Friday, April 27, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of April 27th, 2007)

Today, Gentle Reader, found me Quite Aware of several of my popular cultures. I went to The Coffee Conglomerate Giant to get some work done, and I carried said work in my Buffy the Vampire Slayer tote bag. Then I wandered over to The Corporate Toy Store to search for the new series 2 of the Marvel Legends figures for Mr. Reads. While searching through various Wasps and Emma Frosts and Planet Hulks (oh my!), a Nice Young Gentleman asked me if I needed some help.

“No, thanks,” I said. “Just looking.” I wasn’t intentionally terse, but I was on my cell phone with Mr. Reads at the time, trying to determine which figures, specifically, he was searching for.

“By the way, your shirt rocks,” Nice Young Gentleman said, and gestured at my “Justice League of America” t-shirt. “They won’t let me wear my fun shirts to work.”

“I can’t wear mine to work, either,” I said. “So I wear them when I can.”

Mr. Reads, still on the line, was laughing, as we have often commented on How Incredibly Cool and Friendly the Nice Young Gentlemen and Ladies who work at Said Toy Store are. “Cool” for Mr. Reads and This Humble Author means, of course, that Said Cool Person is Pop-Culturally Aware of the things that We, Ourselves, are aware of. That is to say, Mr. Reads and I often define “Coolness” by one’s competence and knowledge in Those Areas of Fandom That We Love.

This Fandom Moment was rather welcome today, as I spent the majority of my morning seething over something I read on The Internet. In fact, I seethed so much, Gentle Reader, that I delayed, yes, *delayed* writing this column because I knew, ultimately, that it would disintegrate into a rant. And while I appreciate The Occasional Rant on The Internet (and have Indulged Myself a time or two), I remember, above all else, the lesson I learned upon first experiencing The Internet At Large, some ten, twelve years back:

Do Not Feed The Trolls.

So instead of responding, or writing this column, I seethed quietly. I mentally composed tomes of replies, and I persisted in these useless responses until I remembered to marvel at my Buffy bag, I had the opportunity to share in the delight of the JLA with a Fellow Fan, I popped in a CD and continued to (talent) crush on Nathan Willett of Cold War Kids Fame. Until I remembered that Pop Culture is about Us, All of Us, We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Fandoms.

These things, these fandom objects, seemingly, then, carry a mystical, portentous weight. My Buffy tote bag, my JLA t-shirt, my Wonder Woman day planner, the Reads Family Spider-Man travel mug, even, define me (and in the latter’s case, Mr. Reads) because they were objects chosen, specifically, by me, for me. They were objects purchased with the intent for public display. Unlike some other items in our fandom—my signed copy of Connie Willis’s Bellwether, say, or my Boba Fett pez dispenser—that stay within the home, these other objects are almost talismanic. They are proclamations of the things we adore. The things that make us happy.

But further, they are, above all else, invitations for communication.

I invite you, Gentle Reader, to communicate with me. What are some of your talismanic fandom objects? Tell us about your Batman messenger bags, your Superman ties, your X-Men t-shirts. What’s your favorite item?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of April 20th, 2007)

This week has been Quite Musical, Gentle Reader, and for Some Strange Reason, I feel the need to discuss the musical side of my popular culture today.

Wait, let me explain.

There was a time in my life, perhaps as long as ten (!!!) years ago, that I truly had my finger on the pulse of the American and British musical scenes. Indie, of course, although I think we called it Alternative in those days. It Could Even Be Said that I was, yes, it’s true, Friends, a Musical Snob. I sneered down my nose at those In The Popular Know, and I took Great Pleasure in knowing the most obscure bands producing the most obscure tapes in the world.

Flash forward ten years, and I’ve settled, somewhat uncomfortably, in the first inklings of middle age. And now, the hipster students on campus sport band t-shirts with names with which I’m completely unfamiliar. How did this *happen*? I ask myself. When did I become so very divorced from the musical genre?

And it’s not completely true, I realize. But there was a time in my life when I actively would seek out new bands, and now, I’m lucky if a few fall in my lap. But this week, for many, various reasons, found me listening, Quite Intently, to new finds and old favorites. My playlist has been, I must admit, strange and varied this week, and I’ve even had the odd compulsion to burn a CD or make a mixed tape or two.

Yes, it’s true, Friends. It really has been That Kind of Week. Here’s a tiny sampling of my playlists over the past several days.

The Cold War Kids have topped my charts this week, and as I confessed to Mr. Reads yesterday, I find myself with Quite The Talent Crush on Nathan Willett. This kind of Talent Crush, I assured My Dear Husband, hasn’t happened for me since David Bowie reinvented himself in the mid-nineties. But the Cold War Kids, with their Billie Holiday and Tom Waits influence, with their Hedwig-and-Jeff-Buckley croons, have really sparked my admiration in a big way.

