Thursday, 29 August 2013

DAZ #35: "Brawl!"

(Skip It)


This is the third pure Shooter platter we've dealt with here (DAZ #29 being a co-write with Frank Springer, though it reads like Shooter had no small influence), and we can now see a pattern emerging.

Not a pattern in terms of quality, to be sure. DAZ #31 I absolutely adored, and her graphic novel I found mostly dull and occasionally offensive.  Reading this issue, though, it became clear that my sharply differing appraisals of those two books comes from my very different reactions to two instances of the same approach.

There are, it turns out, three concepts on which Shooter builds his Dazzler stories.  The first is examinations of what it's like to be a mutant in a mutant-hating world.  The second is the imparting of some kind of moral message.  The third, which grows to some extent from the first two, is the total removal of supervillains for Dazzler to fight, and a noticeable reduction in how much Dazzler uses her powers.

I've mentioned several times that the third of these three ideas is one I'm firmly behind, and I certainly haven't gotten sick of it yet.  The first is also clearly a good thing, and Shooter once again deploys it well here.

It's the morals of these stories that cause the problem. Well, that and the cheesecake.

But let's stick with what works for now, shall we?  The first half of this issue is dedicated to Dazzler's struggles with her genetic heritage.  Before this can really take off, though, Shooter has to take us through the events of Alison's star turn in MGN #12.  Usually I pour scorn on these catch-ups, but with the price-tag of Dazzler: The Movie potentially putting DAZ regulars off and them needing to know where Roman Nekoboh has gone to, there wasn't really any avoiding it (which might be a good reason to not have done it at all, but that's a fault of Shooter the editor, not Shooter the writer). And Shooter knows his stuff well enough to work the recap into what's going on here.  Dazzler's recollections go into a tape-recorder intended for Storm (which is a bit contrived, but we'll look past that), and no sooner has she finished than her landlord and his wife burst in armed with a lead pipe and a baseball bat.

They want Dazzler gone, you see.  Too dangerous to have her mutanty mutantness rubbing off on the furniture.  Except, now they've heard Dazzler's story, and they feel all guilty. This tells us two things. First, it gets much harder to maintain one's bigotry when forced to deal with the targets of your fear/hatred turning out to be actual people.  Second, they heard Dazzler sob out a story about losing the man she loved and any shot she had of pursuing her dream, and still decided to threaten to beat her brains out if she didn't leave her home.

It's a supremely ugly moment, and not one that feels particularly hyperbolic, though that might just be my cynicism showing through. Ultimately the pair relent, but the landlord still can't resist threatening Alison over the rent before he leaves.  They may have allowed their guilt to overcome their terror, but that will only get you so far.

This sets up a pattern over the following day as Dazzler wanders through town looking for any job that can help her with the rent. With her secret now out, no-one will so much as consider the job.  Some hate her, some fear her, some simply fear other people hating and fearing her, but it all amounts to the same thing in the end: no job for Ally.  One man even threatens her with a crowbar, forcing her to disintegrate the weapon with her powers. She's damn fortunate no-one saw the incident, really.  I was half convinced someone would, and her only moment of rebelling against the profound injustice she was suffering under would just cause her more problems.  It's what's so pernicious about social injustice; the very acts that seem the most justified and offer the most catharsis to readers tend in the real world to go very very badly. Because people are awful.

And all this is awful too, but in a very deliberate way.  For all that Bronze Age comics do other things very well (mainly in tying together the remaining spurts of Silver Age craziness with the first buds of Modern Age sensibilities), it's not often they make me genuinely feel for a character, but Shooter manages it here.

After all this, though, Dazzler finds a job in Femmes, a low-watt night-club which employs and caters to only women.  This is where the cheesecake kicks in (what kind of woman puts her lipstick on topless?  You're just going to smudge it with your top, surely?), but other than rolling my eyes, there's not much to be done here.  Let's ride on over it, and into the main idea here, which is that Dazzler's first night as a waitress is complicated by the arrival of a rather unpleasant roller derby gang.

Now, there are two different, though not mutually exclusive, ways the back half of this issue can be interpreted.  Before that though, here's what actually happens: the "Racine Ramjets" are boorish and obnoxious, issuing threats to the staff and the band, throwing drinks at Dazzler when she gets their order wrong, and verbally and ultimately physically abusing her colleague, the diminutive "Spoonsize".  Enraged by their behaviour, Dazzler confronts them, but seeing that nothing short of a fight will get the women to back down, she tries to get herself and Spoonsize out of the blast zone.  By then it's too late, though, and a brawl breaks out, one Alison has no trouble winning due to being both in peak physical shape and not being embarrassingly drunk (top tip, people: ordering six drinks apiece when you arrive at a club can seriously effect your bar-brawl performance.  Just Say No To Quite That Much Booze).

