Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Public Service Announcement

I switched over to the new blogger a few days ago, Gentle Reader, and last night, I updated my layouts. All I can say is that I am Very, Very Frustrated by the changes. I've lost code, links, my counter (which, even after reinstating, still seems to be a bit wonky), and frankly, my patience. This is your friendly neighborhood Public Service Announcement, asking you to bear with me, and let me know if links are broken, posts are strange, or anything seems, well, off.

Besides the new font. I just can't get into this.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Selina, In the Sun: A Brief Review of Catwoman #64

I admit it freely, Gentle Reader. I’ve had problems with the One Year Later run of Catwoman. This used to be one of my favorite titles—particularly any Cat/Bat Interaction!—but the “Who Fathered Catbaby?” storyline disappointed me, to say the least. I wasn’t thrilled with the Sam Bradley answer, or his convenient death, or the way Selina seemed to dismiss everyone’s concerns over her recent act of murder. As a Wonder Woman Fan, I felt a bit cheated that Selina murdered someone and was applauded for it, while Diana killed someone in self-defense—of the *world*--and she’s been put on trial.

That is to say, I go a bit sack of hammers when The Amazon Princess is wronged.

But the Catbaby Father storyline has come to an end, both Selina and Holly are Back In Black, and Catwoman #64 gives us one heck of an issue that has the feel of Old Selina with the caution and meticulousness of New Selina. Or, to wit, This Humble Author Eats Crow, and feels that #64 is the best issue of Catwoman we’ve had since we’ve jumped, One Year Later.

Selina is “hired,” so to speak, by Calculator, to perform a little theft. In exchange for stealing Lex Luthor’s snowglobe from an insanely high security vault, Calculator will erase Holly’s name from the Gotham PD computers, and she will no longer be under threat of arrest for the murder Selina committed. Simple, yes? A simple little crime for a simple little cat burglar.

But of course, it *is* simple for Selina Kyle. With #64, we see Selina at the top of her game again. She’s smart, she’s sassy, she’s cunning, and she’s pulling one over on everyone, despite the bright sunlight that seems to creep into every corner of Metropolis. Despite the reflective chrome-and-glass feel of Superman’s City. And most importantly, because of the introspection we, The Readers, see. Sometimes we forget, Gentle Reader, that sunlight can illuminate inside as well as out.

When reflecting on why she chose the rather obvious pseudonym of Irena Dubrovna, Selina remembers a line from Cat People in which Irena admits that she prefers night to day, dark to light. “She’s right,” Selina thinks to herself. “It is friendly. I suppose that’s why I love Gotham so much. It’s dark. It’s cozy. It’s home.”

It would seem that Selina is never farther away than when she is outside of Gotham, and even, sometimes, outside of the East End. The final panel of that page shows Selina, squinting against the sunlight pouring through the train windows. It shows Selina, in the sun, an image we so rarely see of our favorite Feline Heroine. The sun is cleansing, yes, and light is often a symbol of purification and reveal. Think only of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and Blanche DuBois’ continuous pulling away from harsh light. She could never abide a naked light bulb or a cruel remark, she says, and we only see Blanche for who she is when her face is turned directly to the light.

Selina, too, favors the dark, as do all denizens of Gotham City. Batman, the Joker, the Penguin, Huntress, all of them prefer the cover of night, to disappear deep into the shadows and pop out when we least expect. Not so Metropolis. The first thing Selina sees upon arriving in the city is a streak of red over the sky. “Look!” the citizens say, pointing upwards. “What are they all…” Selina begins, before she, too, looks up.

“Oh,” she thinks, rather unfazed. “Right.”

And that, ultimately, is the beauty of Selina Kyle. Not only is she unfazed by the sight of the Man of Steel, but she’s unfazed by the sight of, well, herself. In an odd time crunch, Now-Selina runs into Future-Selina. If the costume alterations—tears, scratches, and bloodstains—are any clue, Selina is about to run into some problems. “Wait, I remember this,” Future-Selina says. “Listen… you need to watch out for the loo…” but before she can finish, she fades away. Now-Selina tells herself to calm down because “Could’ve been anything. Illusion generator. Parallel dimension portal. Hypnosis device.”

It’s this Selina that This Humble Author has missed over the past several issues. Smart, rational Selina. Confident, shining Selina, who shows nothing but pure joy for her job. When she prepares to break into the inner depths of Luthor’s building, she gives us a—pardon the pun, Gentle Reader!—cat-with-cream grin. She hopes Lex’s company has his sense of paranoia, because, as she tells us, “I’m here to rob them blind.”

She may have come over to the Bright Side, Friends, but at heart, she is the Selina Kyle that we’ve grown to love: toeing the line of good and not-so-good, of bright and dark, of crime and necessary crime. In short, Selina is damn good at what she does and at being who she is. And the reason we love her so completely? Because she knows it. Selina’s confidence may have been shaken by recent and not-so-recent events—Zatanna’s mindwipe, for starters—but this issue seems to bridge the gap between the former, devil-may-care Selina and the current more-cautious, more-meticulous Selina. It’s an interesting move, and one that I think works Quite Well.

Sometimes, I find that familiar characters are their most interesting, their most intriguing, outside of their comfort zones, not because of their vulnerability or Otherness, but because they truly demonstrate their core strengths. Buffy never had to be as strong as when she thought she was alone. Wonder Woman never held a position of honor so high as when she had to make horrible choices by herself. But Selina is, as This Humble Author is coming to realize, charming in Gotham or in Metropolis, fascinating at home or abroad. Because ultimately, Selina is, like Blanche DuBois, “very adaptable—to circumstances” (Williams 55).

