Comics, Diversity, Gender, Race, Racism, Sexism

Review: Swords of Sorrow: Miss Fury & Lady Rawhide

Swords of Sorrow: Miss Fury & Lady Rawhide cover by Mirka Andolfo, Dynamite, 2015Swords of Sorrow: Miss Fury & Lady Rawhide

Mikki Kendall (words), Ronilson Freire (lines), Kirsty Swan (colors), Erica Schultz (letters)
Mirka Andolfo & Vincent Di Salvo (cover)
Dynamite
September 2, 2015

Synopsis from Dynamite: “When everything is going wrong, sometimes the only person you can trust is a complete stranger. Can Miss Fury and Lady Rawhide put aside their differences long enough to figure out what’s really going on?”

(Note: This review may contain some spoilers and is based on an advanced review from Dynamite.)

Cover

Gin: What do you think of Mirka Andolfo’s cover? She’s done a few other covers and is currently doing the interiors for Swords of Sorrow: Red Sonja/Jungle Girl. For me, I find her style very playful, and I really enjoy it, to the point of I want some of her artwork on my wall. There’s a wit to her work that I appreciate. I also appreciate that Andolfo drew the costume a little more conservatively – the legs aren’t high-cut and the neckline is an actual v-neck instead of being so wide it’s more like a u-neck.

Desiree: I like her style, it reminds me of a mix of traditional western comic based artwork, and a playful almost moe anime style of art. Especially in the eyes, hair, and facial expressions. Lady Rawhide’s legs are out of proportion and her waist is inhumanly thin, but I adore the colors used, and Miss Fury makes a striking backdrop.

Characters

Gin: In order to learn a little more about these pulp characters, Desiree researched Lady Rawhide’s history while I took on Miss Fury. A little bit on Miss Fury: she was one of the first female superheroes of the pulp hero. She debuted in 1941 in Sunday strips as Black Fury. Born Marla Drake, a New York socialite, her costume, a panther pelt used as a ceremonial robe by an “African witch doctor,” grants her superior fighting skills. She was created and drawn by June Tarpe Mills, who wrote under the more gender neutral name Tarpe Mills. According to Comic Vine, she was the inspiration for Marvel’s Hellcat.

Desiree, what did you learn about Lady Rawhide in your research, and do you think the comic depicted her in keeping with past depictions, did it challenge it?

Desiree: Lady Rawhide was originally created as a secondary character in Zorro’s solo series after he moved from Image Comics to Dynamite. Her real name is Anita Santiago, a young Latina woman who has a strong sense of justice. Due to the villainous actions of the Commandante of Los Angeles, Captain Enrique Monasterio, who ruthlessly disfigured her brother, Lady Rawhide created her own vigilante identity to seek revenge. Originally Lady Rawhide held a grudge against Zorro, blaming him for the disfiguration of her brother Roman Santiago. Roman was shot point blank range by Enrique who had mistaken him for Zorro. Later, Lady Rawhide renounces her revenge against Zorro, and he falls in love with her.

Her abilities are exceptional sword skills and athleticism. Lady Rawhide also uses her revealing outfit to taunt and distract her enemies.

In this issue of Swords of Sorrow, I felt they kept Lady Rawhide’s sense of justice, but didn’t embrace her previously developed cockiness. She was willing to work with Miss Fury after only a few panels of brief communication. Also her outfit was extremely distracting, but not in any positively presented way.

Gin: Yeah, can we talk about their costumes? Like I need a good Spanish expression of exasperation because Lady Rawhide’s costume is really atrocious, isn’t it? I mean what in Sam Hill is up with those unattached sleeves?! Also, pants. There ain’t no way you are riding a horse without pants. Like do you know what that will do to your inner thighs? They sure as shit won’t be the delicate lily white, hairless ones that Lady Rawhide has!

And it’s not the artists’ fault that this is what they have to work with, but you can make modifications to make the costumes, well, not terrible, and I didn’t see that in the interiors like I did on the cover.

Desiree: Dios mío, which translates into “my god” or “oh my god” is what I was using while face-palming at Lady Rawhide’s costume the entire issue. I could barely focus on the actual story because Lady Rawhide’s everything was terrible.

[pullquote]This is what I’m suppose to count as positive Latina representation? This hyper-sexualized, red-headed, white-passing woman who speaks some Spanish?[/pullquote]This is what I’m suppose to count as positive Latina representation? This hyper-sexualized, red-headed, white-passing woman who speaks some Spanish? I was honestly offended, insulted even, no matter how hard I tried to make it all work together in my head. Yes, there are Latina women who are white-passing—I can pass for white sometimes—and there are even red-headed Latinas, but I noticed throughout the story most of the Latin people were white-passing. It really bothered me. There’s a big issue of colorism within the comic industry, to make characters of color white-passing in order to please white audiences while also throwing a bone to fans of color. Well, this is one bone I’m not chewing on. I was appalled by everything Lady Rawhide was in the book. We have white-passing Latin characters, we don’t need a hyper-sexualized—as Latina and other women of color often are based specifically around their race—white-passing, red-headed one to check off fetish boxes for male fans.

Gin: Right! I am curious as to what you think about taking on a character like this. Lady Rawhide is so obviously created in the name of titillation for the male gaze. Do you there is a place for redeeming the character in a positive way for diverse audiences, or is she just too far-gone with the outfit, the white-passing, etc?

