Friday, December 07, 2007

The Trust: Part Four (Marvel comics)
New Avengers #35 When: December 2007
Why: Brian Michael Bendis How: Leinil Yu

The story so far...
Parker Robbins, aka; The Hood; has begun a quest to become the kingpin of supercriminals, and with Earth's mightiest heroes divided after the civil war, and harboring suspicions of a Skrull incursion; his success rate is high.

After suffering a brutal defeat at the hands of the Avenger, Tigra; underworld stalwart and longtime Punisher adversary, Jigsaw, finds an invitation waiting for him, after an adrenaline fuelled getaway. Tired of his many defeats, the hideously scarred hitman ventures out to become part of the Hood's organization.

As a show of power to the heroes, and a gesture of good faith to the pledging Jigsaw; the Hood turns his many powers to seeking out Greer Grant, better known as registered Initiative agent; Tigra. Privvy to a great many secrets, the aspiring kingpin of supercrime has no trouble locating the feline fatale, and sets out to exact retribution.

Previous Form:
Tigra (#253): Joined the Pro-Registration Avengers on their domination of the Anti-Registrants.
The Hood: Making his debut in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Tigra 2 (Average)
Intelligence: The Hood 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Tigra 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 3 (Strong Willed)
Agility: Tigra 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: The Hood 4 (Explosives)

- A career thief; Parker Robbins would fullfil an underlying lifetime ambition to become a supervillain when, whilst robbing a warehouse said to contain unspecified treasures, is revealed to house the demon Nistanti.

After taking the demon's mystically charged boots and cloak, Robbins would soon discover he was in possession of powers that could elevate him to a status comparable of his villainous inspiration, Electro.

As The Hood, Robbins is capable of defying gravity by effectively walking on air, can turn invisible for as long as he can hold his breath, is capable of generating energy bolts, and continues to carry his weapon of choice, two hand pistols.

Perhaps inspired by Wilson Fisk; the Kingpin of crime his father had worked with; Robbins has begun a path to form a unified network of super powered criminals. With the aim of becoming the Kingpin of Supervillains, the Hood relies on guile and cunning, as much as the unique application of his mystic powers.

- Originally beginning her career with the costumed enhancements designed by Dr. Joanne Tumulo; Greer Grant embarked on a crime fighting journey as simply the Cat. Her adventures would bring her into confrontations with the terrorist organisation, HYDRA, and after being mortally wounded in such a battle, Grant would soon discover Tumulo's secret origins despite her death.

Rescued by the ancient reclusive race of Cat-People, the dying Greer Grant was granted a second chance at life, and the super human abilities of the legendary mystic champion, the Tigra! Possessing speed, strength, reflexes, and senses far keener than mere mortals, Grant becomes a brand new hero, and eventually becomes a stalwart of Earth's mightiest heroes - the Avengers!

The Math: The Hood The Pick: Tigra

What went down...
Doing her best to negotiate the opportunity to remain active in New York; Greer Grant strolls home after a long day on the beat as a registered superhero.
A transfer to Arkansas is about to become the least of her problems, as she transforms from woman, to Tigra, sensing the presence of an unwelcome guest in her humble abode.

The Hood emerges from invisibility, and immediately splatters the unsuspecting heroine's blood with the butt of his gun. The pistol whip maneuver knocks Tigra off her feet, leaving her open to a following shove that puts her face through her boutique mirror.

A second pistol whip on the way down further stuns the registered Avenger, but the fight isn't yet taken out of the mythic hero. From the floor she slashes wildly with her feline claws at the ready, but the Hood is wile enough to call upon his powers of intangibility just in the nick of time.

With unforgiving precision Parker Robbins fires a single bullet that hurtles into Tigra's knee. The Hood snatches Tigra by the hair and dials a number on a cellphone while reciting the address and details of her beloved mother.

Having heard the concerned voice of a mother, the Hood snaps the phone shut, and delivers his manifesto to Tigra. In no uncertain terms he demands Tigra's unquestioning obediance in exchange for her mother's safety, to be observed however, and whenever he demands, with the inclusion of leaving his villainous recruits immune.