Selina is not, of course, on her way to Elysian Fields like Dame Blanche, dependent on the kindness of strangers—and we can all thank our Lucky Stars for that, Gentle Reader! But she is self-confident, self-dependent, self-assured of her strengths, critical but understanding of her weaknesses; she is the same Selina, in Metropolis, in the sun, as she is in Gotham, in the dark. Her adaptability to circumstances, any circumstances, is a survival mechanism that has served her well, from her earlier, purple-suited days, to her black-suited, more utilitarian present. And the lengths to which she is willing to go to clear Holly-as-Catwoman prove that her obligations and loyalty are the same as they’ve always been. To Friends, to Family, to Those-In-Need.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of February 23rd, 2007)

It’s less Reading the Week than it is Gaming the Week, Gentle Reader, as I’ve finally (finally!) managed to have a spare hour to play Marvel Ultimate Alliance on the Reads’ bright and shiny new Wii. In keeping with the theme for this week—thanks to Civil War, it seems to be all Marvel, all the time in the Reads’ household—it feels appropriate to discuss yet another marvel from Marvel. But before I begin, please, let me ask the world: give the Wii Justice League Heroes. Please?

I’m still rather unskilled when it comes to video games. I’ve terrible hand-eye coordination, and while I’m rather good at puzzle games on the computer, the move from mouse to controller confuses me, just a bit. That is to say, I’m still finding my comfort zone with the Wii controller. Again, let me stress my joy from last week’s blog entry that I find the versatility of the Wii controller wonderful. As a left-handed person, I rejoice over its ease and ambidexterity. But it does take a little time to get used to the new controller, and when skirmishes happen as fast as they do in Ultimate Alliance, I find myself as Thor, slamming into a corner, trying to turn around and help my team.

But see, here’s where the fun really begins: you have a *team*. More importantly, you can’t hurt your own team. That’s fantastic for someone like me just learning how to use the controllers (and really, just learning to play a game like this for the first time). Even if I-as-Thor keep bumping into the wall, Cap, Wolverine, and Spidey have all got my back.

You begin the game playing as those four, and Thor is easily my favorite. Perhaps I’m more of a smash-and-grab kind of player, or perhaps I just like the shiny hammer. But I found Thor the easiest character of the four to use for my particular talents (or lack thereof) in the gaming world.

Once you power up, you get to create your own team. Mr. Reads has already unlocked most of the characters, so I created a team of Ms. Marvel, Spiderwoman, Thor (because I like the hammer!), and the Invisible Woman. What a powerhouse of a team, Gentle Reader! Sue Storm isn’t all that strong, physically, but she has some wicked powers. Ms. Marvel was a blast to play with: she’s a flyer, and she’s strong, and she likes to pick things up and throw them. Spiderwoman’s blasts were great, too, but I kept aiming at the wrong things as I tried to work the left and right controller at the same time.

Again, I only played an hour, but I had a great time. Mr. Reads sat on the couch and cheered me on (and, well, reminded me that no, that way was Sudden Doom), while Pup Reads kept jumping at the controller (assuming, I suppose, that they were some elaborate Puppy Plaything). I highly recommend this game, if you don’t have it already.

Next stop for the Wii will most likely be Zelda, or Call of Duty, as Mr. Reads is looking forward to playing both of those. As for This Humble Author, I’m holding out for Justice League, or the off-chance that Wii will pick up a puzzle game a la Agatha Christie or Nancy Drew.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I Know Whose Side I'm On: Thoughts on Marvel's Civil War

Gentle Reader, I actually enjoyed the Civil War series, despite its flaws and delays. And while I'm not as familiar with the Marvel Universe as I am the DC Universe, I felt that the characters were handled with care and, surprisingly, a lot of joy. I felt that the writers enjoyed working through these events, the same as I feel the writers of 52 are really having a blast playing with these characters and plotlines. If they're not, Friends, please, please, don't tell me! Let me live in My Fantasy World a bit longer.

But here's the thing: Marvel kept asking me the same question, over and over, in every issue I opened. Whose side are you on? My side, as it were, was never in doubt. I was, from issue 1, on the side of the Secret Avengers, or the Rebels, or merely those Anti-Registration. Why? Because the logic of Registration is, for me, deeply, deeply flawed.

Why, you ask, Gentle Reader? Or perhaps, you don't ask, but merely nod your head and agree that indeed, Registration is many things: anti-hero, anti-American, anti-freedom. Yes, all of those things are true, but even more so, I read the Registration Initiative as the early stages of Forced Removal, or Ghettoization, or other such government initiatives to forcibly remove--or mark--certain racial, religious, etc. groups from the general public. First, they mark them, those superheroes. Then, when they refuse to be marked, they are imprisoned. When they do register, they are forced to work for the government, regardless if they want to or not, or are even relocated away from their homes and families. All in secret, mind you. But even when Prison Number 42 is revealed to the public, as it is in #7, Reed Richards remarks that the public met the Negative Zone Prison with resounding applause and support.

This argument, that people must be locked up not only for the good of the citizens, but for their own good, as well, has deep roots in Humanity's deepest pits of racism, hatred, xenophobia, anti-specific-religious sentiment, sexism, the list goes on and on. But that's not all. The *roots* of the Civil War, the New Warriors' tragic accident that killed hundreds of people, including children, scared the World At Large. Suddenly, those with powers were too scary to exist side-by-side those without powers. Those-with-powers, that is, refused to let themselves become public. "But they are dangerous!" the populace screams. "They can Kill Us All! Look, there's evidence. They killed children, indiscriminately."

You see it, don't you, Gentle Reader? The same argument that has perpetuated some of the worst racism in America? The "ones" who play the game-—live their lives according to the dominant status quo—-are okay. They are "just like us." But the "ones" who don't? They're deemed *dangerous*. Even worse, the idea that because a black/white/red/green person committed a crime against someone's family, then *all* black/white/red/green persons are Evil Incarnate continues. Then *all* black/white/red/green persons must be locked up, for "their own good," for the Good Of The World.

