Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Alan Moore Obscurities: Terra Obscura Book 2 (#7-12)

"I could have stayed in the jungle... but no not little old me.  I had to fall for a guy who likes adventures" - Pantha

This month I have decided to have another one devoted to comics which either have women as the main characters or playing a significant role in a mixed cast of men and women, a caveat I added so I could cover Book 2 of Terra Obscura.  A quick recap, this twelve issue series, split into two arcs spun out of a Tom Strong storyline which unfortunately due to cost issues I have not been able to get a hold of. The backstory is that Terra Obscura is an alternative Earth where the heroes ended up in suspended animation in the late sixties and were brought out of it thirty years later thanks to the combined efforts of Tom Strong and Tom Strange his Terra Obscura counterpart. The heroes are in fact public domain ones from the defunct Nedor comics stable that were in action during the forties and co-writers Alan Moore (plot) and Peter Hogan (script) have bought them into the 21st century with care and respect. In the first book they dealt with an attempt by the Egyption God Set to destroy all the technology of the world and turn the people into his slaves.  After this was sorted out using punching and diplomacy, the heroes decided to restart their old superhero team and so the "Society for Modern American Science Heroes" was reborn.   If you want to know more about the various heroes featured, their wikipedia page deals with both their Nedor and ABC era biographies and is a very interesting read.  This adventure brings a new character into the fold, Princess Pantha, who was Nedor's "Jungle Girl" character and spins a cool story of mysterious time anomolies and hi-jinks in outer space.  So let's continue with a second visit to Terra Obscura.

Tom and Pantha's first adventure.
 We start with Pantha and Tom Strange having a shared memory about having a moment back when they first teamed up in the jungle before her husband and Tom's friend found them.  In the present Pantha reflects on being asleep for thirty years and waking up to find her husband dead, she takes it in her stride while Tom seems sad.  Then she tell Tom they are supposed to be on a date, no wonder he gets maudlin living in a museum of his past exploits, "I think we should get out of here, and go for dinner somewhere French and frivolous".

They wander down through the house and Tom agrees that all the "souvenirs and trophies must be a little overwhelming" he didn't intend collecting them all they "just kind of washed up here".  Pantha says she only started aging again a couple of years ago and then strikes a pose saying she'll only admit to being "umpteen" years old.  Tom takes her down past a portrait of Tom Strong and his family, then a picture of Tom and Bob Benton - "The Terror" - when he was still human.  Tom says they were quite a team back in the day:

Tom: "We were both scientists, both idealists.  We thought we could perfect the world with a combination of grit and good old American know-how".

Pantha comments that the papers used to call them "the World's Best".  Tom says in the end they were only human and couldn't stop the alien that killed Bob and got the others out into suspended animation.  Tom said they did thanks to the Terror but now as a computer program he thinks he can still make the the world perfect and needs to be managed.

Then The Terror calls and gives Tom an update on whats happening, the most important being the something detected in space and the President wants S.M.A.S.H in the loop.  Tom tells Pantha the date has to be postponed but she says she's coming with him.  He decides he deserves a personal life so will drive there.  But his car has changed, it was a S.U.V now it is an old two seater.  "I had this monster in the late the heck did it get here?" wonders Tom, Pantha says it's much cooler than what he usually drives, "this is to die for".  And off they go.
Diane and Carol partners in love and crime fighting.
We then cut to lesbian hero couple Diana "Ms.Masque" Adams and her girlfriend Carol "Fighting Yank" Carter battling "The Clock" in New Lancaster.   After a lot of clock puns and exploding clocks, Tim who was Bob Benton's sidekick and now works with the Terror drops down to give them a hand.  Diana and Tim lay into the henchemen Carol goes after The Clock.

With the henchmen dealt with, Tim says he'd still like to be friends with Diana even though she broke up with him. He invites her to dinner as Carol drags the unconcious body of The Clock towards them.  Tim leaves and when Diana tells Carol what he said, Carol is displeased. 

Diana: "No, he was trying to be nice but... I dunno there was something...cold about him.  Maybe he's trying to cover up how much I hurt him.  You think I should go?"

