A Review of Vampirella & Jennifer Blood #4, or How Not To Write a Feminist Comic Book
Swords of Sorrow: Vampirella & Jennifer Blood #4
Nancy Collins (Writer), David Acosta (Artist), Valentina Pinto (Colorist), Erica Schultz (Letterer)
August 19, 2015
Birdi and Kate take issue with Swords of Sorrow: Vampirella & Jennifer Blood #4, which is really no surprise, considering they’ve had problems with the entire run. As a final review, they’ve organized their critique in the form of a handy list of questions for writers and publishers to ask themselves about their characters when making a comic for women.
1. Are you perpetuating slut-shaming rather than calling attention to the act by uncritically referring to your women using misogynistic and/or slut-shaming language?
Kate: When a man calls a woman a bitch, and he’s a villain, the condemnation of his character is a condemnation of his misogyny as well. We see this in the comic when the Calavera gang call Jennifer Blood a puta. But when Jennifer calls Chastity a bitch when she stabs her through the heart, or when she calls Vampirella Booberella, it’s different. She’s our protagonist, and even though she’s not a particularly likeable protagonist, the fact that her language goes unchecked by herself or other characters perpetuates its usage. When a woman calls another woman a ‘bitch’ it’s not indicative of a strong female character. It’s indicative of misogynistic culture.
2. Are you perpetuating women-on-women violence rather than calling attention to the issue?
[pullquote]Why are we perpetuating an issue rather than using it as a way to flip the script?[/pullquote]Birdi: Calling attention to women on women violence is an important component of critical, thought art. Comics and graphic novels especially those focusing on characters traditionally written for the male gaze offer a nuanced way to highlight the ways in which women engage in violence against one another, how the behavior is perpetuated and glorified by means of pop culture, art, and the media. Given this nuanced position, why are we perpetuating an issue rather than using it as a way to flip the script? Let’s ask ourselves what is the purpose of Jennifer Blood and Vampirella’s intense rivalry? Why do they continuously physically fight and cause bodily harm to one another? To what end? Does the violence between Chastity and Vampirella connect them? Is the same true for violence between Jennifer Blood and Vampirella? Overall, the violence enacted ends up doing more harm than actually calling attention to issue. Vampirella and Jennifer Blood pit themselves against one another repeatedly and Chastity and Vampirella are unable to reach a common ground. Don’t kid yourselves, there is no flipping of any script here. Just Birdi flipping tables.
3. Have you dressed your woman in a way that is not only out of character, but is flimsily justified in the narrative through a contrived plot point in order to sexualize her?
Kate: This was one of the things that made me so angry. Having read and reviewed Chaos: Prelude where we see Chastity wearing what we have to assume is her chosen style of clothing–black leggings and simple white cropped t-shirt–and then to see her dressed in this throwback costume was a shock, to say the least. But the justification–addressed in the narrative–is so weak it just proves that it serves no other purpose than her sexualization. If Chastity were actually dressed like Vampirella or Jennifer Blood that would be one thing, but she’s dressed like neither of them, so what gives? There’s also really lazy coloring in this issue when it comes to Chastity’s hair. It’s supposed to be red, but in this issue it varies from light pink, to magenta, to purple, sometimes on the very same page.
4. Do you derail overarching storylines and/or undermine your fellow women creators by ignoring previously established revitalized characterization in favor of your own less regressive, static, and two-dimensional characterization?
[pullquote]Rather than have these two women fully engage and intertwine with one another in meaningful ways that also move the story along we see them stuck in a repetitive motion in which they are at each others throats.[/pullquote]Birdi: Each time we come across this in an issue my first thought is “Oh great, we’re pulling Ryan Murphy, le sigh.” Vampirella and Jennifer Blood are such rich characters individually, when you team them up you could really have a fascinating story, each has such an intricate backstory it really could be interesting to see how the individual stories inform the relationship between the two. However, rather than have these two women fully engage and intertwine with one another in meaningful ways that also move the story along we see them stuck in a repetitive motion in which they are at each others throats (word play!). Have the initial aggression sure, it makes sense but let’s allow that initial aggression to inform and move the story along rather than circling it. This only works to undermine the work in the other SoS comics and work being done by those creators.
