Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Three things to vent about

Not the post I’d planned to write, but three different things in three different media irked me this week, so —

1)The TPB of Punk Mambo by Cullen Bunn and Adam Gorham (Peter Milligan and Robert Gill provide the #0 issue). The protagonist was a proper British miss until she rebelled, ran away from home, wound up in the 1970s punk scene and became a voodoo practitioner’s sex slave. The young woman watched him until she mastered the rituals and became a butt-kicking “Punk” Mambo (female voodoo priest). Ordinary voodoo priests are wimps who let the loa ride them. Punk controls the loa and doesn’t take no shit off them!

This was perfectly readable and enjoyable, but every step of the way the book screamed John Constantine Ripoff (except Bunn didn’t convince me for a second his protagonist was a Brit). A bigger problem for me is having Punk sneer at the loa and the other voodoo practitioners the way Constantine does other mages and demons. In Hellblazer, that works fine, but having a white woman dominating and trash-talking the spirits of an Africa-based faith and show herself ten times the magus that the black practitioners in the book are — it does not sit well with me at all.

2)The movie Monarch of the Moon (2004). This is a tongue-in-cheek movie-serial pastiche in which the superhero Yellowjacket (no relation) battles against a sinister Axis scheme, which turns out to be the work of the eponymous alien tyrant. It seems the moon has a shortage of women so the Monarch plans to invade America and take ours.

I found this rather “meh.” The creators have a sense of old serial storytelling but the film’s nowhere near as fun as even an average serial could be. I will give them credit for having WW II characters smoking (a surprising number of stories ignore that) though they looked unconvincing enough I suspect there were no smokers in the cast.

The part that annoyed me was that the Monarch’s female sidekick Sally (Monica Himmelheber) — killed mid-movie and replaced by her twin — is a plucky girl who sits around being supportive and plucky and that’s about it. Certainly lots of women in serials were like that, but it’s 2004 and I don’t find that a good enough reason to give women purely decorative roles (I have similar feelings about some of Alan Moore’s racial portrayals in LGX). Particularly when some women in chapterplays did a great deal more, such as Linda Stirling’s characters in Manhunt on Mystery Island and Zorro’s Black Whip. Though I admit the movie still wouldn’t have won me over with a stronger female lead.

3)In the second episode of the current Flash season, Barry is about to do some forensics at a crime scene when Captain Cramer (Carmen Moore) shows up and tells him he’s been suspended. The DA has placed Barry under investigation, claiming he’s dirty (spoiler: he isn’t) and ordered him off the force until the investigation is resolved. It’s just one element in what turns out to be Barry’s worst day ever. It’s a very unconvincing element.

Back when the Comics Buyer’s Guide was a thing, they used to run a column by Robert Ingersoll, “The Law is a Ass,” highlighting legal absurdities in comics. Referring to a Doug Moench story where Bruce Wayne wakes up one morning to learn he’s penniless — the Wayne Foundation has gone bankrupt and taken Bruce’s fortune with it — Ingersoll made the point that this can’t happen overnight. Bankruptcy requires notification, hearings, lawyers filing motions and lots of legal procuedre; there’s also no way Bruce is legally liable for Wayne Foundation’s debts, though that’s not relevant to my point here. Sure, bad guys even in real life can bend the law, but not that much.

Like comics, TV often ignores this in favor of a startling dramatic payoff. In Manifest, Dr. Bahl (Parveen Kaur) comes to work one morning and discovers she has no work: the medical board has revoked her license. This is the work of the sinister security agent the Major (Elizabeth Marvel) who pulled strings to make it happen — but I’m sorry, that’s not how it works. Losing a doctor’s license requires complaints, board hearings, a chance for Bahl to state her case. The writers were cheating, hoping everyone will accept that, to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, a sufficiently powerful Deep State is indistinguishable from magic. I didn’t accept it.

Same problem with Flash. Even a cursory reading on the subject online shows the rules vary between jurisdiction, but Barry has apparently lost his badge without any formal complaint or charges being filed. That seems unlikely. What’s much more implausible is that he has absolutely no recourse, such as calling in the police union — which as the past year’s coverage of police violence has made clear, is damn protective of officers, even flagrantly bad ones. The sudden loss of his badge is a hand-wave for cheap effect, and also because realism would violate genre conventions. Like any good superhero, Barry must stand accused until he clears his name, not get off on a technicality.

Rant over.

#SFWApro. Covers by Dan Brereton (top) and Ross Andru



  1. I popped in to say that I changed (after looking it up to confirm) the column title of Robert Ingersoll. It’s “The Law Is A Ass”, not the grammatically correct “an” that you had in there. It’s because it’s “wrong” that I remember it :). I guess it’s from Oliver Twist.

    I agree with you on “that’s not how it works”, but I suspect it’s also a little bit of Hitchcock’s drama being life with the boring parts left out. And that the story is a lot scarier when it has the Kafkaesque feel to it.

      1. Using the Manifest example, what would make it plausible enough for me: Dr. Bahl calls whoever you call in these situations, demands to know what the hell’s going on. Panicked caller says the board had no choice, and there are now multiple complaints in Bahl’s file giving them grounds — “they have witnesses who’ll swear to everything. If we say anything .. they know where our kids go to school.” A little more detail can still get the Kakfaesque stuff.

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