Heroes can be girls. Let me try to make that abundantly clear at this point. I know, from the outside-actual-physical-comic-book world of pop culture of movies and television, women have never been given their appropriate due in terms of heroism and strength. The Catwoman movie was a total bust, and that’s not to say Halle Barry isn’t a capable actress (hence the Oscar), but something about ripped pants doesn’t inspire heroism. The Supergirl movie didn’t leave nearly the lasting impression that her male cousin’s first foray into colored cinema did. Following in the vein of Catwoman, Elektra did not inspire anyone either. Plus, she is kind of sort of maybe possibly a villain.
So where does that leave women in the world of superheroes? On a day to day basis, people will typically go for their Wonder Women or their Storms from the X-Men, but what about the other ones? The ones that need a stronger push to show their heroism?
What about Kung Fu Telekinesis?
“Takio” is an original graphic novel (a fancy term for a really thick comic book, either containing a collection of individual comics that compose a story or, in this book’s case, a wholly original tale) that shares the spotlight on two sisters: Taki, the elder of the two, and Olivia. Two sisters from a bi-racial family, one of whom is adopted (we’re not told specifically who is the adopted one until the end). These sisters, much to their chagrin, are instructed by their mother to never be apart. Taki, of course, loathes this responsibility. She comes to loathe it more when, one evening, her sister and herself are granted super powers by Taki’s best friend’s dad, a super-smart-soon-to-be-mad-scientist.
What could have turned into a tale done and done again is actually a rip-roaring, super-witty romp through the concept of “what you would do if granted super powers”. And not just any super powers, as we are informed by Olivia.
Kung Fu Telekinesis.
Original. Fresh. Funny.
The author, Brian Michael Bendis, some would consider the Big Man of Marvel Comics right now. Marvel Comics being the publisher that owns Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, etc. He’s been one of the chief architects that has been steering the company towards a lot of their recent successes for about ten years now. Anything this man touches, any property that is reworked through him, typically will become one of the best selling series in the business.
So, taking time away from all the big names to do a smaller project through Marvel Comics’ independent publisher, Icon Imprint (where their big name creators can do their own properties, like Takio) is a big, gutsy-filled move. Fortunately, Bendis writes with a flair and style that is completely unto his own. His characters speak with rapid prose making the dialogue flow easily and naturally. These are characters that possess humanistic traits and characteristics that we can relate to. Which, I believe, is one of the big draws to this book. Before we delve too into that, though, writing a comic is only half the battle.
Michael Avon Oeming is Bendis’ artistic collaborator. Oeming is a different flair of artistic talent, compared to what some may consider “typical” comic art. I am not referring to the churned out pieces of work that appears on lunch boxes and stickers. Oeming’s characters are not as streamlined as one would expect a superstar artist to be, but his characters have something that draws you in.
Emotions are conveyed with an intensity that is extremely overt. Scenes are crafted with a constant focus on atmosphere, creating positive vibes with happiness in the character’s tones. Or extremely moody, heavy emphasis on shadows, when doom and gloom is looming on the horizon. Oeming can do it all.
- To sidetrack with an important lesson on artists, an extremely wise man on the matter of comics, Michael Camp of Heroes & Villains Comic Book Store in Tucson, told me that many young artists that want a job in the business, but don’t get why they are never hired, need only think one thought. They may be able to draw the most intense picture of Captain America throwing his shield or Batman jumping off a building, but, can they draw two people naturally sitting with a cup of coffee? That’s where the real challenge occurs.
One that Oeming passes.
What their collaboration means to people more familiar with bigger names in the comic industry is that two superstar creators were going to do their own thing, and what matters even more is, this is not the first time that these two have worked together on something great.
Over the last ten plus years or so, Bendis and Oeming have been the driving force and creators of a book called “Powers”, stories about a pair of detectives that live in a world of super heroes and what that entails for members of the police department. Eisner Award winning (awards that are given in the field of comic creation for the highest quality books that year). It’s being optioned for a series on FX (Hello, Walking Dead Golden Globe reminder.) This can be saved for another time, but for now, let’s look at why their involvement makes “Takio” such an important story.
These two are a powerhouse force of creativity and influence.
And they decided to do a superhero comic about two adopted sisters with Kung-Fu Telekinesis. Sisters from a split home.
My students in the 5th grade, (for the general statement that I can make based on teacher knowledge of their home lives), do not come from what the norm would be considered for family life. Many have divorced parents. More live with members of their extended family, if they share any blood relation at all. The rest may not even be with their actual parents or families. The stable home life is rare today, and fortunately for my students, this book touches base with that perfectly. Taki and Olivia don’t come from a “perfect home”. Their mom works only nights, their father is not around for reasons unexplained and one of them is adopted. Their best friend, Kelly Sue, has a dad whom just lost his job and, because of this, has a mother who abandoned them. “Imperfect” family lives. Something my students understand. With Bendis’ realistic, fast-paced dialogue and Oeming’s captivating visuals, this story drew my students in for the long haul and never let up on them.
So how does this all come together to create two new heroes? While not all stories addressed in this column will deal with superheroes, this story is all about a pair of young heroes being born. If you think about the classics, men like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc. it is true that none of them really had great home lives. Parents being shot, uncles being shot or, if you are extremely unlucky, your parents blowing up with a planet, being a hero means home lives are not always going to be perfect. This is a common theme throughout most super hero comic books. Takio addresses this and greatly acknowledges that heroes are born a different way, but that isn’t what makes them special.
With a more modern take on heroes being born with Kung Fu Telekinesis, Takio tells that even with imperfect families and odd familial relationships, Taki and Olivia still manage to save the day. And even with their mother potentially grounding them, that is still not going to prevent the adopted sisters from doing the right thing. The core of what a hero is. Bendis and Oeming convey this exquisitely.
And that, I believe, speaks stronger to my students than anything they may have ever been exposed to.