Reiew: Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers / Written by: Jeff Marsick / Illustrated by: Kirk Manley / Published by: Studio Z / Release Date: Out Now
For over 2000 years Z-Girl has led the Tigers in battle against gods and demons that threaten humanity. Constantly striving to keep her flesh-eating urges under control, this bad-ass undead heroine first appeared in Accent UK’s Predators anthology but she’s come a long way since then.
Following Z-Girl from mission to mission, the plot moves at an exhilarating pace with a density that provides good value from issue to issue. There’s also a general polish in terms of artwork that still leaves enough room on each page for some pleasing choices of page layout and detailed illustrations that expand the backgrounds and enhance the feel of these strange worlds. So many action-based comics like this get the visual pacing wrong, posing the characters artificially in every panel and wasting background space with bland settings that do nothing to enhance the experience. Z-Girl, however, gets the balance between the action and the incidental stuff just right.
In terms of character design the eponymous Z-Girl obviously gets the most spotlight, but luckily she’s strong enough in concept and appearance to carry the series. One thing that bothered me was the portrayal of women in general though. Z-Girl seems to think that an ammunitions belt is a substitute for a bra, a throwback from the Bad Girl art of the nineties. Also I’m sure that it was unintentional, but despite starring a strong female lead the male characters still undermine her with comments like “she’s sensitive enough about her hair”, and when another strong female character is introduced in the first issue it’s via a plot device that strips her to her underwear. This is not an attack on the creators, who are simply using accepted comic-book language and tropes that we all recognise, but these are the assumptions that we need to challenge in order to create comics that can be embraced regardless of gender. When you’re creating an exaggerated world of dark elder gods, sentient zombies and bionic yetis, unimpeded by realism, then there’s no need for most of the background soldiers to be male or for the female leads to be struggling against sexist gun-range owners.
Despite any misgivings that I might have about gender stereotyping, Z-Girl is a lot of fun. To put this into context, I don’t read comics like this and I certainly don’t buy them, Hellboy, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E, ideas like this do nothing for me because I don’t buy into the whole Indiana Jones-style action-adventure concept, but Z-Girl is a strong contender against these kinds of mainstream comics. Marsick and Manley have the good grace to know that where exaggerated monsters are concerned, more is more, so they’ve filled the pages with interesting creature designs and outlandish violence. The colours really pop, the panels are littered with iconic sound effects and explosions and the whole series lacks any kind of irony or self-consciousness. Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers is sincere, assured and over-the-top. Issues of gender in issue two are far less prevalent in issue one and this is something that can be easily resolved before the series ends. If that happens then Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers will be offering the world something that Marvel and DC will probably never achieve.