Through a haze of pain and blood, Tigra pleads for the Hood to stop.
The aspiring Kingpin repeatedly asks the heroine if she "Got it?", beating her every time she fails to answer with anything less than a certainty.

Each horrifying blow is captured on videotape by the sneering Jigsaw; highlights to be paraded at the gathering of villains as proof of The Hood's intentions to take the fight to the heroes.

The hammer...
Suffice to say The Hood is on the road to becoming every bit the supervillain kingpin he hopes to be. Of course, with unconditional backing from the writers controlling your destiny, that's hardly surprising. Ohhhh, lifting the curtain to spoil the magic!

The Infinite Wars are governed by a good many things, and while there are many a classic fight that's gone unnoted thus far, there are certain battles we feel an obligation to cover. This one is among them.

I decided an early Christmas present was in order, to catch up on some of my New Avengers reading. These issues probably weren't at the top of my wishlist, but I decided the cost was worthwhile, given the sheer prevelance of this very battle. It was during House of M hype that someone infamously said events would 'rip the internet in half', and while Hawkeye's interdimensional return to life was met with mostly an indecypherable groan, it was the brutalizing of Tigra that made the internet stand up and start talking.

It should be well documented that Bendis' work traditionally attracts a fairly critical eye in these kinds of reviews. As one of the most talked about and analysed writers in mainstream comics, it's particularly easy to be enthusiastic about taking a look at a piece of his work in the positive, or negative, particularly given the polarizing nature of his output.

Blatantly bucking against a popular fanboy terror of speaking out of turn; I'm generally not too worried about being wrong. I think, as a man of intelligence and season, I can make reasonably good assessments of things based on information available, and do so with a willingness to admit error.

A few months ago I gladly indulged in the hype surrounding this event, even despite being vividly familiarized with the broad specifics of the issue. Ultimately it was a harmless gag [Poor, poor Tigra] referring, without much success, I assume, to the undeniable influence Frank Miller has had on Brian Bendis' writing.

Bendis is far from my favourite person in the world, with different ideals and standards than my own. That said, as a writer, he often meets on a similar ground as myself, and it's here that I inadvertently defend his work, as somewhat expected [Daredevil #75].

Much of the so-called "feminist" criticism of this issue came from the brutality by which Tigra was disarmed, the degree by which she was seen to retaliate, and the sinister undertones that even potentially implied pseudo rape.

While I'm not inclined to deliberately attempt to undermine those opinions, I do find myself somewhat steered by the same law of logic that prevents me from mercilessly heckling Bendis at every available opportunity. I feel obligated, particularly to the uninformed readers who seek the high-priced value of accuracy in the Infinite Wars, to review good as good, bad as a bad, red as red.

A disguised SKRULL recreates the famous Bullseye/Elektra murder scene, impaling ECHO (as RONIN) in NEW AVENGERS #27Again recalling Bendis' fairly obvious connection to history established by writers like Miller; we track back through New Avengers back issues, where one of the most famous depictions of murder with a phallic metaphorical undertone, was recreated not once, but twice, without much recourse.

Granted, the circumstances were less overtly sinister, and the exchange between two female characters, but while this potentially undermines the consistency of outraged muckrakers, I hope to purvey a different point. A point about the consistency and context of this world that has presented the videotaped beating of a superhero.

Ultimately, I don't think Bendis' writing makes any effort to factor the character's sex into the scenario. While it would be fair to draw sexualized conclusions from the scene, the barebones of the action are that of an ambush attack on a hero of a fairly low grade power. As you'll observe in the tape, we rate Tigra in a class beneath The Hood, whose powers are far more versatile than Tigra's basic human upgrades.

This could potentially have been an assault on any number of male characters, with Frank Castle mentioned immediately after the scene. Granted, the same statement of intent could've been made with such a character, he traditionally isn't inclined to be subject to manipulation, which is the secondary intent of this scene. Tigra, a character seen to have shifting alliances in many stories recently, now finds herself forced into a corner to obey the villains.

