Written by Emily Riesbeck
Drawn by David Mitchell
Colored by Corianne Wells
Edited by Tina Vasquez
CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of transphobia and sexual assault ahead.
What’s up, Scumbags? It’s your buddy, Scary Cleve! Hey, did you know it’s Women’s History Month? You didn’t? Well, it is and you should be celebrating because women have contributed a lot to history, no matter what some Return of Kings a-hole tells you. In comics, particularly, there are a lot of women that have contributed and still contribute great work to the medium: Alison Bechdel, Gail Simone, Jill Thompson, Faith Erin Hicks, Fiona Staples, Marjorie Liu, Tess Fowler, G. Willow Wilson. I could go on and on, and oh you get the picture. There’s a lot. They’re awesome. Go read their work now!
However, let’s talk about women who aren’t given as much spotlight as they should: trans women. They’re amazing women that do amazing things. Sadly, there are those that deny them as women and mock their existent (to you jerks, I sincerely hope someone takes a dump in your laundry). In comics, trans women are rare, both as creators and characters. Scratch that. They’re around, but their work doesn’t get highlighted enough. Well, let me be a good Samaritan and rectify this problem by highlighting the work of a highly talented trans woman comic writer, Emily Riesbeck, and her amazing, so-good-you-have-to-be-daft-not-to-like-it superhero webcomic, Blue Valkyrie. Hazaa!
In Cream City, a new hero arises from the gritty streets. After surviving an assault, trans woman Chloe gains the power of a psychic force field that gives her super strength. She can jump great distances, burst through glass without harm, and lift heavy objects. Chloe decides to put these powers to good use and dons the guise of Blue Valkyrie. She’s out to protect Cream City from danger and help the average citizens live better. But bigger dangers than pickpockets face the city. Edwin Price, corrupt business mogul, plans on gentrifying the poorer neighborhoods for overpriced condos, and the city council is letting him get away with it. Blue Valkyrie will have to decide whether she’ll maintain the status quo or become a vigilante while also dealing with her own identity and how her powers affect her personal relationships. Blue Valkyrie is a series packed with action, drama, and discussion of serious social matters for one of the most unique heroes of this generation.
There are only 3 issues so far, so I’ll take a closer look at all the covers. The first cover is meh. The good bits are the title, which has a simple yet flashy design. It definitely has that superhero tone to it. I like the background and how it captures an urban feel. It’s claustrophobic, a little bit gritty, but bursting with life. The citizens are diverse in their clothing, anatomy, and ethnicity. I only saw two characters that seemed to have similar faces. The coloring by Corianne Wells is really well done. It’s a clear and realistic flat palette. Also, I love Blue Valkyrie’s design. It’s very unique, like a cross between Superman and a mummy. So, um, I guess Super Mummy? Hey, I’m short on good puns here.
However, the cover itself is pretty boring, just Blue Valkyrie standing in the foreground with what I guess is the rest of the cast in the background. It’s not a bad design, but nothing about it really feels exciting. Any cover should be an eye-catcher, and this one isn’t. I do think it would make a good back cover though. Finally, what’s up with BV’s arms? The left arm is noticeably bigger than the other. I don’t know if it’s because of the bandages wrapped around it or a drawing mishap, but it looks awkward.
Cover 2 is a big improvement. It doesn’t have colors, but the line work is really detailed. I love the pose Blue Valkyrie strikes. It’s strong, majestic, and confident. Continuing the awesomeness is Cover 3. Holy frigging spit! This is like something out of Swamp Thing! With the addition of color, David Mitchell amps up the artwork to 11. It’s detailed, colorful, and has excellent composition. If he makes more covers like this, Blue Valkyrie will be selling like cake pops dipped in Jesus juice.
I continue to love the urban feel of David Mitchell’s artwork. Cream City, the name of Blue Valkyrie’s town, really feels like a dirty, crowded, and bursting with life metropolis. Sometimes, it’s a little plain, but there are plenty of instances where it’s really detailed and carries an atmosphere, such as here.
I could feel the dankness of the stairwell and how its emptiness reflected Blue Valkyrie’s negative feelings. Environments like this make Cream City come to life. However, I would like to see more wide shots of the city. Mitchell has given the city a look and personality, and I need to see more of it to feel absorbed.
The biggest flaw of the comic is character anatomy. Often, I found that they looked like malformed Putties straight out of Power Rangers. One of the most egregious mistakes I found was here.
Yikes! It looks like BV’s chest collapsed and her ribcage fused with her legs into rods. Worst of all are the hands.
