Friday, June 6, 2014

Sketched Comic: Dynamite Duble Feature: Masks and Miss Fury

Get out your masks (get it) and capes, we're reviewing Masks Vol. 1 and Miss Fury Vol. 1!

Miss Fury is about Maria Drake, a costumed thief/adventurer known as Miss Fury. She’s trying to steal a precious crown. In the process, she’s thrown forward and backward in time from 1943 to 2014, as she fights undercover Nazis and tries to get back to the man she loves. 

Masks is about a number of pulp superheroes, including The Shadow, The Green Hornet, The Spider, and even Miss Fury, banding together to stop the evil "Justice Party" from taking over the government and subverting the law.

Both of these books are from Dynamite, they take place roughly in the same universe, and I doubt I can do a full review on either of them, so I've decided to put them together in a giant double review!

Masks is the kind of the book you want to check out if you are really into classic pulp heroes and want to see them all work together in an Avengers-style team up. Some of the heroes are already fully formed like The Shadow and Green Hornet, while others are being created in this story, like Black Bat and Zorro. The full roster includes The Shadow, Green Hornet and Kato, Miss Fury, Black Bat, Zorro, The Spider, The Green Llama, and Black Terror. That is a lot of masked dudes. It's a sprawling 8 issues, and chances are you'll find someone you like. Though, with so many masked dudes, it's hard to keep track of them all, and they don't always get as much page time as you'd like. Shadow, Black Bat, Zorro and Green Hornet get most of the coverage, and since most of those guys are well known and have their own books, I kind of wanted more time with the lesser known ones, like the Spider and Green Llama. Who names themselves after a Llama?? I want to know that guy. The Shadow has his own unique word bubbles that are negative versions, with white text over black bubbles. It would have been nice to see all of the heroes get their own unique word balloons. And even though a lot of these guys have their own books, it would have been nice to give everyone at least a one page origin's story just so you know what their deal is. Or hey, maybe even a "read her full story in Miss Fury #1!" type deal.

It's also problematic when, aside from Miss Fury, Kato, and Zorro, they're all white guys in masks. Not only is it hard to tell them apart when they're not in their costumes (especially since we don't know their backstories or see them with any discerning personalities, and the art style is realistic) but that is not a lot of diversity at all. Sure, it's a bunch of classic pulp heroes from the early days, the early days where the most popular characters were straight white dudes. But that doesn't mean you can't make some of them POCs/women, or add some new POC/female characters or hey, even go back to the original pulp hero comics for some POC and women superheroes. I think it's telling that there are nine heroes on that team and the only one who gets any pin-ups in the extra material and covers is Miss Fury. She gets a looootaaa pin-up covers. Remember when I said I was tired of comics that feel like they're written in the 40's instead of just taking place in the 40's? Still tired. This is not helping.

This goes along with Miss Fury, too. I mean, it IS more progressive because it's a female-led action book, but it's not that progressive. One of the first shots we see of Miss Fury not in her costume is her naked, getting out of a bath. Seriously, is there some rule that all thief/non-hero women characters have to be shown in their underwear (or naked) at some point? And then there's the art, which is "good" but a lot of the fight scenes include action poses that could double as pin-up covers in how ridiculous they twist and contort her to show off her boobs and butt. It gets annoying. Also in that book, she is GORGEOUS.  She is a straight-up supermodel-level beauty, so much so that even SHE comments on how good she looks. I'm not trying to body-shame here and say women aren't allowed to have power fantasies with perfect bodies and guys are, but it feels a lot less like female empowerment and a lot more like making sure you have a classically beautiful woman to show off to male readers. Take this for an example of the double standards: She falls in love with a soldier who's horribly scarred on half his face. Burning flesh kind of ugly. And it's barely mentioned by other characters how disfigured he is. But could you see that on a woman character? Could you imagine Miss Fury going around with a face like that without having her, and everyone else, commenting on how ugly she looks and how ruined she is? Doubtful. Also, it's hard to say if she has more pin-up covers/extras here or in Masks.

Although one thing Masks does get right is showing the police harassing the lower (and more colored) classes of the common people, and having them get shafted by the system. They do this while making radio broadcasts about how moochers and takers are destroying America and the good ol' Justice Party is here to save the working class citizens of America. That's pretty interesting to show and feels contemporary even today. It’s revealed that the police that do it are really evil thugs, but still. It's nice that they're making something that's basically being done today a major plot point.

I like the story of Masks. It's about New York changing its laws to hurt the working class man. The masked vigilantes have to ask themselves if they serve justice or if they serve the law. When the law feels wrong, do you follow it or turn on it? It feels like something we should start asking ourselves these days. The plot is messy because there are nine characters in it, but it's fun and exciting with some twists and turns. Miss Fury's story is a lot – well, weirder. It's a time travel story where she's going back and forth between multiple time periods simultaneously, trying to stop Nazis with robots and airships from taking over America. The narrative seems just as confused as she is. It doesn't always work, especially when they just seemingly abandon characters and have other characters explain the plot to her. One thing that's for sure is that she is very angry. But it's still a fun twisty-turny story and I kind of love that she's trying to save a male damsel in distress. Honestly I'm just glad it's a female led book. 

The art in both books is good, with a slight advantage for Masks because there are a few issues drawn by Alex Ross. He is perfect for drawing classic pulp adventurers, and seeing his art, you remember why he's one of the best. The rest of the art is well done, but there's not any real style to it. I don't have an affinity for the style or technique. I'm not saying the art is bad, it's just your average realistic style, and it doesn't do anything for me. It's fine. To its credit, it feels perfectly like a pulp book, but if it were to suddenly transition to a TV show or movie, I don't think anything would be lost in the transition of style. It’s one of those realistic books where all the white guys have the exact same face, except for The Shadow who has a big nose. But if you like your comics looking realistic, you should dig this. And there are some amazing fight scenes in both with Nazi death robot battles with pew-pew lasers and dudes in hats and coats punching people, so that's cool.

So, Masks and Miss Fury. They're pretty cool pulp books. I wish they had more style and they were more progressive, but you'll get a kick out of them if you dig pulp. And each collection is pretty massive, with Miss Fury and Masks having over 250 and 300 pages respectively. Although since it's Dynamite, that also includes 100+ pages of extras, so it depends how much you value story over extras for that to sound like a deal.

THE GOODS: Lots of cool classic pulp heroes, interesting stories, lots of heroes, writing's ok, art is ok, one is a female-led book.

THE BADS: Needs more diversity and less pin-ups, art style is not great, can be confusing with too many heroes.

THE VERDICTS: I'm giving them both 3.5/5. They're both pretty fun and massive stories, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Masks has a bunch of heroes and a cool story, but it's not really diverse and kind of confusing. Miss Fury is at least a female-led action book, but there's a ton of T&A and her story can be a bit of confusing.

BOOKS LIKE 'EM: The Shadow, Noir, Green Hornet, Zorro, Codename: Action, Mystery Men, X-Men Noir

DOUBLE-PAGE SPREAD METAPHOR: In Masks, Miss Fury meets the mysterious Green Llama and they both start beating up bad guys and have their own little adventure. Unfortunately, they don't get much time and it's not long until we're taken to the "more important" characters like Shadow and Green Hornet. SOMEONE TELL ME WHO THE FLIP GREEN LLAMA IS.

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