Friday, June 12, 2009

There's no tomb or raiding, but Jayne is bitter about something else

A couple years ago when I was in London, I went to the large comic shop in Leicester square. There I picked up the Young Avengers/Runaways Civil War crossover (the word "awful" comes to mind), and a grab bag of titles. The store had a sale where you got a packet of five titles for a pound. The catch being, of course, you could only see the top comic and you could not open the bag to rifle through, meaning you got some truly horrible stuff pawned off on you.

I picked the packet that had the newest Robin on top, thinking, if nothing else, a pound for the new Robin issue was worth it. My packet also included the latest Superman (I never really cared enough about Superman to pick up the title), a Superman issue from the 90s (notable because despite being called Superman and having him on the cover, he only shows up twice in the issue and absolutely no one opens their goddamn eyes), He Man and the Masters of the Universe (did anyone know this was an actual comic?) and Lara Croft Tomb Raider. If you can't see where this list is going then you obviously have not been reading my bitter, bitter posts.

That's right, dear readers, in the coming months you can expect to see me making fun of these comics, because, as has already been established, there is little that I love more than mocking the hell out of things. Today we shall begin with Tomb Raider, because as a comic it's really rather pointless, and because this just happened to be the one I grabbed while I was running out the door this morning.

Before we get started, I feel the need to actually ramble about the Tomb Raider franchise for a bit. It was widely popular in the 90s, culminating in two movies starring Angelina Jolie. The movies weren't particularly awful, but were so bland that I honestly can't remember much about them other than the fact they co-starred Angelina Jolie's breasts.

The games, at the time, I suppose, were innovative in that they starred a female character (and, yes, before you comment, I am aware of Metroid and how kickass she is, but games starring female characters are really rare). I've only really played the one for PS2 Tomb Raider: Legend, and while it's an enjoyable game with an okay storyline, there's nothing truly outstanding or innovative about it. That's true for pretty much all the games: fun play, pretty good graphics, nothing really spectacular. But I am, of course, leaving out one very important ingredient for Tomb Raider: the goddamn super pandering.

Lara Croft was designed to be the female version of Indian Jones, and that is pretty obvious: she's an "archaeologist," she runs around shooting bad guys, although she does lack the whip, has ridiculous adventures that have only a small grounding in reality, delivers wise cracks in the face of her enemies, suffers no qualms about the body count she leaves behind, and is just a small step away from facing aliens to complete the ridiculous circle.

Much like Indiana Jones was created to be a manly man with manly adventures to pander to the male audience, Lara Jones was given gigantic breasts and as few clothing as possible without crossing over to full frontal territory. And that has always been the focus of the games: the sexy, sexy danger of Lara Croft and not the character itself.

Now I know what you're going to say, hypothetical reader somewhere out there on the internets: But, Jayne, in recent games Lara Croft has been given a personality and a back story and motivations of her own.

Well, hypothetical reader, you are correct. Lara Croft has been allowed to develop more in the personality department, but it's the rather generic "Indiana Jones" model many video game protagonists suffer from. By that I mean they are rugged, or sexy sexy danger if the character is female, adventurous, a sarcastic smart assed know it all, who, for some reason, inspire love and loyalty in everyone they meet. In short, Lara Croft is rather cliche and still not wearing enough goddamn clothes for the absolute ridiculous things she does.

While I do appreciate that Lara Croft is one of the few female characters that has their own franchise I really wish it wasn't because of her giant breasts. The thing is, if you take away the breasts and the skimpy outfits and the sexy danger, are you left with a character that is compelling and well rounded? The answer, at least for me, is no.

I will admit that I am worried about being a hypocrite in this, because I am criticizing Lara Croft while I hold an undying love for Indiana Jones, and thus have internalized some of the sexism I'm railing against. That may very well be true, because that is the culture that I've grown up in, but I'm a little more optimistic because I criticized the new Prince of Persia for the Indiana Jones bullshit too, and I kept throwing him off cliffs in the hopes that Elika would tire of his whiny ass and let him die. Perhaps I just hate everyone, regardless of gender, who poorly and ineffectually tries to mimic Indiana Jones.

Backtracking a little bit now, I mentioned before that Croft, much like Indiana Jones, is an "archaeologist," who runs to these exotic locations and then completely fails to care about the history of the place, the culture, the people who make it their home and have a right claim to these artifacts, and, in fact, anything that makes you an actual archaeologist and scientist. She shows up, destroy some walls, shoots at people, and takes away artifacts because, hey, finders keepers.