I don't mean to be so deeply sarcastic, Friends. I believe in a reformative prison system. I believe that, given enough money and caring, the majority of criminals can be reformed. I believe that, intentionally or unintentionally, Speedball committed a crime and therefore should receive a Trial Of His Peers. I do *not*, however, believe that everyone who looks/thinks/acts/breathes the same as Speedball should suffer the same. Not because it's "anti-American," or "unconstitutional," but because it's *wrong*.

Gentle Reader, because a small group of people who look and/or act similarly commit a crime, that does not mean that all the people who look and/or act the same should suffer the consequences, as well. We are seeing reverberations of this kind of thought across the world at the moment, as we have seen it since The Dawn Of Time. "Witches" were burned at the stake, Jews were expelled from every European Country, Africans and Caribbeans were plucked from their homelands and forced into slavery, Women were denied control of property, money, their children, even their very bodies, American Indians had bounties placed on their heads, racism against the Romany, or Gypsies, is still publicly acceptable, the list goes on and on. We did not begin the cycle, but we still suffer under it, as I'm sure our children, and our children's children, will, so very unfortunately, suffer under similar cycles, as well.

That is to say, what Marvel's Civil War does is thumb its nose at people who say Comics Are Just Comics, or Books Are Just Books, or TV Is Just TV. Well, no, they're not. Civil War used a glossy, colorful medium to offer the repercussions of racism, sexism, homophobia, meta-ism, etc. to The Reading Public. Because Speedball committed a crime, accidentally, the viewing public sees his face in the face of every potential powered person. Suddenly, everyone is A Secret Red. That is, A Potential Superhero. Neighbor turned on Neighbor, Friend turned on Friend, and even, in the case of She-Hulk, Alter-Ego turned on Alter-Ego (or at least disagreed with).

Looking at the complexity of these thoughts sprung out of Civil War, how is it possible that there are still people in the world who believe that That Which Entertains Us can never, not even in its wildest imaginations, Challenge Us? That Which Entertains Us challenges us, every day. The Victorians used the wacky new medium, the novel, to write about the travesties of social issues—-child labor, The Woman Question, racism, anti-Semitism, even homophobia. Jane Eyre is a blast to read (for This Humble Author, anyways!), but further, it talks about deep, dark issues like slavery, the Woman Question, and children's rights. Civil War was a blast to read, but further, it talked about the deepest –isms under which our society suffers.

I think I'll call it "not-us-ism."

Not-us-ism is perhaps the broadest –ism we can think of, and it encompasses every –ism in the world. Because in the end, isn't that what racism, sexism, classism, etc. is all about? Sexism—-"I'm not a man or a woman, so I can't believe that men or women need or want these things." Racism—-"I'm not black, green, purple, brown, white, or red, so therefore I can't believe that black, green, et al persons need or want the same things I do." Even further, "because I'm not black, green, et al, that is, because I'm Not Them, and They're Not Me, I don't think they *deserve* the things I have."

I'm not denying that a very real tragedy was committed in Civil War by accident, or by accident brought on by arrogance. But how many times has very real tragedy been committed in the world? In Marvel's Universe? Why now? Why demand Superhero Registration now? There is Something Else Going On, Gentle Reader. Something scary. Something like A Plan.

Perhaps? Perhaps not? Well, we shall see, Friends, the continuation of Civil War throughout the Marvel Universe. I am upset with Cap, but I understand why he did what he did. I understand the need for peace, for the end of violence. But I can say, with Great Certainty, that as of now, Tony Stark scares me more than any other person, hero or villain, on the comic book stage today. I don't trust him, and moreover, I don't think this is over.

Not by a long shot.

So thank you, Mr. Millar, for a great read, a thoughtful read, one that reminded me of one of my favorite DC books, Superman: Red Son. You made This DC Girl like even more Marvel, and that's saying a lot.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of February 16th, 2007)

It's true, Gentle Reader, that I have Read The Week. I've also Written The Week, Gamed The Week, Watched The Week, and, because of the Awful Accident Of Washing Machine Proportions, I've done a fair bit of Washing The Week, as well. It has been, all said and done, a Rather Productive Week, at that.

Writing the Week
Perhaps it's because That Dreaded Chapter has finally (finally!) been turned in to The Director. Or perhaps it's because I'm easing back into fiction writing, after a bit of a hiatus. The Dissertation drains many of the creative juices, I admit, but after quitting smoking 6 months ago (and still finding myself, so many weeks later, occasionally craving), I found all forms of writing more difficult than they used to be. Not that writing is ever easy. But it can be, sometimes, as well as fun, and rewarding, and therapeutic. But you see, all of my writing rituals were caught up, the past 15 (!!!) years, with cigarettes, and while I relearned how to Write Academically without a cigarette, I did not, with great success, relearn how to Write Creatively without one.

Writing is hard, difficult, sometimes painful work. Even further, it's lonely. No, no, Friends, I don't mean in the writing of it, but rather, in the releasing of it. It seems that when I finish a project, whether that be a novel, a short story, or a dissertation chapter, I suffer a bit from Postpartum Depression. That is to say, my baby has gone off in the world, perhaps with snotty nose, or wrinkled clothes, and I have to watch her go, without me. In moments like this, I think back to Anne Bradstreet and her claim in the poem "The Author to Her Book" that her book is a bastard child, smudged and blemished, but still, much loved. That original book of her poetry, taken from her by her brother-in-law and published without her consent, is

"Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did'st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view." (lines 1-4)

The exposure of the thing, the publicity of it, embarrasses, brings every flaw, every hole and problem to light. As Mrs. Bradstreet claims to her book, she

"Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call." (lines 5-8)

But even though she "cast thee by as one unfit for light" (line 9) because "The visage was so irksome in my sight" (line 10), she can't help but feel that

"Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw." (line 11-14)

Yet being my own, I, too, find affection for that thing I've created, for that thing-which-is-mine, and I, too, try to spit-polish it to perfection. But sometimes, in the process, we make things worse, rather than better. For the book, certainly, but also, for us. Or sometimes, we cling too long, refuse to let it go off into the world, abroad, and be exposed to public view.

