Sunday, October 7, 2007

Bulleteer #4

Writer: Grant Morrison; Artist: Yanick Paquette; Inker: Serge Lapointe; Colourist: Alex Sinclair; Letterer: Phil Balsman

Bad Girls

pp 01-06 For our penultimate – well, I guess antepenultimate – issue we get a girl on girl smack down intercut with the stories of Sally Sonic’s origins and corruption. We start off at a fairy tale-like cottage, where little Sally is being thanked for saving an old woman from someone named Tombola. She is given a magic whistle: The Whistle of the Wind Kings. Blowing it will, “tune your whole being to magical, supersonic vibrations.” Meaning? She gets all the usual comic book powers. She flies. She has super strength. But she has something else, too. She has stopped aging. When we first see her she is flying along with a living teddy bear – Barnabus – and three Spitfires. That puts Sally in World War Two and the Golden Age of comics. She’s out there fighting for her country and fighting crime, including throwing three criminals in “stripey shirts” into a river.

But Sara age is becoming a problem – yes, Sara Smart is her real name. She isn’t growing older. She will always be the age she was when she first blew the whistle. She out lives her parents and the Teddy Bear King and, because she’s “obviously just a child,” she is put into an orphanage, Madame Eva Martinette’s Bleakdale Home For Bereaved Children, in spite of being twenty four years old. She tries to protest, but Ms. Martinette shouts her down, “Silence! I’m in charge here!”

And these words carry us back the present, where Sally has just crushed Alix under a fridge. She starts ranting about how smart she is and how stupid Alix and men in general are. She seems to have nothing but contempt for both the Harrowers. She stands there idly posing for the reader while Alix lifts the fridge off, raises it over her head and smashes it down onto her nemesis. Given the ways shadows are cast on this page, she should have seen it coming, but Sally is just a little too self-absorbed.

She is also a little too old. I could look past the fact that the child care authorities ignoring her birth certificate, life never seems fair to those who don’t grow up, but throughout the entire issue, she looks like she might well have been twenty four from the very beginning of her adventures. She doesn’t look any younger than Alix, a married – well, widowed – career woman. Since her youthfulness is constantly being pointed out in this story, it’s just seems weird that they would undercut it by drawing her this way. She looks younger in the previous two issues, and in Zatanna #1, but those are the pre-transformation Sara. It seems as though her transformation is supposed to be Captain Marvel-like, child into adult, but in this issue it doesn’t seem to matter. Both before and after the transformation she looks like she’s twenty-something.

pp 07-17 Now its Sally’s turn to be squashed with a fridge and they both crash down into the basement lab. Alix realizes that this is the woman who ruined her life by encouraging her husband’s fantasies. She killed him, albeit not directly. (Before going on, it’s nice to see Metal Mickey alive and well, even if all he does is say “squee” – does any one remember Squee? But on with the commentary…)

Sally climbs out of the fridge and tells Alix that she shouldn’t have hit her, because now she’ll have to hit her back. Yes, it was Sally who started it all, but this is typical sociopathic behaviour. Sally’s irrationality continues when she tells Alix that good girls have no place in hell. Umm… right. Good girls go to the other place. But Sally’s view of this world is such that she’s probably not talking about the next life. She goes on this her story, but first she breaks Alix’s arm and shows her how to make a fist by punching her in the mouth. And she brags about a nude, to-the-death wrestling match with someone named Olympia, done for someone’s birthday entertainment. It seems her villainy isn’t limited to porn and homewrecking. After kicking Alix across the room, she continues with her story continues.

It seems that little Sara has been sneaking out to help people and Ms. Martinette wasn’t too pleased. Rules are rules. No exceptions. She locked her in a wardrobe for three days. Three days has obvious symbolic importance, but so does the wardrobe. In The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe children travel through the back of a magical wardrobe and into a world of fantasy and adventure. After she realizes that not all laws are fair, Sara breaks out through the back of this wardrobe and into a very different world of fantasy and adventure. She makes her way to London, where she is immediately befriended by Vitaman, a.k.a. Dennis, who quickly he seduces Sally. Interestingly, he uses Mindgrabber Kid’s line about fighting crime together. I guess it had to work for someone. Meanwhile the two women are still fighting. Alix tells Sally that she just wants to talk, to find out why Sally did this to her. Sally tells Alix that she was living a fantasy, believing that her world was secure, and that she ruined it because it was something she wanted. She wanted to live in a fantasy? Alix realizes something about Sally, “You’re completely insane.”