5. Are the only POCs in your narrative a) men and/or b) villains?
Kate: This is an intersectional feminism issue, and frankly, unacceptable. When I was rereading the comic series for this post, I was just like, “where are the women of color?” Even during the portion of the plot when Jennifer Blood is pretending to be a sex worker, all the other sex workers are white. And both of the minor villains that Vampirella and Jennifer Blood take out are minorities. Tahquitz is Native American Indian, and the Calavera gang is presumably Hispanic, based on their Day of the Dead inspired makeup. That’s just not good in terms of representation.
6. Are your women a flat, two-dimensional, uncritical representation of the “Strong Female Character” stereotype?
[pullquote]You know who are strong and independent? People. You know who are people? Women![/pullquote]Birdi: Can we just stop with the “Strong Independent Woman” stereotype? You know who are strong and independent? People. You know who are people? Women! Shocker of the century I know especially given our current social and political landscape. But no less, women are strong, independent, vulnerable, intelligent, and the list goes on. But that’s not the point. The point is we’re at a place in which we can call into question the “Strong Female Character” stereotype and what it represents. Pulp and noir are great genres for doing just this. Yet in Vampirella and Jennifer Blood #4 the women are flatter than paper dolls. “Strong Female Character” in Vampirella and Jennifer Blood #4 translates into repeated aggression, vapid depictions of women rather than thoughtful, well rounded, three dimensional characters. If you need inspiration for well rounded women, seek out women in your life, consult friends, ask yourself what a an strong character looks like, watch Mad Max: Fury Road or Firefly. Move past the aggression, let it inform the characters and relationships but don’t be a merry go round. At best, you bore your readers and at worst, you perpetuate harmful stereotypes of women.
7. Are you women static, given little to no room for character growth, development, and reflection?
Kate: One hopes when two characters meet each other, something will happen in order to show how they’ve changed from the encounter. One especially hopes that in a four-part mini-series, otherwise what was the point of them being put together in a mini-series to begin with? When I reflect on the relationship between Vampirella and Jennifer Blood, looking at where they started and where they end–there’s no change in either of them. They both walk away completely unchanged, without any self-reflection, or any hint that this encounter might cause them to view the world, or even themselves, in a different way. It’s a massive disappointment, and a lost opportunity.
8. Do you employ cliched genre tropes rather than critique them?
Birdi: Noir and pulp are genres that allow creators to actively take dominant views and perceptions and toy with how those dominant views are understood and call them into question as well as point out the humor in them. Pulp and noir both are ripe for mocking cliched genre tropes but rather than mock or parody these tropes the Vampirella and Jennifer Blood issues across the board especially issue #4 reinforce these tropes rather than call them into question and parody them. How would the story be informed if in issue #1, Jennifer Blood and Vampirella had the initially interaction in which their personalities clash and then in the following issues we work on building the relationship, the team up, fighting baddies, and invoking a humorous portrayal of our expectation of female characters. Won’t that be awesome? Wouldn’t you want to read that story? Sadly, we’ll never get it out of Vampirella and Jennifer Blood at least not in this run.
[pullquote]I was promised a feminist event but I was given a patriarchal circus[/pullquote]Birdi: At this point I’m tired. I’m just exhausted pointing out the issues in these stories and why they are issues. I was thrilled to read these comics, I was giddy to review them and really delve into the stories, the characters, the crossovers but overall as is well documented I have been disappointed. I was promised a feminist event but I was given a patriarchal circus.
Kate: Same. I’d never read any pulp or noir comics before, but if most of them are like this, it’s not a genre I would have any interest in reading in the future, and certainly not anything by this writer. I can see the potential, and when compared with other titles in this event, this title’s poor quality stands out even more.