Feminism, Gender, Type

Gail Simone: She Writes Icons

GailSimone_564Gail Simone. She does things. There’s a reason why fandom loves her, and it’s not just because of the amusing romps her thoughts inspire on Twitter. We love her because she takes characters with delicate histories–or not so delicate histories–and holds them and reshapes them with loving hands. She can turn characters and situations that make some of us cringe into stories that make us smile contentedly when we’re done.

When DC Comics decided to restore Barbara Gordon’s use of her legs in their New 52 Reboot, fandom was in an uproar. We had all come to know and love Gordon’s integral role in the Bat-universe as Oracle–as did Simone herself–so it was with tentative hearts that we picked up that first issue of the new Batgirl. Though I’m sure some fans still cling to Oracle, many of us breathed sighs of relief, because how could we have doubted Simone? We may have lost Oracle, but we gained a Batgirl with a new perspective on life, and with very real emotional struggles that could restrict her as easily as her quadriplegia did. Simone’s new Barbara Gordon has to deal with the very dark corners of PTSD, while still kicking ass and holding on to that quirkiness that makes Simone’s books such an endearing read.

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Ed Benes’ Batgirl #0 cover, Jenny Frison’s Red Sonja #1 cover

It’s not easy to balance that level of pain while keeping your character on top and not depressing your readers, but Simone manages. It’s why I immediately grabbed her reboot of Red Sonja when I learned she was writing it. I’m a fan of the Brigitte Neilson movie from the ’80s, but I’d never bothered with the comic. I’m not entirely opposed to scantily clad women, assuming they serve a purpose greater than being scantily clad (looking at you too, Dejah Thoris). But this is the comic book industry. What are the odds that the image of Red Sonja that graces so many covers actually reflects anything more than a hot chick in a metal bikini with a sword? Yet the second I heard Simone was writing it, I jumped in without question–and was not at all disappointed.

red sonja queen of plagues art by Walter GeovanniSimone’s Sonja is haunted by a dark past involving the loss of her family and village, and later captivity that forced her to fight to the death in an arena for the pleasure of her captor. When we meet her, she is the strong and deadly woman who will give no quarter–even when suffering from a blistering hangover. Metal bikini aside, Simone makes it clear that Sonja is well respected as a warrior first, and she is even called on by a king to teach his people to defend themselves from a deadly threat. But Simone doesn’t let her heroes win their battles too easily–at least, not without a healthy amount of soul-searching first. And what do you know, she even manages to get the she devil into real armour!

witchblade tomb raider (Top Cown Studios) art by Michael TurnerWith Red Sonja now happily on my pull list, the recent announcement that Simone would be writing Lara Croft in the reboot that goes along with SquareEnix’s new games, means that I’ll be jumping on that bandwagon too, despite having had little interest in the character before. In my younger days, I was more interested in fantasy role playing games and only played Tomb Raider once–just long enough to make Lara explode. I only watched the movies because I have a crush on Angelina Jolie, and only read Lara’s original comic book incarnation when she teamed up with Top Cow Comics’ Witchblade. This was during the ’90s “bad girl” phase of comics, where Lara’s already ample bosom and kickass attitude fit right in, but I already had enough bad girls in my comic collection. I didn’t need another one.

My gaming preferences have matured with age, and now I seek strong stories and character development, which seemed to be what the new games were offering–until I saw the first promotional teaser where the marketing team apparently decided that a sexual assault scene was the perfect way to advertise their new and improved Lara Croft. The scene does exist in-game, but writer Rhianna Pratchett explains that the intent was not to turn Lara into a victim of sexual assault.

The scene is very much about what it means to take a human life. It’s about Lara’s reactions, rather than the guy’s actions–which are absolutely what you see in the trailer, and never go further than that.

Taken out of context, this trailer alone turned many off of the game, including Simone herself, who initially refused Dark Horse when they approached her about writing the comic. “I was a dead cold skeptic about a revised Tomb Raider. Simone writes on her blog–

I was a dead cold skeptic about a revised Tomb Raider. The initial PR was SO wrong and SO ridiculous that I was positive they were ruining the character and the franchise. I was very pissed about it, in fact.”

My male friends praised the game up and down, stressing that the disturbing scene is not what it seems and that Lara really and truly is a much better character now. But I found it odd that I couldn’t hear such things from female gamers. Not that I made any grand effort to seek their opinions, having been so thoroughly turned off the game. It’s a good thing that Simone herself decided to play it anyway and ended up loving it.

It was one of the most amazing gaming experiences I have ever had. They actually IMPROVED Lara Croft. So I called Dark Horse back and literally said, ‘forget all that stuff I said, I’m IN.’

Now, thanks to Steam’s recent Holiday Sale and this much more empowering trailer, I’m all set to play it too, and on February 26, 2014, I’ll be happily reading issue #1 of the new Tomb Raider comic, eager to see Simone’s take on Lara Croft’s journey from shipwrecked student to determined survivor–before she becomes the daring hero we have known. “I have two Lara Crofts in my head, actually,” Simone tells Newsarama.

There’s the Lara in the recent game, whom I adored, who feels fear and guilt and anxiety and pain and regret very acutely, who is just learning how to turn the world to her will. And then there’s a Lara I believe she will become, something even more formidable.

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Lara Croft is certainly an iconic character in the gaming industry, and, both because and in spite of her feminine assets, she is perhaps the most famous character on a very short list of females who hold their own in any game. Now that SquareEnix and Dark Horse are intent on making Lara into more than just the sum of her parts, I’m looking forward to finally getting to know her. Better still, I’m looking forward to the day when my daughters are old enough for me to introduce them to her, because, as far as role models go, the Lara Croft that Gail Simone promises is definitely one I’d be proud to share with my girls.

tomb-raider-1-dark-horse-comicsAbove: Lara in her most recent game. Left: Nicolas Daniel Selma, Juan Gedeon and Michael Atiyeh’s Tomb Raider #1 art