Tuesday night saw the return of Agent Carter, Marvel's delightful, offbeat spy show featuring the indomitable Hayley Atwell. Agent Carter is a triumph — it's fun and cheeky, yet its female hero is dynamic and strong. And it's become something of a benchmark, a promise of what Marvel is capable of when it comes to women characters (see also: Jessica Jones).
But Agent Carter was only one aspect of what has been a stellar week for women superheroes and comic book characters, one that featured a first look at Wonder Woman, the return of Earth's mightiest hero, and a solid reimagining of a classic Batman villain.
Here's a brief roundup of the week's exciting news and releases:
Wonder Woman is looking promising
Despite the huge success of superhero movies featuring talking raccoons, Shakespearean demigods, and several incarnations of Batman, Warner Bros. has been hesitant to give Wonder Woman her own movie. In 2013, DC Entertainment Chief Diane Nelson said the reason was that Wonder Woman was "tricky" and a "challenge" — something that sounds silly in light of the whimsical and weird stuff Marvel has done.
But the studio has had a change of heart in the past couple of years. Wonder Woman, a.k.a. Diana Prince, is making her big-screen debut this spring in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and she has a solo movie scheduled for 2017. This week, we got a first look at the latter.
It features a little bit of action, as well as Wonder Woman looking all mythological. But by far the best part of the tease, at least for longtime Wonder Woman fans, is the way the people making the movie are talking about it, using words like "feminist," "equality," and "love." In the past, these elements of Wonder Woman's story were deemed too tricky or challenging to put on screen, so it's a great sign that filmmakers aren't afraid of them. They're what make Wonder Woman one of DC's most iconic heroes.
Captain Marvel makes a dazzling return
When we last checked in with Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Carol Danvers, her writer Kelly Sue DeConnick was saying goodbye to both the character and the comic. When she started writing Captain Marvel in 2012, DeConnick breathed new life into the hero formerly known as Ms. Marvel by giving her a new purpose and a new role as a cosmos-exploring space commander and Avengers field leader. However, she left the comic this past October to pursue her new television production venture Milkfed Criminal Masterminds.
Now the comic is back with two new writers in Agent Carter showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas and a new artist in Kris Anka. It opens with Danvers taking a leadership role with Alpha Flight, a superhuman space program designed to protect Earth from extraterrestrial dangers.
Yes, DeConnick's voice is missing — something that dedicated readers will notice. You get used to a writer's rhythms and tendencies, and DeConnick always had a way of hitting you with toughness in one moment and undercutting it with a vulnerability and tenderness in the next.
But Fazekas and Butters aren't trying to fill her shoes. Instead, there's something brighter and sweeter in this first issue. Their writing really shines when Carol gets to interact with other characters.
When DeConnick first took over the character, Carol was fighting for respect; today, she knows how to command it. And it changes the way she treats people and the way people treat her. The prickly Abigail Brand can't stand her for some reason, and when Rocket Raccoon makes a cameo he's puzzled as to why Carol isn't zipping through space with the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Anka's art is crisp. He's tweaked Carol's uniform and physique. She's casually intimidating; her muscles have muscles.
Butters, Fazekas, and Anka have given us a promising start. Some Captain Marvel fans and members of the Carol Corps. may lament the old guard — that's perfectly fine and understandable. But there's plenty of promise and hope here, along with an exciting new chapter for Carol. And it would be a shame not to appreciate where the comic is headed.
Poison Ivy gets another shot
I've long maintained that Poison Ivy (a.k.a. Pamela Isley) was the biggest casualty of the 1997 tire fire of a film Batman & Robin. She was painted as a campy, nitwit sexpot, and that image has haunted the character ever since. Now, some 19 years later, writer Amy Chu and artist Clay Mann are reimagining the character with Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death.
In recent years and as a counter to decades' worth of female objectification, there's been a push to bring humanity to the comic book world's women characters (see: Marvel's Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel, Valiant's Faith, Image's Monstress). Poison Ivy is a prime candidate for this movement. And in Cycle of Life and Death, Chu leans into Ivy's intelligence to give her character more depth.
"That's what's so attractive. She's so complicated. She's so smart. She's not just a sexy being," Chu told me at New York Comic Con last year. "She has an alter ego. It's Pam Isley, and she's a scientist. We're not going to dance around that. She is a scientist, and she's doing some pioneering research. She is Lex Luthor smart."
Chu makes good on that promise, emphasizing Ivy's proficiency as a botanist. We see Ivy's brilliance and her skill with plants. We see her score a new job. We see her conflict with an old friend, Harley Quinn, because their future plans don't line up — there's a sense that Ivy thinks Quinn is childish, too immature and too hung up on a certain psychotic ex.
It's compelling stuff. But there are also moments in the book that tend to flatten the character. When Chu's Ivy isn't being smart, she's an avenging angel — taking out sexist men one by one. It's in line with her character; after all, she is supposed to be a villain. But tapping into Ivy's feminism through the ass-kicking of misogynistic, chauvinistic men is a little too obvious and tidy for a character who's as complex as Chu says she is.
Mann's art is lush. He's always had a gift for turning superhumans into Calvin Klein models (see: his work on Age of X), and Ivy is squarely in his wheelhouse. His gorgeous people are gorgeous. Where the work could stand a bit of improvement is in its daring (or lack thereof). There are no artistic gambles being made in this first issue (fans would call his sequences traditional, while harsher critics might think it sluggish or static), even though Mann is talented enough to experiment and give us something unexpected instead of model-like shot after model-like shot.
However, while Poison Ivy's debut has its flaws, it makes up for them with its ambition. In one issue, Chu and Mann have really tried to give us a sense of Pamela Isley beyond the sex and camp. Next, they'll have to convince us of why we should care.