Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #87: DC Comics: The Sequential Art of Amanda Conner

Books are generally honest: they do pretty much what they say they're going to do. Confusion and dismay can set in if the reader isn't paying attention, of course, but that's not the book's fault. It is what it is; if the reader wanted or expected something different, that's his lookout.

So today's book is DC Comics: The Sequential Art of Amanda Conner. It doesn't credit a writer, or an editor -- or, rather, it credits over a dozen of each, one every couple of pages. What it promises is clear: art, in sequence, by Amanda Conner, published by DC Comics. And that's exactly what it delivers.

Note that it does not promise any stories. And it delivers on that: there are shards of narrative, sequences of moments, some rising action, a denouement or two. But no stories: nothing complete or well-formed or standing anything like on its own. The only reason to read this book is to look at the pretty pictures Amanda Conner draws.

Luckily, they are pretty pictures. And I expect most reviews of this book focus on that art, and ignore the fact that it doesn't add up to anything. Superhero comics are all about moments anyway, right? As long it's really cool and full of eyeball kicks, what more do you need?

Conner is the premier female exponent of the pin-up style in modern comics today: her women are knowing, smirking and entirely self-aware, with bodies slightly more realistic than Frank Cho's and always featuring the glossy, rounded look required by the form. She puts them through athletic paces -- it's required for superhero comics -- but they never become muscular, or sweat or strain. Her men are less interesting and individual: she doesn't lavish attention on the male form the way someone like P. Craig Russell does, but makes them a bit blocky and stylized, the squares to her round females. Those women are, of course, immensely attractive to American men of the generations obsessed with superhero comics, which is not by accident.

DC Comics contains pages originally published in seventeen different comics from 1998 through 2010, and of course they're arranged chronologically with the original publication dates. (We have to know how they all fit into continuity!) There's also an short section at the end with a few pencil sketches and a passel of covers, as if the publishers realized they'd almost filled up an "art of" book with comics issues and ignored art qua art. But don't be fooled: this is not a book of Conner explaining how she works, or examining her progress, or containing any reflections by her on her work: it's a collection of comics issues featuring women with impressive breasts fighting crime.

So there's a Lois Lane one-shot with LL pretending to be Emma Peel, the origin of a now-superseded character called Spoiler, a jokey Joker two-pager, three issues of Birds of Prey, another jokey story about supervillain prison rape, four issues of JSA: Classified featuring everyone's favorite breast window Power Girl, two Legion of Super-Heroes letter pages in comics form, an issue of Supergirl, two random Wonder Woman stories, and the marriage special for Black Canary and Green Arrow. Conner's style is good for humor, but it's not always well-served by the melodramatic stories that DC prefers to tell -- there are two different busty heroines trying to find their true selves and their purpose in life here. But she's always a good sport, and every page here is much better than it needs to be.

That's why Amanda Conner gets an art book -- well, that and the boobs. It's a pity it had to be this art book, but perhaps someday she'll get a book about her art, with some examples that live up to her best work. Until then, there's this book: nearly three hundred pages of DC superheroines in skin-tight costumes, bending and leaping and stretching and doing splits in midair.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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