Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mid-Week Musings #2 (on Writing, on Personal Life, etc.)

It has been a Rather Strange Year, Gentle Reader. No, no, I don't mean 2008, as it has just started! As an academic, I determine all of my years by academic time. That is to say, my year begins with the school year, August, and ends with the school year, May. I'm not quite sure where that leaves June and July in my calendar, but you understand my point, no?

I've hinted at--but never revealed--the trials and tribulations of the beginning of the Reads Year. Not because I don't enjoy sharing with you, Most Constant of Readers, but because I feel that Personal Life in Blogging should be a bit like the good seasoning of a meal: for emphasis, for enjoyment, but never heavy-handed. That is, My Personal Life has little if any bearing on my Pop Culture Life, except, of course, when it does. But suffice to say that I had been hit on all sides: professionally, personally, health-wise, life-wise, and I've stood up Stalwart and True for all that.

Now it is true that This Humble Author is, as pointed out, rarely, if ever, Truly Humble. I don't believe in false humility, and I think that women, in particular, often become deferential and subservient in attempt to Make Others Feel Comfortable. I am Most Fond of Making Others Feel Comfortable, but I am always hesitant to resist the simple "thank you" response to a compliment. So, too, do I Freely Admit when Things Are Going Well, the same as I Freely Admit when Things Are Not. If I've cause to complain about a service rendered, then I complain. But if I've cause to praise, I praise. I am a Great Letter Writer and Phone Call Maker, because I believe that feedback, in all its varieties, is a necessary part of life.

A rather presumptuous and lengthy preamble to say that Said Life Difficulties, of all varieties, kept me from performing as wanted and, dare I admit so publicly?, as expected, on my Dissertation. I adore my Dissertation, Gentle Reader. It is enjoyable and exciting and--here is the Lack of Humility--the tiniest bit innovative. But most importantly, it is fun. I love my research, I love what I do, and while sometimes--just sometimes, Friends!--writing feels much like an Uncomfortable Trip to an Eighteenth-Century Dentist, I love writing, too.

Today marks several things, but most interestingly, a dream in which the final outline of this chapter--yes, the one that has plagued me for So Long--presented itself. Mr. Reads went off to work this morning laughing as he anticipated the many calls he would receive during the day as a result of my faith of The Dream Chapter.

Yes, it's true, Friends: I am letting my writing be led by the random misfirings of my sleeping brain.

But having spent already several hours working, an hour of which (so far!) has been spent in the Act Of Writing, I can say With Great Certainty, that the Dream Revealed Chapter is going well for all of that. Also, too, and here is where This Humble Author feels confessional, I am almost weepy with happiness. I am writing again, Gentle Reader, after such a long hiatus. A hiatus full of work, work, work, and even work of the writing and rewriting variety. But here I am producing Something New, and speaking of things Just Discovered, and it is enough to make even the Least Humble of Authors the tiniest bit dizzy.

Looking at the time, Friends, I must confess that my self-appointed "break time" is now over. I believe the next break, somewhere around the Lunch Hour, will be spent in pursuit of a backlog of recent comics. Wish me Happy Writing, Constant Readers!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Amy Reads the Week (of January 27th, 2008)

I've little for you today, Gentle Reader, as I've just (!) returned from A Trip Across Country. Flying and I mix together as well as, say, Batman and disorder, or Wonder Woman and disregard for tradition. Suffice to say that I am home, finally, and safe for all of that.

I did, however, have several hours in various airports Across The Country, and read the second book in Tasha Alexander's delightful series about Lady Emily Ashton. A Poisoned Season kept me quite comfortable through the long, turbulent hours overhead.

Also, too, did Stephen King's much older novel, The Colorado Kid which Mr. Reads has begged This Humble Author to read for Some Time. I did, and enjoyed it, particularly as it accompanied a rather unexpected--but lovely nonetheless--bump up to first class. This Humble Author must admit that she found herself Not-So-Humble away from hoi polloi, and must agree that five-to-six extra inches of room gives one quite enough space for comfort indeed!

I intend fully to return to comics reading this week, and Gentle Reader, I will keep you apprised of happenings in the Reads Reading World. Until then, I say to you that the world is truly a dimmer place without Mr. Ledger in it, and We Reads mourn the passing of a talented, creative, and bold actor.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Amy Reads the Week (of January 20th, 2008)

Although you can’t see it, Gentle Reader, I’ve a six-inch cut along the length of my right arm at the moment. No, no, please, do not worry for me! It is a surface cut which looks Much Worse than it is. Pup Reads jumped up to kiss me, and in her haste, accidentally scratched my arm and not-so-accidentally reminded us that it was Time to trim her (now rather long) Pup Nails.

