It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on here, partially because I’ve been finishing my own comic ‘The Trade’ and partially because I haven’t had as much time to read comics for a little while but as of late I’ve managed to squeeze a few more in.
Today I’m going to talk about the series ‘Flintlock’ by Steve Tanner from Time bomb comics.
First of all I’d like to point out that very rarely do I buy action comics, partially because I love horror and fantasy work and partially because sometimes it can be really uncomfortable reading for a woman, I’d also like to make the point that I’m quite often weary of female characters written by men for similar reasons of uncomfortableness. Quite often I speak to comic writers who write female characters to appeal to the ever growing crowd of young women attending conventions and flooding comic book shops, usually as a cynical cash in rather than a nuanced representation of women and fairly often as a way of sneaking some pin up work onto the cover to keep their male audience happy.
I’m fairly happy to say that Flintlock doesn’t fall into those categories and in fact is a really refreshing read.
The books each have 3 characters with their own short stories split three ways in the books: Lady Flintlock whom the books are titled after, Shianti the pirate queen and The Clockwork Cavalier. I’m mostly going to focus on Shianti and Flintlock even though I really enjoyed Clockwork Cavalier (which also has my favourite art work by Ed Machiavello in the books)
I strongly believe that representation in the media has larger effects on society than is given credit. The philosopher Jaques Rancier in his book ‘The Politics of Aesthetics’ talks about how systems of privilege and oppression work primarily through the aesthetic, determining who has a voice and who is represented in society. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the aesthetic has both preserved a pecking order throughout history, but has also been used to challenge the status quo in the favour of the oppressed. It is with this theory in mind that I believe and support positive representation of oppressed races, genders and sexualities in mainstream and indie culture, as it contributes to change in our society and how people are viewed in our society.
It is with my view on representation in mind that I will talk about the Flintlock books. I was thrilled when I saw that two out of the three characters were not only women, but also graced the covers as major characters rather than filler material, and I was even happier with their costuming and poses. The front cover of the first issue has both Shianti and Lady Flintlock, both stood in strong action poses, both fully clothed in period costume rather than in bikini variants, book two of Flintlock has Lady Flintlock astride her horse looking completely badass and powerful.
The old adage is that ‘Sex sells’. It is very refreshing to see creators starting to ignore this, and providing varied characters for comic readers to look up to. When I say this it’s not that I believe that sexuality is bad, but rather that I believe that it shouldn’t be all that exists, nor should it be the only thing taken into consideration when formulating a character. Flintlock from the get go presents us with female characters who are defined by their actions rather than their sexual worth, and while a lot of work that depicts female characters staring passively into the distance, both Lady Flintlock and Shianti stare us in the eye, confronting the reader and establishing power.
The above panel is the first page that confronted me as I opened Flintlock 1, it’s extremely striking and sets the tone for the first story, which is of course Lady Flintlock, the story of a female highwayman. I will try not to go into too much depth story wise as I genuinely would like anyone who reads this to pick up a copy for yourselves, but the overall story between the two issues follows Lady Flintlock in her double life and centres a lot around the mysterious reasons she is a highwayman and the retaliations of the rich folk she steals from. The story overall reminds me a lot of an 18th century batman story, with a more sympathetic protagonist. The work is imaginatively written, staying within the confines of history but still generating excitement and flare and still having empowered female characters, something that is quite often lacking from period work. Flintlock herself is a very interesting character, portrayed as both being very capable in a fight but also quick on her feet against adversity. It was interesting to me that the artist Anthony Summey didn’t shy away from showing Flintlock also taking a beating, this might sound like strange praise but too often are strong women beaten down in stories and suddenly powerless, this didn’t happen here, it was portrayed similarity to how a fight between two men might be.
I was genuinely slightly bummed when I finished Lady Flintlock in issue 2 as I wanted more answers about her background and intentions, I was however quite happy to see more of Lizzie in issue 2 and look forward to seeing more of their friendship in issue 3.
My personal favourite character out of the three title characters in Flintlock is Shanti (drawn by Lorenzo Nicoletta)
Her character design is interesting and it’s really cool that a woman of colour was put in such a place of power as a pirate queen. And to mention sexualisation yet again there is a lack of it in Shanti design, the poses she’s in are strong and her costumes aren’t designed to show flesh, and as a woman of colour she doesn’t exist to be exotic or fetishised because of her background, she is surrounded by men who respect her ability and wisdom rather than as a damsel.
As I previously stated I won’t go to much into the story lest I ruin it but Shanti is portrayed as an often brutal but also principled pirate captain with an extremely loyal crew. The Shanti stories have a far more dreamlike quality in the telling and despite being grounded in realism feel like a fantasy story at times. She’s shown as being very capable and using both her wits and prowess as a fighter. while at times I found her methods violent and sometimes hard to look at I also found myself respecting her logic and principles and agreed with her judgements if not her punishments.
The enthusiasm for the subject matter of all three characters really seeps through the writing of Flintlock. Steven Tanner has clearly thought a lot about the the characters he’s created and you can really feel the love for them in the work. The history of the period has been thoroughly researched and I was delighted to find some of that research shared in both books, talking about the real women who were highwaymen and pirates.
While the work isn’t without faults, I would say it’s nuanced and researched enough that the positives definately outweigh the negatives, I would possibly criticise Clockwork Cavalier for example as there are no women at all in the story bar two in the background of the first issue, while the stories are pretty short I would still expect more at least visible if not necissarily speaking but that is a fairly minor criticism. But I think Flintlock is a series we’re intent shines through and I was I left feeling very positive about the work.
While some may argue that it’s problematic to praise work both written by and drawn by men about women I would argue that acceptance of women in a male saturated community needs male creators like Steve who are both welcoming and thoughtful towards female readers. I have had the pleasure of meeting Steve and attending several of the same conventions with him, and one of the draws of purchasing Flintlock for me was seeing so many young women and teenagers buying the Flintlock books and being respectfully catered to and welcomed at his stall. I believe that seeing positive and varied depictions of women in comics, not to fill a niche but as quality work will encourage more women to be involved in the creative side of the comic community. This is why I chose to review Flintlock and why I recommend it as a series to follow and support.