Midlake is another new favorite, and Roscoe is truly one of my favorite songs of the year (do understand, Gentle Reader, that I am An Academic; my years begin and end in August). Bonus, they’re from Denton, and I’ve always had a Soft Spot for bands from small university towns.

Amy Winehouse is a powerhouse of a singer, and she’s everything I love about Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Beth Gibbons in one voice. Her song “Rehab” has helped me bounce a bit in a week that has been, I’m sorry to say, decidedly lacking in bounce.

Death Cab for Cutie is a band that I just adore, and have for several years now. Plans may be their best album yet, and I can’t stop listening to “Soul Meets Body.” No, really, I can’t.

Zero 7 is another recent find, and it’s really as if Beth Gibbons found her protégé and gave her a microphone. But they’re not completely Portishead-like, and that small difference makes me enjoy them all that much more.

Jeremy Enigk (and the Fire Theft) is just about my favorite singer producing today. I was (and still am) a huge Sunny Day Real Estate fan, but for me, SDRE was less about the music and more about Enigk’s voice. I absolutely adore his voice, and I find that the music in his solo work and his work with The Fire Theft is far more interesting than his work with Sunny Day.

A few other honorable mentions this week: Martina Topley-Bird, Portishead, Jose Gonzales, Sun Kil Moon, Lily Allen (I can’t help it, really; I adore her), Tom McRae, Catherine Wheel (a true blast from the past for This Humble Author), and Beirut.

As always, Gentle Reader, please share your recommendations with me!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Make Mine Amazonian: A Brief Review of Wonder Woman #7

The Suffragettes understood the difficulty of discussing pressing concerns during larger, national and international crises, Gentle Reader. When The Great War broke out, they were expected to forgo their fight for The Larger Fight. Put down your placard and hammer, Sister Suffragette; the riveters need a Rosie, the boys need your support. When they continued to demand the Vote, on both sides of the Pond, they were chastised, condemned, and even physically hurt because of it.

But they kept on keeping on, fought the good fight, brought the government to reconciliation with its female population. The Suffragettes won the vote, a legal voice, decades, a century after the fight began In Earnest. They were called harridans, unsexed females (a term This Humble Author truly despises, the use of “females” rather than “women”), The Shrieking Sisterhood, the Damned Mob. They protested, hunger striked, broke windows and set fires, wrote letters upon letters upon letters, demanded justice and a voice and they got it, finally, after so much suffering, violence, pain, and even, in Emily Davison’s case, martyred death.

Women fought, bled, and died for This Humble Author to have The Right To Vote. They fought, bled, starved, and bruised for me to minor in Women’s Studies, for me to be a Feminist Scholar, for me to write a dissertation that in no small part is about them. Centuries upon centuries of suffering, Gentle Reader. Centuries. And it still hasn’t helped completely.

It. By It, I of course mean The Struggle for Women’s Rights. I mean Feminism. I mean that sometimes we tear ourselves down from the inside out.

So many of my Brother and Sister Bloggers have reviewed Wonder Woman #7, and all of them reviewed it well. As it was with #6, so it is with #7. There isn’t much I can add to the conversation. Wonder Woman is behaving in a strange, horrifying manner. She’s expressing concern over the broken body of a colleague, then dropping him because he, in a delusional pained state, makes an off-color joke. And she smiles, yes, *smiles*, Friends, while she does it.

Why does so much of popular culture insist that Feminism is about misandry? Why does so much of popular culture insist that Feminists hate men? Hate women? And, in all truth, hate themselves?

This Is Not My Wonder Woman.

I have been a Wonder Woman fan for over 25 years. I have read countless incarnations of her. I supported Diana Prince, lover of Steve Trevor. I supported Princess Diana, ambassador of peace. I even supported Wonder Woman, killer of Maxwell Lord, savior of humanity. And throughout this, I have always known that *Wonder Woman Is Not Human*.

Why, why, Friends, do so many try to insist she become so?

Wonder Woman is a fascinating character because she *isn’t* us. She has a different set of morals, skills, and requirements. She has a different sense of Justice. She is a Zealot, you might even say, for Justice. Blinded by it, literally, in the case of Rucka’s run, because she refuses, that’s right, *refuses* to stop her quest for justice.

She killed Maxwell Lord because that was the only way to protect those she was sworn to protect. She may experience regret, she may believe that she needs to understand humanity in order to return as its savior, but in the end, She Is Not Human.

And therein lies the rub, Gentle Reader. I don’t want a human Wonder Woman. Make mine Amazonian. Make mine Other. Make mine Princess Diana.