I've quoted Mrs. Bradstreet on this blog before, and not because I have any particular love for Seventeenth-Century American Poetry. Quite the Opposite, in fact. I am, as I have always been, whether personally or academically, firmly entrenched in Nineteenth-Century English Literature. But Mrs. Bradstreet's talents call for much discussion, as her poetry speaks to us, and in particular, to aspiring women writers, even three hundred years after her work was written. Because we can relate to the panic of separation. Because we can see the usefulness of the childbirth metaphor for the act of writing. We can commiserate with the simple fact that Mrs. Bradstreet, in fact, usurps this tradition from male writers; childbirth metaphors, particularly in poetry, were, at the time of her usage, a masculine convention.

Her subversiveness, the very act of writing her maternal body, fascinates us because we see the legacy of it. Irigaray, Cixous, so many women writers urging other women to write. So many women writers urging, nay, supporting the feminine act of writing. We shall write in white ink, shall we not? And we shall revel in the fact that writing is a process of the mind as well as of the body. The body, as well as the mind, writes in unison. One cannot exist without the other, for women, or for men. No Cartesian split here. Not for Bradstreet; not for Cixous; not for us.

Gaming the Week
Strangely—-and believe me, Gentle Reader, I am the first to shake my head over this odd little connection I am making—-this mind/body split, or rather, this mind/body reconnection, actually calls to mind the new Nintendo game system, the Wii. While I have not played much, or played long, I have tried out the Sports game that comes with the system, and I truly understand the appeal of the Nintendo Wii. For gamers, yes. There is more control here, with a controller that can be held in the right or the left hand. As a left-handed person, I truly appreciate the versatility of the system, the ease in which I can settle into a position made for anyone, rather than try to adjust my body, awkwardly and uncomfortably, to a system made for the right-handed majority.

Even further, I see the appeal for parents. The Wii is an interactive system, designed to foster movement from the players. That is to say, as I boxed with the controller, I actually boxed with my arms. I beat my opponent with a knockout, yes, but it was due to how far back I pulled my (left) fist. How fast I drove it forward. As America, in particular, is concerned with the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of its youth, the Wii is a system that is designed to get those same kids up and moving. And, of course, the rather sedentary thirty-something academics.

I've yet to play Marvel Alliance, and I am heartbroken that Justice League Heroes is not yet available for the Wii, but I will keep you updated on my progress, Gentle Reader, as I become intrigued by a gaming system for the first time in my adolescent or adult life.

Well, that is, other the Atari, after all.

Reading the Week
Over the weekend, I read the scariest book I've encountered since Stephen King's The Shining. If you enjoy horror, Gentle Reader, of the psychological and can't-sleep variety, might I recommend Scott Smith's The Ruins, which was recommended to me by Mr. Reads, and to the Reading Public by the Master of Horror Himself, Mr. King? But it's not for the faint of heart, I assure you. I stayed up Quite Late the evening I read it, both finishing it, and waiting for the Fear To Subside afterwards, as well.

And as I take book recommendations seriously, I rushed out on Wednesday to pick up a copy of Heart-Shaped Box by newcomer Joe Hill, all on the word of one Mr. Gaiman. Of course, if Neil Gaiman Himself tells one to read a book, one has no room for refusal. I'm a few chapters in, but had to pause for sleep, and daylight. It seems another book that one shouldn't read in the night, or in the dark (gratitude, Ms. Jackson).

Anticipating the Week
One of the advantages of finishing projects, however, is the beginning of new projects. And what a week, Gentle Reader, for new project beginnings! New fiction, new dissertation chapter, new directions on older fictions, new anticipations and concerns and delights, all waiting to begin. And thus I should, it seems, both presume and begin, right now.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shoes to Fill, Mantles to Wear: Brief Reviews of White Tiger #2-4

It was an exciting weekend in the Reads Household, Gentle Reader, as Mr. Reads has acquired the mythical and much-coveted Nintendo Wii, after standing in line, in the cold, for *only* 3.5 hours. He spent the majority of Sunday and Monday (and Tuesday, and Wednesday) playing Ultimate Alliance, the fancy new Marvel game that will, he assures me, allow me to create a team of Ms. Marvel, the Invisible Woman, Elektra, and Spiderwoman, four of the few reasons I ever venture over Marvel Way. Not that I dislike Marvel Comics, not even. If you look at my sidebar, you'll see that I enjoy many Marvel books. I just happen to be, down to the core, A DC Fan.

I say a team of four of the few reasons I venture over to Marvel. There has been a recent addition to that foray, and I've expressed my admiration for the new White Tiger miniseries before. Not only is the character one-of-a-kind—-we see the greatness in Angela in Daredevil, and even more so when she gets her own book—-but the writing we get from Mr. Liebe and Ms. Pierce is really extraordinary. Issue one reintroduced us to the character we saw briefly in Daredevil, gave us glimpses of some of This Humble Author's Personal Favorites (can I ever love Black Widow more than I already do?), and showed us how small and tight-knit the Marvel Superhero Community really is.

