Or – “The Face That Launched A Thousand Bad Girl Knockoffs…”
The 1990’s may be remembered as the dawn of the Information Age, or the decade where we finally perfected cloning, or maybe a period of economic over-exuberance. But, if you read comics from ’93 to ’98, you’ll probably think of it as I do: The “Bad Girl” Decade.
CYBLADE/SHI: THE BATTLE FOR INDEPENDENTS
Writer(s): Marc Silvestri; William Tucci; Brian Haberlin; David Wohl
Penciler(s): Marc Silvestri; Anthony Winn
Inker(s): Batt; Victor Llamas; Jason Gorder
Colorist(s): Ashby Manson; Tyson Wengler (computer); Juan Carlos Rodriguez (computer)
Letterer(s): Dennis Heisler
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $2.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00/$6.00
Previously, in Cyblade/Shi: The Battle For Independents: There were a lot of factors that led to the rise of Image Comics in the early 1990s, but one that doesn’t really get a lot of attention would be changes to the Comics Code Authority in the late 1980s, changing the code’s stance on depictions of violence and sexuality. In 2012, with the Comics Code Authority a thing of the past, it may seem silly, but the Bad Girl revolution was a sea change in the way comics were perceived and sold. The depiction of attractive people and ultra-violence was commonplace in the early days of comic books, but as independent comics blew up big in the early 90’s, nearly every other book had a half-naked female form on the cover. Cyblade, one of the founding members of Cyberforce, had been around since the earliest days of Image Comics, while Billy Tucci’s Shi had been running loose in a universe of her own for a couple of years at this point. This issue opens with a pretty impressive sequence of Ana “Shi” Ishikawa battling a pack of ninjas on a rooftop. Of course, as the battle winds down, we get a clear focus on what it is the artist is most interested in:
The French describe it best: Je ne sais quoi. (I bet you thought I was gonna say “derriere”, didn’t you?) There’s some quite confusing narration over this splash-pagey battle royale, which eventually reveals itself to be Ana’s mortal enemy Arashi talking with the head of Cyberdata (the villains from Cyberforce, as well as the single least descriptive name of anything ever) about their secret plan to eliminate both of their enemies at the same time. We then cut to the streets of New York City with a clever/confusing two-page sideways vertical splash…
Honestly, the sight of a woman in those heels and a skirt that tight talking about how uncomfortable her superhero costume is may be the most amusing thing I’ve read in a comic book in MONTHS… The focus on Cyblade’s backside and unlikely cleavage again solidly hammers home the era of comics in which we’re reading, as surely as Stan Lee dialogue or Hitler getting punched would bring home their eras. To be fair, there’s a lot more plot than I remember from the first time, but it’s still pretty straight-forward: SHOC troopers bust in, but Cyblade is stunned to find them stalking Ana instead of herself, and the battle goes poorly for Ana and Dominique. Cyblade goes down swinging, and is awakened by a face that is familiar in hindsight…
“Real Superheroines use Shaffenberger’s Skirt Glue! Keeping your unmentionables under wraps since 1949!” I’m not even a woman, and I know that the fabric dynamics of panel four are simply not possible. But, either way, that’s not the point here… The point is a weird Venn diagram of the meeting point of female empowerment, T&A and fighty-fighty. Detective Pezzini trails Cyblade to her home (nice secret identity there, Dominique) while the Cyberdata goons transform Shi into their latest cybernetic operative of evil, a process which essentially boils down to putting a hat on her. I’d have thought that cybernetic enhancements might have been more invasive than that, but at least we get another good butt-shot out of the deal. And speaking of fanservice…
“I’m the g******ed Witchblade, and my spine is killing me. I’ve been crouching out here for twenty minutes waiting for you to give me a good entrance line.” The elongated proportions and bulbous protuberances of the 1990’s are in full force here, but this is honestly not the most egregious example in recent memory. I honestly didn’t remember Witchblade’s part of this story at all, and was a little bit surprised to recall that this is actually her first chronological appearance. The basic look of her armor here is actually quite striking, now that I look at it. Our titular (no snickering) blades, both Witch and Cy, set out to find Ana, and end up engaging a squadron of SHOC’s in battle. Witchblade brings a smile to my face by calling Dominique “Cy” (she liked their spatulas so much, she bought the company!) while Cyblade is distracted trying to shake her old friend out of a mind-controlled blood fury…
One side-effect of Image Comics being artist-founded came in terms of layout, as seen here, as the storytelling is adapted to work around a full-page shot of Cyblade in her full armor. Some would say that it’s because the pages sell better in the secondary market, but I don’t know if that’s all of the story. The battle between Cyblade and Shi turns ugly, leading to a pretty shocking moment where Shi counters a psionic energy attack by… MURDERING CYBLADE IN HER TRACKS!
She got better. It turns out that the power of the Witchblade can reverse the effects of death, or at least the effects of death on a cyborg
Psylocke psionic superhero girl killed by energy blasts… or something. I’m not entirely sure what that explosion at the end is all about, either. The last few pages of the issue are a short history (told in the first person) of the Witchblade, illuminating it’s history as a magical weapon wielded entirely by women who wear very little on the upper half of their body, leading to a fateful moment on the battlefields of WWII-era France.
I don’t know much about Vichy France, mind you, but I suspect that the olive-drab catsuit with cleavage is a bit of an anachronism… I had a completely different comic book in mind for this week’s Retro Review (I was in a Red Scare Simon & Kirby vein, if you’re interested in obscure hints), but writing some Ebay copy for a big run of Shi comics made me want to revisit this issue. I’ve always kind of been on the fence about the Bad Girl trend in general, as the worst of it (things like Nude Covers and girl-girl makeout sessions and such) is pretty bad.
But, the ravages of time and memory have been somewhat kinder to this particular issue than I expected, and even Mark Silvestri’s back-breaking anatomy doesn’t ruin the reading experience. Certainly the plot is rudimentary and more than a little bit vague, and all of the bizarre stream-of-consciousness drug trip imagery is in part two (which disappoints me as well), but I think that the endless barrage of knock-offs and increasingly naked variants has given this book a subtle quaintness that kinda tickles me. Cyblade/Shi: The Battle For Independents #1 isn’t a classic of modern literature, but it holds up better than I expected, earning a middle-of-the-road 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. Hard to believe that Witchblade is almost TWENTY YEARS OLD, isn’t it?