Why do we, as a society, try so hard to make the Other One Of Us? Why do we try to normalize, insist, yes, insist that there is a “Normal” in the first place? Why do we pretend that Wonder Woman is less alien than Superman, when in fact, she’s not? Or even that just because Batman happens to be Bruce Wayne, that he is human, and therefore “Normal”?

Why do we need our heroes to be Just Like Everyone Else?

I don’t know if I’ve said this before, Friends, but I adore Martian Manhunter. I adore him, specifically, because he is so alien. When he finds something human that he likes, he expresses nothing but Pure Joy (Oreos! Yes, Oreos!). I adore Hellboy for the same reason. Because both characters insist on being What They Want to Be, rather than What Others Expect Them To Be. Martian Manhunter is never as interesting as when he rejects his human form; Hellboy is never as interesting as when he rejects his demonic expectations.

Wonder Woman is never less interesting as when she caricaturizes Feminism.

She is a Symbol for Women’s Rights, has been for a few decades now, and despite her strange origins, she stands for Feminism, now. The problem is that so many producers of popular culture don’t really, truly understand what Feminism is. The reason is almost frighteningly simple, really, because *there is no one Feminism*.

That is to say, Feminism is not misandry. It’s not a She-Woman Man-Hating Club. It’s not a self-loathing cycle of despair, either. I am not a Feminist because I hate men. I am not a Feminist because I hate myself. Nor am I a Feminist because I hate other women, and want to fight them for any scrap of power I can grab.

I am a Feminist because I believe in equal rights. I am a Feminist because I believe that we live in a society that forces women into maternity, heterosexual imperatives, low-paying jobs, domesticity, self-hatred, particularly of their own bodies, proms, believing Math is Hard! and that Sci-Fi and Comics are for Boys! I am a Feminist because women *fought* and *died* for me, yes, *me*, to have more rights, various opportunities, and a better life than they themselves had. I am a Feminist because I believe Woman’s Story is mostly untold. I am a Feminist because I am physically stronger and intellectually smarter than some men, and not so much than others, and I’m completely okay with both. I am a Feminist because I believe Women should be whatever they want to be, whether that’s a CEO or a Stay-At-Home-Mom. Feminism gives us the Choice.

I am a Feminist because I believe in Choice.

I am a Feminist because I have the power to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, and I therefore have the imperative to do so.

Wonder Woman became a Hero because she had the power to do so. She fought for the right to come and help “Man’s World,” or maybe she just had “Mother Issues,” but in the end, she has come to help. Yes, Friends, To Help. And if she’s soul-searching, or trying to find herself, or just taking a vacation, I support her. But if Becoming Human, or Finding Herself means that she no longer cares about people in pain, just because those people happen to be men? I can’t, in all good consciousness, believe that this is the same character that blinded herself to fight Medusa. Or that this is the same character that began said soul-searching in the first place because *she hurt and killed a human*.

Let’s bring back what’s truly interesting about Wonder Woman: her Otherness. The navigation of this world through *her* eyes. Her Amazonian Ideals. Her frightening sense of Pure Justice.

Make Mine Amazonian again, please.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of April 13th, 2007)

Honestly, Gentle Reader, this week’s been a bit of a Nightmare, and next week’s not looking all that much better. There was some good, certainly, as Mr. Reads celebrated his 32nd birthday on Wednesday, and received many happy gifts, most of which were Comic Book Related. Action figures and graphic novels and pre-ordering, Oh My! But the Reads Household has been In A Bit Of A Tizzy over recent busy-ness, crazy-ness, and just insanity, in general.

That is to say that I’ve done no reading outside of academia, and my viewing pleasures have been few and far between. I’ve heard some downright Scary Things about Wonder Woman #7, and therefore haven’t even picked up our weeklies yet. But, yes, there’s a but, Friends, I’ve just heard some Marvelous, *Wonderful* news from Our Dear Friend, Mr. Fanboy.

It’s true, Gentle Reader. Gail Simone is the new writer on Wonder Woman.

I think, therefore, it’s quite fair to say that my week, thus far Quite Terrible And Awful, just got a lot better.

DC, you have done a very, *very* smart thing, and you have made This Humble Author the happiest of happy campers. Further, you’ve done more than just hire a female author to pen The Premiere Superheroine Title. You’ve hired one of the best writers in comics today, and, truth be told, This Humble Author’s Personal Favorite.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

When the Giants Sleep

So it goes, Gentle Reader.

We have lost an icon. We have lost Kurt Vonnegut.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

When Batman’s Got Your Back(story)...: A (Very!) Brief Review of Wonder Woman #6

Gentle Reader, there is really nothing I can add to the ongoing debate surrounding Wonder Woman #6. My Brother and Sister Bloggers have said it all for me, and said it Quite Well. Don't believe me? When Fangirls Attack! has collected several recent reviews for us. However, I will say, with some conviction, that I was, to put it mildly, a bit disappointed with this latest issue. The credit cards, the subway turnstiles, the pumping of the gas, all of it seemed a bit Out Of Character with a superhero defined as “Wise As Athena.”

