Gail Simone has a love affair with comics, we know that. Moreover, she loves to write, we know that too. If you’re a really good writer, you make your readers feel that you’re writing just for them but not only that, you’re also writing for yourself, your story and your characters. I think that’s what it comes down to: a love for the craft of writing and for comics. I see it clearly in how Simone keeps her characters moving. Like many a good writer, Simone has a distinctive voice and style. Her characters, who tend to be down-to-earth, even when they’re not from Earth, are people who like to talk, to open up, to reveal who they are or, if they aren’t so receptive, are in touch with who they are and can articulate that.
Opening up Simone’s recent return to her creator-owned comic about a retirement community for superheroes, Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in The Grave, #1, we find another jaunt into character-driven mayhem. Simone, in interviews, always likes to talk about her characters. For this new six-issue arc with Wildstorm, Simone has said she was interested in pursuing why Tommy, a young African-American woman, decided to become a cop. The story, ostensibly, revolves around Mayor Fury and his being accused of at least one murder and one attempted murder. But that would never be enough for a Simone story. Keep an eye on Tommy.
Taking a look at where we are with Birds of Prey, at Issue Three, Simone has hit her stride. I don’t know that I need to have those little hard to read neon captions anymore that repeatedly describe what the characters are about. I suppose they’re residue from Blackest Night/Brightest Day. As I say, Simone has hit her stride and we’re ready to fly with this new arc without further introductions. You can’t go wrong when the birds just get to talk trash and be themselves. That alone is enough reason for me to keep up with this series. In this issue, we have the added bonus of the birds mixing with one very foul bird, the Penguin. Again, just give us interactions with the birds and the Penguin and I’m totally there. Considering how steamy things can get with such sexy characters, this issue exercises just the right amount of restraint.
And next we check in with Secret Six at its latest, #24. I can feel that Simone has a really soft spot for this ragtag group of antiheroes. The latest arc has the gang thrown into a Western and what a throw down. Of the pile of comics I’ve read lately, this one really had me lost within its pages. It gives Jonah Hex a run for its money. Page per page, this is a standout. The whole thing with the Punch and Judy dialogue interlaced within the story is inspiring, not to mention way cool creepy. It is the perfect vehicle for the harlequin character, Ragdoll. And there is some formidable girl power with a dynamic force of three key women: sheriff, barmaid and prostitute.
Getting back to this love for comics, I can’t help but equate it with a love for superheroes. They do seem to go hand in hand, don’t they?
Gail Simone in her own words, from Women in Refrigerators:
I tend to like the bright shiny heroes the best, and when comics went grim and gritty a while back-that was a period where comics had lost their appeal for me. It was books like “Kingdom Come” (which was still fun despite the apocalyptic tone) and Grant Morrison’s “JLA” that brought me back. So, maybe I can admit to a bit of a bias regarding the really grim superhero stuff.
In any case, having a uterus myself, I found that I most enjoyed reading about the girl heroes, or Superchicks. And it had been nagging me for a while that in mainstream comics, being a girl superhero meant inevitably being killed, maimed or depowered, it seemed.
Well, that was part of one of Simone’s manifestos about a need for more Superchicks and not women stuffed into refrigerators. If I were to write a manifesto, and I believe I have already on occasion, I would say we’re always in need of good writing, period. I think I’ve gotten into a little trouble, or let’s call it a misunderstanding here and there, when I mention examples of bad writing in comics. Oh, yeah, there’s enough of that to go around. And why is that? I don’t know, maybe it’s a reactionary need to go for what is considered a known property without much or any thought to quality: violence, action, genre glorification and, well, whatever leads to women being stuffed into refrigerators.
This thing about comics and superheroes runs deep. It is hardwired into us. Take the camp in the old “Batman” TV series, for instance. That wasn’t just camp. That was, and is and likely will always be, our collective understanding of comics: Pow! Zap! Boom! It’s our modern mythology. Even in the world of alternative comics, the supposedly anti-superhero world, references are repeatedly made to superheroes. It’s part of the comics DNA. So, yeah, when superhero comics are done with care, with whatever elements of sex and violence and gore are required, and you go that extra mile with quality writing, well, you’ve struck gold. It’s a theme you can count on me coming back to again and again because the reasons for coming back to it are always going to be around. Thank goodness that Gail Simone is around to provide us with some of the good stuff we appreciate about comics.