DC's is, too, I know. But Teams sometimes get in the way of simple superheroing. Or perhaps it's that Gotham, Metropolis, Keystone City, Star City, Opal City, St. Roch, etc. are all too far apart. In New York, in Marvel's New York, there are several powers either vying for said power, or lending a hand when needed.

This close proximity to All Things Mutant And Meta can backfire, of course. The recent events in Civil War speak to that perfectly. But when Marvel's team-ups are good, they're very, very good: the Young Avengers, the Runaways, the X-Men, all of these seem to work well in group as well as out of group, and the team-ups of these diverse personalities send sparks throughout the Marvel Universe.

***Spoilers for White Tiger, as well as recent events in Marvel Civil War***

In Liebe and Pierce's run on White Tiger, we seem a team-up of a different nature. We see the newest incarnations of the Mantles help each other not only for professional reasons, but for some rather intriguing personal reasons, as well. Daredevil 2.0, otherwise affectionately known as Iron Fist, or Tio, to Ms. Angela Del Toro, perhaps helps the newest incarnation of The White Tiger out of familial obligation, or perhaps out of professional courtesy. Or perhaps—-just perhaps, Gentle Reader!-—because he, too, knows the difficulty of filling someone else's larger-than-life shoes. The mantle is heavy, Friends, not only for its elasticity, good stitching, and quality fabric, but for the weight of its purpose, its symbolism, the constant concern over Letting People Down.

The pairing of Daredevil 2.0 and The White Tiger is nothing short of genius on the parts of Mr. Liebe and Ms. Pierce. Both characters are trying to fill a void left by their predecessors: Danny by Matt Murdock's imprisonment, and Angela by her uncle's murder. But where the genius comes in is in this simple fact: neither Danny nor Angela attempt to ape their predecessors. Rather, both heroes grasp their heroing on a purely personal level.

When White Tiger and 2.0 fight back to back at the end of issue #2, Angela remarks, "As if I needed more proof Daredevil 2.0 was family, he doesn't fight like Murdock. He fights like I'd been taught." Rather than try to be something he isn't-—say, a blind extra-sensory lawyer cum vigilante from Hell's Kitchen—-even though his presence is meant to divert suspicion away from said blind extra-sensory lawyer, Daredevil 2.0 works to his strengths, and with his strengths, as does White Tiger. As do they both, as they both were taught. From the same roots, the same place, the same urge for survival. Fight as if your life is on the line, because in Marvel's New York, it almost always is.

But further, Mr. Liebe and Ms. Pierce do not allow anyone to make allowances for Angela; she is a woman, and she does not shy away from her gender, or the so-called stereotypes of her gender. Throughout the series, we see Angela exploiting gender stereotypes to gain advantage over the Bad Guys. She dresses up while on bodyguard duty, or dresses down, if the occasion calls for it. One of the most fascinating scenes comes on Angela's first job protecting clubbing socialites. They spray her, playfully, with the new Tigress Blanca scent; this scent later disguises Angela's real scent from Cobra, who says, "I smell something… familiar. Almost like pretty white kitty. But there's too much perfume in the air."

And there is, of course, the denial of gender stereotypes, seen best in the sharing of chocolate-glazed donuts on the roof with Spider-Man and Daredevil 2.0, despite the potential that "chocolate and white outfits don't mix" on two levels, the possibility of stain and the possibility of gaining weight, which, in the realm of stereotype, would be "apparent" in a white outfit. That gender stereotype--that all woman are, and should be, concerned with their weight to the point of obsession--doesn't even make Angela's radar, as she proves working late at night, in her quite-normal pajamas eating her quite-normal donut with her quite-healthy understanding and image of her and her body. It seems that White Tiger allows the reader a glimpse into the less "glamorous" side of superheroing. That is to say, the part in which the superheroes are real heroes, and real people, wearing real clothes and eating real food.

White Tiger #4 shows us further encounters, with Emma Frost, with Luke Cage—-Tio Luke, to Angela-—further and further spirals into the small confines of the Marvel NYC Hero Community. But more so, we see further and further spirals into the small tight-knit circle of friends and family Angela has to call on. In short, White Tiger is as much a comic book about a superhero as it is about legacy.

Angela is a legacy; like a long line of superheroes before and after her, she has large shoes to fill and a mighty mantle to wear. She is the newbie on the scene, not only as the new White Tiger, but as the new superhero, as well. But rather than receiving the stereotypical "Go Home, Kiddo, for your own good!" line from those around her, she is offered help, again and again, if she should need it. And while she rarely does, Angela is not above calling for help. That's what families do for each other, after all. What this title gives us is a strong woman, a strong superhero, and a strong sense of the superhero community, outside of teams, outside of Civil Wars, outside of masks. Angela is offered help almost always outside the mask, and she recognizes help not in costume but in familiar, familial settings.

The White Tiger is a legacy, certainly, but more importantly, she is the embodiment of the importance of continuation in the superhero world. Even further, she is the embodiment of the importance of change. Her powers shift, her understanding of her strengths changes, as she—-dare I say it, Gentle Reader?—-as she mutates, just a bit, with the aid of the White Tiger Amulet.

As Angela is wounded by Cobra's lethal venom at the end of book #4, she applies the amulet directly to the wound in the hopes that it will heal. In the hopes that she won't die. "Home is where..." Angela begins, in a long, pain-induced quote of what it means to belong. "Home is where... you hang'a your hat… Character is... what you are... inna the dark..." And what Angela is in the dark is revealed in the final panel, with the white tiger roaring above her, along with an image of Hector dying in Daredevil's arms, along with an image of Angela, kicked off the roof by Daredevil. She is a product of her past, and the expectations of her future. She is What Came Before, and she is always What Comes After. She is not the house in which the White Tiger resides; rather, she is the embodiment of the White Tiger, proven, again and again, by her powers, sans amulet. Proven, again and again, by her determination and will.

