Swords of Sorrow #1: Let’s Talk About Those Covers
Swords of Sorrow #1
Gail Simone (writer), Sergio Davila (artist), Jorge Sutil (colors), Erica Schultz (letters)
Scott Campbell & Nei Ruffino (main cover)
May 6, 2015
Swords of Sorrow is here, and we at WWAC got right on it! This past weekend, Desiree, Birdi, Melinda, Wendy B, and I sat down to discuss the first issue in the female-led series that will be running from May to October.
Considering a long history of frequent sexist representation for these pulpy female characters, we cast a keen eye over the artwork for this first issue. Thus, our reviewing begins with the covers.
The main cover is by J. Scott Campbell, well-known for his T&A illustrations of female characters. Considering that Campbell’s cover is one of nine covers, all of which are pretty fantastic, we were miffed that his work landed the main cover:
Jungle Girl’s posing certainly harkens to other covers that totally missed the mark on their audience, no? What’s the old saying… three steps forward, two steps back?
This is a comic written entirely by women about badass lady characters who have often been written from a very sexist perspective. With Swords of Sorrow, Dynamite has the opportunity to bring in a new wave of readers and become more than just the comic book company that does just a lot of cheesecake. So why make this the main cover? While none of us inherently mind these characters being scantily clad or sexy, posing is what often distinguishes covers that empower female characters from those that degrade female characters. Let’s take a look at another cover for comparison:
Robert Hack’s variant still depicts Red Sonja in her usual chain-maille bikini, but she is standing dominant over a field of slaughtered bodies with a man at her feet. This cover is a gender inversion of vintage pulp mag covers, particularly Frank Frazetta’s Conan cover, which makes it even more interesting to the informed reader, but even if you aren’t familiar with pulp mags, Red Sonja is clearly in a position of power.
Another favorite of ours was Tula Latoy’s variant:
The characters are posed in ways that express their characters. Red Sonja is in a throne with a bloodied sword and looking skeptical which is in keeping with the She-Devil with a Sword while Vampirella is literally vamping and toying with the viewer because that is what Vampirella does. In the background Dejah looks thoughtful and even compassionate – both characteristics of the Queen of Mars.
While there is no cover and posing that is going to embody a sort of pure feminism, these covers are a long shot from the Campbell cover. Let’s consider another cover that shares some similarities with Campbell’s cover. Emanuela Lupacchino’s cover was Wendy’s favorite because she felt it was successful in telling a story about the characters:
All three characters are in defensive poses, and Vampirella is offering her blood to the viewer. The posing isn’t entirely perfect – take a look Dejah Thoris’s spine and while you’re at it call the Escher Girls, but the defensive posturing and facial expressions of the characters indicate sexiness and power. The kind of sexiness and power many of us want to see in a comic starring iconic female action heroes.
Even if you take a cover like Joyce Chin’s which is high on the boobage:
The over-the-topness of the cover conveys the sort of campiness we expect of pulp comics, and I daresay plays with the genre. There’s a smattering of ladies on the cover at different positions and levels. Girls! Girls! Girls! Yet, each of these ladies look ready to burn it all down. Which we are all about. (Chin also did the cover for the Chaos! Prequel which is also high on cleavage and camp.)
Empowerment, like oppression, is complex. It’s multidimensional and ever changing, but empowerment is definitely not an ass-in-the-air. Particularly, in the context of a comic written by women for an audience who wants to see interesting and empowered female characters.
I also want to spotlight Dave Acosta’s variant for Green Brain comics:
What I love about this cover is how ferocious Vampirella looks. Vampirella is a campy character and it makes sense for her to be a very sexy character (less acceptable reasoning when ALL female characters are like that; call it the Emma Frost Syndrome), but she’s also a vampire alien with unlimited powers. I wish more artists would take a cue from Acosta and represent both these sides of Vampi.
(You can view the rest of the covers, here.)
So with this great diversity of cover artists, men and women alike, why is the Campbell cover in the main spot for issue one? Desiree speculates that it is a business decision to bring in the fanboys, but of course this raises the question of whether this “business decision” could be at the expense of the business of a large percentage of female comic readers (and buyers). Melinda neatly summed up our feels about this state of affairs:
It would make me a little sad if the powers that be didn’t think a full on girl power attitude could bring sales.
Marvel did something similar with Fearless Defenders, a good story about an all female B-list team with complete cheesecake art. It was what put a lot of women off buying it. I wouldn’t mind if Campbell’s was a variant cover pushed at dudes, but it’s the main cover for issue one. It sends a mixed message on the book and the series itself.
And it’s this mixed messaging that is so disheartening, because the story is rampant with potential. Swords of Sorrow #1 is largely devoted to set-up and spends most of the time jumping among the wildly different settings that the characters inhabit. It builds excitement (at one point there’s Vampirella battling a T-Rex, which is always a good thing), but also feels somewhat scattered. For some of us, the disconnect reinforced our trepidation about a series so heavy with this many characters:
My concern with a crossover like this is that so many characters will be glossed over. (Wendy B)
However, we all agreed that the Chaos! prequel was an excellent enhancement to the first issue and gave the reader a more complete story for a single issue:
I actually enjoyed the prequel more than issue one. Issue one for me felt a little to vague and jumped a lot, but I liked the inter-connection of it all.” (Desiree R)
In the prequel, Mairghread Scott writes a variety of female baddies, some of whom are morally complex (Chastity and Kitty), and some who just want to cause rampant destruction (Purgatori – a favorite of ours, and Mistress Hel). Since many of the heroines are more well-known than the villains, the prequel provides an intriguing story and important character development:
It sets those characters and their motivations up. I think it is necessary…I guess I like villains who aren’t just HULK SMASH about everything. (Wendy B)
Ultimately, the prequel enhanced issue one and provided a more balanced tone to the overall story. If this sort of balance is maintained between the series and the one-shots then Swords of Sorrow will be a standout comic that does the difficult work of juggling a large team of complex and distinct characters.
Dynamite has been doing some great work with their female characters recently and in general seems to be headed in a direction that is managing to do sexy and powerful, not gross objectification. A cover with “butts in the air” brings the connotation of a specific heterosexual male fantasy (just use your imagination) and effectively cuts out an even bigger potential readership.
Will we buy the Swords of Sorrow #1 Campbell cover because we are just that desperate to see and read about a team of iconic female characters?
If that is what Dynamite is banking on, then that is pretty fucked up.