My Saturday opened with one of the highlights of any convention I attend: a panel moderated by professor Ben Saunders. Professor Saunders has thoroughly impressed me over the past year or two with a slew of intelligent, humorous, and fascinatingly specific panels at a number of conventions. This time it was an issue close to many hearts, including mine, Beyond the Femme Fatale: Reimagining the Female Villain.

Professor Saunders opened by asking the panelists what female villains inspired them as children. Though Amy Chu offered the Wicked Witch of the West and Cruella DeVille, Mairghread Scott kind of stole the show by making an impassioned argument for the feminism of The Lead Raptor From Jurassic Park, stating that the nameless antagonist is legitimately frightening, “not sexualized at all”, respected by her subordinates and rival, and never excessively violent snapping only to ensure the chain of command or when hungry.

The entire panel also mentioned Catwoman at one time or another, leading discussion towards the many versions and reinventions of the character. Catwoman may be “the only consistent woman in Batman’s life”, but her role in that life, not to mention the attention paid to her own, is hardly consistent. In fact, essentially the only constant of Catwoman is that she’s always just a little ahead of the curve, both intellectually and societally. Tim Burton’s Catwoman received quite a bit of attention, with Scott discussing how striking it was to see an “unabashedly aggressive” female villain. She also says that, looking back, the 1992 film touched on many of the great Joker ideas about madness through Catwoman.

Ever the comics historian, Professor Saunders couldn’t help but introduce this image.

Somehow it doesn’t have that usual ‘Batman’ gravitas. Maybe if I imagined it as Christian Bale’s Batman…

These panels from Batman #1 is undeniable evidence of the strange sexuality of Catwoman. Saunders thought it interesting that the earliest iteration of the Bat and Cat relationship effectively presented the entire WWII-era culture that the panel often rejects, but that later versions spoke to them all so strongly.

For Scott, the answer might be that the core of the character is a subtle reinvention of a sexist trope. While Catwoman, especially in Batman #1, is one of comics’ classic Femme Fatales, Scott feels that she challenges one of the central presuppositions about the archetype. In a classic Femme Fatale, sex is a tool and the game is manipulation. It flips the script on the traditional assumptions of gendered power while revealing essential male fears about courtship. Despite this, Catwoman is not merely playing a game, Catwoman legitimately wants to sleep with Batman. Though one cannot discount the way that many writers tried, or perhaps had, to use this as an example of women being innately emotional and man-crazy, the agentive power of Catwoman’s desires and the equality of she and Batman makes for an overall healthier version of the trope for Scott.

We also learned an interesting tidbit about Amy Chu: she can pick locks! It’s not a big deal, you see, everyone at Harvard from a certain era could. Apparently, one of Chu’s peers did their thesis on lock picking and the basics of the craft spread through the student body like wildfire. It’s not that Chu or her contemporaries particularly cared to get into whatever they were picking, but that they were honing their craft. She sees Catwoman the same way, the spoils are secondary to the challenge when she shows up in Chu’s Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death.

Likewise, Chu draws her experience in corporate business and higher education to craft Ivy, herself. Ivy is a brilliant scientist and a formidable threat to the status quo. Of course, her sensuality is a central part of her character, but, for the most part, that doesn’t concern Chu, “I know that Clay [Mann] will handle the sexuality,” she says.

Terry Moore spoke about his version of Lilith and his conception of her struggle, accursed and surrounded by short-lived, annoying reminders of her disproportionate punishment. Playing with Lillith, Rachel, and the witches that have sprung up around them naturally throughout history seems to be great fun for Moore, but the greatest focus in Rachel Rising was Zoë.

Rachel Rising Zoë

Moore insists that he sees this more as an example of resourcefulness than pure evil.

Calling up a famous page of Zoë murdering her sister with cling wrap, Professor Saunders asked what is to be made of this sexless, remorseless evil in comparison to the Femme Fatale archetype the panel had been discussing, leading Mairghread Scott to offer one of the panels great insights. For a woman, she says, “apathy is the unforgivable sin.” So often we are conditioned to think of women as the hysterical sex and so seeing an emotional woman murder is therefore somehow acceptable to us. Unlike their male counterparts who do so to conquer the world, female villains kill because they are jilted and when jilted they kill. “When men are jilted they start a band.” Somehow libido mitigates a woman’s rage.

