The following is a selection of comics released this week (7/21/10)* that focus heavily on women in comics – whether that be characters, creators, or even readers.

The books are rated as BUY, TRADEWAIT, or SKIP.

*It should be noted that this list will focus on North American/English releases as that’s mostly what I have access to.  Additionally, as I am in general unfamiliar with Manga, I will not be including Manga titles in my lists.  For some great reviews and discussion of Manga titles I urge you to check out Danielle Leigh on CSBG.

Notably missing this week is True Blood #1, co-written by IDW editor Mariah Huehner and which I am very anxious to check out but which was either sold out or missing at my shop.  Also missing was Welcome To Tranquility #1, and Tiny Titans #30.  Bummer all around, but hopefully I can pick them up next week. It certainly occurs to me that these inconsistencies in my comic shops (I went to two today) could be perhaps solved by digital solutions in which I am the only one in charge of what’s available to me or not…well, beyond what the companies make available of course.  It’s a powerful argument for digital to me.  Also, I have books that I definitely prefer to have in print, but there are many books I’m interested in reading but not terribly interested in “having forever”, so if digital was available to me easily and same day (and I had a reader of course) and for a cheaper price, I suspect I would try more stuff and only buy the stuff I know I love in print but purchase a significant amount digitally.  In some ways I prefer to have the collected trades for stuff I really love anyway, as that works better from a convenience standpoint of books sitting on book shelves as opposed to jammed in short boxes.  Digital v. Print is a tough thing for me though as I don’t like the feeling that’s often put out there of it being “either/or”, but I confess that digital seems appealing to me in the same way that individual songs instantly accessible on itunes are.  Time will tell.

BLACK WIDOW #4.  Marjoirie Liu (writer).  Daniel Acuna (art and cover).  Marvel.  32-pages. $2.99

This is a really good book…so good that I’m dreading the creative team switch after issue #5.  Acuna’s art is gorgeous and is a perfect fit for this suave noir-y spy story.  I love it.  Liu’s story is working well, definitely a bit mysterious and cryptic (Natasha IS trying to solve a puzzle of course) but she’s giving me enough story and reveals in each issue to keep the momentum.  As usual with Black Widow stuff I find it a bit cryptic for my tastes sometimes, but that’s my only complaint.  This is a great book.  Certainly the star of Marvel’s “year of women” push as far as I’m concerned.  BUY.

DV8 #4 (of 8).  Brian Wood (writer).  Rebekah Isaacs (art). Carrie Strachan (colors). Fiona Staples (cover).

We’re halfway through the series and it remains one of my favorite monthly books, if not THE favorite.  I confess this issue was my least favorite of the series thus far, but I think that’s likely to do with the fact that it focused heavily on Matthew/Threshold who has always been the least accessible DV8 character to me.  This issue does its best to help me (and others?) get inside his skin a bit, but it’s still tough for me with this character.  Additionally there was some slightly clunky storytelling in Gem narrating things she couldn’t possibly have seen or known…it didn’t bother me in previous issues, but here it stuck out a bit.  Still, easily the best comic I read this week, as usual.  BUY.

FRENEMY #2.  Rashida Jones, Christina Weir, and Nunzio Defilippis (writers).  Jeff Wamester (art).  Rob Ruffolo (colors).  Oni Press.  28-pages (22 of story).  $3.99.

I still like this, but not as much as I’d like.  The concept is fun and interesting, even if it’s totally unbelievable (this IS comics, I’ll give you a lot of suspension of disbelief, but even I was stretching a bit thin here).  The art is good but not great, occasionally a bit inconsistent and feeling rushed, though in general I like the stylized look and it works for the tone of the book.  I’m not sure three writers is helping this title as some stuff is just not quite working and it’s hard to pinpoint why.  I had trouble buying how quickly Ariana returned to the CIA simply because the tabloids were all over her – if we’d had some details about the fact that she actually liked the CIA, or enjoyed being a part of something “real” (that wasn’t shopping and partying) even though she didn’t like being treated shabbily it would have made the whole set up of her returning much more believable.  We’ve also got a potentially very serious Mary Sue situation going on here with Ariana seeming all too perfect at everything.  Sure we’re told she was a screw up in her past, but we’re just seeing her as a beautiful, rich, super talented, very brilliant, speaks multiple languages, computer hacker, athlete that only needs a month of training before she’s CIA field ready.  That’s a bit of a stretch, even for me.  But it’s still got potential.  Since this is Oni, I’m not sure it will get a tradewait option (?) so I’m going to list it as a really tentative BUY.

HER-OES #4 (of 4).  Grace Randolph (writer).  Craig Rousseau (artist).  Veronica Gandini (colors).  Sara Pichelli & Veronica Gandini (cover).  Marvel.  32-pages.  $2.99.

