ManEaters: Where Multimodality Does Not Equal Quality

by Tara Lawson-Harris

In seventh grade, I had a group of about four boys yell at me in front of the entire class for daring to speak up in social studies. Their main argument: “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about because she’s on her period.” I wasn’t on my period. But how was I supposed to prove that? So I let them shout me into silence, hoping that my female teacher would tell them about the inappropriateness of their comments. Instead, when I fell silent the teacher turned to the boys and engaged them in conversation. Not a single girl spoke up for the rest of class. 

Seventh grade was fourteen years ago for me, and I still remember that moment. I remember the anger, the humiliation, the knowledge that what I had to say mattered, and the realization that no one cared. Those feelings still resonate for me. I wanted ManEaters to take that rage and turn it into something cathartic and powerful. Instead, I got ads for the fictional EstroPop and a nonsensical plot.

My primary issue with ManEaters comes from the way that it is written, not from its politics. There are currently ten issues out, and 20% of those issues do not address the storyline at all. One of the issues is a magazine from the fictional world, and another issue is the instructions to a game. The remaining issues have entire pages dedicated to fake ads, most of them for EstroPop, the drink for men to avoid having too much estrogen in their systems. Comic books only have about 22 pages to tell their story, and nearly 1/4 of the story so far isn’t telling the story. The few moments that do focus on the story are condensed into fewer pages, and as a result, major details and transitions get overlooked.

For example, issue number 7 ends with a missing girl being found by the main character’s mom hiding in the main character’s house. Then the mom says that the girl is not a panther, and the reader finds out that the mom is a panther. Issue number 8 is the instructions to a game. Issue number 9 starts with the main character and the no-longer-missing girl in a recovery camp. Which makes no sense. Why would the rebellious panther mom put her daughter in a recovery camp? Were they forced to go to this camp because it was discovered that the main character had gotten her period? At some point the reader finds out that there’s a “plan” for the recovery center, but why this specific center? 

I want to like ManEaters. I want to be charmed by the genre bending issues that are instructions to a game or fake magazines. To be impressed with the fake ads for EstroPop. To feel like I understand and relate to the plot. As a feminist, I feel obligated to love this book because it was written by a woman and has a feminist message (at least, I’ve been told it does). It even got nominated for an Eisner Award, which is one of the highest awards a comic book creator can get. But I Just. Do. Not. Like. It. Wasting so much of the reader’s time with multimodal gimmicks is just bad writing. 

Multimodal gimmicks can work in more traditional storylines — for example, look at Squirrel Girl and how every issue starts off with a twitter thread. However, the attempts to have a radical plot overlaid with the gimmicks makes the narrative come across as scattered and uncoordinated at best. After that incident in middle school, I wanted to read a book that talked about getting your period. I didn’t want the book to focus on menstrual cycles per se, but I did want them addressed. I used to read a lot of fantasy, which meant that I was reading about characters that didn’t have bathrooms or tampons, and I always wondered how the female characters dealt with this lack of resources. Even in modern YA, I’ve never read about someone bleeding through their pants or being paranoid about leaving a stain on a chair. A feminist comic book where girls and women getting their periods was the main point of the story seemed like the perfect first step to normalize representations of women’s periods. A step to normalizing the idea that periods and pms-ing does not make women crazy. 

Without some type of traditional storytelling move (plot, setting, narration), the book comes across as not knowing what it’s about. It comes across as being thrown together in an emotional dump at the last minute and expecting all women to say it speaks to their experiences. A lack of trans representation aside, this experience absolutely does not speak to me. It doesn’t come close to the anger I felt, or to the anger I know other girls feel. It doesn’t speak to the struggle of hiding a thick wad of plastic up your sleeve while you walk to the bathroom. The anger because you shouldn’t have to hide a hygiene product. 

I want to love Chelsea Cain’s ManEaters. But when a book doesn’t try to relate to your emotional experiences and relies only on flashy gimmicks, the reader isn’t going to be emotionally invested in the book. I wasn’t.  

