Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hope for the Libraries

Have you ever been to The British Library, Gentle Reader? I've had the opportunity twice now, in May, and during my most recent trip across the Pond. If you haven't been before, please, let me try to explain to you what it feels like to walk inside those doors.

At first, it's almost disappointing. As an American, I expect Everything British to be either Medieval or Victorian (and as a Victorian Scholar, I pray for Victorian). I expected The British Library to look just like The Reading Room in The British Museum. But in fact, The British Library is awfully young, and while a part of its collection was transferred from The British Museum, it's not at all that old.

But there's a feeling there, when you walk in, that All Of "The World's Knowledge," as The British Library's slogan proclaims, really is just waiting for you. And when you walk into one of The Reading Rooms, Friends? Well, you know, without a doubt, that you are Home.

I love books. Is there any other way to say it? I've made My Life's Career out of Reading and Teaching, and Writing About Literature. I read books. I write books (unpublished, but written). I have, on occasion, sold books (not mine, unfortunately). I own books, hundreds of them, even more, if we were to include Mr. Reads' collection, and the books we still have at the Parents Reads and the Reads-In-Law houses. And one of the greatest Book Moments in my life was walking into The British Library's Humanities Reading Room for the first time.

And the second time.

And the third.

Did you know that in Britain, most of the museums are free? It's true, Friends. The British Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Britain, the Tate Modern, and yes, the British Library are all free and open to the public. That's to Anyone, Gentle Reader. Even the non-tax-paying visitors to England, such as myself. Do they ask for donations? Of course they do. Did I donate? Of course I did. Why? Because I cried when I saw Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott. Because I saw one of Queen Victoria's gowns. Because I am an Anglophile of the Highest Order.

But now, Gentle Reader, oh, now, The British Library is in trouble, financially. As an American, I am saddened, for certain, but perhaps not surprised. It seems that if funding is to be cut, the educational resources are the first to lose money. But for The British Library, home to so much world knowledge, to suffer under such funding cuts breaks my heart.

Because in the end, it's not the Library that suffers, but the Readers. The future Woolfs and Marxes and Trollopes, and all others who once enjoyed the Reading Room Experience, at the British Museum, certainly, but the Experience all the same. The scholars, the bibliophiles, the Random Joes and Janes. The Readers.

We the Readers are the ones who might not stop by to read a few books, or enjoy a random 1855 pamphlet on the dangers of fashion for women, simply because we might not be able to afford it.

And what good is knowledge if it is not to be openly and freely shared? Why hold the books for future generations, and then deny those same generations free and open access, when the time comes?

I believe in protecting manuscripts, rare and fragile all. I believe in interviewing potential Reading Room Card Recipients, as I was interviewed. I believe in having several librarians on duty, to make sure no one harms the works at hand. But I believe in sharing and distributing the knowledge contained within.

You may wonder, Gentle Reader, why I feel that this post is important in a blog on popular culture. It's for this simple reason:

One generation's popular culture is the next generation's Great Literature.

Don't believe me?

Take a look at Charles Dickens' publishing record sometime, then. And compare it with someone like, say, Stephen King.

And please, please do Save The Libraries.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Most Dangerous Women in the World(s): Brief Reviews of Birds of Prey #101 and #102

When the Crisis was over, Gentle Reader, and the dust had settled, we didn't know What Would Happen in the One Year Later jumps. Where would Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman go? Would we be able to revive our fallen brethren? And, one of the questions most important to This Humble Author was, of course, Who is the Father of a Certain Feline-hero's baby? It was a time of change, of excitement, of The Unknown. And those Who Like Plots, and those Who Enjoy Change, were quite thrilled to be presented with the opportunity to wait, 52 entire weeks, for the interim to unfold.

Meanwhile, we were given One Year Later stories to help us Wait, and make us Wonder, over the changes wrought in our absence. As Mr. Rucka, Mr. Johns, Mr. Morrison, et al reminded us With All Certainty that we were *not* to forget The 52, we jumped into the future, an entire year forward, to see the aftermath of those dozens of weeks.

I've read My Fellow Bloggers grumble a bit over some of the OYL jumps; Teen Titans, for example, seems to receive some flack, as well as Supergirl—-both of which are two runs I find handling the OYL jump The Best. The third run in that grouping?

The Birds of Prey.

Gentle Reader, I believe I've mentioned before that I have The Big Five of comic book writers. These are Five Authors whose works I would read even—-truly, even, Friends!—-if those works were about watching paint peel or detailing how grass should grow. Those Big Five-—Mr. Meltzer, Mr. Rucka, Ms. Simone, Mr. Whedon, and Mr. Vaughan—-are supplemented, of course, by some treasured favorites, Ms. Pierce and Mr. Liebe, Mr. Bendis, Mr. Morrison, and Mr. Johns, among others. But The Big Five have consistently produced some of The Best comics have to offer, and if ever in their presence, whether in Reality or in Cyberspace, I find myself reduced to the Gushing Fangirl version of the Articulate and Well-Mannered Ms. Reads you've come to know over the past several months. It's Quite True, Friends, and believe me, Gushing Fangirl Reads is a bit too crazed and hysterical, even for me.