It was a fascinating point and one that served as an interesting corollary to the strange relationship that America has with sex and violence. As some gorgeous concept art will attest, the witches in Scott’s Toil and Trouble were originally nude. Scott and artist Sarah Stone conceptualized them as natural, native forces that wouldn’t bother with clothes, reasoning that the violence of the story would ensure a mature reader rating anyway. However, when she turned in the pitch, the three sisters tearing each other apart was deemed acceptable, as long as they did so clothed. Chu agreed, saying that she’d gotten notes from Dan DiDio saying that issues of Ivy were great but that she ought to be wearing more.

Asked to speak about the history of misogyny surrounding Shakespeare’s Macbeth and how she adapted it into Toil and Trouble, Scott utterly dismissed the notion of Lady MacBeth as the true villain of the piece, as has been a fairly standard interpretation for many years, “like he would have been a nice guy if it hadn’t been for that woman…” One way of giving her witches some power was to make Macbeth essentially a proxy for their struggles, a choice that one can’t help but notice is hardly uncommon with the genders reversed. Of course, there’s also the fact that one of the great plays of the English language is already written about Macbeth, allowing him an agency in Toil and Trouble that the Wyrd Sisters did not receive without it. If anything it’s an argument for fan work, or at least for telling stories from multiple perspectives.

Having tackled two of DC’s Siren Trinity, the panel turned to Harley Quinn. The panel agreed that Harley’s joy and lack of angst was a huge part of her success, however, Chu took a moment to point out that, even against Ivy and Catwoman, Harley isn’t stupid. In fact, that’s a big part of why the character appeals to her. To Chu and Scott, Harley Quinn is a brilliant woman who pretends to be stupid and that’s very familiar to them.

And dont you forget it!

And don’t you forget it!

Returning to the questions of sexual agency and sincerity surrounding the Femme Fatale, the panel determined that a huge part of the problem is that the archetype is too often little more than a dangerous ‘penis jar’. The whole thing struck Amy Chu, who asked why there aren’t male femme fatales. Mairghread Scott had a rather matter-of-fact answer, “Oh, cause we still hate women.” No one could deny it, but, probing further, they looked at the example of Nightwing, who is famously considered a male hero who essentially codes female. Despite his existence, the panel concluded that he still falls into the simple madonna whore dichotomy, with Scott in particular pointing to his ‘boy next door charm’ and the effortless beauty that he doesn’t realize he has, “but that’s what makes him beautiful.”

The discomfort with female villains obviously doesn’t stop at sex, either. Fans have long speculated that the Doctor, of Doctor Who, should reasonably be able to regenerate as a woman, however, Amy Chu pointed out that the only time a Time Lord has been shown to do this was, tellingly, in the case of a villain. Mairghread Scott was obviously intrigued, but could not offer much as she does not watch Doctor Who. Part of the audience was scandalized, but Saunders calmed them down, explaining that “[Doctor Who is] and acquired taste, like olives…or poetry.”

It was a funny moment, but, judgements about BBC sci-fi aside, it occurs to me that it was decidedly apropos for the panel. Unfortunately, for many, female villains and well written ‘minority’ characters are an acquired taste, but they’re an acquired taste like poetry. They make the world beautiful and interesting.

Before long I had to run next door to Marvel’s Next Big Thing panel. By Saturday you could see the increased traffic starting to take its toll and I actually had to wait on line for this one. Nonetheless, it was easy enough to get into.

Though eyes were on them for announcements after DC’s Rebirth, both as a response and in order to fill the schedule, C.B. Cebulski was quite clear up top, the next big thing was already on stands, there would be no announcements at this panel. There wasn’t even a slide show! Instead the panel focused on honest discussion and communication with fans.

But beside giving Kieron Gillen the idea for a Han Solo vs. Dinosaurs miniseries (it happened a long, long time ago, after all), the big moment of the panel came from Brian Michael Bendis.  Responding to a comment by editor Katie Kubert that Marvel is simply waiting for Bendis to release a new Alias series, Bendis said that he’s been waiting on artist Michael Gaydos. Bendis seemed prepared to pass the buck, but, with a glance to Cebulski, threw caution, and the talent scout’s earlier warning, to the wind to announce that he and Gaydos have begun work on a new Jessica Jones book to be released after  “Civil War II”.

