Written by: Andrez Bergen
Art by: Frantz Kantor
Warning: Contains spoilers
Magpie # 2 unfolds like a fluid neon origami trick. This short work contains more themes and symbolism than you find in your average 32 page comic.
This isn’t just a super-hero story. It’s an examination of the superhero genre and what it’s become. By including references to everything from Ghost In The Shell to Errol Flynn (in the form of the superhero Blow-In) to Sin City, Magpie # 2 forces us to consider what constitutes a hero or rather what constitutes the depiction of a fictional hero.
People have an interesting relationship with their fictional heroes. On one hand, we want them to fulfill our power fantasies but the other hand, we demand that they be relatable.
We become the architects of our heroes. We build them up and then knock them down when they no longer serve our purpose. We are fickle.
Magpie herself acknowledges this when describing the reasons behind her costume change. It’s partly to enlarge her readership and partly in response to possible complaints over the scantiness of her previous outfit.
The discussion between her and Blow-In reveals that they’re aware of their roles as fictional heroes and the limitations that come with those roles. They’re equally aware of the different demands placed on male and female characters.
Magpie makes the provocative statement that male near-nudity is more acceptable in comics. The debate over the costumes of female superheroes is not a new one. Traditionally female superheros have been clad in far scantier costumes than their male counterparts. This can be problematic.
But what if the character chooses to dress a certain way? Magpie is aware that she is a fictional creation. She is also shown to have chosen her original apparel. Being forced to change it in response to readers’ demands strips her of her autonomy. It’s no different than giving way to slut-shaming.
Writer Andrez Bergen also examines male sexualization in comics. Magpie is quick to dismiss it as insignificant. This echoes some claims that men aren’t sexualized in pop culture. Her companion’s response suggests that male near-nudity can be as offensive or stimulating as female nudity. It depends on who is confronted by it.
The truth is that men and women are sexualized in different ways. Most superheros, regardless of gender, possess some form of sex appeal. The problem with comics is the limited approach to portraying sexually attractive characters. There’s a tendency to fall into certain porn conventions.
Females are often sexualized through poses that can be seen as degrading or submissive whereas male characters are more subtly sexualized by being placed in positions that suggest power or dominance.
People have come to associate any sexually appealing female character with misogyny and disenfranchisement. But this isn’t always the case. If a female character is shown to be competent and comfortable enough in her body to display it on her terms, this can be seen as empowering.
Magpie is very aware that she is more than a crime fighter. As a female superhero, she is expected to represent all females. That’s something that has always struck me as unfair. Male heroes are judged as individuals whereas female heroes and vigilantes are judged as representatives of an entire gender.
The creative team behind Magpie manages to bring this issue to light in just a handful of pages. The humor and bold, exaggerated art take the sting from this observation.
This comic continues to delight with its references to art and pop culture. Magpie’s internal monologue gently mocks the kind of imagery common in Noir comics. She also contemplates doing a her “Major Motoko Kusanagi routine” by leaping off a building in order to bust some unsuspecting criminals but decides to take the stairs instead.
The comedic timing and play on our expectations makes the little digs at pop culture all the more delicious. Andrez Bergen’s dialogue is snappy and crisp. He manages to deliver his messages subtly without ever resorting to preaching. At no time does he try to offer up trite solutions.
Our relationship with fictional characters, our expectations of them and the demands we make of their creators, aren’t easily untangled. There’s a spectacular page where Magpie makes her way down apparently never-ending stairs reminiscent of something from the works of Escher. This is an apt metaphor for the complexity of the problems raised in this issue.
Frantz Kantor’s artwork is truly unique. The bold simplicity of the figures and almost cartoonish colors gives us something seldom seen on the market. There are many excellent comic book artists but few with so distinctive a personal style. The panel layouts are inventive and the splash pages breath-taking.
Magpie # 2 is something very special. It’s the comic book equivalent of a stand-up comedian delivering a lecture. It makes you laugh even as you learn.