I'm going to go off on a tangent (or, okay, more of a tangent) and point out something I'm not sure the designers were aware of when they made Lara Croft British: the pall of imperialism that hangs over the game and everything Croft does.
The games are set during the present time, unlike Indiana Jones which took place during the 40s and into the 50s, and so Croft cannot be given the same leeway Indiana Jones did, at least when it comes to how archaeology, or in this case, "archaeology" is portrayed. Both Lara Croft and Indiana Jones show up on these sites, take what they want and leave, much like during the hey day of the British Empire. Hey, those people aren't white! Who cares if it's their history and culture we're desecrating and stealing? This shit is cool and it shall be ours!

At least Indiana Jones was affiliated with a university. Lara Croft, from what I can tell, just does this as a hobby. Which, I just realized, makes her an antiquities hunter and therefore she's stealing from other countries. But, hey, at least she has a nice rack.

I just spent too much time rambling about a game when instead I should be making fun of a comic. Onto the pandering!

This is Tomb Raider #12, first published in 2001. I only mention the date because I thought this came out in the 90s, which would make some of the more Rob Liefeldian moments in the art more forgivable. Also, is this title still being published? I only ask because if Blue Beetle and Manhunter get cancelled only for Tomb Raider to still be hanging around I will be forced to brick someone in the face.

Issue 12 is also apparently the second of a two parter storyline. I was not aware of that when I first read the issue, and now one of my major complaints about it has been effectively silenced. Damnit. Now I'm going to find something else to complain about.

This issue was written by Dan Jurgens, who I'm pretty sure had a lot of skeevy gender issues on his JLI run, although for Tomb Raider he turned in a (mostly) serviceable script. Billy Tan, whose work I don't know, is the penciller, and his art is pretty lovely in this. Although there are a few occasions where one of the characters will be stuck with that Rob Liefeld expression. You know the one with the pinched face that every character no matter gender or ethnicity have because it is the only facial expression Liefeld can draw (speaking of, Darcy seems to think I should do an entire post discussing Rob Liefeld's art style, because apparently it'll be funny to see me descend into a pit of madness and despair from which there is no escape, all the while watching me lose all faith in humanity).

This is the perfect example of the pandering. Although, possibly, Lara Croft is showing us that you really don't need all those warm layers to keep you from frostbite and hypothermia, something we women have known for ages. That's right, fellas, next time you go skiing grab a pair of hot pants and hit the slopes.

This is the second part of this two part story line and opens with Lara Croft plummeting from a cliff to her death.

Shockingly enough, I do not care, although I would like to point out that in this panel it appears she is sporting the ever stylish rat tail hair style. Keep it klassy, Lara Croft.

But, of course, like in any fictional story when the protagonist leaps or falls off a cliff there is a body of water to save her, although it knocks her unconscious and for a brief moment I briefly entertain the hope that she'll drown. That's mean, even for me, especially since I don't hate Lara Croft that much. Or yet at this point in the story.

Lara is, of course, not dead and wakes up in a rather fancy room. She's wearing this:

For no reason other than the fact that everybody knows fanboys only read for the plot. Also, apparently there's wasn't enough fabric left over from the robe to make an entire nightgown.

I have to give credit where credit is due and say that the art can be very lovely at times, like here.
Touche, Top Cow. Touche.

So Lara's just hanging out on the balcony, while the nightgown keeps threatening to rebel and reveal her cooter to the entire city. There's a tiny idol on the railing, which I think is maybe supposed to be like a fu dog (foreshadowing!), and Lara rambles on about being relaxed and at peace and not only do I not care, but I'm getting bored.

Thankfully, Mu'Tin, who I guess is sort of the leader or something I don't actually know, takes the opportunity to arrive and move the plot forward

So Lara's in Shangri-La, which Mu'Tin describes as the ever-lasting city that people keep stumbling into. Apparently everyone there is welcome. Fen Tai is the guardian which threw Laura off the cliff. Fen Tai immediately becomes my favorite character.

Mu'Tin continues that everyone who wanders into Shangri-La decides to stay, and I am must quickly sidestep the falling plot anvil. Mu'Tin continues that no one in Shangri-La age or die and blah blah it's a a paradise, can we move along?