That being said, I want to remind you that I don't believe in sycophantism. While I adore The Big Five, as well as my dozens and dozens of favorite writers, artists, performers, and actors, I don't believe that my adoration should exist separately from my criticism. I've said before that criticism is not hatred, or disrespect, or, goodness forbid, dislike. In fact, I don't think you can have good and honest criticism without respecting and liking something.

That being said, I want to assure you that you are reading Articulate and Well-Mannered Ms. Reads at the moment, and not Gushing Fangirl Reads. That is to say, despite all previous positive reviews, and the following review you are about to read, I am in no way a sycophant of Gail Simone and her work.

I just really, really like it.

Birds of Prey #101 and #102 by Gail Simone

I'd not read Manhunter before, Gentle Reader, but Ms. Simone's inclusion of her in the Birds of Prey, as well as the recent issues of Manhunter with The Amazon Princess have intrigued me greatly. I have her run ready and waiting to be read; now all I need is another ten-hour plane ride, and I should Be Fine.

I've not read Manhunter, and to be fair, I really didn't know who she was. But Barda, ever gorgeous Barda, has been A Recent Favorite in my DC Lineup. Not only is she big and beautiful and oh-so-strong, she has a sense of humor as well. As the Birds are trying to escape, rescued American on board Zinda's plane, they are, as these things happen, being chased. "Tell Oracle I'll give her a few minutes," Barda says. "I'm going to 'futz' with our pursuers." Then the next shot, an entire page of Barda halo-jumping sans parachute but certainly with halo, has the Apokolips Warrior saying, quite simply, "That's my gift."

Indeed, it is her gift, not merely "futzing" but sheer fearlessness. She is not the suicidal fighter we occasionally see in Batman, or the justice-blind warrior we see with The Amazon Princess. Instead, she is a woman who rescued herself, and knows the expansive capacities of her strong body. "What a splendid afternoon for peeling fruit, eh?" she asks the pilot of the plane she has just landed on, a very large smile gracing her face. Barda enjoys what she does, very, very much.

You may wonder, Gentle Reader, why I keep comparing Barda to Wonder Woman. The reason is quite simple: they are vastly different characters cut from the same archetype of the strong warrior woman. But more importantly, the Amazon Princess is a more familiar face than the Apokoliptik Warrior. Occasionally, we must compare to define.

But more importantly, we must *remember*. This is not merely a conglomeration of women with varying but complementary strengths. Rather, they are, as issue #102 reminds us, The Most Dangerous Women in the World. Not because one has a substantial Mega-Rod (a definite phallic symbol that even Zinda understands: "You know it's bad when even I know y'all are talkin' dirty," she tells Huntress and Judomaster, as they continue to marvel-—and recount—-Barda's Instrument of Power) or a preternatural understanding of computers (traditionally-—and still-—a knowledge stereotypically associated with men) or even strength, skill, or dexterity. No, rather, these women are dangerous because they are not mere female versions of male superheroes.

Huntress, Gypsy, Oracle, and Big Barda are all superheroes In Their Own Rights. Even Judomaster and Manhunter, whose mantles have more male-friendly pasts, seem to fit—-and fit Quite Well—-into their new, female-centered presents. They are dangerous because *they* are dangerous; despite a long history of intangible powers in the female superhero community, these superheroes are, for the most part, body-oriented.

But the one heroine who arrives on the scene, the one that Oracle claims is "the most dangerous woman in Metropolis," has neither super-strength, nor weaponry. Spy Smasher sends A Very Dangerous Woman Indeed to "futz" with Oracle. And Barbara admits that she'd rather go up against the Joker because "He's been known to give up on occasion." Not so this woman.

Not so Lois Lane, with a Mega-Rod Of Her Own. The pen, they say, is Mightier than the Sword.

We've come a long way, baby, since the days of Anne Bradstreet, whose manuscript was taken from her, and published without her consent. When asked to write a Prologue for her collection, Mrs. Bradstreet added the following:

"I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits.
A Poet's Pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on female wits.
If what I do prove well, it won't advance,
They'll say it's stol'n, or else it was by chance."

Lois Lane advances, on her own merits, and certainly not by chance. And she has Gotten The Better of Oracle, an action of which many have dreamed, but few find a reality. Lois Lane, with the power of the press and Pulitzer behind her, is an unstoppable force. And she, like her Quite Famous Husband, Fights the Good Fight, too. In short Gentle Reader, she, too, is a hero.

As Barbara is about to play A Card Of Her Own, as she is about to reveal that Superman is Lois Lane's Weakness, Lois has the final word. She admits that she has dirt on half the world, but that doesn't always matter. She says, "I choose a side. I do it all the time. We all do. But Lois Lane is no one's pawn." And in these few short sentences, Lois speaks to the Hero In Us All. Why do the Birds of Prey fight for good instead of evil? Because they made a choice to do so. Ms. Lane reminds Barbara—-as she reminds us all-—that we all make choices.

