MANEATERS

A few weeks ago I strolled into my local comic shop on a Wednesday afternoon, with my list of comics to pick up in my head. I’d stop by the Marvel section and grab the most recent War of the Realms and The Unstoppable Wasp. I’d glance over DC and wish that any of the titles appealed to me (I grew up a hardcore fan of Batman, and even dressed as Catwoman for Halloween in first grade). I’d flip through the bins of back issues, and maybe find a treasure or two. Then I’d check out Image, where my beloved series Die just wrapped, and I wasn’t expecting to find magic again.

And then I saw it. The most amazing comic cover I’ve ever laid eyes on.

I literally squealed with delight when I saw this, and read the title aloud to EVERYONE about four times.

The title made me laugh immediately, because “What’s Happening to Me And Can it Be Stopped” is apparently just the kind of phrase that amuses me. The bubble-gum pop young lady with the 40s housewife pose suggested there would be some snark within. The warning sticker “CAUTION: This Book Contains MENSTRUATION” sealed the deal. I stood on my tippy-toes and snatched down the book from the very top shelf.

I discovered that the entire book was, in fact, an artifact of the Maneaters world. A teen girl magazine, full of quizzes and games all about the dangers and the travails of menstruation, that went well above and beyond what we ladies usually deal with. There was a cheery tone shellacked over the hint of something much grimmer. I picked up Issue 8, was shattered to discover Issue 1 wasn’t on the shelf, and got Issue 2, instead. And the entire time, I exclaimed to everyone within earshot, “It’s a comic about girls getting their PERIODS, people!! This is genius!! How did I not know about this!!! Omg!!” Basically, I became a grown woman flipping out in a comic shop about an Image book that was all about blood. Fortunately, some of my friends think I’m charming like that.

It took several weeks to track down the entire run of Maneaters, during which time I picked up what I could from the few issues that I could glean from the shelves. Upon achieving a complete collection, I read through the entire arc twice.

It did not disappoint.

The premise of Maneaters is that Toxoplasmosis, that disease you get from cleaning a litter box, has morphed into Toxoplasmosis X, a nasty bug that lies basically dormant in most people. Not in menstruating girls, though. No, for them, sometimes Toxoplasmosis X causes a transformation into an enormous killer werepanther. Unsuspecting families are slaughtered. Young women wearing feminist t-shirts are placed in restraints.

And then, a solution: the government puts estrogen in tap water to prevent menstruation, and the werepanther problem is solved. Boys and girls go right back to leading their unevenly privileged lives. S.C.A.T. teams are there to take care of the anomalous attacks. It’s all good, now, right?

If you don’t find this page a complete delight, then I don’t know how to talk to you.

Except, of course, it’s not. And it’s with Maude, a child of divorce navigating teen-hood with her rebel friends, that the story really gets started.

And this book will deep-dive you into her world, one that parallels our own, yet twists it sideways. Imagine Trump’s famous “grab her by the pussy” comments in a world where women could potentially turn into panthers. Imagine boy’s and girl’s lounges at school, where those without a uterus kick back and drink Estro-pop, a hormone-free soda, or those with that supposedly troublesome organ plaster the walls with Hilary posters, respectively. Magazines that tell boys how to survive cat attacks. And parents pulling guns on their teen daughters to force them into cars to be tested for Toxoplasmosis X.

It’s our heroine Maude who is intent on bucking this system of girls’-only water fountains. One day, she marches into the boys’ lounge and buys a bottle of Estro-pop, a seemingly random act. But is it? This is a teen girl (a group that, in my personal experience, has deep-running emotions that they don’t yet have the language to express; a group that witnesses perhaps most clearly the juxtaposition of the trials of both childhood and adulthood, being right on the cusp of both) who has been fed her entire life on the mantra that we’re all safe now, because you, dear child, have accepted the constraints of the system we’ve built. Maude doesn’t have to think about it. It’s all around her. And like hell is she going to keep drinking the water.