Lara decides to shoulder the plot burden and say she's here to help a friend, which I'm sure if I read the first part of this series I may know what she's talking about and/or care, although I have my doubts. Also, Lara proves that the plot anvil managed to smack her on its way down.

Yes, Lara, why are you so damned surprise? Remember how my best friend Fen Tai the guardian threw you off a cliff? Yeah, imprisonment sort of pales next to attempted murder.

So Lara is introduced as the newest citizen and for some reason everyone is really excited. I'm not sure why since she's wearing modest clothes and you can't see her breasts. Lara thinks that Shangri-la is heaven, but can't help but wonder if "heaven has sentries as well?"

Okay, I'm sorry, but I honestly can't tell if that is meant to be a dramatic rhetorical question or not. I really hope it is because if it isn't that means Lara Croft is functionally retarded and Dan Jurgens is a hack writer. Hey, Lara, remember my BFF Fen Tai who threw you off a cliff and almost killed you? Yeah, he's a goddamn guardian so it stands to reason heaven as sentries. Also, I hate you.

Lara goes on to monologue about how the kids are all happy and innocent and Shangri-La is a drug free zone. As nice as these sentiments are, Lara, can we cut back on the after school special and move on to where you shoot things?

To quote Mike from MST3K: "Is this supposed to be boring or touching? I can't quite tell."

Oh, this is just retarded. Are you telling me that Lara Croft, who speaks like elevenity hundred languages and has traveled around the world numerous times climbing rock walls and looting anceint archaeological sites and skiing in hot pants can't use chopsticks? Bite me, Jurgens.

I do like in the second panel how the kid is apparently amazed at the easy way Lara can carry a small bundle of twigs. She's like Wonder Woman.

And we're back to Lara's inner monologue. Christ. Even better, Lara gets to play white woman to the Asian population and wax on about how Shangri-La is, like, totally awesome and peaceful and idyllic and everything is in harmony, not at all like the corrupt Western World.

You know, other writers would take pains to juxtapose the peace and love of Shangri-La to Lara's past of being orphaned and the years she spent traveling the world and constantly almost being killed. Jurgens, however, takes the easier route and settles on repeatedly telling over showing and employing trite and borderline racist sterotypes to get his point across.

And then we get to meet Chase Carver, Exposition's bitch.

I know the lettering is small and you can't read it, but it boils down to is that Laura and Exposition timeshare Chase the bitch, and that he wants to bone Lara but she doesn't want to fuck him.
Shut up, you giant tool. There are no words to describe how much I absolutely hate that last panel. The fourth wall is there for a goddamn reason. It allows us, the reader, the pretense that these are real people who we should care about. And, yes, I realize, Jurgens, you had necessary exposition you needed to get across, but there are better ways than to have Chase the Tool be talking to himself in a helicopter and then add on a wink, wink to the audience.

There are only a few people who can get away with breaking the fourth wall. Monty Python, for one, because they are comic geniuses, and you, Jurgens are not. In comics, the only way to do that is Deadpool, and unless you're the smart ass Merc with the Mouth I suggest you sit the hell down and shut up.

Also, Chase's stupid arrogant smirk is just begging me to brick the hell out of his stupid, little face.

Before I can break the laws of physics to reach through the page to punch him, we cut back to Lara, who is being really creepy and breaking into the little girl's room to leave her a paper crane.

"I will always remember you, little girl I met the one time and who gave me a badly folded paper crane. That's right, I will never forget you, girl whose name I never found out because I didn't care enough. Never."

Oh, Jesus, we get more dialogue boxes from Laura, at least time they're mercifully short and don't involve sneaking into any young girl's bedroom while she's sleeping. Instead, Lara Croft is going to try to sneak out of Shangri-La, despite the danger of the watchdog. She throws on her jacket--
And goes to sneak past Fen Tai--

I'm sorry, but did Lara Croft just change back into her incredibly short nightgown to sneak past the incredibly dangerous guardian that almost killed her once? I'm sure it's just the scan and she isn't really wearing--
Son of a bitch! Why the hell is she barefoot and in the skimpy nightgown? Why? Also, Jurgens, pointing out the skimpy nightgown ("Wish I had my pistols. Not to mention my boots and some clothes!") does not cover for the fact this makes absolutely no fucking sense.