This was the best issue yet I think and it ended nicely, with a strong place to pick up should there be an option for a second series or an ongoing book.  It was fun getting to see the characters be their “superhero selves” but it was done with some nice realism (i.e. they were not able to just easily save the day and move on).  The best thing about this book still, is the fact that Jennifer/She-Hulk looks more like a “monster” than a super-model when she transforms…something really relevant considering that these are high school students and the possibilities it opens up from a storytelling point of view, even if it wasn’t much discussed here, it’s still a significant move.  Although it’s a bit of a disconnect with the covers (this one especially) where She-Hulk doesn’t look “monster-y” at all.  It’s a look that I wish was EVER explored in other She-Hulk books, and a wise decision here that I’m proud the creators made and Marvel let them run with.

There are some minor problems, some of the book felt resolved a little too quickly, and the battle scene is particular was cut up a bit in that we’re seeing She-Hulk be attacked (but not beaten by any means) and then the next time we see her, she’s fully defeated and slung over the shoulder of her competitor.  Similarly, though the girls do “save the day” themselves, they need a fairly timely assist from someone else that is a bit convenient.  The stand out for the whole series, but especially this issue, is Namora, and though I have trouble believing her brazen commitment to her new friends at the end, it’s still a welcome ending.  If you’re looking for positive female portrayals this is it.  It’s not a perfect book by any means, but it’s doing a lot of good stuff, and is 100% female positive.  It’s a BUY, and if you missed it I’d recommend picking it up in trade, especially if you’ve got a sister, daughter, niece, etc. in your life that likes superheroes but you have trouble finding appropriate positive female portrayals for.

THE LAST UNICORN #2.  Peter S. Beagle (writer).  Renae De Liz (art).  Ray Dillon (colors and inks).  IDW.  32-pages.  $3.99.

This art is flat out stunning.  I mean, so wonderful – just look at that cover!  If you like adaptations, this is an excellent one.  The art is phenomenal and really captures the spirit of the film without feeling derivative.  I think most importantly, the Unicorn herself looks exactly like the film, and that’s truly important as it’s a wonderful and very specific design.  Other things, like Schmendrick’s design are tweaked, but it works.  The writing is solid, taking all the best that’s necessary to get the essence of the story onto the page.  I’m going to tell you to BUY this, but I almost want to suggest, if you’re short on cash to wait for the collected edition, which I’m guessing will be even more gorgeous and happily sit on your shelves forever.

POWER GIRL #14.  Judd Winick (writer).  Sami Basri (art and cover).  Sunny Gho (colors).  DC.  32-pages.  $2.99.

This surprised me.  I didn’t like the last issue at all, but this really worked.  The art is still not a style I’m particularly fond of, though it’s quite capable and consistent, but the story is quite good.  Winick has here a much better handle on PG’s voice than he did last issue in my opinion, and the story was interesting with some nice twists along the way.  Also, I never once had to read a boob or “hot bod” joke, which honestly…is a huge relief.  This issue wasn’t quite good enough to merit a buy, I’m still going to list it as TRADEWAIT…but if it keeps this up it will move up in no time.

SUPERGIRL #54.  Sterling Gates (writer).  Jamal Igle (pencils).  Jon Sibal (inks).  Jamie Grant (colors).  Shane Davis & Grant (cover).  DC.  32-pages.  $2.99.

This was good.  Similarly with Batgirl (though for different reasons, sorta) I have trouble getting into Supergirl, but I keep trying because it’s generally one of the more female positive non-exploitative books out there (well, over the last couple years at least) and so I want to support that.  But I’ve never really fallen in love.  Maybe for the same reasons I don’t read/love Superman…seemingly overly complicated past and continuity, and a cast of supporting characters I’m not wild about.  But this issue got me pretty good.  I found myself pretty intrigued with it overall.  So this is the first issue that I feel I can really list as a BUY without reservations.

ZATANNA #3.  Paul Dini (writer).  Stephane Roux (art).  John Kalisz (colors).  DC.  32-pages.  $2.99.

This was better than the last issue, mostly because the art was less pervy and strange.  Overall it seemed toned down on the overt sexiness, which I appreciated.  It’s also the end of the first arc and it wrapped up pretty well.  Everything seemed a bit too easy for Zatanna though.  We have these really high stakes set up, but there’s kind of no doubt that she’ll show up and just quickly defeat the villain with her awesomeness.  I’m not sure why it feels that way, but it does and it really kept me from investing in the story and character.  I also find myself not really falling in love with Zatanna as a character and though I know it’s part of her schtick and unlikely to change I get REALLY weary of reading all her backwards spell casting balloons.  I realized at some point I just stopped reading them because they were all just these annoying spells that if the art was doing its job I could just basically figure out anyway.  That’s not a good sign…as a reader.  Anyway, I still liked this enough to list it as a TRADEWAIT, but not enough for a buy.