Friday, 1 August 2014

Alan Moore Obscurities: Voodoo - Dancing In The Dark (#1-4)

"Sinners are prone to get themselves in traps.  It's their destiny" - "Papa" Attibon

Oh dear.  I'm going to touch on something in this article that seems to upset quite a large majority of comicbook fanboys, that being, the problem of sexism in the superhero genre.  This 1997 miniseries is about a superheroine who is a stripper and thus a lot of flesh is on display here. Now I'm not being some pointy-headed FemiNazi here, who wants to have all female superheroes dress in sackcloth burqa's and I don't give a damn if Wonder Woman wears trousers or not.  I really like looking at sexy women in skin tight costumes as much as the next pervert believe me.  But I am also a woman, and you don't have to spend much time on the fantastic Escher Girls blog (though I suggest you do, it's both smart and funny and depressing all at the same time) to see how visual representations of those sexy women are having their basic anatomy broken time and time again to make for provocative poses that show as much boob and bust in one shot as possible.  I've tried doing some of those poses, and nearly sprained my back, a strong, powerful woman is sexy to me, an Escher Girl just makes me roll my eyes, blow through my lips, and move swiftly along. It's not just breaking women that is annoying, it's also the way that instead of focusing on a female characters face when talking we'll suddenly get an extreme close up of her arse or breast talking.  Again, cutting women into bits and boiling them down to just their "sexy parts".  Happens time and again and it's somewhat vexing. 
Ooh, you could park yer bicycle between cheeks that pert etc
Finally, and probably the most pertinent to what I am covering today is the issue of "sexualised" violence. Not sexual violence, which can be used to great effect and add considerable drama to a narrative when used carefully.  What I mean is when violence against women is eroticised and made a "turn on".  Now, again, not trying to be a massive prude here, there is room for consenting adults to have what are euphemistically called "submmission fantasies" and that's fine, we all have our kinks.  The key word is "adults" though, what I don't like is seeing it in comics aimed primarily at teenage boys who are in the process of forming their sexual proclivities and attitudes towards the opposite sex (and the Image fanbase at the time was skewed heavily towards teenagers rather than the older readers of Marvel and DC comics).  Then I think it is a dangerous business making violence against women sexy and dehumanising them in the process.
Someone's stolen her nipples!
Also I want to make it clear about the following in that I am not "slut shaming" women who choose to work as strippers, pole dancers etc, in fact people in work such as that have every right to feel pissed about this comic's cavalier regard for their lives. I simply feel that given the audience for the book the subject of a stripper heroine needs to be handled extremely carefully to not to turn it into one long parade of souless female objectification. It would take a writer of the calibre of Alan Moore to pull it off, and Voodoo does have that, in that it is by the actual Alan Moore.  And he blows it.  Big time.
Too late to be coy now!
But first, the premise.  Voodoo is a superheroine from the WildC.A.T's comic series (which Alan Moore did an excellent run of before this mini-series) and part of the Wildstorm Image studio's universe.  And her "thing" is that she's a stripper as well.  I find it somewhat depressing that we'd probably have had a stripper-heroine a lot sooner than the grim, gritty and "adult" (HAH!) '90's if it hadn't been for the censorious Comic's Code Authority and it's pansy rules on the sexplotation of women.  But then this is the era that looked at the success of Watchmen and thought that to emulate it's success we needed a lot more grisly murder and rape in comics. Maybe Alan Moore just thought "to hell with it, I'll just give'em what they want, both barrels". Sigh. 
Curse you Nipple Thief!  Have you no respect for the dead?!
Anyway according to her page on wikipedia Voodoo has a tonne of powers.  This is irrelevant for this mini-series as drawing her using her powers might take time away from depicting her pushing her breasts and crotch out towards the reader. OK, I'm being a tad unfair there, but the storyline of her investigating more about her "voodoo" based powers and also the murders of several strippers feels shamefully thin and unengaging. Hence, I guess, why it's been slathered it tit's n'arse I suppose. Now my knowledge of voodoo the religion starts and ends with Terry Pratchetts The Witches Abroad, so superficially I can see that Moore has done some research into voodoo practice and their various Gods/Spirits.  That's about the only good thing about the mini-series, the depiction of voodoo shown as both a force of order and chaos. But maybe someone who knows more about the religion would have more bones to pick with it, I don't know.
"Badly Drawn Buttocks" would make a great name for a rock band
The story begins with Voodoo arriving in New Orleans, and after some embarrassing examples of why a white, middle-aged, English author should not attempt (then) contemporary urban, black American speech without serious research, Voodoo is hired to work as an exotic dancer at a place called The Midnight Lounge.  Voodoo also hooks up with three mysterious people who invite her to stay at their house called The Royale.  While she sleeps that night they place some items on her saying she'll make a perfect vessel, because she is "empty" and "shallow" (wow, what an awesome way to describe your heroine. Classy Alan, real classy).  When she goes back to the Royale the next day though she finds it in ruins, like it has been for years.
The Ladies Bra, The Ladies Bra.  The Ladies Knickers and the Ladies Bra.
The Twilight Lounge has a bit of a problem.  It's dancers keep turning up dead, stabbed around fifty times.  In a nutshell, the owner Christian Charles is killing them and showering himself in their blood as part of a voodoo rite to ressurect his dead father.  Said father was a Catholic priest at a church which stood where the Midnight Lounge now does.  In 1949 he was excommunicated from the Catholic church for practicing voodoo and in 1950 he was burned alive when he was trapped by a mob in the Royale, who managed to save the baby he had with him.  That grew up to be Christian Charles.  Voodoo and a cop investigating the case arrive at the Midnight Loungue too late to stop the rite from being finished and Father Jean Pierre LaCroix is reborn covered in blood.  He also has a voodoo spirit alongside him called Carrefour who has been helping him out.