Or perhaps What Angela Is is revealed before the final panel, in the first panel of #4, when she bemoans her Cheesecake status in the Daily Bugle, and thus defies Cheesecake status in the Comic Book Universe. Or in a further panel in #4, when she protects visiting superheroes from ignorance, hate, and xenophobia. Or when she is the role model for a young woman who is thrilled to see a woman fighting crime. That is, who is thrilled to see a Latina *just like her* fighting crime. "Daddy, I want to be White Tiger someday," the young woman says while watching surveillance footage of Angela at the airport. "She looks Latin, I'm half Latin. I have martial arts—"

Or perhaps—-just perhaps, Gentle Reader!—-Who Angela Is is revealed when she spars with Luke Cage in #4, and proves that she's not "just a girl," as in, the girl they all knew, Hector's niece, the one that still calls them Tio. She has a large, extended family that loves her, as she loves them. Because in the end, Angela's strength comes from her home, her True Home: her neighborhood, New York, the interconnections of her family and friends that support her and admire her not because she is the new White Tiger, but because she is Angela Del Toro, fighting for right, first as an FBI agent, but then as a bodyguard. She is, and always has been, a Protector, and whether it is saving a mother and child from The Lizard, or saving America from itself, a small piece at a time, it's What Angela Does, and Who Angela Is. Because in the end, Angela doesn't just fill the mantle.

She surpasses it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

There's Better Glossy in the World: Much Love for Comic Book Love

What a day it has been, Gentle Reader! The Reads Washing Machine decided that the floor was the best place to store its water (two minutes before Mr. Reads had to leave for work), the car key gnomes made off with Mr. Reads' keys (one minute before Mr. Reads had to leave for work), and the amount of towels needed to clean up the mess has doubled the dirty laundry quotient in the Reads Household (and as I don't leave for work until the afternoon... well, You get the Idea!).

That is to say, The Reads Family has never quite enjoyed Valentine's Day.

For all of the normal reasons, yes: the commercialization of it, the outrageous expectations, the silliness of an entire holiday banked on consumerism. And perhaps for some not-as-normal reasons: We Reads, as a family, do not believe that a holiday should force us to express love, devotion, and joy to each other. We'd rather do that on our own terms, whenever we like.

Or perhaps it's because We Reads don't need Hallmark sentimentality: Mr. Reads is a poet, and This Humble Author occasionally fancies herself a writer. We can do better than the cards can, every time. Or perhaps it's because the reality of love is more interesting than the glossy red-and-pink-and-white fantasy of love presented to the world in the card aisles at your local grocery store, or chemist's.

But it *is* Valentine's Day, and One feels the need to discuss Love, in Some Incarnation, on One's Blog. So as a counteroffer to the glossy, schlocky sentimentality offered this month--rather than the beautiful Purple, Green, and Gold of Mardi Gras we should all celebrate instead (Laissez les bons temps rouler, Gentle Reader!)--I offer you a Better Glossy instead.

They may not be the healthiest, or the happiest, or the most tragic. They may be all of those things, or none of those things. The only thing they do have in common is that I adore them, in all of their wackiness, tragedy, silliness, maturity, and adoration.

The Ten Most Fascinating Comic Book Relationships
(as according to Amy Reads)

In no particular order.

1) Wally West and Linda Park-West
There is perhaps an order to this one, Gentle Reader, in that I find Wally and Linda to be the healthiest of any comic book relationship. Further, I am ever-charmed by Wally West, and ever-charmed by the strength and love of Linda Park-West. We will let them stand first, in a long line of favorites.

2) Catwoman and Batman
Oh, Selina and Bruce! Please reunite in love and happiness! You are never better than when you two are together.
That is to say, I'm a 'shipper, of the Highest Order.

3) Big Barda and Mister Miracle
What is not to love about Barda and Scott? In particular, what's not to love about a woman who is, hands down, larger and stronger than her husband, *in a comic book*?

4) Hulkling and Wiccan
The Young Avengers is a favorite book, and for three particular reasons: the new Hawkeye, Hulkling, and Wiccan. Not only are these two characters fascinating as superheroes, they are fascinating—-and awe-inspiring—-as a couple as well. Perhaps because they are teenagers, I didn't expect their relationship to be as mature as it is, but it is mature, and deep, and I adore them more every issue.

5) Colossus and Kitty Pryde
I am heartbroken, Gentle Reader, after the latest issue of Astonishing X-Men. I was never The Great Marvel Fan, as we are all well aware, but Joss Whedon brought me around, and the love story between Colossus and Kitty—-so hopeful, now a bit tragic, in Great Joss Tradition—-just breaks my heart, into a million itty pieces.

6) Renee Montoya and Kate Kane
Renee has been a favorite character since her Rucka days, and Batwoman, as an icon, simply fascinates me. But when put together as a couple, there is true strength here. Renee is better with Kate, and Kate is better with Renee. The few brief scenes we see of them together convince us of that. And, well, I can never resist unrequited love stories when *both* characters pine, unrequitedly, for an extended period of time...

7) Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker
Not the adult version, Gentle Reader, although I must say, I enjoy that version, too. Rather the charming awkward anticipation of the Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane variety rates this list. I would say more, but really, I've already gushed enough in my last review for anyone to stomach, I suspect (!!!).

8) Wonder Girl and Superboy
So tentative, so gentle, to end in such tragedy. From the shy, dancing-around-each-other Teen Titan days, to the final culmination of their love, to Cassie's continued attempts to bring him back, this love affair breaks my heart, too. And if it isn't painfully obvious by now, I enjoy my fiction with plenty of heartbreak!