To again refer to well known references in Bendis' creative repetoire, The Shield comes to mind. A cop series differentiated by it's uncompromising depiction of the urban warzone, and the harsh interactions of humans within it.

So, is the material offensive? Ultimately, at best I could indulge an argument of content in a mainstream superhero comic, but to anyone looking, the book does clearly bare the Marvel rating of A for Adult*. Whether or not it's fair to direct one of your A-list superhero team books to a mature audience is debatable, particularly in a world where Marvel have been smart enough to produce a growing line of kid-friendly Adventures books, the Avengers included.

*EDIT (Dec 8, 2007): Matt rightly points out that I really should've checked up on the Marvel ratings. A is an unspecified category recommending readers be age nine and up. I wouldn't be up in arms, but I would agree that this kind of violence might be a bit better managed to readers thirteen and up.

I personally enjoy and feel the gritty reality of the world these heroes live in is crucial to the legitimacy of the genre. If superheroes are going to maintain their majority stock in the medium, they have to be seen to be earning it, and as most fans well know, the sok, pow, shazam of days past is embarassingly referred to as 'the sound of comics trying to grow up.'

No, this kind of material isn't the mark of maturity or good writing.
It's simply a facet with very specific real world references that good writing can latch on to, and represent for a quota I think is essential if anyone is to take these worlds of super criminals seriously. Bendis juxtaposes this brilliantly with his dismal superhero outings in the first twenty-or-so issues of the New Avengers titles, pressed up against this latest array of on-going, fluid, grounded takes on the Avengers characters and the perils they face.

He may be an absolute tit, but I think it's an unfair, and preconvinced agenda that comes to a comic like this, and completely overlooks it's context and reality. Maybe, like my own (initially), some opinions are based only on the information available from second-hand sources. Sources that perhaps don't expand the context, or highlight images like the shadowed portion of the assault, or the gathering of supervillains who revel in the modern, YouTube happy slap style screening of the incident.

We've discussed it before [Superman/Batman #15], but I think it bares repeating: Like action movie stars, the best characters are the ones who are affected by the perils that surround them. Likewise, to shy away from the great evils that exist out there, is to discount the acknowledgment and bredth of the heroes who face them. Without crime to overcome, the hero is meaningless.

And that, no doubt, is not the last you'll hear of the Tigra affair.
Be encouraged to lodge any opinions you might have, and stay tuned for, what I hope, will be some interesting furthering of the discussion. We'll have to wait and see how that one pans out.

Meanwhile, as if this massive entry wasn't a big enough deal as it was, it's also the epic night of fights! Let The Hood's message ring out to the superheroes and Bahlactus alike, for the new Kingpin of Super-Crime means business!
Do you mean business? Once you've finished browsing the annals of the Infinite Wars, why not check yourself in to a world of pain perspective, as per Friday Night Fights!

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 5.5

Leinil Yu continues to be an aboslute treat on this book, delivering kinetic, sketchy inks. Dave McCaig joins Dave Stewart for a colour palette by scanner struggles to come to terms with, but consider that a compliment more than a complaint! It's too early to find this work in trade, but you might like to check out the previous arc while you wait! Sweet Christmas!


Matt said...

I won't debate your opinion on the issue in question, however, I will call you on rating.

Yes, it says "A" but, per Marvel's Rating Guide ( that means it's groovy for ages NINE AND UP. I also won't get into whether comics should be "safe" for kids or handling mature topics in the medium, but I would say that a story with snuff film overtones isn't appropriate for 4th graders.

Mike Haseloff said...

Okay, wow! I clearly should've double checked the rating system.

While I think that age bracket is probably [unfortunately?] savvy to this kind of thing; I would agree that it's not what I'd give a nine year old.

I don't know if you're using snuff in an overly broad context, but as mentioned in the entry, I think this is far more comparable to the 'happy slap' phenomenon.
That's not to discount the seriousness of those kinds of assaults, but I think it's a familiar reference that's far less disturbing than watching someone die.

