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Beyond Bombshells by Jeffrey A. Brown (book review).

Much of Jeffrey A. Brown’s book, ‘Beyond Bombshells’ focuses on the growth of women as lead heroines in a film, TV and comicbook market dominated by male characters and whether they are getting a fair deal.

The discussion in the opening chapter and women and torture draws some comparison to how men go through the same things. Brown draws comparison to James Bond’s genital torture in the film of ‘Casino Royale’ as if it’s a new thing but neglects to realise this is probably the closest they got to a scene from the original Ian Fleming 1953 book.

Fleming regularly torturing Bond in ever more increasingly ways which I always thought he did so he cut the series anytime he wanted to until he heard from his publisher how much they were going to pay him to keep going for another book. Women might be out through torturous scenes but even they would wince at this kind of attack. Women might be tortured across the genres but it’s rare that they have it as an on-going thing.

Once I started digging into this book and his examples from America and the UK, it became pretty obvious that his choices weren’t historically extensive. I mean when it comes to equal partnerships, not a reference to ‘The Avengers’, the John Steed version with female agents Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, Tara King and even Purdey who were nearly if not his equals. Nor even Honey West or even Modesty Blaise. Nothing at all about ‘Acapulco HEAT’ which had an equal number of male and female agents in its first team and only a token male in its second team.

Cleopatra Jones and ‘She-Spies’ only gets a brief name mention and not in the index. The same with the likes of ‘Once A Thief’ with a female boss in The Director (actress Jennifer Dale) and Li Ann Tsei (actress Sandrine Holt) making it a 50:50 split. If you’re going to write a book about female action heroes then you really do have to do a checklist of earliest and history properly or people like me will start questioning the research done and not that development as being in the past few decades.

Some series might be missed but when they grow longer, you have to worry. This doesn’t mean what he covers is wrong but not in overall context and thinking these are the only teams or individuals. It’s all very well saying there weren’t early examples but this goes against the evidence to the contrary.

The same applies to reference to ‘Leverage’. Sophie Devereaux (actress Gina Bellman) is commented on but nothing about her fellow team member Parker (actress Beth Riesgraf) which does make me wonder if he actually watched all the series he refers to. Granted that might take some time and maybe expense but this is part of the research.

As to the use of honey traps to entice the opposition. This is probably the most dangerous role for any woman to be in whatever the reality because essentially you’re the inside person and most likely to be killed if caught out. Although Brown references the original ‘Mission: Impossible’ but only as far as Cinnamon Carter (actress Barbara Bain), forgetting that there were many more ladies after her. The Australian 1988 version of ‘Mission: Impossible’ has the one distinction of one of its team, in this case it is the lady Casey Randall (actress Terry Markwell) being killed, oddly not as a honey trap.

Granted Markwell wanted to leave because she thought she was being underused but the IMF were pretty upset. They accept the risk for themselves but not for women so much. For the original team, very rarely they would have two female members depending on an additional specialised task needed. To focus more on the Tom Cruise films version does a disservice to the source TV series.

Brown’s knowledge of ethnicity and comicbooks is a bit more depthy. So, I’m back in analytical mode and answering his questions. One reason why pregnancy and growing teens tends to not to be covered too much in comicbooks is because it tends to break the barrier on just how fast these characters are aging. You add a growing child and either something like 15 years has to literally pass overnight for everyone or you hide them away and explain as a missed event and they’ve only just been revealed. Considering that over the decades, everything has been used from sending babies into the future and come back as adults like Marvel’s Cable or fostered and never revealed until later can only go so far. With a lot of the minor characters who only appear sporadically, you can get away with hidden families but not with the main stars.

Likewise, the reason why super-heroes only had male junior side-kicks. Remember the uproar Fredric Wertham made about Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson living under the same roof. It would have been far worse if the demographic had been more female-orientated. After all, Superman wisely sent his cousin, Supergirl, to live in an orphanage than live with him. Mind you I was surprised to discover in recent years from Brown that Green Arrow now has female side-kicks, although an aged Batman did beat him there.

I did have to have a think about any black or Asian characters that Brown had over-looked. Back when he wrote this book in 2015, ‘Master Of King-Fu’ hadn’t been released in its reprint volumes and would have been harder to locate all issues to read. If it had then he would surely have remembered Leiko Wu, although I did have to check how to spell Fah Lo Suee, Fu Manchu’s daughter. But what about Martha Washington from her own comicbook series? It isn’t like I’m picking out minor characters here.

The analysis of lady assassins and vigilantes focuses a lot on the ‘Kick-Ass’ films and the violent foul-mouthed Hit-Girl. I doubt if creator Mark Miller went out to make any feminist statement but just did a reverse against type and not do the expected. A lot of my own stories feature female protagonists but mostly because it feels right or a reflection of society than any ulterior motive. I certainly wouldn’t think of them as the weaker sex and are just as capable as any male counterpart.

As this book was written in 2015 and before the ‘Wonder Woman’ film, Brown can only briefly mention Gal Gadot’s brief appearance in the ‘Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice’ (2016) film. It is odd that he doesn’t even mention Lynda Carter’s interpretation of the Amazon back in the 1970s which then led me to think, what about Jaime Sommer, ‘The Bionic Woman’? Both ladies had three seasons so they could hardly be called failures in attracting both sexes to watch them.

I’m falling over examples Brown could have had at least referenced, if only for historical relevance. There are a lot of strong female characters out there and I haven’t really dug deep into fiction although I think I could. This doesn’t mean Brown’s opinions aren’t useful, just that I don’t think he’s dug deep enough. Mind you, this is assuming he hasn’t covered any of them in his earlier book, ‘Dangerous Curves’,

I do think strong female characters have always had some acceptance but, a lot of the time, it’s more a matter of convincing studio heads so use them in films correctly and they will make money. The floodgates have now been opened, so we should be seeing a lot more of them as blockbusters. As to fans of female characters? I think they’ve always been there, it’s only now that the closet doors have finally been levered open and not think they won’t sell.

GF Willmetts

October 2018

(pub: University Press Of Mississippi, 2015. 265 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $29.65 (US), £27.95 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4968-1466-1)

check out websites: www.upress.state.ms.us and www.eurospanbookstore.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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