Then we return to Tom Strange and Pantha meeting with Senator Tallis. They are taken to a secret place to meet a man called The Oracle.  He's a man who can see into the fourth dimension and stay sane, at least until now.
Bryant's ship returns to the solar system.
They find an old man who says to Tom "ever since I saw that thing in space... why do I keep seeing the past?"  Then Tom is shown Hubble's photos of the object, it's like a spaceship but one twisted into a curved shape.  Undistorted it appears to be "the Thunderbolt.  This is Andrew Bryant's ship" says Tom.

Tom: "God only knows where he's been for the last forty-five years... but it looks like Captain Future has come back."

Then we get a TV news report about Captain Future's return into the solar system, in the years since he's been lost in space he was promoted to Colonel.

S.M.A.S.H are having a meeting about it.  Tom says the ship isn't responding to hails so his robots are building him a spaceship so he can fly out and meet him.  He's called the meeting to let them know he'll be off planet for a while and also time anomalies are occuring.  Carol and Peggy "The Woman in Red" discuss changing names but all the ones they have thought of are have are awful. Then the Green Ghost senses something unnatural.

Then the original S.M.A.S.H from the forties appear in the doorway, including a young Diana and Carol's dad still alive. They declare the modern S.M.A.S.H to be "Japanazi Imposters" and a punch-up commences.
Past and future meet up with fisticuffs.
Back at Diana and Carol's place, Diana picks up her messages.  The first is from Carol saying she looked dead to the world so she let her sleep in.  Then a message from Tim, who has a weird tick to his mouth saying it was nice to see her.  Diana messages back that she's coming to Invertica City in a day or so to stay with a friend and they can grab a bite and catch up. She switches the machine off and says to herself, "What are you doing, girl?"

Back at S.M.A.S.H headquarters a fullscale brawl is taking place between past and present.  Tom wants to sit down and talk, "so you can poison us with propaganda?" shouts Diana as she wrestles with him.  Carol tries to reason with her dad, but he punches her saying she can't be his daughter.  Finally The Green Ghost manages to convince his living past self that they are telling the truth, they are not enemies.  The Ghost tells everyone to stop fighting.  But then the past heroes just fade away.

Present day S.M.A.S.H nurse their wounds and wonder if this was an experiment with time travel they forgot. The Green Ghost doesn't think so, saying Captain Future never spoke during the battle, and he disappears to try and get to the bottom of it. Carol is feeling about fed up, "I just had a fight with my dad and girlfriend... and neither of them even recognised me.  It's kind of depressing".  Her jaw hurts and she just wants to go home.

Tom leaves and meets Pantha, his car has regressed again, Pantha comments "If this keeps up you'll be driving a Model T soon".  They get inside and he grins that he will soon be driving a brand new spaceship.  "Cool. When do we leave?" asks Pantha.  A short time skip and they are at the spaceship, Tom is telling Pantha "no" she can't come. 
Seduction of the Tom.
She says she knows why he doesn't want her to come, he took others into action and they died.  But she says she can look after herself, "I'm a big girl now".  Then she asks how long it has been since Tom last had sex.  He mumbles it's been a while, so he takes him by the arm and asks "where do you hide the bedrooms in this morgue?".

Carol returns home and tells Diana about the time travel fight, she tells Diana she looked cute as a teenager.  Diana says she looks cute now.  Then Carol spots Diana's bags and thinks she's leaving her.  But Diana reassures her she is only going to visit Invertica City and maybe see Tim for dinner, to make sure he's OK. 

Then we cut to Tim sitting in a chair surrounded by operating tools.  The top of his head is sawn off and reveals he's mechanical inside, and as he is operated on by the machines he orders flowers for his forthcoming dinner with Diana.
The real Tim revealed.
Over dinner with Diana, "Tim" recounts his adventures in the forties which has him slip and refer to "Tim and I".  Diana picks up on this saying doesn;t he mean "Bob and I?"  Not-Tim blames the bubbly, he also says his nervous twitch was fixed by needing a "dream" and he touches Diana's fingers.

