Thursday, May 10, 2012
Transformation: Glamazonia The Uncanny Super-Tranny
The genius of Justin Hall's amusing, satirical take on superheroes by way of a drag queen lens is that superheroes, at their essence, are drag queens. They stand out from the crowd wearing brightly colored, revealing outfits that draw attention as they prepare to wrestle other men. Their journey is one of transformation from an identity that can't really fully contain who they truly are into their real, colorful selves. It's somewhere beyond cliche' to point out the obviously homoerotic aspects of superhero comics. Rick Veitch wrote the definitive statement on that with Brat Pack. That's not what Hall is after in his collection of short stories Glamazonia, The Uncanny Super Tranny (Northwest Press). He takes that idea of superhero-as-drag and spoofs it to the end while demonstrating how useful the drag trope is in thinking about superheroes. Using the deliberately outrageous and delightfully narcissistic patois of drag-speak, Hall gives Glamazonia five different secret origins, has her constantly reject the attentions of a would-be sidekick (Rent Boy), puts her on the grassy knoll at JFK's assassination and has her compete in a Contest of Champions (the prize: super-pets!). Even better, he collaborates with an all-star team of queer cartoonists in a series of short "One To Glam On" segments that are the best part of the book. The segment with Ed Luce of Wuvable Oaf is a particular highlight, as Glamazonia gives a group of bears advice on keeping their body hair healthy and free of split ends.
Hall has a way of seamlessly working in more than a dozen different guest artists into the proceedings, using a vivid (and occasionally garish) color palette to provide continuity between different styles. Everything has such a light touch that it doesn't matter all that much when the art becomes more realistic, or more cartoony, or more deliberately sexy, or more deliberately funny. Hall also navigates between serious issues (gay-bashing, identity crises as a kid, transitioning) and ridiculous scenarios (wacky time-bending adventures) with ease, using the same snappy and bitchy one-liners would would expect from a transsexual who is an entertaininer. Glamazonia is unrepentantly sarcastic and self-centered, willing to save the world but not if she's busy with her nails. She's not so much a real character as she is a smartass alter-ego. She reminds me a little of DiDi Glitz, Diane Noomin's cartoon alter-ego. Blond, bewigged, fabulous and a little bit bitchy, but their hearts are in the right place. Both characters seem to be a way of exercising a particular part of the artists' personality that's ultra-extroverted, outspoken, witty, obnoxious, a little trashy and not afraid to get what they want.
Hall also appropriately skewers all the usual superhero markers, injecting new humor into the origin stories of the likes of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and "the hero of the beach" from the old Charles Atlas ads found in comic books. That latter story is especially funny, as Glamazonia is transformed from skinny old Mac into a fabulous, bionic super-tranny who goes back to the beach to grab the bully who kicked sand in his face--and makes him her boyfriend! The best super hero parody is "Rent Boy: Year One", wherein Jon Macy does the art and does a very funny approximation of the grim 'n gritty style of David Mazzucchelli. The overall feel of the book is breezy but unrestrained in its exploration and satire of both superhero tropes and gay issues. There's something to offend nearly everyone, if they're looking to get offended, but Hall's sharp wit, sturdy drawing and general geniality makes this an entertaining read from start to finish.