9) The Joker and Harley Quinn
How can they *not* make the list, Gentle Reader? I love my DC Bad Girls, and Harley Quinn is on the top of the pile. Just when you think the Joker is the scariest thing you'll ever see, Harley opens her mouth, and you are *truly* frightened. Nothing else to say, Mr. J!

10) Luke Cage and Jessica Jones
I adore, absolutely adore Mr. Bendis's Alias series, and Jessica Jones is a personal favorite. The grittiness of her life, peppered by her few moments of hopeful anticipation, all resulting in the fierceness of her love for Luke and their child. And to see Mr. Cage himself, so enamored of his wife and daughter, so willing to fight to protect them and their future, makes me proud to like Marvel, just a little bit.

And, as an added bonus, Mr. Reads offers His Two Cents on a Comic Book Couple. Not to let him lose out on all the fun, I asked him who would be his choice, other than the ones I've mentioned. he said that despite his childhood crush on Jean Grey, the new pairing of Cyclops and Emma Frost is rapidly becoming a favorite for him.

And so, revel in the full-color glossy choices in the world! Choose pink-and-red as well as four-color! In other words, Happy Valentine's Day, Gentle Reader! May your chocolate be filled with cherries, and your comic books glossy and bright!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of February 9th, 2007)

The name of the game this week, Gentle Reader, is Catch Up. That is to say that I am woefully behind on my Comic Book Pop Culture, and I am, somewhat desperately, going through my backlog in order to get caught up with the present. Two issues behind on Supergirl—-although I only thought I was behind the one-—three weeks on 52, finally caught up on White Tiger, only to remember that issue #4 came out this week, and I haven't had the chance to pick it up yet. Not to mention Action Comics, Detective Comics, Civil War, JLA, X-23, and that partridge stuck in that bloody pear tree.

I have plans, great plans, for Next Week, as the revision of the chapter will finally be done and the chapter will, in its 50+ pages of (somewhat) Glory, be Turned In To The Director. Those plans include a much belated review of White Tiger #s 2-4, a series that I am thoroughly enjoying, albeit belatedly so, as well as finally Jumping On The (Supergirl and Batgirl) Bandwagon, as I've read Teen Titans, but not, well, Supergirl.

But I have managed to stay current on A Few Things, Gentle Reader, and first and foremost of those is:

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #13 and #14 by Sean McKeever

I adore this series, Friends. I believe I've mentioned that fact several times over the course of This Blog's Two Incarnations. There is something fun and innocent about it, at the same time there is something dark and mysterious, too. That is, in the opinion of This Humble Author, Good Writing.

The fun and innocent, of course, come from the subject matter. Mary Jane Watson, the future Mrs. Peter Parker, is in high school, and finally, after several mishaps, including a massive obsession and disastrous date with Spider-Man, crushing on the adorable, science-geeky Peter Parker. Cue Gwen Stacy, who arrives at the high school and turns the head-—and kisses the lips-—of said adorable science geek. The art, very pop, almost manga, bubbly and colorful and bright, lends itself to this feeling of Young Adult Comic Book.

The dark and mysterious comes in, though, quite often and quite fast. Mary Jane, disappointed in love, exhausts herself by creating a veneer of bubbly brightness. She can't be concerned with Peter's flirtations with Gwen, so she claims; she's too busy being the most popular—-and most desirable—-girl in the school. She smiles and waves and flirts and blows kisses, but when she's alone in a room, her face falls, she stares in the mirror at her reflection, and she doesn't look too happy about what she sees. She is torn between doing What She Wants and doing What Is Right. Seemingly obvious choices, yes, but quite mature subject matter for a girl still in high school, still crushing on the boy she really shouldn't, according to High School Hierarchy, crush on.

Where the good is-—and trust me, Gentle Reader, there is much good to be found—-is in the writing, and the art, and most importantly, the tone. Mr. McKeever gets the voices right, and in issue #13, when Gwen details her conversation with Peter to Mary Jane, the art changes, and the dialogue, to reflect not What Happened, but rather, What Gwen Understands Happened. That is to say, Peter Parker doesn't make awkward excuses for running out on their date, but rather, from Gwen’s point of view, says, "But now I'm totally gonna ditch you without warning for no real reason whatsoever," followed by a perky, "'Bye!" This is Peter Parker According To Gwen Stacy, and the art shows a boy a little hipper, a little cooler, very cute and very suave. The same boy as Spider-Man retains that hipness; when Gwen sees him fight The Sandman, Spidey says, "Hey, look at me! I'm Spider-Man! I'm cool!"

I was once a High School Student, Gentle Reader, and while I know you find it Hard To Believe, I was, yes, it's true, Friends, once awkward, and naïve, and less than eloquent. I can relate to these statements, these views, as I, like Gwen Stacy, and Mary Jane Watson, found the geeky science kid Quite Cool And Hip. And if I can remember what it was like these dozen or so years since graduating from high school, I'm sure current high school students can relate, as well.

I don't know the numbers of distribution, Friends, nor do I know how to get such information. But it seems-—just seems, Gentle Reader!-—that Marvel must be doing Quite Well with this series. Not only because of the subject matter, and I'm not speaking here of the love story. Because in truth, the love story of Peter Parker and Mary Jane takes the backburner in most of the series. Rather, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is about insecurities, and artificiality, and not knowing your place, at home, in high school, in the world. So many comic series handle that well in teen settings-—Gen 13, X-23, Teen Titans, X-Men—-but Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane sets it in the almost-normal world of an almost-normal high school. Spider-Man is a character inasmuch as the Quarterback is a character, or the Prom Queen: larger than life, almost mythical, but Just Like You once you get to know him.

In short, Gentle Reader? This series is one of the smartest on the market today, and every issue, I am reminded of Why I Read It.

