May 27, 2012

Girl-On-Girl Action

So, Pride Week's coming up, and in honour of that (and to shamelessly troll for hits), we're going to take a quick look at the Black Cat backup feature in 1995's Web of Spider-Man Super Special.  Written by Karl Kesel, with art by Patrick Zircher and Jeff Albrecht, it's an interesting ten-page story with an undercurrent you don't see much in mid-'90s Spider-Man comics.  The Black Cat, currently a private investigator, is staking out a fancy Manhattan restaurant; she's received a tip that it's going to be robbed by supervillains, but the owner refused her reasonably-priced security services.  She's mad, so she's planning to sit back, watch the place get robbed, and then charge the place a ridiculous finder's fee when she gets their stuff back.  Her resolve to do nothing lasts until she sees her ex-boyfriend, Flash Thompson (you'll remember those two used to date, which wreaked havoc on their fashion sense) there with a date; she still retains some fondness for the big lug, and she doesn't want his night out to get spoiled, so she leaps into action against our villains - the deadly duo of Leather and Lace!  Let's take a closer look at them, shall we?

"Softball special, bub!"


Furthermore, their dialogue and body language soon makes it fairly clear (now, at least - reading this at the tender age of ten, I had no clue) that Leather and Lace are perhaps more than just pals.  Despite their superpowers (Leather is super-strong and tough, and Lace can fly and fire light-blasts) and Felicia's lack thereof, the Cat takes them down and has the restaurant comp Flash's bill.  Aww.

So I'm a little torn on this.  Is this just goofy fun, or is this ugly stereotyping?  Leather and Lace are very blatantly a play on the "butch and femme" dynamic of the stereotypical lesbian relationship.  But just being a stereotype isn't terribly egregious in superhero comics.  Supervillainy, especially, is rife with stereotypes; dirty Frenchmen like Batroc the Leaper, droopy-moustachioed Hispanics like the Tarantula, and treacherous Soviets like half of the guys Iron Man fights...but these were products of  the less-enlightened '60s and '70s, and were created by, primarily, white men who often hadn't had much experience with people who weren't also white men. Which is no knock on them, it's just the way the world worked back then.  And as the culture progressed, things started to change.  Even by 1995, the Mandarin wasn't the inscrutable Yellow Menace he was in 1965.  And hey, some people actually do have those Tarantula moustaches...and you can probably see actual people wearing costumes nigh-identical to Leather and Lace here in a pride parade.

We're feared, we're queer, get used to it?

And, of course, there's generally less of an aversion to lesbians than to gay men in mass media, because, well, most mass media is created by men, and thus as a man I don't necessarily think of lesbians as...hard-done-by as gay men?  Which I'm sure isn't actually true.  And so, would I be more offended if this was the villainous duo of Leatherman and the Flame?  But even then, this isn't on the level of, say, that Jim Shooter story where Bruce Banner narrowly escapes getting raped by a roving gang of gay stereotypes in a YMCA.  Maybe I'm just overthinking this.  Maybe this is just a throwaway backup that needed some visually interesting villains for the Black Cat to fight, and thus got a distaff version of Cannon and Saber.

This is, of course, a solid story.  Kesel and Zircher are both consummate pros, and I've never read anything by either that wasn't at least entertaining. (It's definitely the best-written story in the book; Planet of the Symbiotes is not David Michelinie's best work, and the less said of Terry Kavanagh's Scarlet Spider/Lizard feature, the better.  Nice art on both, though.)  Plus, despite being supervillains, Leather and Lace aren't depicted as terrible people or anything - in fact, their devotion to each other gives them a little depth that one-off badguys in a backup story wouldn't have.

Fun fact: since a single line of Kevin Smith's Spider-Man and Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do outed the Black Cat as bisexual, this story is 80% LGBT by volume.

But that's just what I think.  What say you, reader?

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