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coffeeandink

coffee & ink

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Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic after Thirty Years
Annette R. Federico, Sandra M. Gilbert
Stolen
Annette LaPointe
Shekhar Kapur's Snake Woman Volume 1: A Snake in the Grass - Zeb Wells, Michael Gaydos, Shekhar Kapur This is part of Virgin's line of "Indian comics," launched with great fanfare and adapting Indian mythology/using Indian talent. The only Indian name associated with this title, though, is Shekhar Kapur, whom I know from the gorgeous and ahistorical Elizabeth, and who seems to have minimal involvement; his conceptual outline, included at the end, doesn't bear much resemblance to the final product. I have to admit I picked it up largely because of artist [author:Michael Gaydos], whose work with [author:Mike Carey] on [book:Inferno] (not the [book:Lucifer] volume of the same name) I'd liked quite a lot.

I still like Gaydos' art, and [author:Zeb Wells]' writing is decent if unexceptional; the plotline has the potential to go to really skeevy race and gender places, but despite the unencouraging T&A cover, so far I'm inclined to withhold judgment.

Jessica Peterson is a bartender in LA, shy, overshadowed by her best friend Jin, unable to flirt even with guys she's attracted to. She finds out she's the reincarnation of an Indian snake goddess who is doomed, life after life, to seek revenge on the 68 Englishmen from the East India Company who slaughtered her village, desecrated her temple, and killed her sacred snakes. Jessica discovers her snake nature and isn't sure she can control it, and also has to fight manipulation by the head of the 68, who has his own agenda.

So: Potential and actual skeeviness:

(1) amnesiac superheroine whose power is murderous and out of control
(2) Indian mythology reincarnated in honky
(3) murderous violence associated with more aggressive sexuality, and more aggressive sexuality associated with betrayal of friend
(4) white antagonist calling the shots
(5) grossly exploitative book cover
(6) Everybody reincarnates as the same sex, apparently
(7) Revenge seems to be everybody's motivating factor, except Jessica's, but she can't escape it either.
(8) The people working for the 68, in the lower ranks, all seem to be identical shaven-headed Asian or Hispanic guys.

Mitigating factors:
(1) Wells' & Gaydos' LA is actually multicultural. I'm not actually sure what race Jessica is -- there's the white default, but she, like a lot of the characters, has a brown wash, even though she has green eyes. I'm assuming white, but the reversal of the usual whitewashing is nice. Her best friend is Asian. The cute guy who moves next door is Indian. At least one of the 68 in the current incarnation is Indian, but the other three we've seen are white -- and in this case I'm okay with that, because I don't want to see (even semi-monstrous) white girl menaced by brown men. Except for when she is by shaven-headed flunkies.

(2) Jessica's reluctant forced cooperation with her white male antagonist is full of great dramatic tension, and it's explicitly presented as the best of a bunch of bad choices. I would be surprised to see the relationship remain static through the entire series. There's also no sexual tension there, at least for me; her antagonist is cold and repulsive. Which I'm counting a good thing.

(3) I am actually a big sucker for protagonists -- especially women -- struggling with powers they fear are monstrous. It's all in how you do it. So far, not so great, and uncomfortably reminiscent of Heroes; there's even an attempted sexual assault (and a successful past-life one). But Jessica has enough individuality that I'm willing to see whether her characterization deepens over time. This is the main reason why I'm going to try out Volume 2 (that and Gaydos' art), but I can't make a very strong argument that anyone else should follow my lead.

(4) The covers are exploitative, but they're not done by Gaydos. Gaydos' art is of actual human people, the women too, not pin-up shots. I still like his scratchy expressiveness.

(5) I'm hoping later volumes will actually involve India as something more than the site of jungles, snakes, and miscellaneous massacres.