A Little Too Much Lee-Way

Here we go again...

Is everybody sick to death of hearing nerdrage about the DC Reboot yet?

If you are, you may want to go ahead and surf elsewhere now. Look, I’ll even give you a handy break to help out, should you just be browsing the homepage on the way to the latest Afterschool Special recap.

Sigh. Everything old is new again.

I got out of comics for several years at the end of the 1980s. The dawning of the Dark Age was nigh, and everything seemed to be unraveling into an insane style over substance paradigm where the storyline and characters didn’t matter a bit so long as you could keep throwing awesome and extreme images at the reader.

For better or worse, I lay a lot of the blame for this at Jim Lee’s feet. This might be because Jim Lee was at the artistic helm when my beloved Uncanny X-Men got torn asunder and remade and given the extreme treatment. Now something I like to conveniently forget is that Claremont was still writing the stories… I don’t know what happened there, I just know I hated it. I hated the Siege Perilous. I hated the redesigns. I hate that they took a cheery English lady like Betsy Braddock and re-packaged her as a fetishized Asian assassin chick with the personality of a cardboard cutout whose hips won’t unsway. I’m not fond of Jim Lee’s art style or the art style of everyone who has ended up imitating him since… and oh, are there a lot of them. He, Liefeld, McFarlane, etc. set a standard for how mainstream comics had to look that it took years to overcome (if indeed, it ever was overcome), and if there was a story to be found at all, you’d have to burrow past all the EXTREME to get to it. The very fact they founded a company named “Image” said it all for the priorities, and I wanted nothing to do with that.

Now let’s take a moment for the caveats. A lot of my friends like Jim Lee’s work, and although I might find stylistic similarities between his art and Liefeld’s, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone question Lee’s technical skill as an artist, so I bow to that. He also, by all accounts, is a genuinely nice and approachable guy, which I saw evidence of at the 1st Long Beach Comic-Con even if I didn’t talk to him personally. I mean, I wouldn’t turn down having a beer with him (truthfully, I think there are few comics creators I would turn down having a beer with, especially if they’re buying), but if you’re not a fan of a guy’s work, you shouldn’t be hogging his attention from the people who are.  That’s kinda why he’s there, after all: to meet them, not to defend his artistic vision against random nerds.

Also, Image has continued on since its inception to publish quite a varied and often high quality body of work that preserves a creator’s rights to their creations. That was the original mission statement underlying all the EXTREME, and when the extreme died away the mission stuck. People like Jerry Siegel and Jack Kirby could have told you just how important a mission that is, but the struggle is ongoing to this day, and from all I’ve heard Image does right by its clients.

Now back to the rant. Early last year, Jim Lee was named as the Co-Publisher of DC Comics, and although that theoretically meant limited involvement on the creative side, the fact is that the character designs (and re-designs) got to be spearheaded by him. Apparently there was a rumored mandate that all the heroines would be given the gift of pants… from the end result I’m not sure how true that was, but it’s definitely an irony from the man who gave us Thonglocke.

Tastes can change, of course, but people are pointing out that despite getting trousers, the majority of DC reboot women are being presented with humongous breasts falling out of teensy tube tops and bustiers. The men are very grim. There’s a lot of dynamic poses, but not so much in the way of dynamic faces.

Also a new outbreak of "Youngblood's Disease"

Lee also took the opportunity, given the dissolution of his Wildstorm imprint, to shoehorn his Wildstorm characters into the main DC continuity, and I don’t know that a universe where the actions of The Authority are a-okay should be sharing the same boundaries as one where the Justice League exists. Someone’s moral codes are going to take a shift, and I doubt it’s going to be the “edgy” newcomers. Wasn’t there a whole Superman issue that took to task The Authority’s methods and how they had no place amongst true heroes?

Anyhow, it all just seems so very… 90s…

Is that what the kids today want? The same damn thing the kids 20 years ago (aside from myself, I guess) wanted?

But in any case, I probably wouldn’t be writing this if not for a particularly nasty bit of Lee-inspired déjà vu.

This right here.