Granted, a happy slap isn't, as far as I'm aware, usually about bloodying a target -- but as is occasionally discussed on the Infinite Wars; superheroes are reality-PLUS, and this is the price of being a superhero in a hyper-realistic setting.

What age bracket do you think this would be suitable for? I imagine we might disagree, but I suppose I'd give this to a thirteen year old with at least some reference of their character.

Many thanks for the fact check!
That certainly recharacterizes the issue of responsibility in printing accessible superhero comics.

Matt said...

I'd agree with the 13+ age rating. If you're okay with letting a 13 year old watching someone's still-beating heart get ripped out in a ritualistic sacrifice, a superhero taking a "hardcore" beating shouldn't be too far from that range. I also agree that maybe it would depend on the child, too, since people mature at different ages. I was reading Stephen King at that age, but I knew some who never quite left Encyclopedia Brown.

I'll admit I had been largely unaware of the 'happy slap' phenomenon, but from some quick information digging it seems to be presented largely as an unfunny practical joke video, though there appeared to be instances of escalated violence and assault. Personally speaking, Tigra's victim status and sexualized depiction of the attack push The Hood's amateur film further towards the "snuff" category than what I've read on "happy slapping." Superheroes may be reality-PLUS but a woman being brutalized in her own home, screaming in helplessness and broken while being filmed by her assailants is still exactly that.

You say that this is the price of being a superhero in a hyper-realistic setting, however, barring Tigra's cosmetic appearance, there are really no overt "superhero" elements during the assault. Perhaps if there had been some more obvious examples of such the scene would not have come across as it did.

Mike Haseloff said...

Mmm, if a reasonably intelligent thirteen year old can handle Bruce Willis walking bare foot on glass and shooting up terrorists, I don't see a canyonous divide between that and Tigra getting beaten up.

"Reference of character" of the child is what I was referring to, so on that level, we can meet.
At the risk of arguing semantics, I think a situation like this is much less about the intellectual chops of a kid, and more about their character and understanding of right and wrong. Which is something superheroes fundamentally deal with.

I would concede that the scene is stripped of an overtly superhero context, to the point of being thoroughly reletable, but then, what you're raising is the very context that makes this hyper-reality. (I also think an intelligent reader recognises context, even in something as benign as a cat-woman walking across a room. Extreme reality does not discount the fiction, not that that even matters.)

It seems crass to reduce the threat of the superhero to laser beams, and lethal Rube Goldbergs. You don't have HYPER-realism, without that baseline connection to realism in it's basic value.

As HYPER-real fiction, (and not just cathartic power fantasies), I think super HEROES need to be tackling the same heinous crimes that exist in the world. That's been their very nature from the beginning, stretched in various conservatively palatable ways.

It's important too to recognise the necessity of context of the character. I'm not saying Superman needs to be dedicating time to rape cases; but characters interacting in this urban, HYPER-real environment deserve a depiction that connects them to those surroundings, and those real threats.

There's nothing gratuitous about what happens to Tigra. Actually, given some reactions, I was surprised by how veiled the in-between of the attack was.
I'd acknowledge that maybe it would've been nice to see an extra claw swipe, but that isn't important to the creative content of the scene. This is - bare bones - a brutal attack.

I don't see any argument against violent crime in superhero fiction. Especially not when this is motivated both by plot, character, and context of environment.

As I say, there's some debate about whether or not this should be in an Avengers comic, but I obviously err on a liberal side of the fence. Lest we split hairs of brown blood versus red; and the restriction of words like 'zombie'.

On happy slapping -- I generally recognise it as something that has [de]evolved to essentially be spontaneous filmed violence. While the intent is obviously of a lighter nature than the attack on Tigra, the results often aren't.

I think snuff implies something far more explicit than what is seen in New Avengers, but ultimately, is really just splitting bright orange hairs.
To describe it as a realistic reference, as opposed to a nasty scheme cooked up by Brian "Mr. Clean" Bendis, seems fair, given some reaction.