Desiree: It’s hard to say in all honesty. I don’t want to completely write Lady Rawhide off, but her character needs a huge overhaul for me to consider her a positive presentation of Latina representation in media. All the Chaos/Dynamite women are pretty much designed for ultimate sexiness to appeal to various fetishes directed at straight men. There’s no real way to get around this aspect, but I still believe sexy costumes can be functional. Lady Rawhide’s outfit isn’t even functional—as you pointed out about her riding horses—and then there’s the added problem of her being Latina. I say problem, because Latina women—like most women of color—are specifically fetishized because of their race. There are sexual monikers specifically given to women of color that connect to their race, so I’m having troubling removing that context from Lady Rawhide herself, as a male-created character.

Lady Zorro is a better example of a sexy Latina character—at least from what I’ve read—who can, in the hands of the right creative team, be a great example of an empowered Latina character. Her costume was sexy, but overall functional—or functional in the world of comic books. Furthermore she was dark skinned, while Black Sparrow—another Latina character—was light skinned. There was a balance. Lady Rawhide looks like Barbara Gordon or Natasha Romanoff. This becomes especially ridiculous when her brother looks actually Latino. The question comes up, why is Lady Rawhide a white, red-headed Latina who looks nothing at all like her brother? In all I researched, I didn’t find anything that said they were half-siblings which could explain the differences, or that when Anita became Rawhide she dyed her hair red for secret identity purposes. All I can think is that she was created to check off fetish boxes for straight male fans; a sexy, redheaded Latina.

That being said, I don’t believe the character is all lost. There’s a potential story there about Anita wanting to appear more white due to societal pressure or understanding white privilege. Given her light skin, she knew by dying her hair she could pass easily and garner more privilege to better protect people. This, however, would put her personally at odds with her brother who takes pride in their Latin roots and culture, and she questions the duality of her identity as Antia vs Lady Rawhide. There could be a great story underneath what is now, I’m reluctant to say, an offensive character.

So to answer the question, I don’t fully believe she’s too far gone, but it’d take a creative team willing to actually acknowledge her Latina heritage and culture to help reinvent the character so to speak.  

Story

Gin: I have been really excited about this one since reading Jamie’s interview with Mikki Kendall! And because Miss Fury is an iconic pulp female superhero! I thought this was very well-paced for being a one-shot that is trying to cram a lot in. There weren’t panels and pages devoted to in-fighting which was quickly resolved, and the conclusion felt like a solid conclusion for this part of the story, and set-up the story up nicely for the main series. If Kendall can achieve this sort of pacing in such a complicated crossover event, I would really like to see her have her own series.

Desiree: I really enjoy Kendall’s work, but when something is translated from Spanish, you don’t need to include Spanish words. In Lady Rawhide’s opening, someone calls her “Senorita Rawhide,” but there’s an editor’s note that it’s translated from Spanish. They do this a couple times in the issue. It’s a nitpick, but it bugged me a lot. I get it, most folks only know a couple of Spanish words, like Senorita, but if something is already translated, don’t include an easy Spanish buzz word to make it seem more Spanish.

That being said, Kendall has a real knack for pacing, which is one of my biggest pet peeves in comics. An issue that isn’t paced correctly can ruin the entire story, but Kendall is able to pace the overall story really well. Things move a bit fast, but that adds to the overall chaos of what’s happening in the overall Swords of Sorrow story.

Chosen One-Shot cover by Tom Raney, Chaos/Dynamite, 2014

Chosen one-shot cover by Tom Raney featuring Voodoo Childe in the background.

Gin: Okay, so we finally have a name for the character that has popped up ever so often with the the rest of the villains. She is Voodoo Childe! But that is about all I know because she was not even mentioned in the first and awesome prequel (more Mairghread Scott, please!). I then had to hunt down some info on her, and lemme tell ya, there’s not a lot out there, so the fact that she is just lurking in the background and that is she a black character is problematic for me. Why wasn’t she in the prequel? Why have we seen her pop up a few times with the villains, but with no address as to why she is? And why is she only showing up in the last one-shot of the event?

I looked up some much needed background on Voodoo Childe. Like the rest of the Chaos ladies, she originates from the now defunct Chaos! Comics. She became property of Dynamite when they bought the rights to all of the Chaos! characters (with the exception of Lady Death) in 2014. Her grandmother practiced voodoo, and Voodoo Child, née Vanessa, continues the practice. She belonged to a group called “The Chosen” (see picture) where she fought to save the world from Armageddon.

Desiree: I was wondering! I really liked her actually, and would love to see more of her. She seems like a double agent, since she indirectly helped Lady Rawhide on her mission.

Art

Gin: I thought the art was kind of meh, especially the colors. I actually went and looked up more work from Ronilson Freire. On his website, he has some previews of Lady Rawhide and Miss Fury, and I thought those previews had so much more dynamism and expression than what turned out in the actual comic.

Desiree: Oh good, it’s not just me. I was underwhelmed by the overall artwork. Kendall’s writing helped create a great tone for the issue, but the art really didn’t help build up the tension like it should have. For a lot of the issue all I could focus on was Lady Rawhide’s breasts in that ridiculous costume.

Gin: That seems to be the case with Miss Fury all the time, like how her boobs look in that costume, it’s ridiculous. However, I did really enjoy how Friere drew Purgatori. I think that is the best I have seen her because she was grotesque under Friere’s pencils. She wasn’t the red-skinned, sexy demon, but she was this unnerving combination of sexy and grotesque. 

Purgatori & Voodoo Childe as drawn by Ronilson Freire for Swords of Sorrow: Miss Fury & Lady Rawhide one-shot, Dynamite, 2015

Purgatori & Voodoo Childe attempt to escape

Desiree: I will agree that Purgatori was well done, and I actually really liked how Friere drew Voodoo Childe as well. It’s just a shame that Miss Fury and Lady Rawhide, who are the stars of the issue, fell so flat for me.