Voodoo then dances the Funky Chicken and summons the spirit Erzulie.  She and Carrefour bitch at each other while Voodoo lures LeCroix to the ruins of The Royale using the power of being able to shake her ass in four inch heels.  There await the three mysterious people from The Royale, now revealed as voodoo spirits Legba, Erzulie and Baron Samedi. LaCroix says they can't stop him because he has Carrefour on his side, they say "LOL Carrefour lies that's like his schtick dumbass" and everything explodes, leaving Voodoo determined to explore more of her "voodoo" power which she does by getting naked with an old lady, The End.  Also, tits, boobs, jugs, knockers, baps, dirty pillows, funbags, chesticles, bristols, norks,lady bumps, arses, buttocks, bottoms, bums, butts, rumps, sit-upons, vajayjays, vadges, muffs, beavers, poontang, quim and minges. Did I mention this comic is quite porny? 
Voodoo About To Spoon Her Udders Out. Empowering!
She's not showing off those secondary sexual characteristics for the audience in the comic, - sod any female readers interested in the further adventures of the strong, powerful, interesting heroine that was part of the WildC.A.Ts. - she's there to get YOU off boys, nothing more, nothing less. The covers of the comics are the most blatant, showing Voodoo in very provocative poses and situations designed to get sweaty palmed potential readers to part with their cash on the promise of more bare flesh inside.  It's a prime example of the famous John Berger phrase about unequal male/female power relationships: "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at." You have to remember, this was the mid-90's.  The internet and all the free boobs that entailed was not so wide spread and many people, if they wanted naked ladies to fap to had to go outside and buy their porn from places called "shops". So this comic is offering a valuable boobery related service to younger readers. How generous of it.
Fairs fair.  We get one panel of a naked man.  Of course he's drawn as a standard power fantasy rather than to be titillating, but I thought I'd include it for balance.
Probably the most problematic part of having the protagonist be so sexually objectified is that it's been yoked to a story about the grisly murder of other exotic dancers, whose bodies we see naked and bloody, dumped in ditches like garbage while the police crack jokes about them.  Rendering the whole "sexy funtime" atmosphere of the comic extremely toxic and playing into nasty tropes like Disposable Sex Worker, where the women would not have been killed if they hadn't chosen to use their bodies for cash (I know strippers are not prostitutes, but there is a great deal of overlap which the comic itself plays into so the trope can still apply here).  Punishment for daring to use their sex to entice men away from their money basically.  And there is one frame I want to look highlight, because it really sums up my main problems with this mini-series.
Moore wrote this during the same period he was writing From Hell.  A book that deals with the merciless slaughter of sex workers rather more sympathetically than this
So yeah.  What we have here is a woman, in total terror and fear, knowing that she is about to be maybe raped and definitely killed shown in the smallest amount of clothes possible in pose that thrusts out her chest and she's also got her legs splayed wide apart.  Why?!  If I was in that situation you can be damn sure that that my legs would be clamped together and I'd be huddled against the wall.  The ONLY reason to draw her like this, with her pudenda on display for all to see is nothing more or less than the total sexualisation of a woman's pain and suffering.  The fact there is also an inset frame of Voodoo sleeping in her bra and knickers adding to the sexually charged atmosphere of the page doesn't help matters either. It's torture as erotica. At this point even if Emily Pankhurst and a horde of Suffragettes had broken into the dungeon and rescued her, this still would be one of the most despicable examples of pandering to the audiences baser instincts I've ever seen.
I've seen enough hentai to know where this is going...