Back with Tom he is up and very cheerful after a night of nookie with Pantha.  She finds him packing for the spaceflight and they embrace:

Tom: "I'd forgotten how good life can be... but having you here the last few days... I've remembered".

Then he hears a commotion from his dead friend Mike's old quarters.  More faces from the past are there including Mike and Tim all youthful and enthusiastic about helping Tom with this time twisting mystery, as they discuss possible causes a bad guy called "Baron Nacht" appears and fires a green ray.  Tom blocks it and punches the Baron out.  Then he and the youth fade away.  Pantha asks Tom if he is OK, but Tom is a little sad at having seen the youths, all bar Tim are dead now.

Speaking of Tim, robo-zombie Tim is sharing a drink in front of a roaring fire with Diana. They start to kiss... meanwhile we get one side of a conversation between Carol and her dead father.  She admits to being jealous and goes to phone the woman Diana is staying with.  Tipper, the woman in queston is having her own time twisting troubles, Tommy, Buzz and Pudge have appeared at different ages, she along with them was part of "The Four Comrades" back in the past.

Back with Tom and Pantha, they are ready to jet off into space, for a treat, Pantha has put on her furry leopardprint bikini, Tom doesn't object but notes, "it could be a little distracting that's all."  Pantha grins at him, "that's the general idea you big galoot."  And off they fly.
Who says space travel can't be sexy?
Diana pulls away from her kiss with a robot in a Tim suit, she says it was like the first time.  "Tim" says yes at a place where she kissed Bob Benton not Tim and the penny drops.  The AI Bob Baker has taken over Tim's body.  Diana recoils, Bob tell her Tim committed suicide after she broke up with him, so he salvaged the body and "made it mine".  So now he and Diana can be lovers again.

She smashes a wine bottle over his head and runs.   She says they were never lovers, just a one night stand.  Bob accuses her of doing it with everyone, "Lance, Lewis, and Tim, and that slut Carol... but I forgive you."  He says all he needs to make her love him is time "and we'll soon have plenty of that".  He tells the fleeing Diana that he thinks Andrew Bryants ship is causing the timeslips so he's going to steal it and learn to control time, "and then I'll be able to put things right again".

In Hawaii, Senator Challis is discussing Bryant's ship when people start running. In the sky is the "Tsunami Squad", superpowered Japanese men who "sank the fleet in 1941".  Fortunately S.M.A.S.H come to the rescue fast and get into a punch up with them before the Tsunami Squad vanish though they managed to kill quite a few people on the ground before S.M.A.S.H got to them.
The Tsunami Squad attack.
On board their spaceship, Pantha bends sultrily over Tom and asks "penny for your thoughts, handsome".  He says he was thinking about those films where brave astronauts fly out to destroy an asteroid or something threatening Earth, and "someone always dies."  He gets a message from Earth about the Tsunami Squad, and that "everyone is rooting for you". Tom frowns, "so.. no pressure then".

Pantha: "Hey, saving the Earth at the last minute is what you're good at, remember.  But afterwards you're mine.  And we're taking a vacation or else."

Tom, tempting fate, says at least they only have Bryant's ship to deal with and "there won't be any mysterious villains appearing out of nowhere to complicate things".
A somewhat incovenienced Diana.
We then cut to Bob The Terror's spaceship also on course to Bryant's ship. He has Diana chained up under guard by skull faced Terrorbots. He tells her that Bryant's ship is acting more like a "quantum particle" than a spaceship.  "It may well be a gateway to anything" he continues.  Tom Strange is the fly in the ointment but he's going to eliminate him.  Diana can't believe Bob would kill his best friend.  Bob says he will just disable his ship.  He leaves her saying "I'm doing this for us, remember?"

On Tom and Pantha's ship she wakes after a nap and Tom tells her they are now in the asteroid belt and there is a ship following them which he has identified as "The Terroriser...the Terror's old ship".  He can't raise him on radio.  Pantha says she thought he coudln't leave Invertica, but Tom thinks it might just be Tim with some help.  He reminisces about an encounter with some aliens who had modelled themselves on the Terror via TV transmissions, they were attacked by aliens modeled on one of the Terror's villians and it was left to Tom to save the day.

