Saturday, May 23, 2009

Out of the Vault - Flaxen: Alter Ego

Flaxen: Alter EgoIn the 70's, Marvel came out with a superhero book titled The Human Fly, billed as "The Wildest Super-Hero Ever--Because He's Real!" The Human Fly was one of a number of real-life figures who were featured in their own comic books for whatever reasons, including this week's star attraction, Flaxen.

I was reminded of this book when I went to see "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" last weekend. In the credits, I noticed that one of the storyboard artists listed was a guy named Tim Burgard, and I thought, "That name sounds familiar. I think I have some comics by that guy."

Yes, I am that geeky.

So I looked him up on line and sure enough, he'd worked on at least one comic in my collection, an odd little one-shot published by Dark Horse titled Flaxen.

So I looked through the slice of my collection that I keep in my house (do you ever wonder why I do so many comics starting with B and D and E and O and P?), and could not find the original Flaxen. I did find a second one-shot featuring the character, though, this one published by Caliber Comics with some surprises of its own.

So what's the deal with Flaxen, anyway? Well, the whole story can be found here, but the gist is that a comic book store in L.A. designed a female super-hero to use as a logo and at some point asked a pretty female customer to appear at conventions in the costume as their mascot.

Susie Owens in the original Flaxen costumeThing is, this was no ordinary customer. This was Susie Freaking Owens. She had one of those Richard Simmons/Susan Powter backstories (once frumpy, now fabulous, thanks to diet and exercise and self-discipline) that makes for great TV. And she was a former Playboy Playmate (March 1988).

So pretty soon, all the boys wanted to play with Susie. Steve Rude and Mark Evanier suggested a Flaxen comic book, which was published by Dark Horse with a gorgeous Steve Rude painting on the cover. The comic wasn't very good, but it got Susie lots of media exposure and got her out to lots of conventions, where she met more comics creators and fans.

And a couple of years later in 1995, Caliber Comics came out with Flaxen: Alter Ego, a sort-of sequel to the original Flaxen comic.

A girl and her dogThe comic starts as Flaxen wakes up to an earthquake in L.A. She throws on the "nearest clothes" at hand (she must have been clubbing hard the night before if that shirt is the first thing she has to grab) and flies out over the city to see whom she can help. But a mysterious figure hypnotizes the people into blaming Flaxen for the earthquake, and they pelt her with rocks and garbage. Heartbroken, she flies back home and takes solace in the fur of her wolf-hybrid dog, Jesse (yes, that's really her dog).

Meanwhile, news flash! Teenage Girl Depressed! Film at 11 (10 Central)!

So Flaxen decides to go for another flight out over the city to clear her head or something, because the last one was such a stunning success. And she meets her old self, dumpy Nurse Cora, only with glowing red eyes. She bursts into flame and reveals herself as Dark Flaxen or something, then leads Susie to a crack house (so we can have an obligatory fight scene).

As it happens, depressed teenage girl has progressed to suicidal teenage girl. She decides to visit the very same crack house to buy some drugs so she can OD. That'll show everybody.

I'm the fat, lazy, part of you that wants to live--what?
Once Flaxen has mopped the floor with the crack house thugs, Dark Flaxen reappears and the two have their final confrontation, in which we learn that Dark Flaxen is the part of Susie that likes being fat and lazy and depressed, but Susie likes her new hotness and refuses to give it up or be ashamed of it. So she blows Dark Flaxen to bits in a fury of self-affirmation or something. Take that, haters!

And that's the problem with Flaxen: Alter Ego in a nutshell. Susie Owens is right; she has nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that she was able to use self-discipline to transform her body and her life in ways that made her successful and (mostly) happy is something to be proud of.

But it makes for shitty comics. Seriously. The vanity oozing out of every page and caption just becomes overwhelming after a while. Not to mention (which is a stupid expression, because here I am mentioning it) the fact that Flaxen's origin in the comic dispenses with the most inspiring part of Susie's story. In the comic, Cora is a fat, depressed nurse who is randomly struck by lightning or something and becomes super-powered and super-hot. No effort or self-discipline required.

So just what no-talent hacks did the mighty Susie rope into putting together her little vanity project?

The book was written (horribly) by James Hudnall, who has done some good solid work, like Espers and Hardcase (for Malibu's Ultraverse line, before Marvel first bought it, then killed it).

It was inked by a guy named David Mack, who has gained acclaim as the artist of Kabuki and Daredevil.

And it was penciled by a guy who figured out, shortly after this, that his talents lay more in writing comics than drawing them: Brian Michael Bendis (Jinx, Powers, Marvel's Secret Invasion).

I'm serious, what's up with that shirt?I don't blame these guys for anything, though. Seriously, the power of the pussy is something we all fall victim to eventually, in greater or lesser ways. After all, even after reading the original Flaxen, I still spent money on the sequel.


Because Susie Owens was at a convention here in Tulsa hawking the book, and buying one and getting her to sign it gave me an excuse to talk to her for a few minutes. She was hot. It was a good moment.

See, I'm a victim, too.

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