But there is one point that haunts me, again and again, and I’d like to present it for your input.

If Batman—yes, that’s right, Friends, *The* Batman—creates an identity for you, wouldn’t that include basic understanding of said new identity?

That is to say, if Bruce were trying to help out his Dear Friend Diana, wouldn’t he, I don’t know, teach her to use credit cards and pump gas if he suspected she were unaware of such things?

I’m still reading Wonder Woman, Friends; I’m still buying the title, and I’m willing to give any writer a chance. But I was as unimpressed with #6 as I was impressed with #5. #7 is out Very Soon Indeed, as is Amazons Attack. I’m curious, very curious, to see how all of this falls together.

For the Birds!

Gail Simone's leaving The Birds, Gentle Reader.

I would be absolutely devastated about this, Friends, except for the following two Reveals in her interview:

1) Sean McKeever's taking over, and I trust him to maintain the high quality of writing we see with Ms. Simone's run on BOP. As I'm sure many of you know, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is one of This Humble Author's favorite comic series. His writing is fun, poignant, witty, charming, and intelligent, all at the same time.

Yes, of course, Ms. Reads, you're saying. That's well and good. The Birds will be written by an author of similar quality. But why does her departure from the Birds not make you devastated?

Well, Friends, that's quite simple, really.

2) Ms. Simone says she's leaving the Birds for a Dream Gig on a Dream Book.

Say it's Wonder Woman, Ms. Simone. Please. Please, say it's Wonder Woman, or a Big Barda title. Or a Batgirl title. Or Supergirl. Or...

That is to say, if Ms. Simone's happy with the choice, I *know* I will be happy.

Thanks to Shelly for the news and interview link!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of April 6th, 2007)

Happy April, Gentle Reader! Mr. Reads and I have Quite the Burgeoning Garden going; our tomato, garden salsa pepper, and sweet pepper plants are growing, the basil, oregano, and chives are all happy and healthy, and just yesterday, there was the tiniest hint of green in our freshly planted strawberry pot. There is a cold front sweeping through the South this weekend, however, so we need to Keep An Eye on possible frost!

I must admit something, though: I’m not a huge fan of Spring. Fall and Winter are definitely My Seasons Of Choice, and I can pretty much do without Spring, and I *certainly* can do without Summer. I despite the heat, I despise the Lack Of Programming, and the only thing exciting that Spring and Summer bring, other than the new happiness of our new garden, is the occasional New Book. And this week, yes, Friends, this week brought the new Harry Dresden Novel.

I was a reluctant Harry fan in the beginning. The first few books make it difficult to distinguish between Harry’s innate chauvinism and the attitude of the book. But as I kept reading, I realized that Harry’s chauvinism, his continuous desire to Save Women From Themselves, was in fact a *huge* character flaw, and therefore Quite The Interesting Character Flaw Indeed! I’ve met other readers who had similar reactions, both male and female alike, and even Mr. Reads, upon handing me the first Dresden novel, told me to give it a book or two before I made judgment.

Some book series suffer from extension. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, for example, and undeniably Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series (which This Humble Author stopped reading at least six or seven books back). But the Dresden Files, on the other hand, get more interesting, more in depth, and *better written* every book. You can’t say that often, and when you can, you revel in it, just a bit.

As Mr. Reads and I are sharing the reading of one book, and as Mr. Reads’ birthday is next Wednesday and therefore I’m giving him First Dibs on Mr. Dresden’s adventures, I’m reading a bit slower than I’d like. But low and behold, a recent trip to the library uncovered a few more gems that have slipped through my mental cracks. Yesterday, I came home with the new Nancy Martin book in her Blackbird Sisters Mystery series, which is a delightful cozy mystery series with a heavy emphasis on vintage haute couture—some of This Humble Author’s Favorite Kind of Fashion! I also came home with the new short story collection by Kage Baker, which details more adventures in the Company series. Arriving soon in stores is, of course, the Last Harry Potter novel, and a bit farther down the line, the next of Greg Rucka’s Atticus Kodiak series. Two, yes, Gentle Reader, two new Connie Willis books grace us with Their Presence this summer and fall, and the seventh book in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Series arrives the beginning of May.

Enjoy that Other Written Word, Gentle Reader, as I plan to, as well. We’ve today off from university, and Sunday, I can finally (finally!) eat chocolate again without guilt. This weekend, and Sunday, in particular, I plan to read As Much As I Can, before work, work, work begins again.