It might be tempting to say these issues were not present in the script and all this naked lady fun was added by the artists, and indeed with an incredible seven artists involved on this four issue series you can see that maybe something could have got lost in translation (even with seven artists the overall look is standard mid-90's Image bland, with only a couple of striking panels every now and then).  I say, nice try Alan.  In fact in Magic Words: The Extrordinary Life Of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin, there are pages devoted to describing how Alan moore always typed very dense, visual scripts with lots of descriptions of what he wanted happening in them.  Sooooo, maybe he didn't bother doing that with this throwaway series you say, and again I would have to demur.  Because I also own The Violator mini-series he did around the same time and one issue has a couple of pages devoted to the written panel details and even small sketched thumbnails of what he wanted to see that he supplied the artists.  And that series is so frothy and silly by comparison to this, that if he was putting that much work into The Violator's mini-series, he was doing it for Voodoo.  So I have to conclude, sadly, that Alan Moore, my idol, wanted us to see lots of nearly naked women with their legs akimbo. Woe.
Moore wrote this during the same period he was writing Lost Girls.  A comic that dealt with pornographic themes rather less offensively than this
As a gay woman myself, I do have some problems with Laura Mulvey's theory about "The Male Gaze" but it's blatantly obvious that's what's being pandered to here.  Maybe that wouldn't be a problem, if this was a one-off, if it wasn't for the fact that superhero books are constantly - to a greater or lesser extent - ojectifying women while chasing a narrow demographic of heterosexual teen and older males.  I suppose I should give this comic some credit, it's not trying to hide that fact, it's just disappointing coming from the pen of Alan Moore, whose female characters and dealings with female sexuality (despite his overuse of rape as a dramatic device) in his other works have been so strong and positive.
Now you have seen it, you cannot unsee it! Bwahahahaha!
Alan Moore this is bad and you should feel bad.  It's been suggested by way of an excuse that this might have been a howl of despair by Alan Moore, railing against the crass demands of the Image audience, but to do it in a way that shows such contempt for women is incredibly hard to credit coming from him. I mean it could have been much worse, can you imagine what Frank "WHORESWHORESWHORESWHORES" Miller would have done with this character? Writing about this comic was actually painful for me as a woman and as a fan of Alan Moore.  I haven't drunk booze since 1992 and I had to crush the urge to get wasted on brandy just to reread this comic the amount of times writing this silly blog post review thing required. Still, hahaha, that was the bad old days of the 1990's, I'm sure in our more enlightened times a superpowered stripper would be dismissed immediately as a very dodgy idea rife with potential to offend a good proportion of your female readership who are already justifiably irritated by things like the continued employment of artists who trace their female characters from porn.  A stripper heroine, hahaha the very idea in this day and age....
Page 1 of the Voodoo comic that was released in 2011 by DC as part of their linewide "New 52" relaunch

NEVERMIND.


[This miniseries is collected in the trade paperback "Alan Moore: Wild Worlds".  Which might just as well be called "The Very Worst Of Alan Moore", seeing as precisely one issue in the book is worthy of standing alongside the rest of his ouvre.  We will inevitably be returning to the rest of the contents at a later date.  However I promise at the start of next month we'll be looking at probably my favourite Moore book aside from Swamp Thing and Watchmen.  I do like him, honest!]

6 comments:

  1. Say it ain't so Alan! This one deserves to be obscure. And that artwork is frigging awful. Image sucked in the 80's.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Art, writing, it's just plain offensively bad all round. At least Image regenerated into the great company it is today and Alan Moore went on to write much, much better stuff. This is his career nadir for me. So there's that.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, there's some comfort in knowing that that's the worst. Things can only get better...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very true. He has some other stuff he's done that I would still class as bad, but mainly because they are boring and unimaginative. Nothing that's actually as offensively bad as this was.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'd like to think that, Pantha is a stripper/ superhero, she come from the world of Vampirella

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have just downloaded iStripper, and now I enjoy having the best virtual strippers on my taskbar.

    ReplyDelete