Back to Dennis and Sara. He convinces her to take a few private picture, for the “family album”, which apparently means something different in the UK. I hope. And then he takes these pictures to the Kingpins of England’s underworld. There are seven, of course, but I don’t think they’re meant to be a team. I get the impression that he’s auctioning her off. Of the kingpins, one is dressed like a highwayman, a woman is dressed like a Pearly Queen, and there are a couple of twins (perhaps a reference to the Krays). I don’t know who the rest are meant to represent. Dennis’ argument is that she looks like a schoolgirl, but is really twenty six (having spent two years in the orphanage). Of course, she doesn’t look anything like a school girl. The UK has a history of some pretty strict porn laws, so even if she did look her age I can see how the underworld may well have been involved, but her appearance still undercuts his whole argument. She does not look like a school girl. I appreciate that, if Paquette had drawn her to look like a child in these scenes, and those depicting her seduction, it would not only been too pervy, DC would never have printed them. But this important point in the story in lost, nevertheless.

She doesn’t take too well to the idea of doing porn, but Dennis beats her down, emotionally and verbally, and, once he’s got her before the camera he introduces her to Doctor Hyde’s Evil Serum. That’s Mister Hyde, actually. It was “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Jekyll created a potion that brought out his darker side, a persona which went by the name Hyde. Eventually, he didn’t even need the potion to turn into Hyde. The addition of the potion fits into the idea of drugging girls in order to take sexual advantage of them, but it presents another problem with Sally’s story. Is she corrupt or is it the drugs? The weight of the story would point to it being the result of a lot of things in her life. A downward character cycle. So why the drugs? Once she is doing the porn, it seems an odd kind of porn. Girl fights. Bullets bouncing off. Fanboys as perverts? Finally, before we conclude her story, we learn one more thing. Dennis was one of those crooks in “stripey shirts” that we saw at the beginning of the story. Sally caught them. Her father, a judge, sent them to prison. But now Dennis has his revenge. He befriended her in order to betray her – just as she would befriend Alix. And what does Sally think? She doesn’t care. Not really. Dennis has won so completely, corrupted her so completely, that what had happened to her in the past now exists only to rationalize her current behaviour.

pp 18-22 In the present the girl fight continues on the street outside the ruins of Alix’s home. Sally is about to offer her some evil serum when Alix decides she’s had enough. She doesn’t care about Sally’s story. She grabs up the engine block of the car she crashed into and smashes Sonic like a bug. Having won the fight she calls 911. Tells them she’s a superhero and needs assistance. They treat her like a crank call and hang up. Well, when the last time you saw a superhero call 911?

At this point the Vigilante shows up. She recognizes him as Saunders. He tells her that she is “the Seventh Soldier. The Spear that never was thrown. …the key to victory … a direct descendant of earth’s first superhero.” Everything depends on her. And she wants nothing of it. She compares him to a schizophrenic and admits she is beginning to have trouble telling the difference between paranoid schizophrenia and the world of superheroes. It’s a line that echoes something said by the Whip back in issue one:

How do you know when you’ve become a superhero and not just some crazy fetish person with a death wish? Is it when you join your first team and finally have your psychosis validated by group consensus?
Maybe they are all crazy. Maybe she is. But if this is her destiny, forget it. Saunders tells her that “you can’t quite when it’s your destiny,” and he’s right, but she isn’t listening. She picks up Mickey and sets out to get Sally to a hospital.

That’s that for the sixth series, but before wrapping things up, a short word about Frefon. What’s Frefon? It’s what’s written on the engine block used to subdue Sally. It’s featured prominently, practically every time we see it. What is Frefon? Actually, it’s who is Frefon? He and Paquette are Montreal artists who share a studio together with several others. I believe Frefon’s full name is Frédérick Fontaine.

In the end this issue is about two women and the choices they make – good and bad. Sally wouldn’t have had the problems she did if she has only grown up. Okay, she is an immortal teen – but only before she blew her whistle, this issue, notwithstanding. For her part, Alix has decided to quit the field of superheroics altogether. We know it won’t happen. Not in a comic book universe. But it’s an important decision anyway. Up to this point she has been reacting to decisions others have made about her – particularly her late husband’s. Now she’s living her own life. We know she will come back to the life – what are the odds of normalcy when you’re a living silver statue? – but this decision now opens up the chance for her to be a hero on her own terms.

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