As a feminist reader, this review is difficult for me. I want to support this book. I want to feel angry and fired up about the stereotypes around menstrual cycles. Instead, I read that book and was annoyed that I had spent time and money on it. But giving the book a negative review could mean that someone wouldn’t read it. If they aren’t reading it, then they aren’t buying it, and if they aren’t buying it then the creators don’t get any money and the publishing company doesn’t get any data saying that talking about periods is a selling point for some readers. So am I obligated to buy a book that I don’t enjoy because of the feminist issues behind it? If I do buy it, am I telling the publishing industry that I am okay with bad writing as long as it’s feminist? It’s a conflicting place to be in as a reader, and I still don’t have an answer that I’m satisfied with. 

Have opinions on the book? Sound off in the comments below. 

2019 Eisner Best New Series Roulette

by Steven Harris & Tara Lawson-Harris

Last month, the 2019 Eisner Award nominations were revealed. The Eisners are awarded to those who are succeeding in the comic industry and pushing the envelope in comic book storytelling.  One category to watch this year is the The Best New Series category. For the first time in Eisner history, publishing company Image Comics has completely swept the category.  Despite knowing about some of these books, neither of us have ever read any of the series nominated. In order to figure out what all the fuss is about, we each read the first issue of each nominated series at random and have provided our initial thoughts below! 

Bitter Root #1 

Creators: David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene, Rico Renzi 
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: November 14, 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

I was very impressed with the first issue of Bitter Root!  Despite being a fan of Walker & Green’s Power-Man & Iron-Fist book that was published at Marvel in 20__, I must admit I was unaware that this book even existed.  The premise of an all black family based out of 1920’s Harlem, who uses a combination of witchcraft and steampunk technology to fight demonic manifestations of racism and hate, is a book that I never knew I wanted.  The family dynamics of the Sangeryeo clan are laid out clearly in a way that doesn’t feel like the characters are exposition machines merely there to catch the reader up to speed.  Artist Sanford Greee and colorist Rico Renzi are a fantastic combination.  The opening pages that take place in a Harlem Jazz club feel alive and full of creative energy.  Bitter Root feels right at home in a world where creators like Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, and Boots Riley are attacking age old problems that people of color face in the modern world.  By the end of the first issue, I can see this book potentially finding its place into the canon one day because of its unique ethnogothic flavor. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts

This book seems to be the most complex and important of the nominees. It’s well researched, and it’s clearly driven by passion and rage. I don’t think it’s my favorite book at this point, but I can tell that this book is needed in the industry. It’s one of the books where I’m not the target audience, but I can still see why the book matters— I’m sure many comic book readers feel similarly about ManEaters. I do like the characters in this book, especially Blink and Berg. The way Berg uses language is entertaining for the reader, and also serves to slow the reader down to process what is being said, which is a nice touch. 

Crowded #1

Creators: Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein & Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, Cardinal Rae
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: August 15, 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

Out of all the issues we reviewed for this post, I found Crowded to be the book I was least likely to return to after its first issue. The book is wonderfully clever with its satirical look at the modern practice of relying on crowd sourcing apps and where that practice could potentially take us. However, its central characters were not compelling enough for me to continue to follow. The twist at the end of the first issue was easy to guess and the central dynamic between the main characters felt so strained that I can not seen how this book can exist long term. I think this story is better suited as one off OGN. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts: 

I liked this book reasonably well. When it first opened I was reminded of Heroes for Hire in the sense that you could hire superheroes. As the story progressed, that idea combined with what was basically Kickstarter Murder. The emphasis on technology in this work makes it grounded and relatable, but also runs the risk of making it too trendy. 

My favorite character is Vita and I’m interested to see where her character development goes. Charlie stresses me out, and I kinda want to see her get her ass kicked. However, I can see the chemistry between the two, and I suspect that there will be a romantic plot line between them, although I’m not sure if there’s any textual evidence for that prediction. 

