Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Crisis of Infinite Feminisms, Part II

It has been suggested to me, Gentle Reader, that the comic book world is nothing short of a He-Man Women Hating Club. I see my fellow bloggers expressing disappointment after disappointment over the general male-bias of comics and the fan world (see, most recently, Ragnell's post at Written World). The readers and writers of comic books are overwhelmingly male, certainly, but why are they dismissive of the female comic book fan?

Let us look to one of the centers of the comic book arena: the comic book store. Several of my Sister Bloggers have discussed the isolation they feel when they walk into this male-centered arena. To walk into the comic book store alone, in particular, is a feat that requires Great Strength. The customer dismisses you. The proprietor dismisses you. And if you enter with a male companion, why, then the proprietor directs all of his attention to him, regardless of the fact that *you* are the comic book fan, and not your y-chromosome-enabled friend.

Can you, for a second, remember how it feels to be the only one of you in an enclosed space? People of non-white races often say they feel isolated and on display in an all-white environment. I have seen, time and time again, my Male Friends run practically screaming away from an all-female baby shower. But some people still refuse to accept the discomfort the female comic book fan feels when she walks into this mysterious, mystical realm.

I live in a Very Small Town, Dear Reader, that owes its population almost entirely to the large university housed here. As a result, we only have the following: 1 Target, 1 Barnes and Noble, 10 Starbucks (well, 3, but This Humble Author expects another 7 to pop up by tomorrow), and 2 comic book stores. Of those two stores, one is owned by a man, and one is owned by a woman.

Mr. Reads and I gravitated to the woman-owned comic book store quite by accident; it happens to be located next to our favorite restaurant in town. We entered, we browsed, we shopped, and over the passing months and years have become regular customers. It's where we have our pull list, after all. But the few times I've been to the shop owned by the man (Store B), I have felt out of place. I have browsed, for several minutes, with no offer of help from the employees. I have stood patiently at the register while the employees play D&D *right next to me*, until after ten minutes I finally tire of waiting and interrupt the game. I have been dismissed, out of hand, skipped over in line in favor of a male customer.

At the store owned by a woman (Store A), however:
1) I am known by name while...
2) My husband is known only as "Amy’s husband" (although to be fair, Friends, he is the bigger comic reader in the relationship)
3) I am known as "That Woman Who Buys Comics" by the other shoppers
4) Wonder Woman action figures and paraphernalia are set aside for me the moment they enter the shop, just in case I may want to buy them

Now perhaps this comparison isn't fair; we frequent Store A, after all, while we rarely go to Store B, and only if we're looking for something Store A doesn't have. But is it the effect or the cause? Do we go to Store A because it is more welcoming of the female fan, or is Store A more welcoming of the female fan because we go there?

Gentle Reader, chicken or egg?

This is not to say that I haven't been to stores owned or worked by men and made to feel completely welcome. Chicago Comics, for example, is a store that has happily served me, time and again, with complete and utter respect. I walked in as a tourist; I left feeling like a local. I also go home with a ton of local comics because the employee finds out what I read, and suggests books to me "because you just might like them!" But the reverse of this is also true. I have wandered into comic book stores and been stared at, ignored, ogled, questioned as to my true fandom ("really? You read Catwoman? Ugh..."), questioned as to my true purpose ("Can I help you find something for your boyfriend?"), and just, in general, Felt Unwanted.

This isn't just a strange form of masculine inclusion; this is downright Bad Business.

I've worked retail, Friends, and I worked it long and well. Why would you, as a business owner or employee, isolate part of your customer base? Why would you not instead foster it? I don't have many female friends who read comics, true, but my enthusiasm for comics has tempted some to try them (I point to Mommy, Ph.D. as evidence of a recent possible conversion!). I teach comic books, I write about them, and I am just one of a vast number.

It's a market that's practically untapped. Women read comics. Women write comics. Women write about comics. They are as rabid fans as their male counterparts and still, time and again, are pointed to the "girl standard" books in the store. I love Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane as much as the next reader, but I love it because it's well-written, not because it's "girly." I read Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, and Supergirl not because they're about women, but because they're *good books*.

Okay, so I'd read Wonder Woman even if it were written poorly. But that's just me.

I also love The Ultimates, and Daredevil, and 52 and Superman and Wolverine. I adore Batman, and Civil War and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and any other number of books that are male-centered and male-oriented. In the same way that I believe a man can write a feminist book, I believe a woman can love a book without a feminist agenda. Women have been doing just that very thing for hundreds of years, after all.

Another chicken or egg question: do women in general not read comics because they believe that they're "for men," or are comic books "for men" because no one believes women would read comics?

In a recent blog, Kalinara at Pretty, Fizzy Paradise called for a Big Barda book. I say Amen. Give us a Big Barda book, not because she's a female character, but because it's what your readers would like to see. Tap that untapped market; poll your female readers. Give us advance stories and get our feedback. Understand your entire fan base. There is nothing to lose in this scenario. All you have to gain are *more fans*.

