Friday, February 10, 2006

MANTRA #2, Malibu Comics, 1993

Welcome back to Dude Looks Like a Lady Week here at Dave’s Long Box, where we take a look at gender-swapping in comics as well as the phenomenon we call Man’s Mind Trapped in Woman’s Body, as embodied by today’s entry: Mantra #2 from Malibu Comics. That sentence is going to get me some Google hits, I guarantee it.

Mantra is about a guy in a woman’s body.

Written by Mike “Batman and the Goddamn Outsiders” Barr, Mantra was one of the more popular titles in Malibu Comics’ superhero universe. I’m using the word “popular” in a relative sense – Malibu’s entire line of books withered and died in the Great Extinction of the Nineties. Mantra was about a bad-ass warrior guy who gets killed and reincarnated into the body of Eden Blake, a beautiful woman with two horrible, horrible kids. Eden gets these magic artifacts – a mask, a sword, a cloak – and begins kicking ass with her new magic powers. Wacky complications ensue, however, because Mantra is AHH! AHH! DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LAY-DAY! At least, that’s how I remember it.

I’m not going to diss Mantra because I kind of liked it. The first dozen or so issues were just good solid Boob War fun, and then it started to suck. The writing got slack, they drifted from the original gender-identity-crisis theme, and the book was plagued by irregular art. But for a while it was OK.

Plus, Mantra took a lot of showers.

Eventually Malibu re-launched Mantra but with a different lead character, and then Mantra went from “kind of sucking” straight to “full-on sucking.” Instead of Dude Looks Like a Lady, they went with a nubile 16-year old girl in lingerie who gets punched in the stomach a lot, which is not as high concept of a premise if you ask me. I should do a post about NuMantra – she gets punched in the gut in every other panel! Seriously, it’s like a strange fetish comic or something.

Mantra is told in first-person narrative; we get the male character’s thoughts in captions where he often ruefully comments on being a woman. Barr makes it clear that the male character within Mantra’s female body is kind of an asshole. He’s not very nice to Eden’s horrible, horrible kids and his actions are influenced by the weird stereotypes and misconceptions he has about women.

In addition to fighting bad guys, Mantra has all sorts of minor misadventures, like putting on a bra, applying make-up, going on a girl’s night out, feeling "not so fresh," etc. When I read the first issue I remember wondering how long I’d have to wait before she tripped in her high heels.


Ah, there it is in the second issue.

Mantra is kind of like Morrison’s The Bulleteer or Dark Horse’s Ghost, in that it wants to comment on objectification of women and whatnot, but also wants to have cheesecake art, too. I mean, it’s one thing to invest your work with subtext and meta-commentary, but I mean, come on: boobs.

Wow, I made it through the entire post without directly commenting about the actual comic itself! Hurray! Hurray Dave! Hurray boobs!

30 comments:

kyyle23 said...

I cannot agree with you more Dave. Hooray For Boobies.

Anonymous said...

Yes, hooray for boobies, indeed.

I hope Dude Looks Like A Lady Week will include what was possibly the worst full-line crossover event month idea EVER - when one of Rob Liefeld's studios decided to swap the genders of all the leads in his Extreme Studios. The result? EXTEME BABEWATCH. So if you'd always wondered what Chapel or Prophet or Knightmare would look like if they giant titties, well, 1995 was the year that provided the answer to your question.

--FMguru

philip said...

The whole conceit of "dude looks like a lady" comics bothers me. Mostly because these guys are supposedly uncomfortable in their new forms but they dress like strippers when they go out to get in fights. Man, if I woke up one day with huge cans (not my normal fanboy andromasts) and I had to go have fisticuffs with the local mob boss, I'd tape those things down as far as they could go. And I'd probably wear pants.

Scipio said...

And naturally he couldn't avoid wearing heel or simply wear his hair short.

Something most women do.

Sigh.

Derek B. Haas said...

You know, I keep (frankly magnificent) long hair now, bt if I found myself in a female body one day, I'd probably go for something short (and potentially even sassy).

I would also experiment with my newly-placed center of gravity by attempting cartwheels.

Michael said...

Come on, admit it... if most guys woke up in the body of a hot female, they'd spend a couple days just checking themselves out (if you know what I mean and I think you do). Why go out crimefighting when you can stay home with Mr. Rabbitt or something?

Anonymous said...

True that, michael.

philip said...

I think it was Steve Martin who had a bit about if men had breasts they'd never leave the house, they'd just stay home and play with them all day.

Paul S. said...

To be fair Malibu's "Ultraverse" was actually fairly popular until Marvel bought them out, canceled all of their books, and then salted the earth so nothing could grow in their place.

Try digging out some copies of Prime or Firearm sometime. They hold up pretty well.

bostonpenguincat said...

"I'd probably go for something short (and potentially even sassy)."

Someone steped in a pile of Sassy! Man, I miss Phil Hartman...

Shaenon said...

"think it was Steve Martin who had a bit about if men had breasts they'd never leave the house, they'd just stay home and play with them all day."