"You've really lived, haven't you?" grins Pantha.  Tom admits Bob saved him several times in the past so he wants to believe the best of him.  But he won't respond to hails. Then The Terrorizer fires on their ship.  They loses a stabiliserr and Tom says they are heading into the asteroids and that Pantha needs to get into a space suit fast.

Bob doesn't attack further and resumes course to Bryant's ship. Tom tells Pantha to hold the ship steady and he heads outside to start fixing the damage.  As he does so Pantha says to herself with a smile, "So now I'm going to die in space.  Well done, Pantha".  But Tom gets the ship fixed fast and they head off to Bryant's ship only at one-quarter speed.
The Terroriser attached to Bryant's ship.
They finally arrive and see The Terroriser latched onto it. With the only airlock blocked, they'll have to clamp on and burn their way through. They make a hole in Bryant's ship and Tom and Pantha venture inside, only to discover an Escher like interior of impossible stairways and strange alien looking creatures.

The US President orders a missile strike on Bryant's spaceship as they can't risk more Pearl Harbours.  The Green Ghost goes to visit Set and Thoth who are playing a chess like game and tells them he needs their help to stop the Enola Gay dropping the bomb over Hiroshima, they travel there via his cloak.
Thoth and Set to the rescue.
Tom and Pantha are in a new reality, one where they are older, married and settled down together.  They have dinner with Bob and Diana his wife while their kids go out on crime patrol.  Diana says she can't remember her wedding.  Pantha says it was after they "eliminated crime and S.M.A.S.H disbanded".  But if they did then why are the kids out on patrol?

Reality fractures and then we see Diana being pulled out of a "Dream Machine" by The Liberator.  Tom is pulled out as well as the Terror, now they have to stop Futuro who did this to them.  There is an explosion, then there is just Pantha, Diana, Tom and the Terror.  Tom says he can feel reality shifting, but Bob denies this.  Then Tom and Bob end up fighting:

Tom: "...This isn't Bob Benton.  Bob Benton is dead.  This is just some kind of robot".

And he punches it's head off. Now reality resets, with just Pantha, Diana, Tom and Tim/Bob.  Diana tells Tom that Terror Bob has taken over Tim's body.
Andrew Bryant.
Tom sends Pantha and Diana race off to find Andrew Bryant and discover him, heavily bearded and asleep in the pilot's chair. Pantha hypothesises that maybe all the timeslips on Earth were dreams of his. Unfortunately at this point the Enola Gay has dropped the bomb over Hiroshima. 

Thoth manages to grab the bomb and hold it in a bubble, he asks for Set to lend him his strength as the bomb explodes and they contain it.  They keep holding it until the explosion disappates back to where the other time anomolies went.   Meanwhile Tom is battling Bob's Terrorbots and says Tim/Bob is nothing like the Bob he knew:

Bob: "I am Benton's legacy.  I am the future... and as soon as I gain control of this ship, all of time will be mine to restructure".

Then chaos ensues as heroes and villains from the past come through the time tube.  This includes past Bob Benton and Tim.  There is a big fight and the Terrorbots are destroyed.  Tom says to Evil Bob "It's just you and me now".

Back with the two women, Pantha is fangirling over Andrew a bit, "I mean this is the guy who killed Hitler and arrested Joe McCarthy... not to mention being the first astronaut.  It's like coming face to face with a legend".  Diana says that's as maybe, he's still fast asleep.  Pantha says they could go with "the Fairytale solution".  Diana says with her reputation she should be the one to kiss him awake and lands a big smooch on Bryant's lips.
And lo, the prince awakens.
The fight elsewhere continues.  Past Bob takes on mecha Bob and smashes the top of his head off and scoops out the insides "He wasn't me" says Past Bob grimly, "I was never that dark". While a dazed Andrew wakes and remembers having a ray fired on him by Dr. X and then nothing else. Diana says they'll explain later now there is a bad guy to fight. "Isn't there always?" says Andrew.