Lois Lane, the most dangerous woman in Metropolis?

Ms. Simone, DC, I ask you: how about the newest member of The Birds of Prey, as well?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of January 26th, 2007)

"Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!"
- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Last night, Gentle Reader, Mr. Reads and I went stargazing. Now, as romantic as that may sound (and indeed it was Quite Romantic), we actually intruded on a local astronomy class that had been kind enough to open its doors-—and telescopes—-to the universe-addicted public. That would be Mr. Reads, of course, and, to a much slighter extent, This Humble Author.

Sometimes I find the Wonder has gone out of the universe. Not from my view, certainly, because above all else, I find The Universe a Fascinating and Dark Place. When you're Out in the Black, Firefly reminds us, anything can happen. But we're not out in the Black, not yet, and we have a long, long way to go. In fact, we have such a long way to go that some have stopped looking at the skies and instead keep their feet firmly planted on the ground.

How many of our favorite comic book characters come from the sky? How many seem to live there, through flight, through technology, through just a selfless desire always to see The Big Picture spread before them? Why do we associate heroic acts with the air, the sky, and common, everyday things with the ground, and the Earth? "Keep your feet on the ground," I heard many times growing up, as I was a dreamer, with flights of fancy about becoming an author. I had entire worlds in my head, and stars in my eyes, ready for the day that they could all come into being.

We, as fans of comic books, and science fiction, and fantasy, embrace not only the Unknown, but also Possibility. I find it more comforting to look at the stars and imagine someone else looking down at me, than to imagine the 'Verse as nothing but empty Black. Yes, I find Mr. Sagan right; if that were true, it would certainly be an awful waste of space.

Last night I saw Saturn, Friends, so far away, yet visible with only a few lenses and my naked eye. I saw the Orion Nebula. I saw detailed craters on the Moon. But what I saw the most was Possibility. Between each star I saw was Black, and in that Black, millions upon millions of stars I couldn't see at the moment, but that I knew-—yes, knew, Gentle Reader!-—that they were there.

"Look, up in the sky!" people would cry when The Man of Steel made an appearance. We don't look up that much anymore, do we? Has the Wonder gone out of our skies? Or has simply the funding gone out of NASA? Are our feet, so encased, so crowded with dirt and clay, become too, too solid flesh, too clumsy to trip the light fantastic, or to soar to greater heights? We are a solid generation, are we not? We saw a man walk on the moon, yes, but only on recording. Instead, when offered live views of The Space Mission, we saw tragedy after tragedy: Challenger, then Columbia. After seeing the Challenger explosion, they didn't have to remind me to keep my feet on the ground; I made sure of it.

Even our science fiction, our true Last Frontier, has Gone The Way Of Genetics. One of the most popular television shows in production right now, NBC's Heroes, imagines superheroes not from the skies but from test tubes, and labs, made out of too, too solid flesh that despite flights of fancy, prefer the grounded reality of the Earth.

Battlestar Galactica offers us a different Worldview, yes, as it offers Different Worlds. But despite the fascination of the skies—-the eyes of Zeus, supernova suns-—they search them for the promise of Earth. For solid ground, once again.

We've lost Firefly, a show that reveled in the 'Verse, and the Black, and with its cancellation we've lost a bit of the pure joy that Space Exploration brings. Farscape too is gone, and although I never watched it faithfully, I've watched pieces here and there. Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost in Space, all of these fantastical Space Exploration shows and movies that I grew up with are faded now, distant memories, bright and shiny and polished in their new DVD collections, but still, not the *same*. There is something missing from it all, and honestly, Gentle Reader? I couldn't quite point to what it is.

Or maybe it's me, gazing at Saturn, amazed at it standing completely on its side, as if the rings were holding it upright. Or perhaps the parking lot lights, and the glow from town, keeping The Milky Way invisible from the class last night. Or it's us, All Of Us, looking to different forms of Exploration. We've explored far and wide, and we've once again become fascinated with Us, with Our Possibility, rather than the Possibility of all of the Worlds.

Heroes speaks to genetic research, to the utmost possibilities of the body, while so many other shows (ER, Gray's Anatomy, for example) speak to the body's fragility instead. A newcomer, The Dresden Files, based on my beloved Mr. Butcher's Dresden Files novels, looks not through the veil of the atmosphere but rather through the veil just next door. What lies not above but below the surface of the expected, the ordinary, the tried and true. But even this shows fails, Gentle Reader, in the very places the novels succeed. What we want is character in place of story, extraordinary to stand in for ordinary, not take the place of entirely. What we want, really, is another Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while the novels have that potential, the pilot of the television series did not.

I don't know if you're well-versed in Mr. Hopkins' life and works, Dear Reader, and to be honest, I really am not. But Mr. Reads, ever the Modernist at heart, finds this odd little Victorian poet Quite The Modernist in His Own Right. I begin and end with Mr. Hopkins because he lived with one foot in this world and one foot in various other worlds entirely. He looked to the stars, to both the heavens and to The Heaven he believed in. He stared up With Wonder, and I urge us all to do the same.