That was every standup comic in the history of standup comedy.

I totally love gender-switching stories. One of my favorite aspects of the crappy ones is the way the (male) writers invariably assume that, if their characters became women, they'd be incredibly hot babes with giant tits. Nobody ever turns into just a normal-looking woman. Not that normal-looking women existed in 1990s comic books, but it even happens in other media--the movie "Switched," for example, with the guy who turns into Ellen Barkin. This is so they can manipulate men with their extreme sex appeal, which gets weirder the more you think about it.

And of course the dude-as-lady has to wear hooker dresses, totter around in high heels, wrestle with butt-length hair, etc. Partly because these stories are ultimately about affirming broad gender stereotypes, not challenging them, and partly because if they got sensible haircuts and wore pants they wouldn't actually have much trouble, and the comic would be over in two issues. Maybe three if you do a storyline about periods.

Mark Hale said...

I have four or five issues of NuMantra. Horrid horrid crap. Barr was so heavily rewritten and so embarrassed about the whole thing he had hi name removed from the credits box. There is literally a blank where his name should have been.

I loved the Ultraverse so much. Damn you, Marvel.

Derek B. Haas said...

In retrospect, I shouldn't necessarily post my ideas about What To Do In Case Of Extreme Body Modification when I'm that goddamn tired.

Jon said...

I really like the couple of issues of Hero with the Dude Looks Like a Lady theme, even if the ending is a little... weird. That guy was more terrified than anything else, which I accepted as a sort of natural reaction to such an unnatural situation.

Jer said...

shaenon -

"One of my favorite aspects of the crappy ones is the way the (male) writers invariably assume that, if their characters became women, they'd be incredibly hot babes with giant tits. ... This is so they can manipulate men with their extreme sex appeal, which gets weirder the more you think about it."

This is a variation on one of those universal Laws of Comedy, where if a man dresses as a woman, he will be mistaken for a highly attractive woman and Hilarity Will Ensue. I think most writers get it from old vaudville routines via Bugs Bunny cartoons.

zhoen said...

Or that all men would really like to love another man, but only if he had boobs and... well.

Why can't a woman be more like a man?

Any wonder girls don't read comics that much?

Ok, ok, I'll go read Usagi Yojimbo and Fortean Times...

zailo said...

David, maybe you could do a post not about male superheroes who are transformed into females but the ones who pull their penises back between their legs, put on a mini-skirt, slap on some lipstick and go out to hustle a few quick bucks. I mean catch criminals.

Anonymous said...

"I think it was Steve Martin who had a bit about if men had breasts they'd never leave the house, they'd just stay home and play with them all day."

Unfortunately, I know this is not true.

Brian Cronin said...

You mentioned NuMantra getting punched in the guts, but you forgot the cooler ridiculous aspect of the comic!

In THREE of the first FOUR issues, there is a scene where the lead character loses her top!

Yes, that's right - three separate occasions in four comics, they managed to come up with scenes where she lost her top (once was even in her civilian identity).

It was so hilariously awesome.

arizonateach said...

Bur Brian, wasn't NuMantra a teenager? Cause ew.

As far as the Steve Martin bit, it was in LA Story.

Edward Liu said...

michael says: "Come on, admit it... if most guys woke up in the body of a hot female, they'd spend a couple days just checking themselves out"

One of the reasons why I loved "Farscape" so much was that in the body-switching episode (the easiest way to do a "Dude looks like a laaaddaaaayy" story), hot male lead Crichton ends up in the body of hot female lead Aeryn. In a quieter moment of the episode, "he" does indeed unzip his vest and check himself out. Or herself. Or him as her. You know what I mean, dammit. The best part is when he gets this big grin on his face and starts jumping up and down, before getting interrupted.

To my knowledge, this is the only show that has ever shown what a man would really do when trapped in a woman's body.

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David Campbell said...

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Anonymous said...

First of all, her name was not "Eve Eden," the woman's name was "Eden Blake."

Second, the kids were not both terrible. The little girl, "Evie," was a really good little kid.

The boy, Gus, was a typical sullen rebellious kid of about 12, until the beginning of the "new" Mantra series, when he became a for real little monster.

The whole concept was incredible. Mantra was kind of a Trinity -- Lukasz the warrior, who came back from death and inhabited the body of Eden Blake, who then turned into this msytical female superhero who began to develop a persona of her own -- "Mantra."

Lukasz slowly and very haltingly seemed to reconcile himself with the female portion of his being, even as he began to fall in love with Eden.

I would love to see the character resurrected -- the original concept, not the Laurie Sherwood Valley Girl Babysitters Mantra the Marvel used to destroy the entire comic.

I think if it was done seriously, in the vein of say Sin City, the newest Batman, or the Underworld movies, "MANTRA" could be an incredible film.

Chad Maddison said...

Excuse me, but I'm looking for help. See, I used to collect a ton of Ultraverse titles pre-crossover and I just happen to come across them again. I was wondering if you would know where I could go just to price them. Not really interested in selling, but I used to keep up on all of that back in the day and just don't know where to get started.

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