Maneaters will grab you by the hand and urge you to keep up. Like some of the best narratives, it drops you into a world that accepts itself for what it is, and it’s going to feed you all the propaganda a teen in this world would be fed. All the while, a real life spins around Maude. Her parents are separated, and she’s not pleased. There are babysitters singing “A weema-weh, A-weema-weh, A-weema-weh” (you know, before breaking out into, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, a lion sleeps tonight”). There are friends disappearing from the girls’ bathroom. There’s a sensitive cop dad and a steely mom who gives animals weird names. There are improperly labelled colored pencils on the window ledge.

And oh yeah, a fresh string of gruesome cat attacks.

This comic brings blood of all kinds.

The concept of young women on the cusp of adulthood being maligned and feared has the potential to seem very heavy indeed during our modern times. See A HANDMAID’S TALE, in which women are trapped in carefully delineated roles from which there’s no escape. But MANEATERS handles the topic with an eye-roll and a knowing wink. “Sure, we’re being oppressed, ladies. But you know what? It’s a great time to put on your Pussyhat and sneak into the boy’s lounge to buy some Estro-pop. Then we’ll be werepanthers and bite their heads off!” It’s a world gone askew, and it knows it.

You might be thinking right now that all of this makes this a comic for girls only, but you’d be wrong. There are mysteries here, and a slowly-unfolding world to explore. With every page, each character reveals that they are more than they seem. There are murder investigations along with tampon instructions. If you dare dive into a world that revolves around menstruation made dangerous, you will not be disappointed by the twists on this ride. And whether you’re male, female, or at any point on the spectrum, there’s something to be learned.

Also, there’s a team of panther-hunting corgis. You can’t ask for more.

Best of all, the story builds slowly. There are a lot of deep-dives into the world, and even by Issue 8, it feels like Maude’s adventure is just getting started, in the best way. The first wall in her world is toppling, and we see the seeds of a world remade, by the very girls it’s trying to keep caged. Whether or not their power lies in letting loose the panthers within, or controlling the cat, remains to be seen. Either way, I’m totally hooked, and you’ll see me at my comic shop next Wednesday getting Issue 9.

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Female Characters Who Kill It 2: Lady Jane/Thor

Artwork by Russel Dauterman

I once had a lengthy and unproductive conversation with someone who took the stance that Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir was basically the worst thing to happen to humankind, and “Why can’t women just stick to their own superheroes? Why do you have to come steal all the guy ones?!” He then rattled off about two examples, I think Black Widow and Wonder Woman, and considered it settled that women should put down the hammer and stick to the lassos and whatever that move is Black Widow does where she grabs people’s heads between her thighs and flips them to the ground.

Well, I say thee nay, and the Jane Foster run on The Mighty Thor is one of my favorite arcs in comics. It is sweeping in its scope, being the place where the seeds for the War of the Realms were sown, as well as deeply intimate, exploring Jane Foster’s relationships with her friends and herself. Oh yeah, and she’s also kicking cancer’s ass.

If you aren’t familiar, here’s the summary: Thor Odinson looses his ability to wield Mjolnir, and is ashamed. But, as it should happen, Doctor Jane Foster is worthy to pick up the Uru and become the God of Thunder. This awesome news for the universe comes with a caveat for Jane – she has cancer, and wielding Mjolnir cancels out her treatments, meaning that she dies a little more every time she transforms into Thor. Meanwhile, the baddie Malekith is arranging The War of the Realms, which leads to all sorts of chaos. The Shi’ar get involved, a War Thor is born, the Mangog is summoned, and Sinder tries to burn it all to the ground before taking over Hel. And all these things call Jane Foster to pick up the hammer over and over again.

So why does it matter, that Jane Foster becomes Thor? Why does it matter that this particular character is a she for a little while, and not a he? Why does it matter that a human woman escapes her chemo treatments in order to fly the cosmos, Mjolnir in hand, shiny winged helmet on, blond hair flowing? Why Jane?