But I’ve somewhere Rather Important to be this week, and my immediate thought, after “Ow!” was What Would Important People At Rather Important Engagement Think Of Said Scratch, If Said Scratch Was Seen? Given the population of dog-and-cat lovers in the world, probably not much at all. People get bumps-and-bruises, aches-and-pains all the time, and my soon-to-be-scar looks exactly like the thing it is: the accidental result of an over-eager puppy owned by-—I’m rather ashamed to say—-lazy puppy parents, when it comes to nail clippings.

But in the course of this concern came another thought regarding the bumps-and-bruises, aches-and-pains that We, As Humans, wear on our skin. The Body fascinates me, Gentle Reader, as I’m sure you have sussed out for yourself by now. Not only have I written on this subject before—-gratitude, Ms. Healey, for the opportunity to guest-blog on the Delightful Girls Read Comics (and They’re Pissed)--in my blogging life, but I’ve written on it in my academic life, as well. The very materiality of the body—what it does, how it is viewed, how it varies from gender to gender, sex to sex, person to person, age to age—simply fascinates me. Triple the fascination, and make it A Super Body, and make it Capable.

By Capable, I mean, of course, Able. Aware. Conscious of its position as A Super Body and Willing and Able to use Said Super Body for the good (or, woe to us all, the despair) of the world. Make it have a sonic cry, or super strength, or the ability to heal or create sparklers or fly or protect itself in armour, it doesn’t matter. This Humble Author is, by some strange accident of design-or-literature, fascinated by the Super Hero’s Body.

Even more fantastic, the Super Body’s ability to return from the dead, or shift, to lose power or to gain it. To expand, exponentially, or to contract, to become non-super, and still, to lead a life of surprise, of danger, of yes, Capability. Even more fantastic, Gentle Reader, is the presentation of limitless possibilities.

For what is the Cape Genre but the very real enactment of limitless possibilities?

Sometimes, a hero dies. Sometimes that hero is brought back and sometimes, she is never gone at all. Sometimes the hero must live alone, and sometimes, the hero must live ever in the moment. Sometimes the hero moves from the big-or-little screen to the four-colour-medium (gratitude, Buffy), and sometimes he moves the other way entirely (gratitude, The Dark Knight). But the comic book medium, it seems, exists solely to present the un-presentable, the limitless possibility, the proof that anything is possible in the marriage between image-and-text.

Because both the image and the text have to exist in harmony, no? The Image must be real enough to be believable, and the Text must transport us, The Readers, to unbelievable worlds. The Image cannot give us too much because we, The Readers, must still have the chance to envision those unbelievable worlds for ourselves.

Making the believable unbelievable and the unbelievable believable. Is this not at the heart of science fiction? Of fantasy? Of fiction itself?

I think on these things as I think on the very real materialities of the body, particularly after reading a few new issues today: Booster Gold, Angel: After the Fall, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight, in particular. Each of these comics, in unique and interesting ways, deal with the idea of the Super Body, and its limitless—or in the case of Angel, limited—possibilities. What do we see when we see this presentation of Super Body? How do we, in our very limited, very ordinary, not-Super-at-all bodies, respond to these Extraordinary Beings? More importantly, is it why we return, again and again, to the Super Hero Tale?

Simply musings today, Gentle Reader, to go with a rather odd story and some very spectacular comic books. And I cannot recommend these three stories enough.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mid-Week Musings #1 (Sarah Connor Chronicles, That "Wonder Woman Thing," etc.)

I don't dare declare (say that ten times fast, Gentle Reader!) that I am beginning a Mid-Week Column—heaven forbid such a commitment, during such a time in my academic life!—but one of my New Year's Resolutions was a deeper commitment to blogging, an activity I Adore and have, unfortunately, let fall by the wayside. Not for lack of love for you, Constant Readers! Oh, No! Rather, I have been Quite Busy, and the Fall Semester was Rather Brutal with its slings, arrows, quests, and trials.

But now a New Year Dawns, and here I am, ready, and eager, to regal you with my opinions-—humble though they might be!-—and ideas. I envision this column—-o, how I hesitate to call it such! rather, this ongoing attempt at semi-regular postings falling roughly somewhere between Tuesdays and Thursdays-—as a brief foray into thoughts regarding My Pop Cultures.

