writer: Adrian Tomine.

Tomine doesn't really do much with the plot, so to speak, but everything the male characters say to each in the first story is about hortisculpture, so I'm not going to count it. None!

The Outsider #3. Writer: James Robinson.

None.

Pigs #1. Writers: Nate Cosby and Ben McCool.

None.

Pigs #2. Writers: Cosby and McCool.

None.

Project Superman #3. Writer: Lowell Francis.

None.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. Writer: Scott Lobdell.

Unfortunately, Roy and Jason discussing the fact that Jason has screwed Starfire counts. Yuck.

Red Lanterns #1. Writer: Milligan.

None.

Red Robin #26. Writer: Nicieza.

None.

The Red Wing #2. Writer: Jonathan Hickman.

Dom and Val talk briefly about Dom's poor performance with his fighter.Dom and Val talk about the people of the Ring and the future of the colony.

The Red Wing #3. Writer: Hickman.

None.

Resurrection Man #1. Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

None.

Rocketeer Adventures #4.

None.

The Savage Hawkman #1. Writer: Daniel.

None.

Scalped #51. Writer: Jason Aaron.

None.

Scalped #52. Writer: Aaron.

Shunka yells at the dude he was screwing.

Secret Avengers #16. Writer: Warren Ellis.

None.

Secret Avengers #17. Writer: Ellis.

None.

The Secret History #16. Writer: Jean-Pierre Pécau.

None.

Secret Seven #3. Writer: Milligan.

None.

Secret Six #36. Writer: Simone.

None.

Severed #1. Writers: Snyder and Scott Tuft.

"Mr. Porter" and Freddy talk about installing electrical systems.

Severed #2. Writers: Snyder and Tuft.

None.

Severed #3. Writers: Snyder and Tuft.

The crazy old killer and Jack (and Sam) have a long conversation, but it seems like it's advancing the plot, so I'm not counting it!

Sherlock Holmes: Year One #6. Writer: Scott Beatty.

None.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2. Writer: Hickman.

None.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #3. Writer: Hickman.

None.

The Sixth Gun #14. Writer: Cullen Bunn.

None.

The Sixth Gun #15. Writer: Bunn.

Gord and Hood talk briefly of Gord's past, which I suppose counts.

The Spirit #17.

Will Pfeifer's wonderful story, "Art Walk," is an extended lecture about art by Michael, but Louie says a few things, so it counts.

Spontaneous #3. Writer: Joe Harris.

None.

Spontaneous #4. Writer: Harris.

None.

Static Shock #1. Writers: Scott McDaniel and John Rozum.

Virgil asks his dad if he can get his driver's license.

Stormwatch #1. Writer: Cornell.

None.

Suicide Squad #1. Writer: Adam Glass.

None.

Superboy #10. Writer: Lemire.

None.

Superboy #11. Writer: Lemire.

None.

Superboy #1. Writer: Lobdell.

None.

Supergirl #1. Writers: Michael Green and Mike Johnson.

None.

Superman #1. Writer: George Pérez.

None.

Swamp Thing #1. Writer: Snyder.

None.

Teen Titans #1. Writer: Lobdell.

None.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #10. Writer: Spencer.

None.

Thunderbolts #161. Writer: Jeff Parker.

None.

Thunderbolts #162. Writer: Parker.

None.

Thunderbolts #163. Writer: Parker.

None.

Thunderbolts #163.1. Writer: Parker.

None.

Thunderbolts #164. Writer: Parker.

None.

The Ultimate 7 #1. Writer: Robert Wawrzyniak.

None.

The Ultimate 7 #2. Writer: Wawrzyniak.

None.

Uncanny X-Men #542. Writer: Gillen.

None.

Uncanny X-Men #543. Writer: Gillen.

None.

Uncanny X-Men #544. Writer: Gillen.

Scott and Bobby talk about the end of the X-Men.

The Unexpected #1.

Doctor Eccles and Huq talk about civilization, which sort of advances the plot but I'll count it.

Voodoo #1. Writer: Ron Marz.

None.

Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #5. Writer: Arvid Nelson.

None.

Wasteland #31. Writer: Antony Johnston.

None.

Who Is Jake Ellis? #5. Writer: Edmondson.

None.

Witch Doctor #3. Writer: Brandon Seifert.

None.

Wonder Woman #1. Writer: Azzarello.

None.

X-Factor #223. Writer: Peter David.

None.

X-Factor #224. Writer: David.

None.

X-Factor #224.1. Writer: David.

None.

X-Factor #225. Writer: David.

The union guy and the corporate guy talk about the strike on the first page.

X-Factor #226. Writer: David.

Shatterstar and Rictor talk about "cutting loose" with regard to Rictor getting his powers back and Shatterstar wanting to experiment sexually.

Xombi #6. Writer: Rozum.

None.

Zorro Rides Again #1. Writer: Matt Wagner.

None.

Zorro Rides Again #2. Writer: Wagner.

None.

Zorro Rides Again #3. Writer: Wagner.

None.

Zorro Rides Again #4. Writer: Wagner.

None.

Let's look at the stats!1. Number of comics I read in August, September, and October (so far): 171.2. Number of comics that DO NOT feature two dudes talking with each other about anything other than the plot: 125.3. Percentage of comics that DO NOT feature two dudes talking with each other about anything other than the plots: 73%.4. Number of "conversations"* two dudes have that are not about the plot: 56 (over 46 books).

* Some of the conversations are one guy saying one thing and another guy answering him, which I counted.

Does this litany tell us anything, really? Not too much, I must admit. Some of the books for which I wrote "none" are favorites of mine, and some which actually feature conversations between two dudes are terrible. This is not an indicator of quality in any way. Similarly, some of the books feature very interesting conversations between a dude and a gal, or two gals. I ignored them. The numbers were, frankly, a bit higher than I expected, but then I counted, as I noted, "conversations" which only barely qualify.

Does this take anything away from Kelly and Sue's point? I don't think so. They're right - more women need to appear in comics and have actual personalities. But I will point out that in serial genre fiction, which a lot of comics fall into (whether they're superhero comics or not), it's very hard to slow down and have the characters talk about anything other than the plot. The best writers reveal character traits through actions and through dialogue that DOES advance the plot - many of the writers in this list do that, but I simply couldn't untangle the skein so closely. I just found it interesting that while Kelly and Sue have a very good point, we sometimes forget that men as well as women often get short shrift when it comes to characterization. If we pick up a random superhero comic, very often we know as little about the men as we do about the women, because so much of them are in complete service to the plot. It's just something that struck me as I was listening to the podcast.

I have no greater social point to make about this, believe me. Batwoman is a great comic mainly because of Williams's art, but also because he and Blackman have done some good character work already, building on what Rucka did when he was writing it. That they're women isn't completely incidental, but it is a little. If Williams were writing a book with four strong male characters who have unique personalities and relate to each other differently based on the situation and their personalities, that would still be a bit of an anomaly in today's comic book climate. I love that Williams and Blackman are doing it with women, because male characters dominate the medium, but it is interesting that male characters are often as shallow as female ones, in completely different ways. I don't know - maybe I'm writing out of my ass. Wouldn't that be just like me?

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