Tom shakes past Bob's hand and says Tom needed him and he came.  As they fade he says "remember us this way... as your friends".  And then they are gone.  Diana and Pantha arrive with Andrew in tow.  Tom greets him as Colonel Bryant as he was promoted in his abscence.  Then Andrew senses the bomb fired from Earth and they all escape on Tom's ship and watch the ship explode.
Past Bob deals with his insane future self.
Tom fills Andrew in on the time displacements.  Andrew admits he had been dreaming about the past and how things could have been.  The Terror thought his ship went through a black hole. 

Tom: "Maybe that made it act like some kind of psychic amplifier, affecting events as far away as it's point of origin.  Or else everything we saw was real and the ship was really a quantum gateway to other dimensions.  I guess we'll never know".

Diana says it's blown up so good riddance.  Tom tells Pantha to call Washington, they'll have quite the reception for Andrew when he returns.

And he gets a tickertape parade.  Carol and Diana are there having a fond laugh at Andrew's face when Diana introduced Carol as her girlfriend.  Diana thought he was sweet about it.  She also apologises for being an ass over Tim and is glad Carol is still her girlfriend.  They decide to get the flypast over with so they can be alone again.
And they all live happily ever after.
Pantha and Tom are missing the celebrations.  They are cuddling together in the sea off some tropical beach.  Tom is still wondering what might come next.  Pantha just says:

Pantha: "Happiness, dummy... and nothing's going to spoil it".

And that was pretty much it for Terra Obscura.  There was a single issue of Terra Obscura & Splash Brannigan then ABC folded as an imprint as Moore decided to cut all ties with DC comics and the series he didn't directly write suffered big drops in sales which is likely what happened with Terra Obscura.  Which is a terrible shame, they are a great group of characters, a modern update of a bunch of pulp superheroes with the women being just as strong and interesting as the men.  These characters could have been fertile ground for many more adventures and it's a terrible shame we didn't get more of them fleshed out the way Diana, Carol, Tom, Pantha, Bob and Tim were. The central plot of this book, a man dreaming and his dreams becoming reality on Earth is a fantastic sci-fi idea and being solved with just a kiss while the punching is confined to the secondary plotline is something I like.  I always prefer stories where people use their brains to figure out solutions like Pantha did rather than it be solved with a punch-up (although a good punch up is fun to read undeniably so).  Still it was poetically satisfying that the real Bob Benton took down his corrupted, maddened future self.  I hope one day Tom Strong gets the rerelease treatment and I can finally cover their first appearence in the 21st century.  After two books I feel very attached to the characters, thanks to Moore and Hogan's deft scripts and the chunky, Kirbyesque artwork by Yanick Panquette and Karl Story.  Both books are availiable seperately or as one omnibus "Terra Obscura: The S.M.A.S.H of Two Worlds" which is what I've taken these images from.


  1. Well needless to say I love this. Conjures up an era when we had *real* small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

    The artwork is superb. Both in terms of quality and the 'mise-en-scene' (only relearned that word last night after pestering friends on Facebook, so using it at every opportunity)

    I love the characters. It's also interesting that we (and they) get to compare themselves to their younger and older selves. Allows for instantaneous analysis of character development. But they all do seem really developed. They're complex individuals even when they're archetypes. So we don't just have one word descriptors (he's stoic, she's badass, they're tormented etc.)

    I like the story notwithstanding I'm usually a bit sceptical of 'it was all a dream' type scenarios. At least here they work it into the plot in an interesting way, and there's a nice poignant rationale behind it.

    And of course I love Pantha *pulls up lectern*

    In her original incarnation she's a circus performer specialising in animal acts. Princess Pantha is actually her stage name. She goes on an expedition to caprute a white gorilla for the circus. This is over the protestations of the resident great white hunter who thinks the jungle is no place for a girl (also he was angling for the gig). Upon arriving the safari are attaked by a tribe who revere said gorilla. Pantha is the only survivor due wot a combination of shooting skills (she's a circus crackshot) and quick thinking (she plays a recording of a gorilla call that they're intended to use as a lure and that scares away the tribe). Cut to two months later. The hunter, Drake, has set out to rescuer the party. By this time Pantha has inexplicably acquired her leopard bikini and is doing quite well for herself. She's loving the life so she doesn't want to get home. Drake selflessly volunteers to hang around to help her out of trouble and, one suspects, her pants. She spends the next 40 or so episodes rescuing him (and presumably marrying him of this strip is anything to go by)

    That in itself is an interesting trope. As we've said before it's a common thing in JG strips for the girl to rescued the bloke. There's one strip where it's actually played for laughs. The girl rescues the bloke even as he's commenting on how this is no place for a girl. That's every strip and it usually ends with her winking out of the page and saying 'you're so right'

  2. "Lorna, Queen of the Gender Studies Department..."