Also, this post marks Arrogant Self-Reliance's 100th blog post at the new address. A celebratory number, yes? Then let us celebrate, Friends, my uncanny ability to speak, ad nauseam, about subjects Near and Dear to my heart--and also, my uncanny ability to enjoy The Sound Of My Own Voice, whether verbal, cyber, or otherwise.

Away then?

1) The Sarah Connor Chronicles – this television show is everything I had hoped for with The Bionic Woman, which failed, utterly, to succeed. The Sarah Connor Chronicles is smart, fun, well-written, well-plotted, and very, very enjoyable. Bonus: Summer Glau.

2) Juno – Lovely, referential (as in, full of smart references for the People of My Humble Generation—-"Thundercats are go!") and just plain witty. It's not often I can call something witty and mean it.

3) Wonder Woman Controversy – Yes, Wonder Woman's creator enjoyed alternative approaches to the fulfillment of the so-called "baser desires." Yes, Wonder Woman was, herself, somewhat influenced by said approaches. Does that mean that the Wonder Woman iconography should be used to sell nothing but sex? Further, how does The Young Lady In Question offer anything that necessitates such a Grandiose Comparison?

4) The Spice Girls – are reuniting, and Portishead has not released a new album in years? My musical faith is crumbling, Gentle Reader. Crumbling.

5) The New Frontier – The Reads Household has pre-ordered DC's DVD of the wonderful novel, The New Frontier, and we are giddy, yes, giddy in anticipation of such a fantastic adventure in animation.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why Are Married People Just Not Interesting?: Some Thoughts on the Parker-Watson Controversy

An "Amy Reads the Week" Special Edition!

As many of you know by now, Gentle Reader, I am married, these three years, to the intrepid Mr. Reads, himself a long-time comic book reader and fan. In fact, our shared love of comic books and All Things Geek—sci fi novels, zombie movies, Buffy, once-obscure bands we-knew-when—is what sparked our romance, those many years ago. And as Constant Readers of This Humble Blog are likely to remember, This Humble Author is, tried and true, A DC Girl. All things DC, but mostly of the Amazonian variety—and the Batman variety, and the Super-School, and Teen Titans (Go!), etc. etc. ad nauseam.

But what You, Dear Friends, may not remember is that Mr. Reads is Quite The Spidey Fan. That is to say, The Amazon Princess is to Amy Reads as Your Friendly Neighborhood Web-Slinger is to Mr. Reads. As I salivate for Diana Prince storylines, so, too, does Mr. Reads for Peter Parker. As I anticipate excellent writers on board Tales From Themyscira—give me your Ruckas, your Simones—so, too, does Mr. Reads anticipate excellent writers for Books From The Big Apple—your Bendises, your McKeevers.

And while yes, some people believe that the Marriage State is the antithesis of An Interesting Life—a life of comfort and “sameness” and perhaps predictability—I would disagree. Perhaps it is because I find Mr. Reads infinitely more fascinating now than I did ten years ago, when we first met. Perhaps—just perhaps, Gentle Reader!—it is because he has grown up in those intervening ten years, and I have had The Privilege of growing with him.

Edit: For those Constant Readers who are, perhaps, not Constant Comic Book Readers, the Editors at Marvel Comics have just (!) dissolved the marriage between Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Mary Jane. Read more here.

Not unlike fandom, no? Not unlike my twenty some-odd years of fandom for Wonder Woman, or Mr. Reads’s twenty some-odd years of fandom for Spider-Man. We have had The Privilege of watching Our Beloved Characters grow up in these intervening twenty years—even farther and even faster, these thirty, forty, fifty, seventy years of existence. And frankly, we have had The Privilege of growing with them.

Now while Mr. Reads is Quite the Fanboy for All Things Spidey, All The Time, I must regretfully decline fandom of the same. Oh, certainly, I enjoy the Spider-Man, but I am not A Rabid Fangirl for him. Rather, my interest in Spider-Man stems, almost solely, from enjoying something that Mr. Reads himself enjoys so much. He says the same of his burgeoning interest in Wonder Woman. As I am and always have been a DC Girl, Mr. Reads is a Marvel Boy. He knows all incarnations of Spidey villains, their real names, their aliases, their strengths and weaknesses. His wealth of knowledge of All Things Spidey is somewhat daunting, admittedly, but perhaps because This Humble Author must then admit that it is due to Mr. Reads’s now thirty-plus years of Spidey fandom.

