Monday, February 21, 2011

Old Trade Review: Daughters of the Dragon

This trade was published in October of 2006, but I only read it this past December. For those of you who haven't picked it up yet, you need to.

First, let me talk about Khari Evans. The first time I saw his work was on the Shanna the She-Devil: Survival of the Fittest trade. I bought that because I liked Frank Cho's Shanna mini-series and figured I should read what came next. But I remember thinking, "who's this Khari Evans character?" I'd never heard the name, but the cover looked good. So I picked up the book last August. The storyline was underwhelming but the art had a certain something. It was the facial expressions, the way the characters moved, the way they dressed and did their hair and all that. It was fucking real. Sure, Evans' style is sketchy and stylized, but he draws real people. Many other artists can't say the same thing.

Then, sometime in October or November, I was reading one of my favorite comics blogs that was new to me at the time - 4thletter! - and read this post by the brilliant David Brothers. Now, prior to reading that, I'd never heard of Daughters of the Dragon. I had no idea who Colleen Wing was and only the vaguest of Misty Knight. I'd read some Power Man & Iron Fist here and there as a kid but didn't really know the characters. Before sometime last spring I hadn't read much mainstream Marvel comics since the nineties, which should explain why I hadn't. I kept up with continuity when I felt like it, but that was about it. Something about Brothers' write-up on Evans and how he portrayed Misty and Colleen so well really called out to me. I realized that they were "street heroes," which is exactly what I wanted to read right then. A story about low-powered, down-to-earth heroes that could concentrate on the characters instead of some huge continuity event that's more about spectacle and saving the world and all that boring bullshit.

I finally ordered it in December along with Immortal Iron Fist Volume 3: The Book of the Iron Fist (since it had Evans on art, but that's for another post). And it was one of the best comic-buying decisions I had ever made. I already knew that comics publishers like Dark Horse, Oni, Vertigo and Icon were putting out great books every month. Titles like Hellboy, The Goon
, Queen & Country, Scalped, and Criminal. But I had pretty much written off superhero comics completely. Daughters of the Dragon brought me back.

The art was as expected - fantastic. As I said earlier, Evans draws real people. Colleen and Misty both have very unique styles, but I believe that they would wear those clothes. Misty's outfits are a little over-the-top and outrageous, but it absolutely fits her personality. She dresses like a cross between a hip-hop diva and a street warrior. Colleen dresses a little more conservatively in tracksuits and the like. She wears various pairs of athletic shoes, the kind of shoes people wear when they're doing active stuff like, y'know, kicking the shit out of people and impaling them with a katana. No stilettos or spandex costumes here. Even Ricadonna, the Big Bad who wears heels when in civvies, switches to practical footwear when it's ass-kicking time.

Both girls also have distinct hairstyles that change throughout the miniseries. Colleen generally wears her hair long and loose, which you'd think would get in the way of samurai kung-fu action, but hey, it's still a comic book. Misty has an awesome retro-70's 'fro, sometimes with just the front part braided. Again, they have real people hair, not ridiculous giant top ponytails or anything equally silly.

And they move like real women. Yeah, there's plenty of T&A here, but it's all in the line of duty. Misty and Colleen don't just stand around posing, hips cocked out and backs arched. When they aren't fighting they walk around like badass chicks with attitude, sit on couches and easy chairs the way girls do. When they fight, their woman-parts tend to move around some, especially Misty's. She is based on Pam Grier, so she has plenty up top to bounce around. Colleen even comments that Misty doesn't wear underwear, which seems like the pot calling the kettle black. Either way, both these girls look all natural, no silicone spheres, toothpick legs and wasp waists.

Then there's the writing. Palmiotti and Gray, a duo I learned to love on
Power Girl (okay so I was reading some superhero books, but not for the right reasons), were easily able to stand up to Evans' art. The dialogue between Misty and Colleen is snappy, funny and convincing. Each character has her own distinct voice. There are many great lines in the book, but my personal favorite is when the girls show up at Punisher's warehouse to borrow some weapons for the climax showdown, and Colleen checks out Frank's collection of chainsaws: "Do much logging in Brooklyn?"

The characters are great. Misty and Colleen not only have their own voices, but their own personalities that really come through in the writing. Misty is hot-headed, emotional and has a violent temper. She has insecurities that she wants to keep hidden, but Colleen knows her too well. Colleen is cool and collected, but not emotionless by any means. The girls play very well off each other and have a convincing relationship. We don't have to be told that they're best friends with a lot of history - it comes through clearly. I really cared about both of them throughout the story. Misty and Colleen are real people, not just hot babes in tight clothes.

The plot isn't anything mind-blowing. A bunch of D-list villains steel a MacGuffin (a computer chip) from a new villainess named Ricadonna. She's a hot Italian chick who runs a fashion line or magazine or something (it's never quite clear) as a front for taking over a good piece of the Mafia action in the New York Metro area. Ricadonna also appears to be a kung-fu master and also is proficient with firearms. She starts killing off the thieves one by one, and Humbug, probably the most ridiculous of them all, approaches Misty Knight to try to save his own life. He gives her the chip, which turns out to be some sort of doomsday computer virus that Ricadonna plans to sell to the highest evil bidder at an evil auction to be held in a few days. Ricadonna appears on the scene, beats the shit out of Misty and takes back the chip, setting everything up for the final showdown. Danny Rand joins up with the girls, which is great because you can never have too much Iron Fist. They all show up at the auction and a huge beatdown ensues. It doesn't really matter that we've all seen this before, because it's still awesome every time, and the characters are so good.

It's really too bad this didn't become an ongoing series, although it paved the way for the Heroes for Hire ongoing that came out soon after. It's great to see a book with lead characters that are both female and minorities. Daughters of the Dragon: Samurai Bullets is a great change of pace and an all-around great story. Read it.

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