  3. Lorna had all the classic jungle girl attributes: affinity with animals, combat skills, helicopter pilots license...

  4. OK Lorna is excellent, love it! I thought you'd enjoy this one, I nearly captioned the scan of Pantha in her bikini "One for you Alan!" :D Thanks for the backstory on her, the omnibus edition has some "extras" in the form of character biogs, but only short ones so more detail is very welcome.

    I am also abit wary of "All Just a Dream" scenarios but in this case I thought the fact the dreams were leaking into reality and actually having a tangible effect was a novel twist. And I really loved the artfully twisted spaceship that might have acted as an amplifier something really spoke to me there.

    It would have been brilliant to have more from Terra Obscura and it's cast, solid foundations built upon with love and care. It's just a shame the ABC line was so reliant on Alan Moore for sales, I see him leaving as a double tragedy. Not just because readers didn't read stuff he didn't do, but that his own work went downhill without editors to say "Alan? NO." Bah.

  5. I loved the twisty spaceship. It resonated with me and I've finally figured why. There was an early 2000AD Dan Dare story; we're talking first few weeks of the comic. That had a similar spaceship 'coming back wrong' and it was really eery. I think the artwork may have been by Blas Galego. He's very good at that sort of alien geometries vibe. In fact I think he used it again in a one-off future shock type story. Come to think of it, that was about a guy (the cleverest human in the world) dreaming things that leaked into the real world whilst linked up to a machine. Wonder if other Alan was subconsciously channeling that.

    Glad you liked Lorna. Just about every story involves her rescuing Greg (the bloke) and him either not noticing or being really patronising about it. And his oblivious chauvinism is very much part of the comic. I wonder what the creators were trying to achieve there? We know now the Sheena strips were massively popular with girls, were the writers tapping into that market, or is he just a classic comedy clueless bloke? You're the expert on this so I'll leave that one with you.

  6. You've really opened my eyes as to how feminist the Jungle Girl comics are. The easy thing to do would look at them and think women in bikini = male titillation fantasy. But I love the winking at the camera humour of those Lorna strips, I actually wondered at first if they were old strips with "new" dialogue photoshopped onto them at first! It strikes me as a terrible shame now we don't have some modern ones and has made me want to read Gail Simone's take in Sword of Sorrows even more (roll on Easter!)

  7. You've really opened my eyes as to how feminist the Jungle Girl comics are. The easy thing to do would look at them and think women in bikini = male titillation fantasy. But I love the winking at the camera humour of those Lorna strips, I actually wondered at first if they were old strips with "new" dialogue photoshopped onto them at first! It strikes me as a terrible shame now we don't have some modern ones and has made me want to read Gail Simone's take in Sword of Sorrows even more (roll on Easter!)

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  9. Undoubtably there was a 'good girl art' element to the stories. The creators of Sheena are quite open about that. The strips did become popular with girls though so such outfits may have been seen as liberating. A sort of proto grrrl power thing. There's an essay by a woman writer who reminisces about how she was I sped by Sheena as a girl to run around in her polka spotted bikini with a butter knife. Until one day she tied up her brother with clothes line and her parents banned her from watching the show (there was a TV adaptation in the 50s)

    The idea that skimpy outfits gave women ideas was a feature of the strips. A number of the JGs themselves went along with that. The theme of guys suggesting if women dressed appropriately they'd become more ladylike was a feature in a number of the different comics. But we'll stick with your new friend Lorna:

    The dialogue can seem ahead of its time, but it's totally authentic. In her spare time Lorna wrote for Jezebel

    Lorna and Greg had a strange relationship. She's well aware of his incompetence and cowardice but she plays along with it. There's probably a weird femdom subtext going on. Effectively he's her arm candy (she does think he's pretty good looking). Maybe it's a deliberate reversal of the damsel in distress thing? She does tease him about his masculinity though.