AAAAAAH! What’s wrong with that hand?! It looks like a foot! Okay, in all honestly, the quality of hands varies. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes bad. Inconsistency is the real problem here, not just the hands, but anatomy overall. It’s a shame because characters have great facial expressions. You can clearly see their emotions. Also, the clothing they wear is also really well detailed and I think says a lot about their personalities. Blue Valkyrie’s rock girl clothing makes her a little bit of a Tomboi, Edwin Price’s suit screams scumbag businessman, and Alice’s piercings speak to her wild, creative side. Also, David Mitchell draws nudity really well. In a scene where Blue Valkyrie gets dressed, her body has realistic proportions, folds, and wrinkles. It’s casual and not fetishized
David Mitchell’s panel composition is the best, especially when it comes to action scenes.
I love this page. The detail to the environments, the splash page of her jumping into the burning building, and the subsequent shattering of the window as she cannonballs inside. The action is face-paced and has a genuine sense of excitement. Mitchell knows how to compose these scenes expertly. I also love the way he draws BV’s powers.
As far as I can tell, it’s a force field that sends objects that touch her flying. I love how Mitchell draws it as an extension of BV’s body. It morphs, shrinks, and inflates like a ghostly second skin. Its line work is impressive and, although sometimes messy, creates a strong sense of presence. Honestly, Mitchell’s artwork is great. He just needs to tighten up the anatomy. Seriously, man. Those fingers are gonna be my nightmares.
One final thing I’ll harp on is the coloring. Corianne Wells does a great job for the first pages of issue #1, , but her colors covered up Mitchell’s impressive line work and made the art look plain. It was only after the comic turned black and white that I appreciated it more. The colors of Issue #3 actually amplify the art, and I think that’s because it had a unique hand-done look to it compared to the flat palette of Issue #1. I don’t know if Corianne Wells did Issue #3 or not, but if the art team can apply coloring like that throughout the series, the comic will be beautiful.
Emily Riesbeck writes an engaging superhero story about the trials of being a trans woman, self-acceptance, and social responsibility. When we’re first introduced to Chloe, aka Blue Valkyrie, she is in a bad mood. Rain is falling on her head and she has the nagging feeling of being watched by everyone, as though they know that she’s trans and are judging her. But when she gets home and her girlfriend, Alice, she calms down. She sits on the couch and Alice flirts with her.
Ooh, spicy. In all seriousness, Chloe’s inner turmoil speaks a lot to the modern issues of being trans in America. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, transphobia runs rampant like a bad case of mutant rabies. Trans people are seen as freaks and perverts, bigots discriminate against them, and idiot politicians write laws banning them from public spaces. Also, a large amount of crimes are committed against trans people from rape to murder.
With all this hatred, it’s not uncommon for trans people to despair. They’re not allowed to be who they are because of constant judgment. Chloe feels the weight of this judgment, and it fills her with fear and self-loathing. Fortunately, there is hope. Chloe finds a safe pace with Alice and their apartment where she can be herself. This makes Chloe complex in how she struggles between self-acceptance and letting others cloud her self-image.
A very interesting conundrum in Chloe’s identity is that she’s proud to be trans, but she doesn’t like people signaling her out:
“Sometimes I feel like my whole life revolves around my transition. At some level, that’s my fault. It can be easy to let this one thing be your whole world, especially when most people won’t let you forget it. I can’t control what other people think of me, of my life, but that doesn’t mean I have to let them run it.”
This monologue made me wonder, Can constant reminders of a trans person’s identity be oppressive? Not just bigots, but even allies who want to help? For example, identity politics focuses a lot on people’s sociopolitical identities. It’s important in shaping the critiques and needs of groups who are marginalized because of these factors, but is dangerous when it erases all other aspects of a person.
People aren’t solely defined by their sociopolitical identities. They also have interests, dreams, and personalities. When you only focus on one aspect of them, you deny their humanity. Chloe isn’t just trans, she’s a girlfriend, a superhero, and more. Unfortunately, she feels shoehorned into her identity. It stops meaning something to her and means more to other people. They pick and pry constantly because they think everything about Chloe centers on her being trans. They even think there is some significant story behind her name choice, when really she just thought it was nice.
The worst part is when people objectify Chloe. When she meets up with an old friend, he tries to rape her after saying, “Girls like you…best of both worlds.” He sees Chloe as a fetish object and has no respect for her. After Chloe beats him up and runs home, she breaks down crying. The attack makes her think she deserves no better because she’s a freak. Others take Chloe’s identity, something she should be proud of, and abuse it.