This is the exact moment this issue stopped being an okay if not great comic and made me genuinely angry. We've already seen that Shangri-La has actual clothes; Lara was wearing some of them earlier. We've seen that there are pants and shoes made available to citizens and yet Lara Croft is in that goddamn nightgown for no reason other than to pander to the male audience.

This is what really bothers me about Tomb Raider: Lara Croft, this intelligent, athletic heroine with her own motivations and personality (as two dimensional as it comes across), she always gets reduced to nothing more than balant T&A to titillate the fanboys. Like women in comics, Lara Croft is objectified and sexualized and put on display. Fuck you, Top Cow.

We're almost done, so let's finish this up. Lara is running from Fen Tai, and I have to say my BFF looks less like a fu dog and more like some gorilla thing. I bet Lara would be escape better if she had shoes.

Meanwhile, Chase is all asshole smarmy and says that Lara's personal satellite implant just kicked in and so he's going to track her and presumably come to her rescue. I'm guessing that implant makes it easy for Chase to stalk her.

Mu'Tin is pissed and is determined to stop Lara from escaping. Again, shouldn't be too hard because Lara is half-naked and should be cut the hell up from the lack of protective clothing.

Oh good, Tan, nice use of the Liefeld face. No, really, it's...nice.

As much as I'm pissed at Jurgens and gang for ignoring all common sense and shoving Lara into a scrap of fabric, I have to say that the layout in this books has been pretty good, and this splash page in particular is amazing:

Mu'Tin manages to wrap her chain necklace thing around Lara, and she starts to change into a guardian, which is the punishment for trying to leave Shangri-La. I'm not sure why leaving is such a bad thing. It's entirely possible they explained it but I was in a bored stupor and didn't catch it.

Chase shows up, proving to Mu'Tin he can match her Rob Leifeld angry face with one of his own.

We finally learn who Lara's friend she was trying to help. It's Mrs. Baker, Lara's old nanny who was"dear" to her as her dead mother.

Who wants to place bets that Mrs. Baker was some not white but delightfully ethnic? Anyone.
Huh, I guess I was wrong. Mrs. Baker is apparenly Spiderman's kindly Aunt May. Apparently Aunt May is the go to person everytime you need a 131 year old woman in your comic.

Lara, continuing to change into a gaurdian, says she'll do whatever Mu'Tin wants as long as Mrs. Aunt May gets into Shangri-La, where she will persumably spend the rest of her life as an 318 year old mumified woman.
I don't know about you, but it would be really interesting to see Lara actually change into the guardian. Would she lose her human intelligence? How would she cope with it? Would she find her way back? I find that way more interesting what the hell's actually going on.

Mu'Tin agrees to take Aunt Baker to Shangri-La and let Lara go on the condition that Lara never ever comes back ever. Lara and Chase the Giant, Smirking Tool agree, and they take off.

Lara gets all weepy because she can't ever go back to Shangri-La and apparently this is a huge loss for her.

This would have more of an emotional impact if a) I was not confused because I thought Lara gave that stupid Paper Crane of Vague Emotional Significance back to the nameless girl or b) Jurgens was able to effectively protray how much the promise of peace and harmony that Shangri-La represented meant to Lara, the orphan with a dangerous life. Since Jurgens doesn't clarify either, I find myself not caring and also advising Lara to shut the hell up.

So there you have it, folks, Tomb Raider 12. It wasn't the most horrible thing I've read, but it was far from the best. Tomb Raider the comic will hopefully be shoved into some small corner and forgotten by publishing companies everywhere, because I would have to harness Alan Moore levels of bitterness to read another issue.

1 comment:

Danicus said...

And that right there pretty accurately shows everything wrong with the Tomb Raider video games.

In other news, while I agree mostly with you rant about how lame Tomb Raider is, I feel I have to clear up some things you said about Indiana Jones. Firstly, the original trilogy is set in the 1930s, not the 40s. This is actually important, because Indy is fighting Nazis long before other Americans have even really heard about them, let alone realized how evil the regime was, or even gotten involved in the War.
Secondly, Indy wasn't designed as a "manly man with manly adventures for a male audience", he's a more modern take on 1930s pulp heroes, Like Doc Savage. I acknowledge that THOSE people were designed as 'manly men', but Indy is supposed to be a throwback to classic cinema first and foremost, and I think that's why his movies work so well.
But enough of my ranting there. I'll try and come back later when the horrors of that comic have really set in, so I can yell about that some too.
As always, fine work you're doing here. :-D