  10. I love Lorna now. Also impressive is the black character is drawn to look normal not in the horrible charicatured style that happened so often back then. Once again it's a shame western comics are still such a turnoff for female readers nowadays when in the past the female readership had parity with the male just not in the superhero genre. Still one of the reasons I do these ladies months are to prove that modern comics are doing good work giving us a wide range of female heroes of all different personality types. I was checking over my posts for the rest of the month though and thought, "huh, sure do seem to be a lot of lesbians here" xD

  11. The genre isn't without its problematic elements of course. But some of the comics can be surprisingly nuanced. Rulah (who's one of my favourites) was principally drawn by one of the few African American artists working at the time; and it seems maybe he had some influence on the stories. There are black villains, but they're not caricatures. Mind you, if you want lesbian subtext, now there's a strip. Rulah explicitly dumps her boyfriend when he can't cope with her new life and she ends up with what seems to be a harem of girls.

    There's a strip called Cavegirl (not sure why, no caves seem to feature) and that's set against a backdrop of the Mau Mau uprisings. So you have black antagonists but it's a political thing. It clearly comes from a colonial viewpoint but it tries to be educational. You keep getting little factoid pages about African culture.

    It's interesting but one of the reasons the jungle genre was singled out in seduction of the innocent was the racial stereotyping, especially in Sheena. He was uneasy about the idea of a tall blonde physically perfect nordic heroine doing the mighty whitey bit where even the 'good' black characters were portrayed as naive and superstitious (although the villains tended to be white, the plots usually entailed the natives falling for some scam that Sheena sorted out). Ironically Sheena is 'word of god' Jewish.

    They were definitely very 'progressive' in their portrayal of women though.

    I've emailed you about something you might like. And that has some relevance to your point about the growing gender disparity in Western comics. That is a shame. 2000AD had an almost 50/50 balance; and that was very explicitly aimed at boys originally. Fleetway was very much of the view that specific demographics should be catered for. You know I'm a big fan of Jinty and Misty. It's very telling that after Pat Mills and Co moved on from them to concentrate on the galaxy's greatest comic they were merged (along with Tammy) into a single comic that was literally called 'Girl'.

  12. Well manga has definitely picked up the slack for female readership of sequential art. I have a vague theory that it's because so many are fantasy based so even the ones aimed mainly at boys have strong female characters and thus pick up a huge female readership. Full Metal Alchemist would be the best example. Written and drawn by a women, ostensibly "shonen" (aimed at boys) has some of the greatest female characters I have ever seen and thus has a huge female following and that's before we get to series specifically aimed at girls (shoujo). So plenty of girls and women are reading comics just they're are ones that are back to front!

  13. Ah so that's what Shonen means. There's a band I like called Shonen Knife. To tie in all our current themes this is them doing a song about the original jungle girl (seriously, that's who it's about)

    You've got me thinking about girls reading manga. The only other person I know who reads is also a girl. So extrapolating that 100% of manga readers are girls. Interesting.

    Doesn't it mean 'irresponsible writings', or is she pulling my leg?

  14. Ah so that's what Shonen means. There's a band I like called Shonen Knife. To tie in all our current themes this is them doing a song about the original jungle girl (seriously, that's who it's about)

    You've got me thinking about girls reading manga. The only other person I know who reads is also a girl. So extrapolating that 100% of manga readers are girls. Interesting.

    Doesn't it mean 'irresponsible writings', or is she pulling my leg?

  15. @Alan

    You can add me to your very small sample of people who read manga even if I don't read as much as I used to*. I don't change the % though.

    * My comicbook reading habits have a cycle apparently and I'm at the American comics preferring phase of it again.

  16. @ malitia

    I get that to mean 150% of manga readers are women.

    Admittedly maths isn't my strong point.

