Friday, January 27, 2017

"You can't possibly outrun me in those heels!" Miss Fury #1-5 review

I first became interested in Miss Fury because she was published by Marvel Comics in the 1940s. I wondered why an early heroine such as she could have headlined her own comic book series and yet been left alone by Marvel even as every other costumed female of the 40s was dredged up from the depths. It took some time for me to realize Miss Fury was actually from the Sunday newspaper comics of the 1940s, her Marvel series merely a set of reprints. Through a splendid hardcover curated by IDW I read a great sampling of the comic strip and learned of the series' creator Tarpe Mills. It is notable that Miss Fury was not only a 1940s female super hero who headlined her own comic strip (at a time when most super heroes were restricted to the less-glamorous world of comic books) but that she was written and drawn by a woman who poured a lot of herself into those pages. I was interested in seeing new comics featuring Miss Fury.

Unfortunately, the publisher who snapped up that idea was Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite has basically run their business on the philosophy of a good cover will sell anything. The interiors of their comics are frequently dull or amateurish but boy, they spend the big bucks to get a great cover artist! They also have an aversion to original ideas, instead preferring to snap up defunct comic book properties (especially those in the public domain). Despite this being the 21st century, Dynamite figured a female-made female heroine should be written by a dude; said dude observed, "hey, she's kinda like Catwoman," and proceeded to remove Mills' ideas and instead renovated Miss Fury from a hero to a thief, gave her supernatural powers and time traveled her to the present. Then, of course, came the variant covers which, like so many Dynamite properties featuring women, went for a lot of puerile scantily-clad imagery. It all smacked of crass exploitation of an intellectual property rather than a spark of creativity.

However, 2016 saw a new Miss Fury series which lasted a mere five issues. When it went on sale at Comixology I began to cautiously sample issues until I finally came to the conclusion... it was okay. Fine, a bit better than okay. For this new series the writing chores had been handed over to a woman, Corinna Bechko, joined by artist Jonathan Lau. The sexy covers were mostly gone (some endured; the continued use of covers where Miss Fury has a 'boob window' are particularly odd, like they thought she wasn't sexy enough fully-clothed and invented a second costume just for the variants). Bechko brought the book more-or-less back to its roots with Miss Fury's Brazilian origin being slowly retold via a series of brief flashbacks in each issue (once again adding supernatural elements to her story). But the main plot of the series finds Miss Fury back in the 1940s working on the homefront during World War II.

Instead of the all-too-obvious effort the variant cover artists have made at being sexy, Jonathan Lau's art treats Miss Fury as someone formidable, agile and, yeah, often kinda sexy while she's at work. But he didn't give her an hourglass figure or brokeback poses. She's a woman who looks beautiful but that's incidental to her ability as a relentless crimefighter.

Bechko's use of World War II to develop Miss Fury's identity is also very well chosen, establishing her as a woman who couldn't join the fighting overseas and so instead cleaned up the problems on the homefront. Many super heroes of the 1940s have been given that status but as a woman it feels all the more striking. There's a wonderful sequence where she visits a library in her civilian guise as Marla Drake. The librarian who assists Marla is a man who feels - much like her - left behind by the war, in his case because of his crippling case of polio. "We may not be fighting but we're still serving... I think you're doing very important work, personally." Marla concludes.

Perhaps most relevant to our present day, the villains of this story are not the Nazis across the ocean, but instead the idle rich found stateside as the plot concerns a cult of the wealthy and powerful who worship Lovecraftian horrors and seek to become masters of the world by summoning down demons which will destroy everyone else. That would have been a little more on-point were the story set at the dawn of the Great Depression, but it certainly speaks to how the mad caprices of the wealthy have torn apart our contemporary society. In all, Corinna Bechko & Jonathan Lau's Miss Fury has my approval. It's a little more clever than most.

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