After one of the more decisive – surprisingly so, all things considered – victories of late, there are spoilers ahead for…
Bettie Page #5
Writer: David Avallone
Artist: Bane Wade
Cover A: Joseph Michael Linsner
“I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.” – Bettie Page
After a prolific career as a model, Bettie Page – often referred to as Betty – disappeared from the public eye, but the dark-haired beauty known for iconic bangs and her not-exactly prudish catalog of work didn’t disappear from the minds of her fans.
When the late Dave Stevens created The Rocketeer, the high-flying hero’s best gal was a young model and actress with dark hair and bangs named Betty, and with that, a new generation of fans was born. Stevens wasn’t the only artist to find inspiration from Bettie Page; I’m fairly certain that my first, er, exposure to her was via the pages I’d seen of The Rocketeer, but it’s possible that I might have first seen her in the work of Olivia, for whom Bettie was also something of a muse.
When Disney brought Cliff Secord (The Rocketeer’s alter ego) to the big screen, they brought Betty along for the flight, but, concerned about potential legal ramifications, renamed her Jenny, and modified her character a bit. (Which is a shame, because I, for one, would have loved to have seen Jennifer Connelly vamping it up Bettie-style.)
Many others who sought to capitalize on Bettie’s fandom were considerably less concerned about issues of legality, and the mysterious Ms. Page was front-and-center in comics beyond The Rocketeer, where she had fun, playful, mildly salacious – especially compared to her actual, er, body of work – adventures, illustrated by some of the great “good girl” artists.
Bettie is fun to draw, and, as I’ve said in the past, I think that if you do any sort of pin-up/”good girl” art, you’re legally obligated to draw Bettie Page at least once. Here’s one of my legally-required humble contributions to the genre:
Sometime in the early ‘90s, Bettie Page resurfaced. Her “disappearance” wasn’t exactly mysterious: she had simply quit modelling and had no idea that she had created or retained such a loyal following. Upon discovering that she was alive and lived nearby, Dave Stevens reached out to her, and the two became good friends. Stevens fought to ensure that she got at least some part of the profits her image had generated for others, and served as something of a caretaker for her, even going so far as to drive her to the bank to deposit her Social Security checks. Page and Stevens both died the same year, although the much-younger Stevens preceded her in death.
In any case, as is evidenced by the existence of this comic, Bettie still has her fans.
The conceit of this new series is that Bettie’s “secret diary” has been discovered, and the comic is recounting the exciting events of her secret life in 1951. It leans considerably less-heavily on the sexy outfits and light bondage of some of her other comic adventures, focusing instead on her involvement in Cold War-era intrigue and fifth column conspiracies of a Hollywood B-movie nature.
This issue is kind of a wrap-up of her initial adventure, which found her on the run from the Feds, who had busted in on one of her photoshoots, ostensibly in response to the shoot’s violation of obscenity laws.
As she finds herself at a secret Air Force base on her way back to New York from LA, losing patience with the intrusive tests the government is performing on her and their refusal to answer questions, she learns that the raid was just a ruse, as the Feds were actually after the necklace she was wearing for the photoshoot, which was the key to this experimental flying saucer, which is how – seemingly by coincidence – she ended up in Hollywood, caught up in a plot to use a mind-control device and the aforementioned flying saucer to sow panic throughout the country.
With that sorted, Bettie is eager to get back to New York, but some giant, mutant scorpions have other plans. Mostly they plan on attacking the base. After Bettie heroically leads the scorpions into a trap, the issue ends with our beloved and heroic pin-up queen being offered the chance to become a full-fledged secret agent.
I mostly started reading this comic out of my fondness for Bettie – who has also appeared in some recent new Rocketeer comics published by Dark Horse, one of which featured Bettie putting on the leather jacket and strapping in to the rocket pack, an image that has proven popular with several cosplayers – and because one of the covers for the first issue featured an homage to an iconic image from the original Rocketeer comics, illustrated by Terry and Rachel Dodson.
While it’s been mildly entertaining, I’m not certain I’m going to continue reading it. I haven’t actually added it to my pull list at the comic shop, so it’s mostly been a matter of me remembering to look for it when new issues come out, so even if I don’t deliberately stop reading it, the odd are that one of these times I’ll forget to pick it up, and then I’ll fall behind, and then I’ll just give up on it. (That sort of process of attrition is how I stop reading a lot of comics, actually.)
My biggest complaint is the art. I liked the artist on the first issue, but since then, it seems, they haven’t been able to hold on to a regular artist. And while the art on this issue isn’t bad, it’s just…well, if you’re going to produce a comic about a pin-up queen, it seems like you’d want to have an artist who excels at that style of art.
Admittedly, this series doesn’t really focus on the tongue-in-cheek sexiness of some of Bettie’s other adventures, but even so, as much it seems in character – at least for the Bettie who lives in the imaginations of her fans – for her to be a full-speed-ahead spitfire who’s not about to take any guff from anyone, Charlie, as she’s presented here, there’s no denying that the visuals are part of her appeal.
“Black bangs, seamed stockings and snub-nosed 6″ stilettos. These are Bettie Page signatures, anyone who dons them wears her crown. Although the fantasy world of fetish/bondage existed in some form since the beginning time, Bettie is the iconic figurehead of it all. No star of this genre existed before her. Monroe had predecessors, Bettie did not.” – Olivia De Beradinis
In this issue, there’s a sort of half-hearted attempt at sexiness, as she ties the shirt of her borrowed military fatigues in a midriff-baring knot, but…ehh.
It’s not bad art, but it just doesn’t fit. Given that Dynamite lists a different artist entirely on their site, it’s possible that this was something of a rushed, fill-in job. I don’t know; I’m not familiar with either artist. (It could just be a pseudonym the artist is using in the actual book’s credits, for all I know, and for all that I’m too lazy to look into it any further.)
The ideal alternative to a “good girl” artist is to go more cartoonish. Something similar to the style of Bruce Timm, or the late Darwyn Cooke (Aw, now I made myself sad. Well, sadder; I was already sad thinking about the loss of Dave Stevens), or J. Bone, who provided the art for one of the variant covers.
One thing I find interesting is that the comic is rated Teen+, but because this is a comic from Dynamite, there are always multiple variant covers for each issue, some of which are photo variants, featuring pictures of Bettie, including some of her nude photos. Granted, those variants aren’t just sitting on the shelf for anyone to grab, but I just find the contrast mildly amusing, particularly given, as I mentioned earlier, her comic book adventures tend to be incredibly tame in their sexiness compared to her real-life adventures.
My other, nit-picky complaint is that nowhere along the line did anyone catch that they kept saying “hangers” instead of “hangars.”
Still, despite my complaints about the art, and the proofreading, or lack thereof, I do like this narrative approach to Bettie Page, as it presents her as a Lois Lane-esque, tough-as-nails crusader who runs towards danger rather than away from it, and who looks good in heels, while taking out heels with a good right hook, and with something of a nod to the kinds of Bettie Page comics that have come before, without going all-in with the silly salaciousness.
So, I guess we’ll just have to see if I remember to grab #6 when it hits the stands.