Or, in the words of another poet, Mr. Auden,

"Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice"

Remember, Friends, that the bottom of the night is so often not down, but up.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Friend In Need: In Which the Author Queries Her Readers

Today, Gentle Reader, I am offering you something I don't think Arrogant Self-Reliance, in either of its incarnations, has ever offered you:


But as I have a few reviews still in the works, and as I am really, truly writing—-and writing hard!-—on the dissertation, and as the New Orleans Saints lost their chance at the Superbowl, I feel this post should be a bit shorter than most.

I'm really not sure why the Saints' loss matters to this, but it does, all the same.

In exchanging a wealth of comments with Matthew E. of Legion Abstract fame, I remembered a conversation I once had with a friend of mine (let's call him John) that mainly revolved around the Marvel (of which John's a fan) and DC (of which I'm a fan) divide. Much debate ensued, but the conversation eventually boiled down to the following question:

"If you were a teenager," John said, "and you were in trouble, who would you feel more comfortable turning to for help: Bruce Wayne/Batman, or Charles Xavier/Professor X?"

At first, I said, rather sheepishly I might add, Professor X, but the more I thought about it (and I've thought about it for several months, off and on), I want to retract my statement. Why, you may ask?

Because Professor X scares the bejeesus out of me.

And maybe it's because I've never read the 1980s run of The X-Men. I've only read Astonishing X-Men, and occasionally, New X-Men or Ultimate X-Men. But in the more recent incarnations of Professor X, he's not the helpful father figure so many paint him as. Rather, there's something almost predatory about him. He stalks down potential X-Men and doesn't as much recruit as mindwipe—-I mean, *insist* that they come to his school. He manipulates, twists, turns, and honestly, is perhaps even more dangerous than Magneto. In fact, Professor X and Magneto have the same goals, but put on the veneer of different paths.

Or, to wit, have you any knowledge of the late 19th- and early 20th-century Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain? There were two major parties fighting for women's right to vote: the Women's Social and Political Union, also known as Suffragettes, and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, also known as Suffragists.

Yes, Ms. Reads, that's all well and good, but why the X-Men comparisons?

Well, both camps were fighting for women's suffrage, but the WSPU believed in militant tactics, like smashing shop windows and prison hunger strikes, while the NUWSS believed in pacifist protest, like banner or sign holding and legislation. Both used to be one entity fighting against the common goal, but split when more militant action was desired. The WSPU believed the NUWSS was too patient, and the NUWSS believed that militant action hurt rather than helped the Suffrage Campaign.

But both, and I repeat, *both* were fighting for the exact same thing.

Now, we know that Batman Is Scary In His Own Right (and, well, meta-ist, too!), but so, I believe, is Professor X.

So I turn to you, Gentle Reader, to further this debate. Please, help me with the question: who is more accessible for a teenager with a problem (and I am, of course, talking about Problems of Registration or Joker proportions), Batman, or Professor X?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of January 19th, 2007)

"No wise man or woman was ever the worse for reading novels."
- Mary Elizabeth Braddon

As promised, Gentle Reader, I am starting a new weekly column that will be This Blog’s Answer to the "Quick Hits Through My Pop Culture World" problem. In short, I want to have a consistent response to pop culture, rather than a random, whenever-the-mood-strikes-me post. And in celebration of My Return To The States, I would like to present you with the following theme for today’s inaugural column:

What I Read On My Christmas Vacation

Imagine, if you will, Friends, the following scenario: over 24 hours in a plane over the course of 12 days with the following movie options: John Tucker Must Die, Open Season, School for Scoundrels, and various episodes of CSI or Without a Trace. This means that I read. A lot. I read so much, in fact, that I had to buy not one but *two* replacement books. And now, I share the highlights of that reading experience with you.

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

I adore Ms. Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, and picked the first book in this series up on a whim. Harper Connelly was struck by lightning as an adolescent, and as a result, she now has the power to find the dead. The first book in the series, Grave Sight, detailed Harper's unusual power and even more unusual business venture using said power, and how her stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, manages her business and helps her manage her life. I found Grave Surprise a very enjoyable read, but definitely eye candy rather than heady stuff.

Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

Yes, Friends, you know how much the Reads Household adores Mr. Meltzer. Pup Reads finds his books The Tastiest, and Mr. Reads and I enjoy his work—-both comic and fiction—-immensely. And I will be the first to admit that Book of Fate was a fast, fun, enjoyable read. The strength of this book is in its main character and narrator, Wes Holloway. Disfigured in the line of duty working for the President, Wes still is, several years later, the former President's body man, with no real promotion or advancement in sight. After seeing alive a fellow coworker who died in the attack, Wes becomes embroiled in a massive cross-agency conspiracy.

