The cover to my copy of Raven #3

Of course, it would stand to reason that on my travels I would unknowingly buy a comic book about a female shapeshifter…who doesn’t actually do any shapeshifting in the specific issue I bought.

If you don’t know the story or who Raven or any of her cast is…there’s no prep given for what goes on Issue #3. Here’s what I was able to follow;

Raven (a sexy costumed vigilante with mean martial arts skills) goes to her friend Denton’s empty home to find that a villain, Ashford Lucas Anders, has already broken in…and made tea. Apparently Raven and Anders have clashed before and the handsome enemy wants to sit down and have an exchange of information. This is only slightly successful and eventually Anders decides they aren’t getting anywhere…and asks Raven to dinner. She kicks the shit out of him and leaves.

At Raven’s apartment burgeoning wizard Denton (and subject of multiple people’s searches) is put to training by Raven’s father. This is somewhat promising, if marginally successful.

Elsewhere FBI agent’s investigate Raven’s civilian identity.

At the house of Denton’s mother-in-law his wife and children leave, only to be kidnapped. A mysterious super-hero overhears a police radio alert, after the mother-in-law calls the police, and he saves them.

And that about sums up the issue.

THE FINAL VERDICT: Although other issues may be promising, you can pass on this specific one as a lone purchase.

Sometimes it’s hard to review an independent comic. Published in 1994, when webcomics weren’t exactly as accessible as they are now, getting a full-length comic to print was an achievement for any independent creator (let alone to a third issue). While I enjoyed the story and character interactions, I was at first unwilling to critique the art.

And then I realized why I had an issue with the art. It’s not the hand-drawn aspects I have an issue with; internet comics may not have been big, but the creators certainly had a computer nearby. While Raven and the other characters are drawn and inked by hand, the backgrounds absolutely betray their computerized origins. Props and locations lack the sketchy-style of R. Craig Enslin’s character lines, causing the items that were generated via PC to stand-out in an ugly way – ironically because they seem so smooth and sterile.

Color is also an issue, clearly done via an early computer program to save time/effort. Although we know well and good today that shading can be achieved via digital medium, almost every color is placed completely flat in Issue #3. This is not so much a problem for the hand-drawn characters, because Mr. Enslin’s lines create their own shading and shadows on the bodies and clothes he has drawn. But the furniture, background, and environments lack this advantage, and mostly come across as shapes of single colors. When there is shading it was usually clearly done by a straight radiant-fill tool. Again, it is sterile to the point I almost wonder if remaining black and white would have been better looking.

Based on the letter from the creators on the back of the front cover, they were aware of these problems. This issue marks the end of the monthly issues so they can begin releasing every two months in order to increase quality. They promise a new, more alluring, costume for Raven as a reward to loyal readers. So despite my qualms with this issue I have to give them props for realizing their current process was not working and a new method was needed.

Now, you may be wondering; if I don’t know anything about Raven, and based on the description I just gave, how the hell do I know she’s a shapeshifter?

Well, that’s because I did something I rarely ever do; I read the letters page.

In the letters page a young woman writes in and voices her love of the comic, but bemoans the size of Raven’s bust. She goes on to extol the usual concerns about the exaggeration of female form in comics (stereotype, turn off to female readers, bad example of worth to young male readers, etc.). That’s all fine and good (everyone’s entitled to their opinion), it is the creator’s responses I want to look at. They rebut her concerns with three points;

1) Raven’s a shape-changer, and thus can create for herself any size bust, realistic or not.

Okay, I’m cool with this explanation, as it explains the breast size as unnatural by default and a character choice. Also how I learned she was a shapeshifter.

2) She’s doing it to appeal to two men she finds attractive (Anders and Denton), who have large-bust preference. This means that the creators are portraying the males as the ones who have a problem.

Given that we live in a world where it is found acceptable for men to be attracted to big breasts I don’t see how this really portrays the male characters in a negative or in-the-wrong light, but perhaps this would have been brought up later. Fine.

3) “It’s a comic book!!!”

Okay, this is the argument that I take issue with. Male creators have to stop using it (and so many exclamation points). This is like saying all movies must have live organ soundtracks, and all TV shows must have laugh-tracks; just because it’s been done a lot is not a de facto excuse to say “It’s alright for me to do it.” If I was this reader that response would have sent me elsewhere, as I’m sure it has with many women. Comic books, like all mediums, are meant to be grown and expanded and saying it is okay to use an oft-used trope simply because it is oft-used with no further reason for it cheapens the medium and betrays a lack of purpose and/or creativity in the creator (and although other character-based reasons for Raven’s large breasts were presented, saving this reason as the “Booyah! Game ender!” justification cheapens the other presented reasons).

Instead of male creators/readers continually saying “It’s a comic book, calm yourself” – which I have heard over and over again – we have to start turning to the equality factor; men aren’t drawn realistically either. I will never have the body of Superman, Captain America, or Anders. Women may be looking at the size of a character’s chest and saying “this is what they expect me to have to be a hero?” and, well, guess what – I’m looking at Green Lantern’s chest and thinking the same thing. Male heroes are drawn just as exaggerated as women, the difference being that our bit of naughty anatomy (also judged by size) isn’t always quite as obvious, so unnatural bicep-size stands in.

Once everyone realizes that both genders are drawn in unrealistic “ideal” dimensions then we can all get along. Such figures are not a trope of comic books; they are a trope of heroic exaggeration in both story and character along both gender lines. Men long ago accepted that we aren’t going to look like Bruce Wayne in spandex (except possibly Adam West’s version), so it’s time we all recognized that body envy/exaggeration is not solely a female thing.

Oh, and I do love the irony that after the creators’ reply to this woman’s letter that Raven herself will be addressing some of the voiced concerns in the next issue the back cover displays Raven’s new costume…which has little more than a small strap covering her otherwise entirely exposed bosom.

Well done, guys. Well done.