Apr 11, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 776: Lady Death II: Between Heaven and Hell #1, March 1995

https://www.comics.org/issue/1420434/

I have, at last count, 22 Lady Death comics in my collection, but aside from the lingerie special I wrote about a few weeks back, I've never read any of them. Most of what I do have comes straight from the shelves of my now defunct comic shop, and, I'll admit, I've based my assessment of them purely on the covers. Big breasts, quasi-bondage costumes, lots of scowls. Today, however, marks the first time I've actually read one.

I'm quite glad I did. I was worried that I made a claim in the opening of my look at African-American creators that these were great and important comics, but the first couple I read weren't actually that great and important. This isn't a huge problem. Comics, and especially mainstream comics, are a medium founded on mediocrity - to appeal to the widest range of people, you need the widest common denominators. That's why the more literary comics only appeal to a certain subset of readers. And, given my thoughts on Chaos! Comics in general, I was not holding out hope (which is a pun Lady Death readers will get!).

Today's featured creator is Steven Hughes, who passed away after succumbing to cancer in 2000. Aside from a handful of other appearances, Hughes' career has been tightly bound to Chaos! Comics. He created the looks of many of the company's signature characters, and shepherded them through their various adventures. Hughes' style is fairly standard, building off superhero art of the decades prior, but his page layout is really interesting. There are occasional moments where the panels are a bit out of sequence, or it's hard to tell which one to read next, but these are only occasional. For the most part, his page layouts are fantastic. We get a peek into Lady Death's past, both real and illusory, in this issue, and the flashback panels are drawn as curling scrolls sitting over top of the contemporary action. This mixture of temporality and dimensionality is really quite lovely, and leaves the reader in no way confused as to the time periods (and there are 3) being explored throughout the tale. Page construction is not an easy thing to master, so to see it coming so wonderfully from an artist working at the height of the car crash that was early Image Comics is great.

So let me briefly meditate on that last point. I think the reason I avoided Chaos! was that they are contemporaneous with early Image, so I just assumed they were pretty much more of that mess. But the story within these buxom covers is actually quite intriguing, and there's an element of myth here that I hadn't expected. In fact, the appearances of the characters vanish into the story in this comic, so rather than being the softcore porn that much early Image seems to have embraced, the scantily-clad ladies are actual characters that just happen to be mostly unclothed. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm well aware that this is objectification of a particular variety of the female form in order to sell comics. But that we actually have a decent story within that doesn't revolve around showcasing those forms is both surprising and gratifying. I'm actually looking forward to reading more from Chaos!, and from Hughes, as the project goes on.

To be continued.

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