Adrienne Fox

DeConnick and Fraction Won’t (or Can’t) Stop Creating Excellent Comics

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What mash-up or nickname do you prefer? DeConniction? Or, the Fractonnick? (Just don’t call her Mrs. Matt Fraction, please.) Any way you look at their recent works, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction are turning the comics world on its ear through creativity, skill, bravery, and trust—that is, trust in us, their readers. Both writers released new books recently: Ody-C from Fraction released on November 26th and Bitch Planet from DeConnick released on December 10th (both published by Image Comics). If these were the only titles on your pull list, you would have a brain- and eye-full of some of the best comic writing of 2014, and some of the most female-positive.

Cover of Ody-C #1 via Image Comics

Cover of Ody-C #1 via Image Comics

You had me at “Sing in us, Muse of Odyssia”

In Ody-C, Fraction tackles a retelling of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey (complete with the meter of dactylic hexameter).  If you aren’t schooled in the classics, and it is okay if you aren’t because there are other equally idiosyncratic things to study, it might not seem like Ody-C is a huge undertaking. But, this project is ambitious. It would be very easy to do it wrong/poorly/unintelligibly. That is not how Fraction works.  This is good stuff and here’s why.

Fraction flips the sex and gender of the characters in the hero’s journey and creates a powerbase that resides with women. The Odyssey and The Iliad are all about the guys. The guys are fighting. The guys are whining. The guys are talking and planning. Then on the way home, the guys in The Odyssey rely on the wily Odysseus to save the day. The women in Homeric world are not empowered (see the women of Troy as the city falls and Briseis for example) unless said female happens to be a god—then she can make stuff happen. Fraction changes this dynamic in Ody-C, where Odysseus becomes Odyssia–a heroic woman. He also expands the meaning of gender roles similar to Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness by adding the Sebex into the story.

Ody-C is one issue in and I am already on board with Fraction’s take on The Odyssey.  His writing works in tandem with the awesome and psychedelic art of Christian Ward. Ward uses lots of shapes that directly or indirectly invoke the feminine; however, it is not done in a “that fresh feeling” or those blue-liquid moments. The art runs more to Barbarella and 1970s film influences. Colors explode on the page and that stands out against so much of the dark, gritty, and edgy titles on my shelf.

This is not a simple read. There is a map and timeline at the start to become acquainted with Fraction’s vision. On the reverse is a 10-page gatefold to show you Ward’s vision. Both are stunning. Forget that I am 20 books behind on my Goodreads reading challenge; I am breaking out my copy of The Odyssey for a re-read right now.

Cover of Bitch Planet #1 from Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro via Image Comics

Cover of Bitch Planet #1  via Image Comics

Are you non-compliant?

With Bitch Planet, DeConnick takes a seemingly typical exploitation flick set-up, twists it a bit, adds some characters that many readers are demanding to see in comics, and then gives you a full dose of science-fantasy action. Plus, there is all the female-empowerment.

In the first issue of Bitch Planet, you meet Penny Rolle. When is the last time that you’ve seen a very large black woman play a pivotal role in the plot of a mainstream comic?  (Yes, I am pulling for a plus-sized Amanda Waller in the upcoming Suicide Squad film.) People of color and women in central roles is still so rare that grand announcements are made when the “Big Two” choose to make the hero something other than a white male. Creator-owned books are better are providing alternatives to white characters. (Right now, I’m following a few books that fit those criteria: Concrete Park from Dark Horse, Rat Queens from Image, and Princeless from Action Lab Entertainment.)  So Penny is a revelation. She is genuine character without pretense. She is strong and frank and active. She is a fantastic character and I want to see more of her. (For more on Penny, read Sabrina’s review of Bitch Planet #1 here.)

Where Penny is quite different from most of the characters we see in comics, The Catholic is the usual fodder–at least visually. She is a hologram of a very fit nun clad in a habit, corset, panties, and thigh-high boots and is deployed by the prison guards to manipulate the women on their way to Bitch Planet. In a times of personal crisis many people turn to their selected spiritual values for solace; however, you’ll find none from The Catholic. She is tool of institutional suppression. She may seem soothing or benevolent at first, but really she is reinforcing that the non-compliant women have all done something wrong and deserve what they get–no matter how innocent you are. Such an effective way to keep the women from knowing themselves, feeling worthy of redemption, or even asking for basic rights.

The guards really like using The Catholic for discipline for some reason. (Read sarcasm.). Is it the sexy nun costume? Or maybe, they like watching women manipulate other women. Whatever it is, deploying The Catholic serves the male gaze for sure. The guards are the ultimate voyeur in many respects. There is a lot going on in the pages of Bitch Planet!

Bitch Planet is exciting. It is interesting. It has meaty material to dissect and discuss. It pulls from pop-culture genre and cultural cues.  Bitch Planet is just what I want in my pull list.

Kelly Sue and Matt on the Image panel at Rose City Comic Con (photo credit: Adrienne Fox)

Kelly Sue and Matt on the Image panel at Rose City Comic Con 2014 (photo credit: Adrienne Fox)

The Comic Book Power Couple

Really, a nickname like “DeConniction,” while fun, diminishes both creators just a little. I am sure that they have great dinner conversations that are sometimes spark ideas because they are writer-types. However, both are creators supreme in their own right. And whatever sort of creative atmosphere they’ve created together, it is yielding great results of innovative and challenging material. They have popular and successful titles at the “Big Two” and all the leading comic publishers. It is no accident; they each have acclaimed works because of the creative choices they’ve made–like most recently choosing sci-fi or sci-fantasy.

Choosing to set a story in science-fantasy does not always yield results like the content of these books: progressive and feminist. It is the choice of the writer to make a world that shows a different possibility or social changes that we should be striving for in our real world. You can’t be what you can’t see. DeConnick and Fraction are making that choice and adding to what we see.

It you haven’t already checked out the DeConnick-Fraction catalog, check out their respective work on Captain Marvel, Avengers Assemble, Pretty Deadly, Ghost, Hawkeye, Sex Criminals, and Casanova. That’s just a start, but you will not be disappointed.

The Pick List

Bitch Planet #1
Captain Marvel Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More
Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Down
Ghost Volume 1 TPB – In the Smoke and Din
Pretty Deadly Volume 1 TP
Casanova Complete Ed HC Vol. 01 Luxuria
Casanova Complete Ed HC Vol. 02 Gula
Casanova Complete Ed HC Vol. 03 Avaritia
Hawkeye By Matt Fraction And David Aja Omnibus HC
Hawkeye TPB My Life As Weapon Vol. 01 Now
Hawkeye TPB Vol. 02 Little Hits
ODYC #1
Sex Criminals TPB Vol. 01
Sex Criminals TPB Vol. 02 Two Worlds One Cop

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