Edgy character-studies written by males of female characters can go generally in one of two directions: 1) sensitive and uncannily intuitive on-the-money narrative or 2) awkward self-gratifying train-wreck. It's a delicate balance, and I'm happy to report that Jimmy Palmiotti's graphic novel "Queen Crab," out now from Image, is definitely in the former category, not the latter -- the story of one young woman's disillusionment and desire for personal meaning wrapped up in David Cronenbergian "bodily horror."
Newlywed Ginger experiences an existential malaise in both her personal life and her career. This includes a cheating husband, her own infidelities, and enduring sexual harassment from her female boss. There is no outlet in her life to really process any of these issues, and she finds it's much easier to, like the rest of society, just "go through the motions."
When Ginger's husband pushes her overboard during their honeymoon, she is left for dead...but mysteriously washes up on the shore of Coney Island with two crab-claws replacing her forearms and hands. The absurdity of this element against the backdrop of what is an essentially realistic story is jarring, and very reminiscent not only of the movies of Cronenberg and David Lynch, but manga horror like "Uzumaki."
A confrontation with her would-be murderer husband results in a metaphorical castration...he is decapitated by Ginger's claws, but the way it is staged, it really looks like he's going to get his pecker chopped off instead. It is at this point of the narrative that "Queen Crab" could have taken a page from so many other stories about monstrous female revenge, and result in eventually degrading and killing the female protagonist in the absolute worst way possible. It is how these types of stories "normalize" the situation, "balancing the scales" -- essentially punishing the woman for her emasculation/castration of the male.
But this is not where Palmiotti goes at all.
Instead, Ginger sets off on a path of contemplation and self-actualization, reflecting on her life and getting some much-needed perspective in a peaceful, nurturing setting. She finds she has fish-like powers beyond just her claws, and derives a sense of purpose just communicating with aquatic life. She ends the story profoundly connected to the world -- or, at least, the oceanic part of it -- in a way that she never was before.
Needless to say, it is obvious why Palmiotti and company had to get a Kickstarter to fund "Queen Crab," because there is no way on this planet that any major publisher is going to want to run a story like this. It completely kicks aside the literary and cinematic convention of The Monstrous Female. It allows Ginger to live, even thrive, at the end of the story...instead of being blown-up, shot, torn to pieces, mutated into a pile of horrific goo, dismembered, impaled, metaphorically raped, blasted into another dimension, disintegrated, etc. I speak from personal experience when I note that the advice often given for dealing with a "difficult" character such as Ginger in a story is to kill her off at the end.
In that sense, "Queen Crab" is one of the most important graphic novels I've read about the female experience in quite some time.
The art by Artiz Eiguren lends the characters, especially Ginger, a great sense of characterization and humanity; his color palette travelling along in hue along with her malaise and rebirth. The package itself, a slim hard-cover volume with pin-ups by artists like Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts, is quite well-designed and worth the $12.99 price-tag.