Ray Sonne: Somehow, Comics Bulletin has gone the entire first arc of Grayson without setting up a Slugfest for it, but that’s just fine because “Grayson #8” is the last issue of Tim Seeley, Tom King, and Mikel Janin’s first story. Ergo: the perfect issue to slug! So after setting up an action-packed arc that threw readers through the emotional wringer a couple of times, we finally find out Minos’ (the Spyral commander whose face we can’t see) intentions regarding the organization and all the secret information he has on the DC(main)U’s superheroes.
But come to think of it, is that really as important as trying to figure out which of Dick Grayson’s buttcheeks is the greatest? Sure, Jim has a handsome curve to him, but Juan has that underdog appeal, y’anno? It’s so hard to choose…
In all seriousness, I have read lots of comics and the the amount of beefcake is shockingly small throughout the medium. Acknowledgments of female sexuality in ways that don’t directly cater to the male gaze in general are pathetically tiny. I can name three mainstream comics published before Grayson off the top of my head that have contained beefcake: the original The Authority run by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, Secret Six by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott, and Empowered by Adam Warren. That’s in the last 16 years. I’m sure there’s more, but most beefcake inclusions tend to be artistic accidents.
The industry is undergoing a massive revolution right now in what demographics it acknowledges in its audience and is responding with diversification in who they hire as creators and what kind of subject matter that is slated to publish now and in the near future. What we’re seeing a lot of is the “strong” female characters that feminist readers have been demanding for years now (although we still have a long way to go). The female strength in this series takes shape in Helena Bertinelli, who continues to subvert the tired trope of the damsel in distress Bond girl. However, it’s just as important to note that there’s a second angle of female perspective in her teenaged students, who are able to express their attraction to Dick with natural humor.
I wasn’t so keen on these characters when they first appeared in “Grayson #4” because I wasn’t sold on their voices. However, King shows a better grasp on their lingo this time around and their speaking patterns seem more realistic than stereotypical. Because these girls are so normal for their age, it’s easy to forget that they are being trained in an assassins school. But that’s okay because the creative team doesn’t!
I have seen other expressions of female sexuality dismissed by critics of superhero media (ex. “Major Farris in the Man of Steel movie calling Superman hot shows women as silly and and too mesmerized by men.” Dear dudes, Henry Cavill was soaking wet in another scene about an hour before that line is uttered; no vaguely heterosexual woman did not notice that he was hot), but the creative team have set themselves up well here. The girls are trained to kill, after all, and instead of following orders to evacuate their school, they come out with their weapons blazing to assist Dick against Minos. They aren’t just comedic asides; they are formidable in their own right.
That’s a point that not every creative team gets. It’s not about writing physically strong women, it’s about writing women as people. Those girls act and speak about men and their posteriors the way girls their age act and speak about men and their posteriors. Helena has the constitution to survive anything that’s thrown at her and then throw it back properly because she’s a secret agent and any secret agent whether man, woman, nonbinary, or trans should be able to do that. They have differing personalities, they have senses of humor, they have sexualities–as does the grand majority of the human population.
Nothing about the Forever Evil event indicated that Grayson was going to turn out as one of DC’s most female-friendly titles, but it’s probably one of the best moves the company has made in a long time. Another best move before that was discovering Mikel Janin, who is clearly trying to invoke something primal in all of us by drawing Agent 1 the way he did in this issue. Thanks, Janin, you ROCK!
So Dan, Jim or Juan?
Daniel Gehen: Ray, the answer is Juan. Now, before I go any further I need to get something off my chest: I had zero interest in Grayson when it was announced. Dick Grayson has long been one of my favorite characters. From the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans all the way through his time under the cowl in Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin and Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run, he was a character that I could identify with. I was really enjoying the work Kyle Higgins was doing on the New 52 series – especially once he relocated Dick to Chicago in Nightwing #19. So when I heard that Higgins’ run would be abruptly ended by Forever Evil, I was not thrilled. To make matters worse, I thought Nightwing #30 by Tim Seeley, Tom King, and Mikel Janin was awful. I was not in the least bit optimistic for Grayson. Then I read Grayson #1, and realized the tire-fire that was Nightwing #30 was nothing more than a necessary evil to transition the character to his new status quo.
Over the course of the series, it’s evident that the writing team has adhered to two critical principles. The first is “write what you know.” The source of this quote is up to debate, but that does not undermine its significance to Grayson. Despite incorporating several outlandish elements throughout the course of the series (the spider-orca from issue #6 remains a series highlight for me), the writing has been anchored by Tom King’s knowledge of the spy world from his time as a CIA counter-terrorism officer. No matter how outlandish the scenario becomes, there is an underlying sense of authenticity brought to each issue.
The second principle (I know I’m using that term loosely, but bear with me) relates to King and Seeley’s approach to developing their characters: the Greg Rucka approach. Rucka has famously written a slew of strong, empowered women over the course of his career. Given the industry’s penchant for falling short in this area, many wondered “what’s his secret?” The answer is actually fairly simple. In Rucka’s own words from a 2011 interview with Comic Vine:
One does not write a “female” character any more than one writes a “male” character. One writes character, and character is derived from many, many different components, gender being just one of them. Education, background, childhood, religion, sexual orientation and experience, unique history – all of these things influence character, and the writer’s job is to present the whole package in the form of an individual.
Whether intentional or not, it is this frame of mind that has permeated Grayson’s scripts from the start. It has elevated the title to one of DC’s top titles – if not its best. So with the stage set, let’s get to my thoughts on Grayson #8.
As I mentioned above, I’m for Team Juan. There’s no other choice. For the serious discussions that can be had about Grayson #8 and the implications of this issue going forward, the “Jim and Juan” element is just as important. As I mentioned above, I’ve always been a fan of Dick (pun totally intended). It’s hard not to be. He may be a Spyral agent, but he’s still a fun, quippy acrobat at heart. Humor is and will always be a core part of who this character is, so to have a running gag about his bodacious booty throughout the issue is not only pitch-perfect, but it says a lot about the writer’s understanding of the character.
I mentioned before about the creators’ being able to write strong female character because they’re following the Rucka RuleTM of writing fully fleshed out characters. There is no better example of this than Helena Bertinelli. It wouldn’t matter if she was a man, woman, child, alien, parasite or whatever else: she is a character that readers can fall in love with because of her toughness, tenacity, and personality. We have not seen much of her past, but it’s evident that she has one, and those events have shaped her into the character we see on the page. Unlike hundreds of female comic characters, this Helena does not fit into any one category. She is a unique individual, one that will continue to have layers added on as the series progresses.
One last thing I want to talk about: Mikel Janin’s art. The dude can flat out draw. He’s the reason Justice League Dark was worth checking out from issue #1 through Forever Evil: Blight. Yes, that’s right, I read Forever Evil: Blight because Janin was killing it then just like he’s killing it now on Grayson.