Friday, 23 August 2013

Deep Sequencing: The Male Gaze In 100 Bullets: Hang Up On The Hang Low

Or the self-aware use of sexualized imagery to service story in 100 Bullets: Volume 3.
By Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso; Vertigo Comics

100 Bullets is a pretty ugly comic. I mean, it's exquisitely drawn by Edurardo Risso, but the comic is full of terrible people doing godawful things in horrifying ways. Despite how entertaining and smart it is, 100 Bullets is a WILDLY problematic comic in a LOT of ways.

One of the more striking ways 100 Bullets is problematic is in its portrayal of women. They really get the shittiest end of the shitstick and have all kinds of dramatically terrible things happen to them. They are also portrayed in a VERY sexual, very objectified way. Eduardo Risso is a master of the male gaze: drawing attractive women with fantasy proportions and then framing panels to highlight the bejesus out of them. It's complicated and problematic and skeevy and sometimes hard to reconcile with the story. I mean, I think the over-sexualizing of women in the comic is about deliberately creating a certain transgressive atmosphere of hyper-violence and hyper-sexuality... But maybe Eduardo Risso just likes to draw beautiful, fantasy women in dangerous situations? Regardless, it's a facet of the series, and it's one that I have a hard time reconciling myself with or really understanding completely within the context of the comic. It is not my favourite part of 100 Bullets.

However, there is one chapter of 100 Bullets where the male-gaze objectification of a female character is used in this really self-aware way and in service to the story. This is in the third collected chapter: Hang Up On The Hang Low.

This post will deal with extensive *SPOILERS* to this chapter of the comic. So read it first.

In this section of the story Agent Graves, the shadowy purveyor of Revenge, gives Loop, a young black man, a clean gun, 100 untraceable bullets, protection from law enforcement, and information as to where he can find his deadbeat father. Loop tracks down his father, an enforcer for a local crime boss, and rather than kill his dad, he joins him in the family business. Unfortunately things go sideways, Loop's father is murdered, and Loop decides to kill the crime boss responsible. It's a neat character study, revenge scenario, and like all of 100 Bullets, arresting comics.

One of the cooler aspects of this comic is how the male gaze, using image framing to show off sexy body parts, is used to sexualize the asian woman playing pool. I mean the first time you see her, based on her dress, how the comic frames her, and the context of the situation, you make some assumptions. I mean, this young woman is wearing provocative clothing, playing pool alone in a room with a little old man who is a crime boss and within the context of the story holds all the power. Moreover, the comic artwork focuses on her breasts and places her in the background, disinterested and silent, like, to borrow a DeConnick-ism, a sexy lamp who really likes Billiards.  So we all assume that she is most likely there to be eye-candy for the creepy crime boss, or a sexual plaything, or something equally fucking deplorable and exploitative.

Which makes it so amazing and surprising when she turns out to be a bodyguard. We, and Loop, and make the assumption she is a sexy lamp, and then BAM we find out she is really a stonecold shitkicking motherfucker. This comic has used the male gaze to cause us to make assumptions based on gender roles and appearance which leads us to underestimate this character and disguise her true role in the story. And this is pretty self-aware and effective use of the male-gaze to actually drive a story instead of just glorify in smut, and it makes the point that we should check our assumptions when it comes to sexuality and gender. It's cool comics.

I mean, there is still a lot of problematic male gaze use in 100 Bullets, but this particular example, I think, is pretty great. (But you know, still problematic, which is pretty much how all of 100 Bullets works.)

Deep Sequencing: Guilt and Crime Comics

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