Fast, fun, highly enjoyable. My one big complaint would be the use—-or lack thereof-—of the Freemasonry symbolism that seems so important in the beginning of the novel, and then trickles off towards the middle and end. It seems highly superfluous for this story, and definitely unnecessary. I like Mr. Meltzer's character pieces, and this felt more character piece than conspiracy theory.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

I finished Book of Fate halfway through the trip, and Mr. Reads still had Lisey's Story to finish before I could take it over. I also had finished the graphic novels we took with us--The Invincible Iron Man and 2 volumes of The New Avengers (review coming soon!)--and wasn't in the mood for the Bryson travel memoir, Notes From a Small Island that I had also brought with me. What to do, what to do? I couldn't find Kage Baker's Machine's Child or the other book I was looking for, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn until the very end of the trip. So I picked up Bag of Bones on a whim, and certainly have not regretted it.

Sometimes I feel like one of the few people left in the world who enjoys Stephen King as Literature rather than Pulp Fiction. I find Mr. King a Master Of His Craft, and that is the craft of Writing Books, not Making Money, as some have accused him of. Now you've heard me say it before, Gentle Reader, that I feel if we are to ask others to take Mysteries or Comics or Horror Novels seriously, then we, too, must take them seriously. I review Comics the same as I review Canonical Literature, because both are that important to me. And Mr. King's work is so very often worthy of Canonical status.

Hearts in Atlantis, for example, is one of the best books I've ever read, and Bag of Bones is definitely high up on the list. It is a ghost story, and a love story, and a writer's story, a horror novel, a suspenseful mystery, even a bildungsroman to some extent. But what it is *not* is For The Faint Of Heart. It begins with tragedy and ends that way, too, and it's hard, truly hard, to go into a book with that expectation.

But then, it's Stephen King, so we must belie *all* expectations.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

And finally, the cream rises to the top.

I don't often buy books advertised in magazines, or on television, and I certainly have never bought a book advertised in a tube station. Perhaps that's because I grew up in New Orleans, and the last thing in the world we'll ever have is the subway. Six to eight feet below sea level does not lend itself well to underground transportation. Goodness, Dear Reader, we can't even bury our ancestors underground, unless we fortify them with marble houses first!

But what our British Brothers and Sisters have that we Americans do not is this simple thing:

A Reading Population.

I am sure my British readers are nodding and smiling at this moment, and perhaps my Canadian brethren are lifting their hands to say that they, too, have A Reading Population. And I'm certain my readers from across the globe-—including those of us in The United States—-would certainly argue that their population, on the whole, reads.

But it seems to me—-just seems, Gentle Reader!-—that we Americans don't value reading as much as we should.

How can I say this? Well, have you ever seen a book vending machine in the US? I haven't, but I saw at least three in the UK, not to mention the bookstores in every train and tube station, every airport, and really, every street corner. Free transit papers for those traveling on public services, full papers left on the train for others to share, and really, one cannot board a train without seeing at least 80% of the passengers reading in some form or another.

All of this to say that I saw Ms. Flynn's novel advertised in several tube stations, and finally, on the day of my departure, found it in the Gatwick airport bookstore. A true blessing, Friends, since I had exhausted our book supply and was Quite Concerned that I would have to resort to Desperate Measures, i.e. buying something I already owned, or buying a book that I wouldn't like.

When asked to describe the book, I told Mr. Reads that it was Stephen King meets The Bell Jar: smart, cruel, horrifying, intriguing, and, here's the kicker, Gentle Reader, I couldn't put it down. Camille Preaker, our alcoholic and self-abusive main character and narrator, returns to her claustrophobic hometown to report on two unsolved child murders. While home, she returns to several bad habits and many more moments of crisis as her mother, her half-sister, and her stepfather approach frightening levels of self-indulgence, selfishness, and isolation. You don't like these characters, and rarely do you sympathize with them, but you are fascinated by them, and in that fascination, you love to hate them and hate to love them. The horror, while slow to build, is tragic, terrifying, and unexpected. Even worse, it's real. This is a tale that can and probably does happen in Small Town America, over and over again. I can't recommend this book enough.


Thank you, Dear Friends, for reading this first of what I hope to be a consistent weekly production, and please, remember, I am always, always taking book recommendations!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Welcome to the Machine: A Brief Review of The Invincible Iron Man: Extremis

"Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It's all right; we told you what to dream."
- Pink Floyd

As mentioned several times previously, Gentle Reader, Mr. Reads and I just returned from a lengthy trip abroad. As our plane tickets were much cheaper flying out of New Orleans, my hometown and our Winter Break Destination, than they were from our current place of residence, we went to the UK via The Big Easy, and drove the several hours to and from. This means that not only did we have over 20 hours of flight time, we also had over 16 hours of driving time, more, if you count the trips between The Reads' and The Reads-In-Laws' houses.

All of this preamble to say that Mr. Reads and I had a lot of time to talk on these lengthy driving legs of our trip, and, as things often happen when Mr. Reads and I are alone, without anyone to judge us, we talked, a lot, about comic books.

I'd like to offer you the question Mr. Reads posed to me somewhere around the Louisiana/Texas Border:

What comic book superhero as metaphor works the best?