Don’t recognize that character? That’s Harley Quinn. In the new reboot, she apparently gets to be recruited to the Suicide Squad, wear next to no clothing and carry a lot of blades. So, wait… you’re telling me Jim Lee took a modestly costumed, fun-loving gal and reimagined her as a fetishized assassin chick?

Yes, I know the latter pic isn't by Jim Lee. It's still his design.

Harley was one of the few good characters to have come out of the 90s, and she came from a cartoon. She could never have come from a comic book of that time. Too boring, I guess. Not enough skin showing. An actual personality, as opposed to the ‘generic sexy badass vixen’ that comicsdom to this day delights in giving us as their idea of “strong female characters”.

This particular go-round is so much worse, because while I personally liked the pre-Siege, British Betsy Braddock, I suppose she could be argued as forgettable, and not having much of a fan base. Harley? Harley spawned such a huge fanbase they had to reverse engineer her into the comics to take advantage of all that money they were missing out on, a lot of it coming from women being drawn in as new fans. Sure, Harley had her issues, including basically the worst choice of a boyfriend ever (at least until Edward Cullen came along), but first impressions of her character weren’t pure wank material. Her costume was a tight bodysuit, but it was in-theme, practical for acrobatics, and no more or less revealing than similar outfits worn by male heroes and villains.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that before this current iteration, Jim Lee was already fucking up Harley with his design for her in the otherwise excellent Arkham Asylum video game.

Yes, he was responsible for this, too.

But at least the loligoth look still had some element of twisted innocence – plus, she was still voiced by Arleen Sorkin, and most importantly we could pretend her appearance had no more bearing on the baseline character reality than Joker Hulk.

Can you imagine Sorkin’s voice coming out of the Suicide Squad Harley? There ain’t nothing playful or innocent in that design, even without looking like she raided Bloodrayne’s closet.

No, uh, seriously. Pretty close, there.

She’s been thoroughly Psylocked. Or, if I felt particularly generous about the conceptualization process used here, perhaps she’s been Heath Ledgered. But to make that analogy work right, we’d have to imagine a shirtless Heath Ledger Joker wearing leather hotpants and a laughing fish codpiece.

Yeah, you’re welcome for that image. Even if you swing that way, it wouldn’t matter how great they make his body look, would it? It’s still ridiculous and distracting, and not really the element that brought you to enjoy the character in the first place. But apparently, it’s been decided no one’s going to care about Harley unless she’s got her assets hanging out.

I have yet to see how she’ll actually be written, but at this point I’m not optimistic. The appearance of a character matters, and while Jim Lee draws a good Batman, I wouldn’t weep if he was never again allowed to design or redesign the look of a heroine. Well, okay, to be fair I haven’t seen his take on Huntress in the reboot yet. Here’s hoping maybe he at least didn’t keep Helena in her godawful Hush costume—oh wait, he designed that.

SERIOUS CRIMEFIGHTER

I guess for the foreseeable future, it’s Lee-way or the freeway. I’m just gonna watch from the sidelines on this one. I’ve seen this wreck before, and it wasn’t pretty the first time.

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About Clint

Clint Wolf is an opinionated nerd, who writes a comic (Zombie Ranch) about cowboys who wrangle zombies. We didn't claim he made sense. http://cwolf.zxq.net/
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2 Responses to A Little Too Much Lee-Way

  1. Justin says:

    I had not realized he did the redesigns on Arkham Asylum. Since, by and large, I don’t like them (Ivy’s cardigan in particular is fucking ridiculous), it makes sense.

    It reminds me of your story about seeing the trailer for Batman and Robin. The theater going silent, then one voice: “KILL JOEL SCHUMACHER!” and the roar of approval. Jim Lee has become the Joel Schumacher of comics.

  2. Clint says:

    Oh God, the Ivy cardigan. I’d blocked that out. But yeah, I actually wasn’t aware until I started researching this, but Wildstorm studios is responsible for all the character designs in Asylum and the upcoming sequel, Arkham City. If Lee didn’t specifically come up with them, he at least signed off on them.

    I love the Schumacher story, but I didn’t witness it personally. I always thought I’d heard it from Bryn, but I think last time I asked Bryn about it he said it didn’t come from him. So maybe that just makes it an urban legend… but hey, it’s a good one.

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