Monday, October 13, 2014

Mike Madrid's Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: The Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics

I received an advanced review copy of Mike Madrid's Vixens. Vamps & Vipers at the end of August. I was so excited I literally jumped up and down inside the post office lobby ... silly of me, I know, but I was really delighted! Especially because it showed up out of the blue on the heels of a terrible, terrible work week where I was dealing with rain-and-mold destroyed art supplies and delayed curriculum, which was just depressing. (Yeah, I get it. I'm emotional. Okay.) This ARC cheered me up a huge amount!

I did wait to post my review of it until the book was actually out, since I personally find it frustrating to see a great trailer only to find out at the end that the movie's out in like a year, or to read a great book review and not be able to buy it right away if I so chose... This book released on October 7th, and now I can blog about it!

Madrid's Vixens, Vamps & Vipers is a fascinating counterpoint to his previous Divas, Dames & Daredevils, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. What makes this new book so interesting is not only his choice of villainesses to feature in the stories he picked (Some of them are shocking! Fantastic film-noir influences!) but also his observations about their character, and their resultant behaviors. For example, I loved this quote of his: "Crimefighting females lived secret lives, while villainnesses were able to do and say what they pleased." Because it made me think -- Yeah!  But then that's also basically true of male heroes, perhaps, too (Batman, Spiderman, right?) But why is it that villains/villainesses don't have secret identities? In his wrap up Madrid writes how true villany is a sign of free will  ... and it is ... But I also did notice that villainesses -- when they stay bad -- tend to die! While villains tend to live to exert evil another day ... (and why is that ...?)

It's also fascinating to note his observation of how villainesses could fall for the male hero and try to seduce them -- but male villains didn't usually fall for the female heroine. "This romantic double standard suggested that love, and a women's emotions, could prevent her from being a successful villainess." Amazing how flashy sexuality and the power in villainy go hand-in-hand for the female ... while the dorky heroine tones hers down in her secret identity so she doesn't get hassled. Good girls don't seduce men -- not even for the greater good. LOL

I enjoyed Madrid's wrap up, too, where he observes how today's comic book "An antiheroine... [or] A villainess ... don't fully commit to either virtue nor vice." and thus become "less powerful". I agree they pay the price for their inability to commit because they become a character you can't really trust. They don't know where they stand, so we as readers don't know where they stand. While in real life you give grace to friends when they do something stupid, after a person changes behavior on you enough times you then learn to not trust them. It's safer to drop them for your own peace of mind so you don't have to keep watching your own back around them! So I wonder if loss of overall comics sales could be primarily from the huge spread of titles featuring the same character and secondarily from characters' lack of commitment to be truly good or evil. Both factors just make it easier for readers to drop the book(s) out of frustration. Real life is gray enough!

Madrid has grouped the stories into types -- those that feature power-hungry wartime women in tales of political intrigue and film-noir endings. Women whose beauty (or lack thereof) motivated their evil machinations; villainesses of color (because apparently back in the Golden Age it was easier to accept anthropomorphic heroines rather than actual heroic women from minority groups!) and "Crime Queens". It's a great and fun sampling.

The two books compliment each other -- and if you're going to get one, you really ought to  get both -- because together they present such a fuller picture of what very interesting female characters there were during comics' Golden Age. It's sad how nowadays what we're offered in (especially mainstream) comics is often so lackluster.

Enjoy these spectacular and crazy comics from a bygone and bolder age! And thank you, Mr. Madrid, for caring so much and finding these treasures to share!

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