Saturday, October 23, 2010

Out of the Vault - Willow #0

So continuing our Halloween-themed cavalcade of stripper-witches, we come to Willow #0. Just to answer the question of what's more collectible than issue #1?

In this case, the zero designation was a little silly, though. Previously, the only times I had seen issues numbered zero was when a series had been going for a while, and they decided to put out some kind of promotional prequel. At that point, the zero designation made sense, because there was already an issue #1 that they couldn't duplicate, so the issue meant to come before had to be numbered zero.

In the case of Willow, though, the series hadn't come out yet. Willow #0 was in fact issue #1 with the number filed off.

But what about the comic itself? Well, first things first: this witch named Willow has nothing to do with Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. In fact, it came out the year before Buffy's series debuted. This Willow also has nothing to do with the George Lucas-Ron Howard film.

It was published in 1996 by a company called Angel Entertainment (seriously, Willow and Angel? Was Joss a fan of this comic or what?) and was put together by Dave Campiti's Glass House Graphics. I've mentioned Campiti before; he's been involved with a bunch of different comics properties including Banzai Girl. The comic was written by Mary Ann Evans and pencilled by Michael Dutkiewicz. I've tried to find anything else that Mary Ann Evans has written, but all I find are references to George Eliot, the pen name of the woman who wrote Silas Marner (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans). Which leads me to wonder if perhaps this Mary Ann Evans is in fact the pen name of a male writer (maybe Campiti himself, who is credited with creating the character along with someone named Mark Jones).

Issue #0 opens with Willow doing some sort of magical ceremony involving her wearing a robe and kneeling on a pentagram, surrounded by cobra-shaped censers. She stands up and starts peeling the robe off, and it is revealed that she is actually on-stage in a strip club, performing. Meanwhile, the narration tells us about the power inherent in sexuality, and that unfulfilled sexual desire can be the most powerful of all.

It's the kind of masturbatory pretension you see all the time when a writer thinks they're better than the material. I mean, the reason Willow is a stripper is that the book is intended to sell to teenage boys. But Mary Ann Evans (or whoever) wants to make it seem like stripping is a much more significant and empowering act than it really is. I say this with no insult intended to strippers; I'm quite fond of the business in many ways. But it becomes pretty obvious that Evans has little actual knowledge of the way the business works.

Dutkiewicz does, though. For instance, he shows some pretty convincing pole work in this sequence (basic pole work, but still...).

Although this points up another curious fact about Willow. The nudity is kept strictly PG. Willow spends five pages topless with nary a nipple in sight. What's even weirder is that this issue was released with a variant cover that apparently does show Willow topless. I wonder if the interior art was also more explicit? I doubt it, but then, what's the point?

Once she has the crowd warmed up, Willow rubs herself with "special ointment" and then transforms into an owl on-stage and flies away. A patron in the crowd is so excited by this that he runs backstage to see the manager of the club, who is... Willow, in a sensible suit.

The patron, a Mister Pucci, says he's in show business and offers to manage Willow's career and turn her into a big star. He's a seedy character, so she refuses. He storms out angrily, promising that she'll be sorry.

Later, Willow dons a black velvet dress for a Sabbath celebration. She leaves the house with her familiar, a black cat named Eddie. Pucci follows them to a field where several other vehicles are parked, including a helicopter. Willow and Eddie meet several other women in a sacred grove, where Willow starts the ritual, which is fairly convincingly Wiccan (which is to say, it seemed to be based on real research to me, but I know little about Wicca, so I could be entirely wrong). And with each step of the ritual, Willow mentions that the Goddess will provide.

Meanwhile, Pucci is hiding in the shadows, snapping photos of the ritual. He intends to publicize the photos in order to ruin Willow's career, since she won't be able to perform anywhere once the public learns that she has performed a Satanic ritual. Putting aside the standard Wiccan objection that Wicca does not equal Satanism, his plan makes no sense, given that 1) we've already seen that Willow owns her own club, so it's not as if she'll be fired, and 2) we've already seen her do a ritual on stage as part of her act, so it's not as if it's a big secret.

Doesn't matter, anyway. Eddie the cat leaps on Pucci, flushing him into the clearing, where he is caught by the witches and dragged to the altar.

Poor Mister Pucci. He was a sleaze, but he didn't deserve to die.

A few days later, we see Willow in the club again, where she announces to all the girls in the dressing room that the club is making so much money that she's going to pay them each an extra $250 a week, which is stupid on so many levels, I can't even start to unpack it. And then she goes out on stage with a new "dance partner."

And on the one hand, yeah, ha-ha, he wasn't killed, just humiliated by being turned into a goat. Big twist.

But on the other hand, it's such a big misfire in so many ways. I mean, okay, it takes a special kind of audacity to take the Old Testament tale of Abraham and Isaac, about as representative of old-line patriarchy as you can get, and turn it into a tale of Wiccan woman-power.

But on the other hand, this raises so many disturbing questions. The ceremony clearly implied a human sacrifice was going to take place, but instead they turned Pucci into a goat? I mean, what's the point of that? Do they do that at every Sabbath, lure some loser to the grove and then turn him into a goat? Wouldn't that create a whole hell of a lot of goats? Are there actually any natural-born goats, or all they all the byproduct of Wiccan ceremonies around the world?

More to the point, are we supposed to admire Willow for this? She's still basically taken the guy's life away, not to mention the effect on any family or friends he may have, and for what? Because he was a sleaze?

And of course, most disturbing of all, what the hell kind of stripper act is she going to do with a goat?

Anyway, there's a brief epilogue where she gets some evil artifact in the mail that's supposed to carry us into the plot of issue #1, but who cares? I'm still mad about poor Mister Pucci. And apparently, the readers agreed with me, because Willow only lasted for two more issues.

Then again, we're still talking about mostly unknown (and perhaps pseudonymous) creators working for a tiny independent publisher. What happens when a powerhouse publisher like Image and a top-flight writer like Alan Moore decide to do a comic about a stripper-witch?

Find out next week.

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