As I say, we can look at this two different ways. One is basically sound but shot through with problems.  The second is much worse.  Again, let's go with the best option to hand.  This is clearly an issue of two halves. The first subjects Alison to humiliation after humiliation over her status as a mutant, until she can finally take no more and blows up some guys crowbar to teach him a lesson.  The second subjects Spoonsize to humiliation after humiliation over her status as a five-foot one woman, until Alison can finally take no more and ends up beating up her assailants.  The message here - one that Dazzler delivers to Spoonsize directly - is that you can't spend your life ignoring the abuse of others, because sooner or later you begin to internalise it.  Better to face down the bullies than to sit back and take it.

And... well, look. I appreciate a good "fuck you" to the bullies of the world as much as the next guy who was smart and bad at sports in school. But if Shooter wants to link the treatment of short people to the treatment of mutants, itself a transparent analogy for the struggle of minorities (particularly I think gay people, at least this issue), then we need to be careful here.  It's one thing to remind people they shouldn't let bullies get to them (for all that such advice tends to strike those actually being bullied as essentially useless). It's another for a powerful character to tell a less powerful character they should be standing up for themselves more.  It's certainly another thing for a wealthy white guy - I don't actually know whether Shooter is gay or straight, but if it's the former, he has to my knowledge never confirmed it - to tell people less secure in society that they need to stand up for themselves more.  Trayvon Martin stood up for himself, and now he's dead and his unrepentant killer is on tour looking at newer and more deadly guns.  I'm not advising black and/or gay people in America should sit there and take whatever abuse comes their way.  My point is it's not my place to offer that advice at all. But neither is it Shooter's.

That's the best of the two ways to look at this.  The other is much worse.  And really, given the script specifically links Alison's encounter with a mutant-hating thug and Spoonsize's problems with a bunch of drunk bullies, perhaps it's unfair to even mention another reading.  On the other hand, after the T&A extravaganza of MGN #12 and panels here like this:

I'm not particularly inclined to be generous on the gender politics front.

Consider the moral we gleaned from the early pages of MGN #12: if a man is nice enough on the inside, he'll be rewarded with a woman who's nice on the outside. We talked about the fundamental internal unbalance of that message last time, but it's also worth comparing to what we see here.  Last time Shooter told the boys to be nice and they'll get pretty ladies.  This time he's warning pretty ladies they have to stand up to those butch chicks trying to boss them around.

Whatever the intent of the story, there's something fundamentally troubling in the optics here: two pretty and pleasant young women being knocked around by beefy women, some of whom are dressed in a traditionally masculine way.  And just look how short their hair is, folks!  Why, I'll bet my last dollar some of them aren't even into standard batting rules, if you get my meaning.

As editor-in-chief, Shooter took a lot of flak back in the day in his refusal to allow gay characters.  I'm not interested in rehashing the personal animus/business necessity argument over said stance - not today at least - except insofar as to point out that he clearly had no problem including obvious caricatures of a certain type of gay person, just so long as he could hold them up as an example of people pretty young girls should stand up to and tell to piss off.

Even by my standards, it's possible I'm reading too much into this, but once you see it, it becomes impossible to un-see.  And it causes a lot of damage to an issue that started out very well indeed.  But that's the problem with morality plays.  They can only work as well as your own morality and experience can let them. To absolutely no-one's surprise, the powerful white guy explaining how women should react to one another is a sight nobody needed to see.


This story takes place over two days, the second of which is explicitly referred to as Wednesday.

There's a small problem generated here, in that this issue seems to follow on more or less directly from the Dazzler graphic novel, and makes no reference at all to Beauty and the Beast.  This means pushing the latter series back a bit, but since this is one of only two DAZ issues to overlap with the miniseries, I'm not too worried.


Tuesday 3rd to Wednesday 4th October, 1984.


X+6Y+215 to X+6Y+216.

Contemporary Events

Wednesday 4th goes down in history as the only day in human existence in which Australians have conquered Everest but no Canadian has been to space.  I hope there's a plaque to that effect somewhere.  04.10.84; we salute thee.

Standout Line

"What you start out as and what you amount to can be different things. She may be one of those awful mutants, but... well, I once knew a man who was a Democrat, who later reformed!"

Mrs McCorkle is kind enough to talk her and her husband out of chasing Alison away at cosh-point.  Note a) her inability to distinguish between a reality of someone's life and a simple choice they have made, and b) that Reagan-era Republicans are awful.  You don't have to have seen Angels in America to spot the parallels here.

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