Review: Swords of Sorrow: Chaos! Prequel
Mairghread Scott (writer), Mirka Andolfo (artist), Chiara Zeppegno & Agnese Pozza (colors), Erica Schultz (letters)
Cover by Joyce Chin
May 6, 2015
Welcome to the first post in our huge Swords of Sorrow event! We’re starting out with the prequel to the series, Chaos, reviewed by Kate and yours truly!
Gin: So we’ve got Joyce Chin on cover art. Kate, tell me, what are you thinking of all the booty and vamping on this cover?
Kate: So — disclaimer: I have never read anything of the “pulp comics” variety before, and usually when I see comics with women looking the way they look on this cover, I roll my eyes. But I recently read this comic by Ronnie Ritchie on empowerment vs. objectification, and so after reading that, I can’t help but notice that the women on the cover are posed around a prone, potentially restrained man — which is a scene that never occurs in the comic itself, and therefore seems to make it symbolic? And that actually gets me excited to read more.
Gin: And I loooooove pulp, but it is too often on the side of gross objectification rather than the playful cheekiness that I really like about pulp when it’s done well. But even without considering the restrained man surrounded by these vamping women, I think the way the characters are drawn and dressed is a little different than the usual stuff. First of all, they are actually dressed more modestly than they appear in the comic. Second, the way they are drawn seems to be tongue in cheek: the cupid bow lips, the exaggerated booty on Purgatori. There seems to be a sort of fun and thoughtful exaggeration and trope inversion going on here that I really like. Also, with the exception of Chastity, all the characters are looking right at the viewer. It feels like a dare.
Kate: Now that I’m looking closely, too, I think it’s significant that there are no crotches present. Mistress Hel’s arm is blocking Chastity, and Purgatori is posed in front of Bad Kitty. And the prone male figure is bent nearly double. Also, can we look at that bulldog’s expression? It feels like more than a critique, but, as you said, playful and cheeky? Like, campy feminism? Is that a thing?
Gin: I think it should be! Especially when taking on a project like this. These characters are fun for their over-the-topness, and they are often powerful figures, but that gets undermined when they are posed licking their swords or legs spread with a snake between their legs. So having a women-led team on this, I think offers a really interesting exploration: can these pulpy characters be reappropriated in a way that makes them not sexist?
Kate: I think that was one of my major questions when reading this. Is this aiming to provide a feminist critique of pulp comics, and if so, what is that critique? Another thing I was interested in was the fact that this prelude/prequel comic is focused on the women who will be the main villains in the Swords of Sorrow series — but you wouldn’t know that from reading the comic.
Gin: Exactly — when I first saw the Chaos! prequel on the event list, I was really confused as to what it meant. After some research, I realized that they were the baddies, but without prior research, you wouldn’t know that — that is until they pop up in Swords and Sorrow #1. So what did you think of the comic? It’s interesting that the cover has the prone man, but that doesn’t actually happen in the comic. In fact, it ends up being that a man is pulling the strings for bringing the bad ladies together.
Kate: That’s where I’m slightly uncomfortable in terms of my celebration of this feminist reclamation. But then it also occurred to me that this Man-Creates-Team-of-Women trope might be an allegory for the comic book industry itself, and specifically this project, because the fact is that even though this team of women is being led by Gail Simone, the idea was pitched to her by Nick Barrucci from Dynamite. And I’m not going to make a judgment on whether that is exploitative or empowering, because what I’m interested in is the way this trope is reflecting real life. It also makes me curious about how these two teams being pitted against each other is going to pan out. I’m putting my hope and trust in Simone and the other creators that they will, in some way, join forces to fight the patriarchy — but that might just be my inner feminist fantasy.
Gin: See, I don’t mind if they end up not joining forces, but I do want my female baddies to get to pull their own strings and serve their own nefarious ends. Now if both sides do end up joining forces and turning on this dude — who is clearly set up as a misogynist as seen in Swords & Sorrow #1 where he demands to be avenged “against all women” — then that would be damn cool, but I also was looking forward to a story of just female baddies vs. female goodies. I think my inner feminist fantasy is more along the lines of “watch some badass ladies duke it out and blow shit it up along the way.”
Kate: Ha! Well, I think part of the reason why I’m wanting them to subvert that pitting against each other is because of the way that we’re introduced to the villains as complex people and not just caricatures of “bad girls.” I mean, Purgatori is the most caricatured of all of them, but she’s written unapologetically in a way that forces me to accept this caricature as just how she is. Same with Mistress Hel. But then there’s Chastity, who doesn’t seem to want to be a “bad girl” at all, and Bad Kitty, who is literally battling between herself and her “Bad Girl” id.
Gin: Yeah, let’s talk about the baddies and who they are. They all originate from Chaos! Comics which was formed in 1994 and went belly-up in 2002, then Dynamite bought the rights to all the characters (except Lady Death). There have been a smattering of series with these characters from Dynamite, but I get the impression they don’t last long. And Chaos! Comics seems to be representative of this dated death metal, 90s bad girl trend — I am curious where the writers will take these characters considering their origins. What do you think?
Kate: Right, Mistress Hel is the Lady Death replacement, according to my research. What I’ve enjoyed so far is that there seems to be real effort to develop these characters as characters based on their origins — Mistress Hel acts as a Norse Death Goddess in that she acts very … alien? I think that is the word I’m looking for.
Gin: I think she acts as we would expect for a god to act towards humanity — in that very old school sort of way. They bug her, she wants to off them. It will have no impact on her. She will still be a god. Or maybe it’s just a love of destruction no matter what. Remember what drove Spike and Drusilla apart? Besides a chaos demon. Ha! A chaos demon! Lookie there. Anyway, Druscilla wanted to destroy the world and Spike wanted to maintain it so he could just keep on brawling.
Kate: Right. And I liked that sense of personality. I think that’s what I enjoyed the most. After reading the comic, I feel like even though I had no idea who these characters were previously, I know who they are now, for the purposes of this event.