Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Strangers in Paradise vol. III #36

Strangers in Paradise vol. III #36, November 2000, Abstract Studios
by Terry Moore

Strangers in Paradise is perhaps the most celebrated contemporary independent series in the comic book industry. More so than any effort distributed by Image, Dark Horse, or any of the other hundreds of small press publishers, SiP has always struck me as the most successful one-man show on the shelves, right alongside Cerebus and Bone as contenders for the title. Even if you don’t read it, you’ve heard of it. That’s me. Further, as much as I’ve heard of it, I have no idea what it’s about. And this issue certainly didn’t help.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the read. In this issue, Tambi and Katchoo rescue David from presumably dangerous adversaries, one of whom is Tambi’s sister. While Katchoo rushes David to safety, Tambi battles her sister and her cohort to the death. That’s it, near as I can tell. From the letter column (which deserves an essay in its own right – I thought lettercols were extinct until I read some of these popular indie series), I deduced that this issue is the penultimate installment in a longer arc, so I don’t feel terrible for my disorientation. I get Moore’s point. The only two guys in this book are either whimpering kidnappers or helpless kidnap victims. The chicks have the upper hand . . . without even chipping a nail.

The success of SiP undoubtedly stems from its inherent feminism, in its ability to depict strong women in stereotypically masculine roles. Additionally, these women are modestly dressed. I’m sorry, “modestly” isn’t the right word. “Appropriately” is perhaps more accurate. See, these ladies are obviously tough, but also vulnerable, and despite Moore’s feeble attempts at character distinction (if all of the women were bald, they’d look exactly the same), I think we’re being led to believe they’re cute, too. What they aren’t is scantily clad, or spandex shrink wrapped, or even tremendously top heavy in the biological sense. Even the most established female leads in comicdom, like Wonder Woman, Storm, and Witchblade, have to show off a little skin to sell comics. Moore’s women truly are strangers in this regard.

Unfortunately, this issue does not pass the investment test. That is, based on this impression, I wouldn’t invest further in this series. I picked up this issue cold, from a back issue bin at the Comic Con, and this deep into the SiP mythos, the title is obviously one long in thing with its core readership. If it pays Moore’s bills, there’s nothing wrong with that. I just wish a series with so much mass-market appeal could appeal more to the mass market. I’m taking my mother’s advice on this one. No talking to strangers.

Oh, like you weren’t thinking that line.

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