Man-Eaters #1:

Creators: Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Rachelle Rosenberg
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: September 26, 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

I have made no secret about how much I’ve missed Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet series. After the first read through of Man-Eaters by Chelsea Cain, Kate Kiemczyk and Rachelle Rosenberg, it is seems a worthy successor has made its way to the spinner rack. By utilizing a ludicrous concept (that women get their periods they become unstoppable feline killing machines), the creators take aim at the stigma around mensuration and femininity in our society. The quirky narration is aided Niemczyk’s clever splash pages that firmly establish the book’s satirical tone.  Out of all the first issues selected, the final page cliff hanger of this book felt like a gut punch. I am intrigued by how long the creators can sustain this book and how far they are willing to push the envelope. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts:

I like the humor of the book a lot. It’s very sarcastic and witty. It takes a normal bodily function and exaggerates it to the point of “horror”, but it’s a comedic horror. The idea of women’s mood swings and hormones coming from their “pussy” and not men’s rather intolerable behavior is definitely inventive. Taking it to the next level with women’s periods turning women into literal pussies, or giant cats, is also interesting on an animal studies level. I would have to do more research into this, but on a first take, I’ve never heard of a big cat attacking someone for no reason. It’s always because someone invaded their personal space (like we see with a lot of attacks that happen at zoos), or because they were kept domesticated in private homes, or because of illegal hunting (which also makes a solid parallel to rape, unfortunately). 

However, I was expecting a bit more substance from the first issue. I might be biased on this front because, as a comic book reader, I generally trade-wait. But I got to the end of the issue and was surprised that was I there— I turned the page, the story was over, and I was disappointed because nothing much had happened. The entire comic was this weird exposition-through-action thing that writers do when they have to world-build. And I get that a lot has to happen before the story can really unfold; world-building, mood setting, and characters are all things you have to develop up-front. However, I still feel like the entire first issue could be summed up in the one page summaries that some comics have before the story starts— you will especially see it with cross-over events. Which is basically all a way of saying that the first issue felt like exposition, and that the real action will start in the next few issues. I loved the first issue, and I wanted more, but it reminds me of Y: The Last Man and I’m slightly worried that it will be too trendy of a book because of the sarcasm; since comics are written in a serial format, that trendiness can work for sales and not for long-term canonical reasons.

Gideon Falls #1

Creators: Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino 
Publisher: Image Comics 
Release Date: March 7 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

The first issue of Gideon Falls reads like the fist chapter of a long forgotten Stephen King novel.   Jeff Lemire— best known for his quieter and more introspective pieces like The Nobody, Essex County & The Underwater Welder —is charging head first into new territory with his first horror series. The mysteries set up within in the inaugural issues are compelling —  but also carry faint echos of LOST or the Dark Tower series where threads are laid but I’m hesitant to pull on due to fear of unsatisfying resolutions. However, without a doubt the most promising part of Gideon Falls is the art of Andrea Sorrentino. On the Secret Empire episode of the Critically Comics podcast, I previously declared my admiration of Sorrentiono’s style and innovative layouts. It is my hope that Gideon Falls will unleash the creative floodgates and let Sorrentino go absolutely bananas with his art duties. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts:

I think I read the first issue when it came out, but I had forgotten about it. So reading this felt familiar and distant all at the same time. I loved this first issue and would 100% keep reading. I’m curious to know how Norton and Father Fred will intersect. I also want to know why Norton is drawn upside down so much. I’ve always enjoyed reading about people who are maybe crazy, but probably aren’t, and this book has that. I feel like my love for this book means that I should be saying deep complex things about it, but I don’t have deep complex things to say. I liked the tone and how it reminded me of Castle Rock and Fargo. I’m drawn to the characters— I immediately trust both of the m but am wary of that fact at the same time. 

