Comics journey #4: DC Bombshells, Year One

My god I am dying of jealousy this week at everything coming out of SDCC. I haven’t wanted to go so badly in years! How psyched are you all for Justice League and the (inevitable, but still) Wonder Woman sequel?!

Meanwhile, having sailed through most of the Wonder Woman books we had in the house, I was reaching the point of having to go buy my own stuff. This was anxiety-inducing because how do you pick? What’s a New 52? What if I buy something and it’s terrible? I even watched Batman vs Superman against my better judgement to get my fix.

Thankfully a friend of mine came to the rescue and suggested Bombshells. “It’s everything you would love! It’s her saving the world in WW2 but with more awesome female characters!”

It was also its own self-contained story with no need to understand the wider continuity. And my friends could lend me the first two volumes. Sold!

I sort of peripherally knew about this series because we have a giant Bombshells poster on our wall. Bombshells began as pin-up style art that people liked so much it got turned into a line of collectible figures and then its own series in 2015, written by Marguerite Bennett. It imagines Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Supergirl, Catwoman and a whole bunch of other characters I’d never met (Batwoman, Stargirl, Huntress, Mera/Aquawoman, Big Barda, Zatanna, Dr Light, about a million Bat-kids) into a stylised WW2 setting, because who doesn’t like seeing sexy ladies in pin-up outfits?

Well…I don’t. Overly objectified female characters were one of the reasons I never got into comics before now, so I went into this with mixed feelings. It helped that this series is immediately queer as all hell, kicking off with Batwoman Kate Kane and her girlfriend and never dropping that ball. I found myself very glad that Bennett, who’s openly bisexual, was the one to do this: written from a male or perhaps even a straight female perspective, it would have been so easy to end up with something insulting. Instead we have a comic that may be set in 1940 but whose politics are unmistakably current.

To balance out the idealised aesthetic, Bennett isn’t shy about the ugly realities of war and prejudice. The comic consciously avoids using the period setting as an excuse to whitewash the cast. Romani and LGBT, as well as Jewish, characters express the fear they live in, while the Batgirls storyline deals with racism and xenophobia amongst the “good guys” back home.

batgirls

If there was a Bechdel test for plots, this would pass with flying colours. The character arcs of most of the Bombshells are drawn around searching for self-determination in the face of a world war, not just a gender one.  The characters stand on their own merits (no Batman, Superman or Aquaman in this ‘verse) and the conflict is much bigger than a fight against male entitlement. Our heroines’ biggest recurring struggle in this vein is with the pressure to be nothing more than pretty images of hope and/or propaganda.

symbol

treasures

With so much to cover, these first two volumes do feel a little thinly spread in terms of plot and character development. But it’s a credit to the artists that the Batgirls storyline was the only time I encountered the face-blindness I usually struggle with when confronted with Loads And Loads Of Characters (e.g. I thought Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman were the same person for most of The Prestige. This did not help me understand The Prestige).

batkids
One of you is probably also Christian Bale, I don’t even know anymore

Okay, so, Wonder Woman. This Diana is wide-eyed and young, fresh off the boat (or I guess, dolphin chariot) from Themyscira. She gets off to a promising start, rebelling against Hippolyta with plenty of bravado, but then proceeds to spend most of her time cooing at a hunky but traumatised Steve Trevor. I have to thank Captain Awkward here for introducing me to this quote from poet Marilyn Hacker, which sums it up: “Women love a sick child or a healthy animal; a man who is both itches them like an incubus“.

steve diana
I call this compilation “GET A ROOM”

It may be that I just find Diana/Steve inherently boring, but that wasn’t the only issue I had. I mean, Wonder Woman sure does fight some Nazis, but she seems to sail unruffled through every challenge and compared to her counterparts, the character lacks depth. Hopefully she gets some more development in the subsequent two volumes, but so far the movie honestly does a better job of what this comic is going for.

Happily, I found myself some new favourites instead. I looked forward most to Mera and Harley’s stories, whose underlying darkness is accented with humour. Mera is a rebellious Atlantean princess on the run; she likes to show off, which is endearing next to Wonder Woman and Supergirl’s noble selflessness, and she loves her friends wholeheartedly.

mera

Harley’s unfettered enthusiasm is just so much fun and I like her more every time she appears. She is a bouncy little psycho bean and she must be protected.

harley

Selina Kyle/Catwoman was also a standout. She’s so well-written I can hear her dialogue in an languid drawl in my head.

catwoman

Marguerite Sauvage did a lot of the art for this series but I also liked Mirka Andolfo’s slightly Disneyfied look, which gelled really well with the setting. Also, Supergirl and Stargirl’s Soviet Russian backstory features some gorgeous folk art by Sandy Jarrell.

folk art

In terms of friendliness to new Wonder Woman fans, I’d recommend getting a sense of the character from other writers first and reading Bombshells to expand your reading list with some lesser-known DC heroines. A few characters get an origin do-over, but some of them are pretty far from their canon versions and that could get confusing. On the other hand, it’s not part of the normal continuity, so you won’t miss anything. And you’ll be right on time to pick up the new series, Bombshells United, which is out this August!

Also due out next month is Gotham City Garageanother re-imagining based on a collectibles line featuring Big Barda, Steel, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Silver Banshee, Hawkgirl and Supergirl in “a world of bikes, outlaws and elaborate tattoos.” Its creative team is male-led, which could be a worry, and they seem to be using Wonder Woman as the lead promo image without actually mentioning whether she’s in it? But I think I liked Bombshells enough to be intrigued at where they’ll take it.

Next up: Greg Rucka again, this time with Volume 1: The Lies and Volume 2: Year One from his 2016 DC Universe Rebirth run!

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