by Spencer Irwin and Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: “Boys will be boys.” I can’t think of another phrase that seems so innocent, yet is in actuality so malicious. It does nobody any favors. It teaches men (and yes, for some reason this phrase is just as often — if not more often — applied to teenagers or grown men as it is children) that they have no control over their impulses and actions, while it simultaneously teaches women that they should just accept whatever men throw their way because men can’t help themselves, can’t be taught or trained or reasoned with. What started as a reminder of little boys’ natural boundless energy has become an excuse for misogyny, abuse — sometimes even murder. This phrase is also the only thing connecting the otherwise entirely disparate lives of Cason Ray Bennett and Juniper Elanore Blue, the dual protagonists of Cat Staggs and Gail Simone’s Crosswind.
Of course, the phrase isn’t uttered in Cason’s half of the story until after he and Juniper have already swapped bodies, making it a specter of Juniper’s old life following her into her new one, like some sort of malevolent, misogynistic ghost. Still, it shows how harmful the idea of “boys will be boys” is to people from all walks of life, even two people as drastically different as Cason and Juniper.
Cason is some sort of mercenary or assassin, working for a crime lord known as Randolph. He lives a life of luxury, filled with fast cars and sexy women, but plenty of danger and sacrifice as well. Crosswind 1 opens on Cason being forced to kill an old friend simply because Randolph needs a body (it doesn’t matter whose) to make up for a supposed betrayal, and closes on him cleaning up after Randolph’s grandson Siggy, who has brutally murdered a man he was supposed to be “roughing up.” Siggy brings us the issue’s most pathetic instance of “boys will be boys” — Siggy applies it to himself, as justification for his murder. In Siggy’s particular case I think it speaks more of nepotism than misogyny, but either way, it’s yet another example of the lengths society will go to to justify the actions of men — especially white, privileged men.
Juniper, meanwhile, is a young housewife dealing with micro-aggressions (and often downright aggression) on all fronts. Her step-son hates her, and neighborhood boys openly harass her in her own driveway. Most interesting is her relationship with her husband, which grows darker and darker as the issue goes on.
Jim is terse from the start, but he’s also understandably stressed. Staggs even gives Juniper an expression that would be at home on Lucy Ricardo — like she has a history of zany cooking-related mishaps or something. That said, Jim quickly proves this impression wrong, growing more condescending, callous, and downright cruel as the issue goes on. He insults Juniper every other word, clearly doesn’t respect her in the slightest, and is also almost definitely cheating on her. Man, what a jerk. Notably, Jim is also the one who gives their neighbors a “boys will be boys” pass despite their treatment of Juniper being blatant, horrific sexual harassment.
I think these are teenagers, but they certainly look like grown men, and present a real physical threat to Juniper. They even seem to hang around Juniper’s driveway just waiting for her, which is crossing into some legit psychological torture territory. Their behavior is so over-the-top that I’d almost dismiss it entirely if I didn’t already know that stuff like this happens to women every day. By dismissing their behavior, Jim is showing how little he actually cares about his wife’s feelings. All he wants is to not be bothered by anyone’s concerns but his own.
Then comes the body swap, a moment that took me by total surprise (I’m so happy I went into this issue completely blind). I’m struck by how random the swap of Cason and Juniper is. I’m used to the purpose of body swaps being immediately clear: in Freaky Friday, for example, Anna and Tess (yes, I had to look up their names) need to walk a day in each other’s shoes in order to truly understand each other, and they know from the start that the spell can be broken by showing each other “selfless love.” In contrast, Cason and Juniper have never met, and don’t even seem to live in the same area. While their lives are so different that they can no doubt learn from each other, there doesn’t seem to be any apparent lesson waiting for Juniper in Cason’s life (or vice versa). Other than a mysterious hobo, the only clue we have behind the swap is some sort of cryptic statement at the end of the issue.
This gives us a method — someone purposely did this to Cason and Juniper — but not an identity, nor a clear motive. Are Cason and Juniper the arrogant and oblivious their tormentor’s trying to punish? Or are they perhaps the means through which their tormentor hopes to punish others? The men (who will be boys) in both protagonists’ lives certainly seem to be plenty arrogant and oblivious, after all, and fans online already seem eager to see Cason put down the hurt on Jim and the neighbor boys. It would be more than earned.
