Jun 17, 2018

George Perez's Swan Song: Sirens

George Perez has said he's basically retired. George is my favorite artist of all time, the most important artist of my life, and I've talked about him at length. I've talked about JLA/Avengers. I've gone over his Wonder Woman. I've discussed his New Teen Titans and his run on the 1998 Avengers. Sachs and Violens was one of the first comics I reviewed for The Comics Cube. Most recently, I've gone over the Infinity Gauntlet. I've even gone over Crimson Plague. Most recently, I've covered his very underrated CrossGen run. Today, I'll be going over what turned out to be his swan song: Sirens, from Boom! Studios.

George Perez's Sirens
by Duy

In 2013, George Perez left his exclusive contract at DC Comics, citing the desire for more creative freedom, and signed with Boom! Studios. In 2014, what was supposed to be his first series, Sirens (originally titled She-Devls), debuted. Sirens is like Perez's previous creator-owned work Crimson Plague in the sense that every character in it is based on a real person, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. Crimson Plague was a solo book; Sirens was a team book. Crimson Plague asked for fans to submit their photos so Perez could use them as models; Sirens uses Perez's friends, most notably a number of cosplayers whom he cast as the leads. And of course, Crimson Plague never finished; Sirens did.

Fanisha, bottom center, is based on Perez's wife, Phoenica Flynn.

The first thing that'll pop out at you when reading Sirens is that it's all over the place, mainly because it's a time-traveling jaunt. It starts in Viking times, with dragons and barbarians, and before long we're in the Wild West, Victorian England, 1980s New York, samurai-era Japan, and the Roman Empire. You can kinda tell that it's Perez writing stuff he wants to draw.

Perez clearly had fun designing these costumes as well, and he even has the Sirens' leader, Highness, providing commentary on female superhero costumes.

There's a bit of a debate among superhero fans about the appropriateness of female superhero costumes. They're impractical, and no one would wear them into battle, for the most part — but this is a series based on cosplayers, and it's obvious that they love dressing up in these things, so practicality takes a backseat to looking aesthetically pleasing, not just to the male gaze but also to what women would like to see themselves dressed up in.

For my part, I've long thought it's got more to do with posing and how people are drawn rather than the costume itself. A great artist can make anyone look imposing, threatening, and respectful, while an artist determined to be salacious can take a fully clothed woman and pose her in such a way that would still be deemed inappropriate. Adding to that argument is the character of Agony, based on professional wrestler April Hunter, and who dresses up like a professional wrestler:

I get a little weirded out with the number of scenes with sexual overtones in this series, knowing full well that Perez has always been a vocal and open advocate of sexiness in comics. It's always a little weird to see male artists put female characters into such sexually compromising positions, so often. Highness gets introduced while naked and in chains, having been a prisoner and "rented" out to various men during captivity, before she breaks out. Akira/Kage is a geisha walking away from that life. And Skywire is a Victorian-era prostitute who makes no apologies for it.

I think there are three things that ultimately make it okay for me. The first is that Perez is a friend of all the women involved, and they absolutely adore him, so presumably they all consented to their corresponding portrayals. The second is that I'm fairly certain if a woman wrote the same thing, I wouldn't even be thinking about it. And the third is the fact that all of these circumstances are an inversion of power. Kage is a geisha who's also the world's greatest samurai. Highness is introduced in chains so she can break out of it and lead this team. Skywire lures in Jack the Ripper, specifically so she can kill him.

Perez also is fairly literally ambitious with this story, employing some overt symbolism. A Macguffin in this story is the blade of a villain named Perdition, Highness' former lover:

And here's the ship the Sirens travel in:

But the true ambition comes in how Perez attempts to explain all the time travel and the alternate realities it causes. Perdition's blade cleaves time and space, so we have a near-infinite number of realities (and how fitting is it that Perez's swan song comes with a multiversal crisis?), and it's there where the character of Chan Everest, aka Bombshell, takes center stage. Here she is trying to prevent Highness in the Sirens ship from colliding to Earth:

She fails, and then we see this page:

Yep, it's a comic-within-a-comic. While hiding out in the mid-80s, Chan Everest drew comics of the Sirens, with the story ideas coming to her in her dreams.  That leads to some sequences that are depicted in various stage of comic book production:

Chan's inability to change the Sirens' fate in the comics belies another artistic debate about just how much of the narrative is in the control of the creator, and just how much of it is the characters taking over their own lives.

It does all ultimately tie together, though I won't spoil how here. Does it tie together well? You'll have to judge that for yourself, as I've read it three times and I think my answer is no, not really. I think the ambition gets the better of Perez in this one, unfortunately.

A couple more gripes I have with this book can be illustrated with this close-up of Bombshell.

The coloring is flat, with gradients looking like they have more distinctive endpoints and demarcations than a smooth fluid transition from one shade to another. In today's day and age when the colorists have more of an impact than ever, this just seems like a really weird choice.

But the other thing is not even something I can really legitimately gripe about, and that's that Perez's skill is so clearly fading that it makes me sad to see. He suffered tendinitis in his drawing hand in 2003, and before he signed with Boom!, he had eye surgery. This is, all things considered, still pretty good work, and if you're not a Perez fan, maybe nothing looks off at all. But I've read George Perez's work since I could read, and to see it get to a level below his overall standards, for reasons he can't control (it took two years for six issues to even come out), is just heartbreaking.

So it isn't Perez's best work, but you know what? If I could have my last work be something I created from scratch, my own project, and have it involve my family and friends? If I could get them all to see themselves in this thing I was doing? And if, among all that, I could place the woman I love front and center in this story?

 I'd say that's a pretty damn good way to go out.

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