Sky-ward #1 

Skyward #1

Creators: Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett
Publisher: Image Comics 
Release Date: April 18 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

Despite its simple concept, Sky-ward seems primed for an multi-media adaption. The main concept of living in without gravity seems perfect for a film or VR video game — it would allow for the world to feel so much more alive.  Based on the first issue alone, I can’t shake the vibe that this book was created in hopes of auctioning off the adaption rights in the future.  While the world of Skyward is fun, none of the characters or conflicts created within the first issue do not demand that I return in the future.

Tara’s Initial Thoughts:

I really like the cover, which is why I read it before Jeff Lemire’s book, and let’s be clear: that is the only reason. But it turned out to be a solid read. I felt like there was action, without giving away too much of the plot. The ending was great because it introduced a new character and a new set of stakes for the main character (who at the beginning of the book, I wasn’t expecting to be the main character). The plot of 20 years without gravity and people can’t even remember life without gravity. How. Fucking. Cool??!  Also, based on they first issue, I expect that this will be a great book for disability studies.  

One thing that I like about the book is that it feels outlandish without feeling crazy. I don’t expect to start floating, but if I did start floating and there was a scientist saying “I told you so” I’d be like “yeah, you did, but I didn’t read your article because there are way too many articles in academia, also I suck at math.” 

But I really love that it features a woman of color because the world needs more WOC-led books. Also, the prose is great. It’s been really hard for me recently to be invested in a story for the story and not for feminist, animal studies or non-fiction characteristics, but this book does exact that. But also I feel weird about it because Joe Henderson is a white guy and not a POC. 

Isola #1

Creators: Brenden Flethcher, Karl Kerschl
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: April 4 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

Disclaimer: High fantasy is typically not my cup of tea. However, the world and characters introduced in the first of Isola have intrigued me to return for at least one more issue. As a fan of the creators previous Gotham Academy book, I have no doubt Fletcher & Kerschl can successfully manage the task of world building at an appropriate rate. Despite feeling like this is equal parts King Arthur legend, Star Wars, and Avatar, Isla still feels fresh in large part to Kerschl’s art style. If the creators play their cards rights, Image may have another Saga level smash success on their hands. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts:

As far as quality goes, this book is definitely top tier—up there with Gideon Falls. It did a ton of world building in a way that didn’t feel like world building, but instead felt like I was just reading a story. It also set up a lot of questions that I look forward to finding out the answers to. The art was beautiful, and I absolutely loved seeing how the Queen looked compared to the other animals in the story. My only complaint is that I would like a bit more character development— at this point I don’t know if the main character is a woman or still a teenager, or why she is with the Queen and no one else is. But I suspect those questions will be answered in the next few issues. 

Final Thoughts:

Steven’s Prediction: I think the book that impressed me that most was Bitter Root. Out of all of these books, Bitter Root has a premise and world I’ve never seen remotely like. After the first issue I’m rooting for this book to have a health life span. However, the book I am most likely to follow the most is Gideon’s Fall. Based on how other locked-box mystery stories have let me down in the past, I am not quiet sure if I’m ready to commit to another story in that genre.

Tara’s Prediction:
My favorite book was Isola, mostly because of its incredible art, but also for its beautiful prose. However, the book that I think is most likely to win the Eisner for Best New Series is Bitter Root. Its subject matter is both important and timely, and the voices feel very fresh.

Episode 1.04 – Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka (2003 – 2006)

by Tara Lawson-Harris & Steven Harris

On the fourth episode of the Critically Comics podcast, Tara and Steven discuss Greg Rucka’s first run on Wonder Woman from 2003 to 2006! This episode covers Rucka’s Wonder Woman: Hiketia one-shot, the infamous Eyes of the Gorgan story arc and the controversial neck snap heard around the world. Is Greg Rucka’s first tenure on Wonder Woman the best Wonder Woman run of all time or is corrupted by the forced tie-ins to Infinite Crisis? Join the debate and let us know what you think!