Now, this is Quite An Intriguing Question, and I thought about it for a few miles. Batman seems the quick and obvious answer; The Dark Knight—-Byronic, broody, dark, melancholic in the Renaissance Sense—-seems a heavy-handed metaphor from the start, although over the past several years, the in-your-faceness of his symbolism has diminished slightly. Superman, too, for truth, justice, and the American Way, but let's not forget Wonder Woman, symbol of rising feminism and women's rights. The X-Men, as a whole, represent the periphery: what happens to the outsiders in a society hell-bent on destroying anything different? But I dismissed all of these out of hand, and offered this final answer:

Iron Man.

It's quite simple really, when you get right down to it. Tony Stark discovers he's dying, so he builds an iron suit to protect his fragile body. He creates weapons for the government in order to fund his superhero gang. The more elaborate, the more complex the suit, the more Tony *is* the suit. In fact, the more unified Tony is with his suit, as exemplified in the trade hardcover collection of The Invincible Iron Man: Extremis which I read during my trip, the less human he becomes, not because of his cybernetic flesh, but rather, because of his corporate soul.

Do you see it, Gentle Reader? The more Tony is the *suit*, the more he is The Suit.

Tony Stark is, above all else, a warning against the greedy corporate giants we see every day in the media, the ones who steal their employees' pensions, dump oil in land reserves, move businesses overseas so they can pay someone next to nothing to do backbreaking labor. His motives, while seemingly innocent, are almost always underlined by corporate initiative and interest. Tony Stark is in the business of making money, and Tony does his business, very well.

In fact, Tony Stark as The Suit is a metaphor that moves beyond the familiar Cyborg metaphor we have come to know and love since, really, the nineteenth century, but perhaps even before. Wilkie Collins' novel The Law and the Lady, for example, presents us with the character Miserrimus Dexter, who is described as "a strange and startling creature—-literally the half of a man" who comes into a courtroom "Gliding, self-propelled in his chair on wheels" (163) and rebukes anyone who touches his wheelchair as to do so is to lay hands upon himself. For, as Miserrimus often says, "My chair is Me" (138). He for certain is the Cyborg, the half-man, half-machine that we have seen for some time now. Count them, if you will, in comics (Cyborg, Iron Man, Cable, Deathlok), in literature (Frankenstein to some degree, Gibson's Case and Molly), in movies and television (Terminator, Robocop, the Borgs). They are everywhere, reminding us of our continuing dependence on technology to save us.

But where Iron Man moves beyond that beautiful-in-its-simplicity metaphor is in this fact: he is not dependent on the technology, but rather, the technology is dependent on him. As The Suit, as The Corporation, Tony Stark decides more than any one man ever should decide. Civil War presents the aftermath of this overwhelming power, as does the seductiveness of all Tony has to offer. Look at those who have fallen under his sway; I could name several, but I think Peter Parker speaks to them all.

In Warren Ellis's and Adi Granou's The Invincible Iron Man: Extremis, we see the dangers not of a man obsessed with science and technology and yes, it's true, Friends, not even his own mortality, but rather, the very simple danger of a man obsessed with making money. When being interviewed by a documentary maker, Tony Stark responds to accusations of his impartiality at the world's suffering: "Am I an arms dealer? No. Did I start out as a weapons designer? Yes. Do I intend to die as one? No." For Tony, at this moment, the ends without a doubt justify the means. He believes the initial intentions for his inventions don't really matter, that their lethal origins are overwritten by the good he's wrought as well. The filmmaker asks Tony, "Do you think they have your painkilling drug pumps in Iraq? Do you think an Afghan kid with his arms blown off by a landmine is remotely impressed by an Iron Man suit?" to which Tony responds, "I never claimed to be perfect. I always knew there would be blood on my hands. I'm trying... I'm trying to improve the world."

Tony Stark is trying to improve the world by rewriting it in the image he sees fit. Jump ahead to Civil War, and that image is one of order and registration. In this book, that image is one in which he controls and maintains the ultimate weaponry power. In Tony Stark's perfect world, he, and only he, is The Perfect Machine.

"My chair is Me," Miserrimus Dexter says, and the 21st century response from Marvel Comics could be, "My suit is Me." Tony Stark is defined not by what he gives the world, but by what Iron Man can take from it: technology, money, safety, danger, all of it's the same in a Stark Industry kind of world. Even though Tony says, "I went from being a man trapped in an iron suit to being a man freed by it," the ending of this arc belies those words.

Tony melds himself with the suit using the advanced technology that sparked the latest rampage on the unsuspecting public. He becomes one with the suit, can see through satellites because of it. Or, as he tells Maya, his scientist companion, "We can reconfigure Extremis to do all those jobs. Make me the Iron Man inside and out."

And lucky for Tony, he's brilliant. He does become the Iron Man inside and out, literally in this case. When Maya asks, "Tony... what have you done?" He tells her, "This. Supercompressed and stored in the hollows of my bones, Maya. I carry the crucial undersheath of the Iron Man suit inside my body now. Wired directly into my brain. I control the Iron Man with thought. Like it was another limb."