In a brief but well-deserved coup in the Reads Household, I have introduced Mr. Reads to the Wonder that is Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Of course, let's be honest here, Friends, Mr. Reads threw me the comic in the first place. But he hadn't read it. Not at all. It was, as he put it, "very much an Amy Book." And it is, of course, but that's because it is Smart. So I kept telling Mr. Reads, over and over again.

He's now read all of the issues, and he is, as he told me last evening, rather thankful to me for making him pick up the series. Mr. Reads reintroduced me to comic books several years ago, and I am grateful to him for it. But I am-—yes, it's true, Friends—-Rather Smug in having scored such a turn-the-tables coup.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Who Will Script the Fight for My Rights Now?

I had suspicions, Gentle Reader, due to delays, and vast rumors, but never once did I believe that my suspicions could come true.

But they have. Joss Whedon is no longer writing the Wonder Woman movie.

You are well aware by now my love for All Things Whedon, and I feel that he is one of the few writers in production today who writes a great strong, supernatural woman. It's a hard character to write, certainly, and Mr. Whedon always has been, for This Humble Author, at least, quite Up To The Task.

But what now? IMDB has had a 2007 release date for the Wonder Woman movie up for years, and we're all Pretty Sure that's never going to happen. Probably not next year, either.

I can't help but feel that this is just yet another brick in the long, delayed wall of Wonder Woman Pop Culture. The movie unscripted and delayed, the comic book constantly pushed back and shuffled from writer to writer since Crisis, what next for the Amazon Princess? Why can't she have the consistency she deserves?

Why can't we see the Wonder we've waited so long to see?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of February 2nd, 2007)

If you were to look at my sidebar, Gentle Reader, you may notice that I have pulled 2 TV shows from my "Current Pop Culture" list: The Dresden Files and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. We all shouldn't be surprised about the Dresden Files, although it's only been two weeks, but Studio 60 was actually a difficult decision to make.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

My Sister Feminists at The Hathor Legacy have intelligently and fairly discussed the latest plotlines in Studio 60, and I feel I need not reinvent the wheel, when they have created such a lovely one for us. Suffice to say that I adore Aaron Sorkin, and am deeply, deeply disappointed in the soap-opera-ish direction Studio 60 has taken. The occasional sentimentality we see on The West Wing or Sports Night is wildly overdone here. I began the showing caring about Josh... I mean, Danny, and by this Monday night's episode, ended completely creeped out by his stalker-boy persona. Even more so, I was disappointed with the "it's okay, I'm sorry, really" resolution to the stalker-boy problem.

In short, this show has disappointed me, and while I hung on, bravely and almost desperately, it's time to Move On.

The Dresden Files

Losing this show, Dear Reader, doesn't hurt as much as Studio 60, but perhaps it's because I only had a two-episode commitment. I adore Jim Butcher's novels. Mr. Reads and I read the entire series this summer, and while I admit that my interest initially came from the fact of hearing my beloved James Marsters narrate the audio books that Mr. Reads was listening to, I became hooked to the paper versions, utterly and completely. Sure, there are some Series Problems, as all series have their problems—-sometimes too convenient plot points, economy of character problems, excess of character problems, etc.—-but I truly care for Harry and the motley crew of characters he has with him. In truth, by the end of the last book, any doubts I may have had about the series were completely gone.

But where the television series fails is exactly where the novel series succeeds: I don't know why I should like my characters. Harry Dresden is a wizard... I guess. At least, someone said that, once. He's a wizard because... his father was a magician??? There's a ghost that... lives in a skull? Harry does magic... maybe? Only once an episode, really, and none of that magic is in any way impressive or even seemingly necessary.

I don't know if you've read The Dresden Files, Gentle Reader, but one of the neatest things about Butcher's character is that technology gets a little freaky whenever Harry gets near. That is to say, magic futzes with technology. Definitely not a new concept, truly, but with Harry Dresden, Butcher takes it to the Nth degree. Harry Dresden cannot have electric lights, or a refrigerator, or central heat, or a car made after, say, 1972. So his icebox—-complete with real ice—-and candles, and multitudes of rugs and tapestries, and his ancient VW Bug that has been repaired so many times it is the Bug with the Technicolor Paint-Coat, are nothing but absolutely charming.

There is none of that charm in the television series.

In fact, one of the things that we-—as Comic Book Fans, that is—-should love about Harry Dresden is that he is, in some sense, a magical Peter Parker. In fact, Harry even says that he subscribes to the Tao of Peter Parker. That's just Sheer Genius, Friends, because in the end, it's true. Harry does what he does, and does it well, and he's a bit awkward and bumbling but that's what's so bloody charming about him. That's where he shines.

The Dresden Files is a television show about magic, without any magic, about a wizard, without letting us know the wizard, and truly, I liked this supernatural investigator show much better when it was called Buffy, or Angel, or X-Files. While the lead actor has the feel for Harry, he doesn't have writers giving him enough to work with. And it's a shame, truly, because there's so much wealth in Butcher's series to work with.

Further Viewings

Mr. Reads and I have culled down our television addictions quite seriously, and we've a few older series we're plugging through at the moment. The British Office, for one, and another fascinating show called Waking the Dead I discovered in England (God Bless You, Netflix, truly). On the Ms. Reads agenda is Regency House Party which is, thus far, incredibly charming, and we are currently on Season 8 of The X-Files. Among all of this, Gentle Reader? I've finished the draft of My Dissertation Chapter, and after a weekend-long rewrite, will turn it into the Director next week. That means, officially, I'm halfway finished with The First Draft. Let us huzzah! and celebrate my minor writing success, before I start the once-again painful process of Beginning The Next Chapter.