  17. I read manga, even cover some on this blog. I've done Junji Ito's horror manga, the Oldboy series and when I have a free slot at the end of the month I do Dragonball. My favourite would be Full Metal Alchemist though, both manga and the second anime based on it.

  18. Ooh, I'll have to check out your oldboy reviews. I enjoyed the films (heretically I preferred the remake)

  19. Burn the heretic! Interestingly the approach the Japanese, Korean and American versions take are very indicative of the cultures that spawned them. The Korean film becomes a lot more meaningful if you know a bit about recent South Korean history, the long brutalising years of the fascist government and the explosion of cinema in the wake of democratisation know as the "hallyu". The original manga is way more... Japanese and I'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers if you decide to read about them :)

  20. You should definitely get some "100% 24 Karat Lesbian" business cards made up.

    Firstly thanks for the background about the Korean political situation. I learn so much from you; and it did help a bit knowing their was a wider 'zeitgeist' to the story.

    I liked the artwork. Although it still had a bit of an 'unfinished' look about it, like when you see the uninked preliminary layouts in western comics, it was still very appealing. In a way it added to the bleak atmosphere of the story. Like there was lots going on but somehow it was flat and unsatisfying. As if there was a incompleteness in the atmosphere; and that sort of reflected the narrative. Both in terms of how the story was presented and the motivation behind the mystery.

    Must confess I still prefer both film versions. Now I must give credit to the comic in avoiding the obvious route of the antagonist turning out to have an obvious 'revenge for a blatant wrong' motive. It was a nice twist that essentially he seems to just pissed off that someone brought out the humanity in him. Almost like that Dalek in the eponymous story.

    "This is not life. This is sickness"

    But I preferred the films' (especially the second one's) use of psychological manipulation rather than all too easy hypnosis. I also liked that, from their own point of view, the villains had genuinely been wronged and were ultimately highly sympathetic.

    Of course sequential art and films are very different media, so what works for one doesn't necessarily work for the other. I can appreciate the depth and complexity of the manga as opposed to the more pared down story that suits a two hour film. Battle Royale has a similar thing going on. I haven't managed to plough through the manga but I've been told about it and I understand how the time allowed to explore the more complex backstories of all the characters improves on the film version where essentially they're just there to be killed one after the other in interesting ways.

    What really swings the US film for me is the performances. They're pitch perfect but especially the villain. I only realised recently that it's the guy out of District 9. I can't believe how talented he is. That's one of my favourite characters in film. It could have been so easy just to be eccentric whacky pantomime villain; but it's such a nuanced performance you almost want to hug him at the end.

  21. I'm glad you enjoyed the manga, it's very "decompressed" which can result in some impatience in readers, but which I like a lot. The emphasis on stoicism to get through and the zen acceptance is as I said very Japanese. The Korean version really channels the fury of a society coming out of dictatorship with Oh Dae Su being a relic from that era (it's a small plot point easily missed in the film but Korean language underwent a shift while he was imprisoned and so he's doubly alienated from the world he is released back into). As for the American film, it's just a bit meh to use a word I hate. Probably doesn't help that Choi Min Sik is for me one of the greatest screen actors of our time and so anyone treading in his shoes is not going to measure up.

  22. Well as Ridley Scott is fond of saying "What's wrong with a bit of fucking build-up?"

    There's nothing wrong with a nice compact 'something happens in every chapter' bit of quick fun, in any medium. But it's also nice to take the long way round occasionally too. I love Steven King's 'running Man' that he wrote on a 72 hour coke bender; that's so 'breathless'. But I also love 'the stand', and that takes like a 100 pages just to introduce a dog. He is a really cool dog though, well worth it.

    Japanese culture is pretty fascinating. It's both completely alien but also very familiar. I think it's the nearest analogue to Brit culture. So complex with all the historical influences and throwbacks feeding into the ever changing modernity. So you can have someone wearing a kimono during a tea ceremony in a building full of computers in the same way I can be wearing 17th century clerical dress whilst conducting a hearing by video link.

    And being from the country that wrote Tristram Shandy I'm in no place to complain about a bit of 'decomoression' (excellent choice of word btw) in a story.