Ann Nocenti Does Sexy Villains Right In ‘Green Arrow’ #7
Here at ComicsAlliance, we've talked a lot about the presentation of women and sexuality in comics. David Brothers recently did a series of posts examining different books to see who did it right and who did it wrong, and along the way, he provided a breakdown that showed exactly how the exaggerated cheesecake that has become a standard practice in super-hero books can ruin a comic, not just on an aesthetic level, but in terms of storytelling.
At first glance, Ann Nocenti and Harvey Tolibao's Green Arrow #7, a book full of panels like the one above, seems like a prime example. When you read the story, however, it's one of the few times that the over-sexualized depiction of the characters actually works.It's a tough trick, but I'm not surprised that Nocenti would be one of the creators who has the ability to pull it off. She has an incredible track record of dealing with sexuality in super-hero comics, particularly in her run on Daredevil.
It's the book that she's best known for, and for good reason. She was able to bring a level of complex storytelling to the comic that would've fallen flat under a lesser writer, and all while working within the context of a super-hero adventure. Removed from their context, the high points of her work on Dardevil would sound like the craziest, most bizarre examples of super-hero excess that you could imagine: Daredevil fights a demonic vacuum cleaner for an entire issue during Inferno. Daredevil beats Ultron to death with a stick (and a pick-up truck driven by Karnak of the Inhumans) on a pile of robot skulls during Acts of Vengeance. Daredevil and Bullseye cosplay as each other while fighting and yelling about their roles as hero and villain.
As weird as all that stuff might sound if you haven't read those issues -- and that all really happens, and it's all really great -- but it really just serves to deliver these amazing stories dealing with morality, psychology and sexuality that have rarely been equaled in comics.
The latter mostly came in the form of Nocenti's most famous creation from her time on Daredevil, Typhoid Mary. 25 years later, she still ranks as one of the best villains ever created with the sole purpose of seducing the hero, springing from the pretty hilarious idea that she's a girl who's too hot for Daredevil to resist, who literally has pyrokinetic super-powers.
Nocenti's not doing anything quite that serious with this issue of Green Arrow, but it is that smart. And more than that, it's honest about it, which is actually pretty refreshing, especially in the context of recent missteps like Red Hood's passive, Real-Dollesque Starfire. To be truthful, I'm not a huge fan of Tolibao's art in this issue. The lines are a little too busy, the coloring's a little too garish, and the action's a little too stiff. But the posing? That's not a problem. The sexuality doesn't detract from this story, it's part of it, and it serves it.
Nocenti lets you know exactly what's going on right from the moment that she calls the story "Menage à Quatre" -- which ends up being an accurate summary of the events in this story -- and then goes on to introduce a set of busty blonde triplets collectively known as "Skylark" who show up and immediately start gushing over how much they're in love with Green Arrow:
Their seduction of the hero builds to increasingly (intentionally) hilarious levels in the issue until it finally hits critical mass with the completely expected revelation that it was all a trap, baited with sex. And it works, because of the time that Nocenti spends showing us how restless Oliver Queen is in his civilian life, looking for any reason he can find to run away and play super-hero. And part of playing super-hero, part of the frivolous game that most comics never rise above, is the story the hero gets the girl. If he happens to get three of 'em at once, it's all the better, right?
There's a great metafictional aspect to it that plays with our previous knowledge of Green Arrow, as well. The rebooted version of the hero might have a pretty clean slate, but DC comics readers are well aware that he's got a romantic history with Black Canary that occasionally ran into trouble because of his philandering ways, so Nocenti and Tolibao give him a blonde girl in black leather that bears a striking resemblance to his old-universe counterpart's girlfriend, then add in two more just like her, stroking his ego and tempting him with his true passion: goofy super-hero trick arrows.
They even tell him that his bow is just too darn big for close-quarters combat. It's hilarious. The fact that she's honest about her intentions doesn't stop Nocenti from veering into satire with this story, either. When I said that the "honey trap" revelation was completely expected, I wasn't just talking about the readers; even Green Arrow himself is unsurprised by the twist:
He's a man who feels trapped in his civilian life; he says on page one that "running an innovative tech company should be fun," but it's clearly less interesting than hanging out on rooftops being flirted at by triplets. He's escaping into super-heroics to escape the boredom and pressure of his "real life," and abandoning himself to the action, PG-13 sex scenes, deathtraps and exotic locations (well, Canada) that entails. And because he's losing himself in those acknowledged clichés of super-hero comics, the rest of his life suffers.
Or to put it another way, the danger in this story doesn't result from villains and deathtraps, the danger comes from a man failing to realize that he has fallen blindly into the trap of super-hero escapism full of blatant, over-the-top, cheap-thrill sexuality. Call me crazy if you want, but I think Nocenti knows exactly what she's doing.
And it makes all the difference. One of Nocenti's most incredible skills as a writer is that she's able to create stories that work equally well as straight adventure stories and as metaphors, and with this title, she's proving she hasn't lost her step. She's delivering a a script that's smart, and it's exactly what DC needs.