The only problem with being The Suit inside and out is that you no longer know where you fit into all of this mess. And isn't that why we love Iron Man? Isn't that why we read Tony Stark, watch him self-destruct again and again, because we love our very broken men consumed by their jobs, their passions, their vendettas, their insecurities? Until I read this book, Tony reminded me of Bruce Wayne, Marvel's answer to The Batman problem. After reading this book, I realized that Tony Stark had a much different DC twin.

Lex Luthor.

Two men, both driven, both determined, both dying but for the grace of God and suit, both corporate Giants, both rich and morally ambiguous—-sometimes doing good, sometimes doing evil, but always for their own ends. Both sometimes blinded by their obsessions: for Lex, Superman, and for Tony, alcohol. Both self-destructive and self-loathing, again and again and again.

But for Tony Stark, in this book, there is a tiny ray of Hope. What the art presents us with—-besides sheer gorgeousness-—are little moments of reflection. Reflective surfaces are nothing new for the Cyborgs of literature; think only of all that shiny metal, or Molly's mirrored lenses surgically placed in her eye sockets. This book presents us with dozens of such reflections: Tony confronting the suit, the suit confronting others, even the buildings made of mirrored tempered glass. But most importantly, we see Tony confronting mirrors. In the beginning of the book, he takes a shower and then sees his reflection in the mirror. "What are you looking at?" Tony asks his reflection, or his reflection asks Tony. We're never quite sure, even when he says, "I hate it when you look at me like that."

This confrontation, mirrored (no pun intended, Gentle Reader!) in the very last scene of the book, demonstrates that there is hope for Tony. That as long as he continues to be reflective, introspective, diving inwards for the answers to The Iron Man, he may, just may avoid becoming Marvel's Lex Luthor. That maybe, just maybe, Tony can coexist with the machine, rather than consume it. Because The Iron Man Suit represents corporation *and* the hope for a better, brighter tomorrow.

Because, Gentle Reader, isn't that the very promise of technology?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Summarize, Explode, Rinse, Repeat: A Brief Review of Catwoman #62

You are well aware by now, Gentle Reader, my rabid fangirl-ness for the Amazon Princess. You've seen my modest but ever expanding Wonder Woman Action Figure Collection, heard my sighs of joy and cries of relief over Mr. Heinberg's run, my admiration and heartfelt gratitude for Mr. Rucka's run, and my longing-—ever, ever my longing!-—to one day get my hands on An Amazon Story Of My Own. I adore the Wonder Woman because she is, in fact, truly wonderful: she's strong, proud, beautiful, alien, familiar, complicated, everything that an aspiring writer (that would be This Humble Author) could want to write, an impressionable young woman (that would be This Humble Author, circa 1982) could want to be, and an adoring fan (see above re: This Humble Author) could want to see. She is, quite simply, The Perfect Character.

Therefore I feel it quite safe to say that the Wonder Woman is secure on her pedestal of my esteem, even though she's beginning to have some competition.

When asked my ranking for Favorite DC Superheroes of the Double-X Chromosome Persuasion, I would offer you the following list:
1) Wonder Woman
2) Black Canary
3) Catwoman
4) Big Barda
5) Huntress

A simple list, an obvious one, and certainly it comes as no surprise that the woman who loves Wonder Woman would certainly love Big Barda, and that the woman who loves Catwoman would certainly love Huntress. Loving Black Canary requires no thought, I believe; it just comes naturally to us all. But thankfully, all of these characters have had or currently have great writers on board: Gail Simone (Huntress, Big Barda, and Black Canary), Greg Rucka and Allen Heinberg (Wonder Woman), Brad Meltzer (Black Canary), Ed Brubaker and Will Pfeifer (Catwoman). There have been leaks and trickles throughout the lines, a Wonder Woman here, a Black Canary there, but overall, these writers have had extensive time to develop these characters from What Came Before to What Comes Now, and overall, have done a hell of a job.

That being said, I must confess the following four things: 1) I think I love Birds of Prey more now that Dinah's left and Barda's joined, 2) I will always miss Greg Rucka's run of Wonder Woman, regardless of who's writing it, 3) I adore Catwoman, and found it to be one of the best comics on the market, but 4) I no longer look forward to it as eagerly as I once did.

Catwoman #62

Gentle Reader, the reason for my less-than-enthusiastic response to the Post-Crisis Catwoman is really quite simple: I'm beginning not to care as much about Selina as I used to.

That's hard for me to admit, and I want you to understand that as much as you can. I *adore* Selina. I *adore* Catwoman. I adore Holly and Slam and Ted and brief glimpses of The Bat and everyone else who's popped by for a spell on this very interesting comic book. But I find the One Year Later issues of Catwoman to be rather uninspired, when compared to their Pre-Crisis run.