As the final questioner approached the mic, Bendis teased him, saying that he had to come up with a question that would encapsulate the entire panel and the experience of the convention. With absolute confidence, the questioner asked why 2016 seems to be the year of heroes fighting heroes, prompting stunned silence from the panel and uproarious applause from the audience.

Bendis, acknowledging that he had been bested, defended “Civil War II”, saying that he doesn’t think of it as heroes vs. heroes but ideals vs. ideals. “Done well,” Bendis said “there’s no better story. Done poorly, it runs two hours and forty-five and has five dream sequences.”

The same room then played host to Boom!’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers panel. Though the book is often, not incorrectly, listed as an all-ages title, the audience was almost entirely made up of fans who had grown up with the show, some of whom seemed unaware of the recent comics revival.

Kyle Higgins opened by discussing his desire to put to paper a version of the franchise that neither reflected his memories of the series nor the reality, but a translation of what it made him feel as a child. Part of this was refocusing the series on the tensions and connections between the Rangers, though he was quick to say that there ought to be plenty of monster fighting for everyone except his editor Dafna Pleban. Pleban, there moderating the panel, was quick to correct him, “If it were up to me it would just be Billy crying.”

Pink

Fletcher called the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Pink a “six issue treatise” on why Kimberly Hart is the best Power Ranger.

Brendan Fletcher spoke about his mysterious and highly anticipated miniseries, Power Rangers: Pink. Fletcher called the series a “six issue treatise” on why Kimberly Hart is the best Power Ranger. It’s kind of expected that writers will defend their characters one they have a hold of them, but if you heard Fletcher talk you’d probably believe that he’s been having this argument as long as he’s known the characters. Fletcher sees Kim as a strong contender for the next great Power Rangers leader, but one that never got the chance to shine around “type-A personalities” like Jason and Tommy.

In a surprising move, the miniseries will not run parallel to the main book, instead looking at an adventure of Kim’s after she left Angel Grove. Fletcher promised returning favorites as villains and new additions to the Power Rangers Universe, as well as an explanation of how Kim had access to her powers even after leaving the team, though he did admit that the covers may or may not reflect the content when asked about the presence of the Pterodactyl Zord on the cover.

Even more interesting, especially in light of Fletcher’s comments insinuating a similar set up to the events of “A Different Shade of Pink”, is the revelation that Kyle Higgins’ run will not be set between the episodes of the original show, as has been generally possible thus far, and, in fact, may well take some radical liberties with the timeline. Higgins let this slip in response to a question about possibly introducing future Rangers as supporting characters, but was quick to assure the questioner that there are no guarantees that those characters will become Rangers at the same time as in the show, or even that they will become Rangers at all!

Higgins finished his remarks by casually wondering where Goldar has been. You know, I didn’t even notice, but he hasn’t show up yet. Hmmm…

I spent most of the rest of the day in Artist Alley. Over the past few years I’ve really come to appreciate anthologies, both for general reading and as a way to discover new creators. So while I often try to stick to grabbing a bunch of sale items at conventions instead of a couple of full price books, I couldn’t resist a pair of anthologies from attending creators: Kel McDonald’s Cautionary Fables and Fairytales – Asia Edition and Josh Trujillo’s Death Saves.

Cautionary Fables and Fairytales is exactly what it sounds like, a selection of great Asian fairytales as interpreted by a slew of talented indie comic creators. With so many of the creators at the show and a bunch of personal favorites represented, I couldn’t help but pick it up. I spent a good portion of Saturday and Sunday tracking down the creators.

Death Saves is another kickstarted anthology title, but drawing from a very different brand of mythology. Death Saves is a memorial to all those Paladins and Rangers who didn’t make it and the RPG campaigns that led to their demise. I initially discovered it because Josh Trujillo was sharing a table with Levi Hastings, who paints some of the most beautiful dinosaur prints that I’ve ever seen. Especially as I currently work in a game store, the concept of the anthology was too perfect to pass up.

Exhausted from a long day, I stopped in with some friends in Artist Alley to catch up as the last minutes of the con ticked away. And, with that, there was only one day left…