03 July 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part V: WitchCraft

Comic trade paperback, 133 pages
Published 1996 (contents: 1994)

Borrowed from the library
Read June 2011

Writer: James Robinson
Artists: Teddy Kristiansen, Peter Snejbjerg, Michael Zulli, Steve Yeowell
Colors: Daniel Vozzo
Lettering: Richard Starkings

This isn't the first Sandman spin-off-- it's predated by the launch of Sandman Mystery Theatre and the first Death miniseries-- but it's kinda the first standalone one. (I say "kinda" because it did garner a sequel, but said sequel was never collected in trade paperback.) Its subject is a little odd, though; I refused to believe that any Sandman fans were clamoring for a return of the Three Fates or the Three Witches or the Three Goddesses or whatever they were. (I mean, they don't even have clear names.) They would just pop up sporadically and be cryptic; I think they had a role in the finale, but maybe the Three Furies were something separate? I don't know and I don't really care.

The story opens with a Pict barbarian coming to Londinium and raping a Roman woman. She's a priestess of the Triple Goddess, though, and lets off a prayer as she dies. Too late to save herself, but the Triple Goddess decide that she will get her revenge: when she and her killer are next reincarnated in the London area, her killer will die. This takes over a millennium, but finally a young maiden is due to marry a guy who turns out to be a rapist. She's secretly a witch, and so is he, and though the Triple Goddess try their best, it doesn't quite come together, everyone dies, and no revenge is had. At this point, I wasn't really into the story either way-- didn't hate it, didn't love it. Did kinda wonder what the point was. (Except that the introduction had told me, but I'll come back to that later.)

So they're left to try again in 1842, where for some reason the priestess has been reincarnated as a man-- and not just any man, but Sir Richard F. Burton (though he's no "sir" yet). What? This just seemed bizarre to me. The killer is actually his mother's lover, and willingly so. Richard Burton is chastised by her for not allowing her her sexual freedom. But he chases the lover anyway and, whoops, the lover rapes Burton. I guess because he's just so evil? Then Burton meets up with gypsies, who teach him sex magic or something (you know gypsies) and then he finds the lover, but doesn't kill him, and goes on to be imperialist bastard we all know and love. And who wrote awful, dull travelogues.

The last bit brings us to the 1990s, when the priestess is now an old lady, and the barbarian is her baby-raping, wife-mind-controlling, priest-killing warlock son-in-law. Because he just wasn't evil enough? It's starting to get over the top at this point. Anyway, the grandma wins, and the Triple Goddess sentences him to be reincarnated throughout the past as the victim of every sex crime ever. Leaving aside the fact that "sex crime" sounds a bit too 20th-century in the mouth of a pagan goddess, it's just what!? I don't even understand what this is supposed to mean. Does it make rape into an empowering act for women? Or is it poetic justice (because raping men is funny maybe)? Or something? God, how bizarre. The book tries to pull back from it by having one of the Goddesses say "I actually started wondering if the matter deserved all the fuss we'd given it," but you know, that ending still exists!

Like Black Orchid (it must be a Vertigo thing), this collection contains a fawning introduction from someone I've never heard of, but I think is supposed to be famous maybe, Penelope Spheeris. Spheeris describes the book as creating "a comic-book world for those who are evolved enough to know that ultimately there is justice in the world." There's nothing evolved about this book! It depicts men as eternal rapists and women as eternal victims, whose best outcome for "justice" is that the men can secretly be the victims of the rapes they commit. She also claims that it shows the power of women as "immeasurably strong and immeasurably subtle," though I feel like being victimized through the millennia is pretty much neither. And lastly, she's quick to claim that men will like this book too even if it is all about female power (really?) because the stories "are sexually titillating without being sexist. They are sometimes erotic, but in an artful, beautiful way... and in a way that allows the WitchCraft women to keep their power and their moral strength." WHAT!? Did we read the same book? Because in the book I read, every sex act bar two is coerced. This book is not remotely titillating-- sex is nasty, brutish, and short, a means to an end for one or both parties in every case. None of the participants are ever drawn attractively. And let's not even talk about the assumption that "boys and men alike" need sex on display to enjoy a story about women anyway...

I freely admit that Penelope Spheeris's introduction is not James Robinson's fault. But it does show the same warped, unpleasant set of values that seems to underly this entire book. Ugh.

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