Gold Digger v3 #23-26 (2001)
After a sprawling, year-long epic that culminated in four issues of intense, all-fight scenes, Fred unwinds a bit with two quick, two-part stories with a humorous bent.
In issues #23-24 Cheetah and Charlotte go hunting for "Scarface", the giant tuna that swallowed Cheetah's wedding ring (behind the scenes between v2 #50 and v3 #1). Of course, she also gets caught up in one of Gina's crazy expeditions, and is forced to choose between recovering her wedding ring or saving Charlotte from certain death. It's a simple little character-oriented tale and a nice breather.
Issues #25-26 feature Brianna and the Vaultron Force, who are pitted against were-rats who are trying to steal the leprechauns' magical gold making machine. (It also introduces us to "Prince Lowtor" and the "Uompa-Luoumpans" who will eventually become a major thorn in Princess O'Lura's side.) At first glance, this is another light-hearted breather - except it also re-introduces us to the were-rats and Gothwrain, who are going to become major characters over the next few years. It also establishes Gothrwain as a master of disguise, who's can infiltrate any organization at a moment's notice...
The A stories of these issues are back down to 16 pages, possibly so Fred can get back on schedule. In order to keep the page count up, they also feature 8 page intsallments of "Pink Slip", a story by Thor Thorvaldson, Jr. which pits "Pee-Wee" Talon's current, bumbling henchmen against his new, competent henchmen. "Pink Slip" is, frankly, horrible - pointless, clumsy, and badly illustrated. But amazingly, the characters introduced in "Pink Slip" somehow manage to stick around - they pop up every time Pee-Wee reappears, and one of them is even tucked into an ongoing subplot involving several minor characters. I can't think of any other characters from Gold Digger spin-offs who've received that honor, which is strange to say the least.
There's also a switch from hand lettering to computer lettering in these issues, and while it's jarring the results are just awkward, not unreadable. It helps that Fred continues to hand-draw sound effects and emphatic dialogue, which allows him to have the best of both worlds.
I couldn't find anything to discuss in the art, so I might as well tackle the big issue that hangs over Gold Digger like a cloud. Namely, that each issues contains cheesecake than a display case at the Cheesecake Factory. Now, there's a bunch of standard responses I could insert here. I could say someting about heroic proportions, remark that the art doesn't go out of its way to call attention to their considerable assets, or point out that Fred dishes up plenty of equal opportunity beefcake, or note that women in Gold Digger are the agressors, bold and confident in their sexuality1.
But "I like boobahs" is probably a more intellectually honest excuse.
Honestly, though? The boobs don't even cross my mind most of the time. What makes Gold Digger more than mere cheesecake is that the characters aren't defined by their appearance in the slightest. Gina is the world's greatest scientist in the world, Brianna one of the finest technologists, and Cheetah one of the deadliest fighters. Julia is the greatest warrior in an entire dimension (and her chief rival for that honor is also a woman). Female characters are never helpless, and are always standing toe-to-toe with men if not surpassing them outright. That they all happen to be smoking hot babes is just a fringe benefit.
Strangely, in recent years the book has become oddly sexless. Gina may have started out as a boy-crazed archaeologist willing to jump into bed with anything with chiseled abs and a Y chromosome, but I can't think of one instance in the last four years where she's even been in the same room as her putative boyfriend. Cheetah has been completely monogamous since v1 #1, and her other sister abandons boys for guns at the beginning of v3. Heck, even the villains are paired off in monogamous couples. When romance does appear, it's always emphasized over sex (though it almost always has a sexual component as well).
Ultimately, I have to say the cheesecake in Gold Digger. doesn't bother me at all, because it is just a sidelight and not the main attraction. Admittedly, I've been immersed in comics for decades, and a lot of things that I take for granted would shock people who are looking at them with fresh eyes. Anyone else have a different take?
- Of course, one could also argue that the sexually aggressive woman is just as much a male fantasy as the submissive woman, which basically means you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.