That outcome’s not a given, though. This story could go almost anywhere next, and Taylor, let me tell you, I am truly, genuinely excited to see what happens to these two (but especially Juniper) next. What’s your take on this one? Do you have any more thoughts on Staggs’ art, or on the strange prophecy that seems to link Cason and Juniper? Of our two leads, which one do you think said “oh, my god,” and which “oh, thank god” when they switched bodies?
Taylor: Unless there is some twist here, I think it is most definitely implied that Juniper is the one who says “oh, thank god.” Looking at the lives of the two protagonists makes it pretty clear which individual likes and dislikes their life. Juniper is clearly miserable in her life. All in one afternoon she is berated, scolded, and yelled at, which causes her to break down crying and reach for prescription drugs. We are to take this as a common day in the life of Juniper and I think anyone in her situation would love to find a way out. When the body switch happens, it would appear her unsaid wishes are answered, which leaves little room for guessing who said “oh, thank god.” Still, I wouldn’t mind a twist where, for whatever reason, Cason is the one happy to be in a new situation.
That it’s so seemingly clear that Juniper is happy to be in a new body is both a strength and weakness in this issue. On the one hand, it’s clear that Simone is making gender equality one the major themes in this issue. This is not only a relevant issue but one that Simone cares about deeply. This is commendable and I look forward to reading a comic that calls out the patriarchy for its years of misogyny. However, Simone reveals this theme not so much with a deft touch as she does with a hammer. Literally every male in the issue, save for maybe the bag boy at the grocery store, is terrible in some way. Even characters with one line, like Kelly’s friend, are awful.
Shitty high schoolers aside, all of the other males in the issue are either murderers, gang bosses, cat-callers, cheaters, or otherwise misogynists in some way. In focusing on the theme of gender quality, Simone has essentially crossed the line in saying all males are terrible to women because she offers no other alternative in this issue. As a male, I actually don’t have a problem with this. I’ve seen enough instances of men being terrible to women that I think Simone is totally justified in portraying our sex as awful. However, from a storytelling perspective it runs the risk of heavy-handedness and feels like an overly simplistic representation of the world.
Of this world, though, it’s interesting to think about the universe Simone is constructing here. That strange prophecy at the end of the issue seems to suggest there is some sort of cosmic meddler, ala Puck, interfering in the lives of Juniper and Cason. Aside from their cryptic words, the only glimpse we’re allowed of this mysterious figure is a set of eyes.
This obviously leaves us with much speculation about who or what this person is. Here’s where credit really has to be given to Simone. She is a patient writer and never reveals too much in this issue. It really isn’t until the moment pictured above that it becomes clear this series is dealing with supernatural elements. That Simone keeps this mysterious figure shrouded in mystery is to the issue and series’ benefit. It creates a mystery that piques my interest and encourages our reading more into what’s happening here. While I’m intrigued by the idea of a trickster god toying with the lives of mortals, I think that prophecy at the end of the issue hints at deeper things. After all, a writer doesn’t include short essay on arrogance (specifically about the arrogance of men) for no reason. Whatever the case may be, the world Simone is crafting here is shrouded in mystery and that has me hooked.
This world, as Simone writes it, is dark and mysterious and that’s reflected in Staggs’ artwork. Throughout the issue Staggs uses heavy shadowing techniques that make everything appear a little dreamy.
Staggs uses a heavy outline to make figures pop out from the background but within these outlines shapes and colors are slightly blurred by shadowing that makes it a little hard to tell where, say, a blouse ends and hair begins. The ambiguous nature of this artwork makes the world seem strange and dark, much like a dream – or in the case of Juniper – a nightmare. The use of shadow in this way perfectly compliments Simone’s dark and weird story and reflects how the characters themselves see the world.
Now that their worlds have been inverted, I’m looking forward to seeing what Juniper and Cason do. We already know what a “boys will be boys” worlds looks like, now what about a “girls will be boys” and “boys will be girls” world?
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