Because Thor is all about gods and men, and their relationships. Thor Odinson became unworthy of his hammer through the realization that the gods had forgotten their purpose, had forgotten their duty to mortals. No god, then, could wield Mjolnir. And while it might have been any human, man or woman, Jane Foster is uniquely suited to the role. She is a woman who for years has been on the periphery, watching Thor, dating Thor, getting swept up in Thor’s adventures. She was so often deprived of her ability to choose her own path. Odin himself declared her unworthy to be with Thor, and sent her back to Midgard. Loki tormented her. She lost great portions of her life to her association with the gods of Asgard.

So yes, there’s an enormous sense of reclaimed power in the Jane Foster/Thor character. She has cathartic moments of punching the same Odin who declared her an unsuitable match for his son through several planets. She gets to wield the thunderous power that she watched Odinson wield for so long. She gets to beat up on Loki, and frost giants, and narcissistic gods. She gets to face down Malekith, the dark elf who means to tear all the realms apart. And she savors every lightning-filled moment of it. It is the ultimate wish-fulfillment for a mortal who has spent so long watching superheroes save the worlds.

Artwork by Russel Dauterman

But there’s so much more here than that.

Jane Foster as Thor allows us to see this character in a fresh, impassioned way. She gleefully beats up on baddies, and shouts down the foolish gods of Asgard who are so enmeshed in their own dramas that they can’t see the ten realms are burning all around them. She fights for the little guy. And then she turns around and fights for those same gods who have so foolishly ignored the suffering of those they might have saved. She wields Mjolnir with just as much ferocity for the gods who have seemingly let down all of the realms when the Mangog comes knocking at the rainbow bridge. She demonstrates to the gods of Asgard what they truly ought to be.

And she also finds, so often, that Jane Foster is just as valuable and necessary as the Goddess of Thunder. As much as she loves bringing the storms and whacking armies with her hammer, it is the bonds she has as a mortal woman that so often save the day. Only Jane can talk down the War Thor, or wake up the All-Mother to the danger Malekith poses to the realms. This becomes a story of love between people, as well as a love of life. It is a story that would have been impossible to tell through Thor Odinson in this way. In the form of a woman who is dying of cancer, and must learn to fight for her own life as much as she fights for the lives of everyone in the realms.

Jane Foster faces death in every form. She faces death within a disease-wracked mortal body, death in war, death by gods, death by monster, and death through self-neglect. She is a human given the power of gods, and oh, does she use it. But oh, does it cost her.

I think particularly of the arc in which the Shi’ar gods challenge her, to prove that she is as worthy of worship as they are. They kidnap her from Asgardia, drag her to their doorstep, and then proceed to inflict catastrophes and disasters on their own people in order to inspire their awe and worship. Again and again, Thor throws the competition, out of compassion for the Shi’ar people, who, after all, are innocent bystanders in this contest. It’s an interesting demonstration of the times we live in, that so much of what Thor stands against is dehumanization. The Shi’ar gods in their glowing white bird masks might as well be the unfeeling corporations crushing citizenry beneath their heels purely for their own benefit. And Thor wins their challenge by rallying the gods of Asgard to her side, but not before cradling children dying of plague, or watching monsters rip through crowds. There’s as much emotional burden here as there are hammer blows.

Jane Foster is the Thor we all want saving us. She is the Thor we all want to be. She is the Thor the gods love, and hate, and rally behind. She is the Thor the ten realms need, and the Thor they so often don’t deserve. But she’s the sort of hero who makes those around her worthier, because she reminds them all of why they fight. Of why they yearn to fly. Of what it means to hold enormous power. She does more than just charge into battle. She leads others into it.

And in the end, she puts down Mjolnir (in truly dramatic Thor-like fashion) and does the most difficult thing of all.

She saves herself.

Artwork by Russel Dauterman