And while This Humble Author cannot claim the same for herself, she can, however, point to two of the best stories she has read in the Comic Book Universe: Jim Butcher’s novel Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours, and Sean McKeever’s Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane series. The McKeever is, perhaps, a given. It is a smart, fun, well-illustrated series that touches on the birth of the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. McKeever is a fantastically successful young adult writer. That is, Mr. McKeever is a fantastically successful writer of young adults. He portrays teenagers in a way that I remember not only as a former teenager, but also as a former teacher of teenagers. They are realistic, and charming, and the tiniest bit frightening.

But Mr. Butcher’s novel might seem a strange choice, particularly coming from a comic book fan. What This Humble Author enjoys about comic books could fill many more pages than This Humble Entry would warrant, but no small part of this is because comic books are the ultimate marriage of image-and-text. I am perhaps The World’s Worst Artist—many aborted attempts at art in my younger days lie as testament to this fact—and because of my rather horrifying non-talent in the artistic world, I find myself Rather Interested in Art, in general. I collect artists, one could say, in that the Brother-Reads-In-Law and the Best-Friend-Reads are artists, both, and Rather Free with the fruits of their labours. Chez Reads is peppered with such artistic endeavours, and it is Rather Lovely to say the least.

A novel of a comic book hero, then, severs that dependency on art, and forces the story to prose form. I am Quite the Fan of Mr. Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, and find him a wonderful writer. And he approaches an older Peter Parker, a married, employed as a high school science teacher Peter Parker, and he gives us a wonderful tale.

An interesting tale, one in which Mary Jane Parker is integral—yes, Friends, integral--to the story. An interesting tale that is in No Small Part dependent on the marriage of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker to carry the storyline. And, wonder of wonders—at least, it stands to reason, wondrous to Marvel’s editorial staff—it is fantastic.

A few months back when Marvel first announced its plan to sever the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, I asked Mr. Reads how he felt about a new single Spider-Man. “Unhappy,” he said.

Unhappy. A fan with purchasing power, a rabid fan some twenty- to thirty-odd years in the making, unhappy. Because Peter Parker is more interesting with Mary Jane than without her. Because Peter Parker, married and happy, puts more at stake than Peter Parker, single and looking. Because Peter Parker proves that nice guys do not Finish Last, and that smart complex people Do Find Love, and that super-heroes have lives that require some finesse to write.

Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are infinitely more interesting together, with a child, than separately. Even farther and even faster on the Avengers front, Young or Otherwise, Teddy Altman (Hulkling) and Billy Kaplan (Wiccan) are more interesting, together, than separately. Superman is never Quite as Fascinating as he is with Lois Lane, and who doesn’t love the idea of Bruce Wayne, adopted father to Tim Drake? Super-heroes have ties, be those Marriage, Relationship, Parental, or otherwise, and those ties, the humanity beneath the mask, make the super-hero worth reading.

Gentle Reader, I say these things not only as a fan of Mary Jane Watson (which I am), and not only as a wife of a Spider-Man fan (which I am). I say these things as a Fan Of Good Stories. And with this decision, I fear that Spider-Man has just become a Rather Uninteresting Story Indeed. I say this as a Fan Of Good Stories who has enjoyed Spider-Man tales that involve Spider-Man and Mary Jane, particularly a tale involving a married, settled Spider-Man. That is the Spider-Man who fascinates me. That is the Spider-Man I want to know.

Spider-Man was ever the Super-Hero of the People: not a rich playboy like Bruce Wayne or an alien from Krypton like Kal-El, but a kid from New York who threw on a suit to help people because his uncle taught him so. Because Aunt May needed money for the mortgage. Because he wanted to impress a girl. He was the science geek who read books and got picked on by the non-geeks. And in the end, he fell in love and married his best friend who accepted him for who he was.

What’s not to love in a tale like that?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

We Will Soon Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Broadcasting

Greetings, Gentle Reader, from the rather ominous sounding 2008! I am home, yes, but drowning, drowning, drowning in beginning of term syllabus writing, preparation, and unpacking. "Amy Reads the Week" will make its 2008 debut on Sunday, at its regularly scheduled time. Until then, Friends, wish me happy writing, and let me recommend what proved to be the best book I read in 2007: Max Brooks' World War Z: The Oral History of the Zombie War. Run, do not walk, but do run carefully, to Your Local Bookstore and purchase this gem of a novel, now available in shiny paperback.