Fortunately, Alice is there to comfort her. By simply hugging her, no words spoken, she proves to Chloe that she is loved and deserves to be loved. It’s an important message of surrounding yourself with people who love you, but there’s an even more important lesson: Self-acceptance is important to being happy.
This becomes important when Chloe explores her powers. At first, she ignores them, but she can’t. She starts using them and loves the sense of control they give her. Alice expresses her discomfort with the powers and doesn’t know how they’ll affect their relationship. Chloe understands her concern and reminds her that if they can get by being trans, they can deal with this. With Alice’s help, Chloe becomes Blue Valkyrie.
The parallel between superpowers and gender identity is undeniable. Much like her transition, Chloe takes up the superhero mantle as an expression of her self-acceptance. She embraces all of her, even the worst parts like the attempted rape:
“I can’t erase it or forget it. It’ll always be a part of me…I am more than just a victim, or just trans, or just anything. I am way more than the sum of my parts.”
Instead of finding acceptance from other people, Blue Valkyrie puts more emphasis on accepting herself. She realizes her full potential and starts performing fantastic feats of heroism. It fills her with joy. Her self-acceptance becomes super heroic.
Interesting enough, the social responsibility of her self-acceptance comes into play. Even though Blue Valkyrie’s problem was seeking acceptance of her trans identity from other people, now she has to accept what people need from her superhero identity. Her friend Isabella brings this up.
Cream City’s real problems aren’t random thugs, but a city that caters to a wealthy elite, manifest as Edwin Price, and uses the police to maintain the statues quo. Blue Valkyrie is infuriated someone might think she would be an instrument for this system. Alice tells her to listen to the people, figure out what kind of hero she needs to be.
This throws an interesting monkey wrench into self-acceptance. It’s a good thing, but must you think about how your actions affect other people? Do you owe people something? Perhaps as a superhero, great power and responsibilities and the like. But will this correlate with being trans? This split between self-acceptance and social responsibility will be interesting to explore further into the series.
Whew! So, uh, hope you enjoyed that overblown essay. Anyway, if you’re bored, don’t worry. There’s more to the story.
I’ve already described how great the action is, and I have to give Emily Riesbeck credit for giving us a hero that keeps it street level. Too many superhero comics nowadays have to have action scenes that are flashy, full of lasers, aliens, and other sci-fi crap. Now, sci-fi ain’t bad, but even that gets boring when every superhero must fight bad guys obviously inspired from CGI blockbusters a la The Avengers. I like the fact Blue Valkyrie deals with real problems like burning buildings and, more importantly, actually save people instead of just smashing stuff. Even when a super powered foe is introduced, it still takes place in the city instead of on Planet AZZ-DIKZ or some other nonsense.
I can’t say much about the characters. What? Really? After I just wrote a college thesis worth deconstructing Blue Valkyrie? Well, that’s the thing. The book is all about her. Everyone else is just there for the plot. That doesn’t mean they’re not good characters. Alice is a loving and patient person with artistic talent. She not only help’s BV emotionally, she also designs her costume. She’s the best girlfriend ever. However, I would like to see Alice doing something that doesn’t involve BV. I want to see more of her as a person, and I think solo adventures, even as mundane as shopping, would tell a lot about the character.
Edwin Price is obviously evil. He’s like a young Lex Luthor with ear piercings and hair. But there’s very little else about him. I want to know more about Price even if he remains solely a bad rich guy that wants to gentrify the neighborhood. Maybe he can give his perspective or challenge us to think about how we contribute to the problem.
The only character with as much complexity as Blue Valkyrie is Isabella. She’s a young social activist and single mother, which makes me wonder how the one impacts the other? She’s also the only character that questions Blue Valkyrie’s motivations and brings up the possibility that the well-meaning hero might become an enforcer of the statues quo. This is interesting given the twist of issue #3 which I will not spoil, but raises doubt about the legitimacy of her criticism. She’s not fully explored, but already Isabella has potential to be a really interesting character.
Of course, Blue Valkyrie is only 3 issues in. There’s plenty of time to make the side characters and Cream City reach their full potential, not to mention the full potential of the series overall. Slowly building up this series might work better in the wrong run than jamming all of the riesbeck’s ideas at once.
Despite flaws with the art, Blue Valkyrie is a fresh superheroine and a great representation of trans women. It’s heart-felt, action-packed, and tackles social issues head on. Give the comic a read, support trans women creators and characters in comics, and let’s make the comics world a more diverse, awesome place! Believe me, it’s worth it.
That’s all for today, Scumbags! See y’all next time. I’m off to celebrate Women’s History Month the best way possible. Powerpuff Girls marathon! WOOOHOOOOO!
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