Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review: Daughters of the Dragon: Samurai Bullets

Daughters of The Dragon: Samurai Bullets (Marvel Comics) collects an early 2006, six-issue miniseries starring the Misty Knight and Colleen Wing characters, who are here working as bail bonds-babes who collect minor supervillains.

Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray premised the series as a sort of exploitation work, in keeping with the leads’ roots in the Marvel creators of the 1970s attempts to exploit the then-current popularity of kung fu and blaxploitation movies. It’s a self-aware, never-completely-serious action book which splits its attention between ogling its protagonists and declaring how bad-ass they are, over and over again.

That could grow awfully tiresome (and I imagine reading this story as it was serially published, 22-pages a month for six months, would have been awfully tiresome), but artist Khari Evans’s execution of all the ogling, action and all-around design work is so strong it carries the book even through the weak parts.

Evans gives each of the ladies distinct looks, with different faces, different bodies, different hair and different sets of expressions and yes, I know that’s not something that should be singled out for praise per se, but go look at a current issue of, say, Birds of Prey, DC’s book about sexy crime-fighting women, and then look at Evans work here, and the latter’s going to seem all the more special.

He dresses them in authentic-looking clothes, which, again, shouldn’t be a big deal, but is usually so poorly done in super-comics it’s refreshing to see characters who can dress themselves when not wearing their superhero costumes. The superhero costumes they wear are pretty cool too; check out the cover.

Well, okay, Misty’s doesn’t look all that great really, but I like the bionic arm sheathe, and I like the zippers and buttons and such-like—it looks like real clothes, again, something you could imagine someone actually taking off or putting on, rather than the costume-in-a-can spray paint endemic to superhero comics.

I like Colleen’s even more, particularly the tennis shoe-footie things she wears. If there were actual superhero-ing in the actual real world, I imagine a costume like that would be a pretty close approximation to what one would look like, provided you were so good you didn’t feel you needed armor plating, and could get away with wearing white.

Oh, and Evans draws nipples, making Colleen and Misty perhaps the only anatomically correct superheroes in the Marvel and DC Universes. Not bare nipples of course, since comics like this aren’t for adults, but for teenagers, but the nipples do protrude through the clothing. And if you’re wearing a super-tight, white costume without a bra, your nipples are going to show through.

I hope this doesn’t sound too prurient on my part, but I was really happy to see Colleen’s nipples showing through her costume here. It made Daughters of the Dragon one of the very rare superhero comic books that didn’t seem to be half-assed in its construction.

I know I’ve complained about this before, but the Big Two companies especially engage in this sort of half-assery, where they publish comics that aren’t safe for kids on account of all the ultra-violence, contextual profanity, exploitive sexual imagery and all-around squicky content, but still cling to a veneer of propriety, so that Brian Michael Bendis characters will say “@#$% you, mother @#$%er” and Ed Benes will draw women with huge nipple-less breasts exploding out of body paint costumes.

I’m not calling for more explicit comics from DC and Marvel here; I’m calling for them to decide just how exploitive and/or mature they want there books to be, which audiences they want which books to appeal to, and then go for it, rather than trying to appear dangerous and play it safe at the same time.

Colleen Wing’s nipples haven’t changed the comics industry since they appeared—this series is four years old, after all—but I was pretty glad to see them in this comic book. High five Khari Evans! And everyone at Marvel who didn’t pulp this book!

Okay, so the art’s great. How’s the writing? That I’m of two minds about.

There were a lot of things I didn’t like, some having to do with suspension of disbelief (How come when Rhino hits a car with his head, he destroys it, but when a car hits him on the head he gets knocked out?), some having to do with Marvel continuity minutia (Like someone named American Samurai or something appearing for a short scene that served no purpose other than giving Colleen an excuse to unzip her top), some having to do with the ways characters are portrayed (The Punisher bit, for example, was very funny, but made our protagonists seem like psychopaths for not trying to bust him then and there; also, I was disappointed Misty won her big fight at the end simply because she had a bionic arm and her opponent didn’t) but most of it having to do with too many jokes about a white, nerdy character talking in hip-hop slang, a variation of the old white guy talking like a young black guy minstrel show humor that has been played out since…well, since I’ve been alive, at least.

That might seem like a long list, but the drawbacks are more pot holes than plot holes (or anything as serious as such). The overall plot is pretty well structured, Palmiotti and Gray wring some humor out of the same white-character-who-talks-black earlier on by revealing his superpower, the pacing is strong and regularly punctuated by well done action scenes, and there’s a lot of use made of many of Marvel’s wackier super-villains, many of whom I have something of a soft spot for.

A gang of four such losers attempt to rob a very powerful renaissance woman and accidentally steal a super-maguffin she was planning on selling to the highest evil bidder. When she starts picking them off in an attempt to recover her property, Colleen and Misty get pulled into the plot, since the villains are their clients. Orka, The Porcupine, Doctor Bong, The Trapster, Mandrill, Mole Man and Iron Fist all put in appearances, in addition to those already mentioned.

This miniseries seems to have lead almost directly into a Misty and Colleen lead version of Heroes For Hire written by Palmiotti and Gray, but instead of Evans, the artwork was handled by Billy Tucci and Francis Portela. Palmiotti and Gray didn’t stick around too long either, and the book only lasted 15 issues, its main claim to fame being the fact that it was the first major American superhero publisher’s comic to put a hentai-style tentacle rape fantasy on the cover.

Oh, and I suppose it’s worth mentioning that after having read this book, I still have no idea why it’s called Daughters of The Dragon: Samurai Bullets.

1 comment:

mordicai said...

I dream of an "Agents of the Avengers" title with Sharon Carter, Maria Hill, Victoria Hand...& Misty & Colleen.