And it's not just the Sam/Selina storyline, Gentle Reader, although I know several of you have called me to task, again and again, for my fangirl 'shipperness over a more Bat-Cat-Friendly romantic pairing. It's true, Friends, and I admit it gladly. I think the whole Parental Issue would have been Much More Interesting had a certain Batastic character played a larger, more substantial role.

That being said, let me offer an alternative to my narrow-mindedness: I understand why. A Bat-Cat child would complicate things Across The (DC) Universe, and I do think that Catwoman needs to live in her own book, and escape the sometimes overwhelming Batshadow. So, I could have accepted Slam, and I could have accepted Ted. Goodness, I could have accepted Black Mask or Film Freak, or artificial insemination or, what I really thought was going to happen Post-Crisis, a melding of all the worlds' Selinas into Our World Selina, with a slight side effect of pregnancy from a random pregnant Selina Out In The Ether. But with Sam Bradley, particularly because he is now deceased, we need not worry about a Sam-Selina entanglement complicating the framework. And that seems almost too easy.

But in the end, it's even more simple than this: I am *upset* with Selina. The moment when Selina tells Holly and crew about murdering Black Mask, for example, made me Grit My Teeth. Selina says, "I did what I had to do, Holly. I'm not proud... but I'm not ashamed, either." And, kudos for Selina, everyone nods and pats her on the back. Holly flashes back to a similar decision she had to make, way back when, and, just in case she wasn't completely in the mood to forgive Selina, Slam adds his two cents: "She's right, kid. We all have our reasons."

Yes, we do. Selina made a difficult choice, and saved many lives because of it. Do you know who else did that recently, Gentle Reader?

Wonder Woman.

But while Selina gets pats on the back and "aw shucks" congratulations, Wonder Woman gets scorn, derision, abandonment, and loneliness. While Selina gets a happy family scene at the end of the book, Holly, Karon, Slam, and Helena all snuggled up to the Cat Woman, Wonder Woman gets secret identities and juries and distrust from those that are supposed to trust her the most.

And I know the reasons: superpowered vs. human, publicly vs. quietly, ambassador for peace vs. criminal. They're all there for me, laid out in beautiful color glossy. But I think what I'm missing here is a more in-depth Selina. A more introspective Selina. The Selina who questioned herself, over and over again, after discovering The Hell That Had Been Wrought On Her by one mind-altering Zatanna. I want her to be less blasé, about her life, about the murder of Black Mask, about Helena's safety. I want to see how truly complicated having a child has made her life, because as of now, despite all that's happened, it doesn't feel like all that much has changed.

But hope not only springs Ever Eternal, it also draws Endlessly Near. Catwoman #63 comes out This Very Week, Gentle Reader, and according to DC's website, we are moving Out Of Gotham and Into Metropolis. Perhaps this move is exactly what Selina needs. And frankly, I am Quite Intrigued at the thought of the Cat-Woman tangling up again with the Super-Man.

Perhaps a certain Dark Knight might even reappear? This Humble Author can only dream....

Back from Suffragette City

It's been Some Time, Gentle Reader, and I apologize for such a lengthy delay in posting! But I've been away, far away, all the way across the Pond away, and I was much too busy researching in the archives to be of much use to you, anyhow. As the title suggests, my archiving was of the Votes For Women variety, and among other, fascinating things, I examined Many Things Militant, including Suffragette prison letters.

As for the new address, greetings from amyreading.blogspot.com! After a brief pondering, I decided to keep the old ettacandy address active, at least for the next few months, as some of you Dear Readers were kind enough to link and archive some of my older posts, as well as comment on my thoughts, and I am loathe to lose those things. Some of you have asked Why The Move, and really, I must confess no real drama, but just a small, selfish desire to claim A Space Of My Own. This blog has changed since I first conceived of it many months ago, and its audience has changed as well. There is one, for starters! But further, I also want to redefine the purpose of this blog. It shall remain a space for All Things Pop Culture, with, as always, a specific focus on feminist readings of comics, movies, television, and books. But some new, exciting things are underway, including a weekly column, more consistent comic reviews, and other surprises here and there.

As always, thanks for reading, and check back over the next several hours for reviews, as

2 10-hour plane rides
$150 in Barnes and Noble Gift Certificates for Christmas
Many trade paperbacks bought and read, including Invincible Iron Man, House of M, and New Avengers.

And, of course, let's not forget 3 weeks of backlog at My Local, to be picked up as soon as the Southern Ice Storm (!!!) is over.

From This Humble Author's First Official Snow Day, I wish you warmth, hot chocolate, and a wealth of comics to read.

Well, at least, that's how I'm planning to spend *my* day.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year, New Title, Same Joy

Greetings, Gentle Reader, from a brand new address! Please bear with me as I remodel a bit. This blog has changed in leaps and bounds from what I expected this past August, and I'd like to reflect a more personal look ahead. Amy Reads changes her address to amyreading.blogspot.com, but the reviews? Well, the same old love and joy I have for pop culture remains the same. Please update your links, as the old address will be deleted shortly.
Until then, I wish you all a healthy and happy start to the New Year!