I turn 30 at the end of this year, Gentle Reader, and yes, I am experiencing those first pangs of True Adulthood. But more importantly, Mr. Reads and I are beginning to have The Discussion. Children? No children? One child? Two? And Dear God, will no one think of the poor dog and how she'll feel about an addition to the family?

The one thing we've agreed on is this: if we have a child, that child will be introduced to comics. We coo over the Supergirl lunchboxes at the stores. We've already bought a baby Iron-Man for the future Baby Reads. We are scouring the internet for Wonder Woman baby tees for our goddaughter. Why? Because children need the fantastic in their lives. They need a true sense of Wonder. Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and most importantly, comic books, offer all of these things, and more.

Because I grew up with Wonder Woman and other strong role models, I believed that women could do anything. I believed that I could do anything. Because Mr. Reads grew up with Spider-Man, he believed that the dorky smart kid was cool. He believed that he was cool. We identify with characters like ourselves, and to see those characters save the world, again and again, is empowering.

Many comics inevitably reflect life, and I ask you to let them continue to do so. Continue to hire writers who treat comic books with joy and write their characters, both male and female, with complexity. Continue to understand your fans, all of your fans, and what and why they read. Experiment, publish, take risks, because *we're here*.

You had us from the moment you Bam, Powed!, remember? You had me from the moment I saw a woman twirl and turn into an Amazon goddess. And I'm not going anywhere.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

NO(LA) Man's Land

Over the past four years, Mr. Reads and I have been fortunate enough to live within a day's driving distance of our families, and we've recently returned from the biannual Trip Home To Louisiana. We go visit other times, of course, and more often, but the stars don't align often enough to allow me, my husband, and our dog an extended visit to both sets of parents. But this trip was different than others in that it reminded me of a year ago, when I made the same trip, sans husband and pup. When a year ago, I evacuated back to my new home, families in tow.

My father-in-law mentioned a recent news segment he saw in which a viewer wrote in and complained about the constant attention paid to New Orleans in the Post-Katrina World. This viewer argued that there was other news to be shared, and the reporter, in New Orleans at the time, gestured to the devastated Ninth Ward behind him and said, paraphrased, that while Katrina was year-old news to the World At Large, it was still today's news in New Orleans.

How to explain what New Orleans is like to those who don't see it? And how do our family and friends, who see it every single day, explain it to us? We're not tourists when we visit home; we stay at the parents' houses, we go to the grocery stores and restaurants we've always gone to, if they're open. In short, we *return home*. And my beautiful home, my beloved New Orleans, is broken.

Imagine, if you will, the following landscape: a suburban neighborhood, blue television lights flickering in windows, dogs barking in yards, white trailers parked on front lawns or in driveways, with blue television lights flickering, the house across the street abandoned to nature and smashed through by fallen pine trees. Or, imagine this: driving down a street with signs of life, people walking, businesses open and booming, and a boarded up storefront that still reads, "LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT." Or perhaps this: entire neighborhoods gone, nothing left but scraps of wood and trash. Or even this: driving on the elevated interstate, reading the word "HELP" written across a rooftop.

Katrina's one-year anniversary is today, yes, and while it may be old news to some, the people in New Orleans would beg to disagree.

Everything has changed since August 28th, 2005, and Nothing has changed since August 29th, 2005. Homes are still abandoned, families are still uprooted, military presence is still seen. There's work to be done, so much work, but with 50% of New Orleans not returned, there is little workforce to do it. Fast food restaurants hire at $10+/an hour, with several hundred dollar signing bonuses. There's work to be done, but with the price of available housing, few whose homes were lost can afford to live there. The levees aren't fixed, the people aren't healed, the houses aren't rebuilt, and the height of The 2006 Hurricane Season has arrived.

Earlier this year, I read my beloved Greg Rucka's novelization of Batman's No Man's Land, and all I could think about while reading it was New Orleans. Not even necessarily the destruction of Gotham, but rather the sheer isolation of a great American City declared Off-Limits by The Powers That Be. The despair, the hopelessness of the citizens. The sheer helplessness when imagining reconstruction. The people brought together, by desperation, by hope, by criminal or lawful suggestions. And I imagined all of the Reads' family members and friends who *stayed behind*, not because they refused to evacuate, or couldn't, but because, as members of law enforcement or medical professions or companies' essential personnel, they had to be there, in the thick of it, and they Reported Back.

Some people complain that there is too much Post-Katrina New Orleans in the news today. I say to you that there is not enough, now or then. No one's talking about it, yet everyone can't stop talking about it. Even me. Especially me.

After 9/11, Marvel presented an image of Spider-Man, staring out over New York, in utter despair over the devastation before him. That poignant image has stuck with me not because I'm a comic book fan, but because it was a real reaction from a fictional character. Some may Cry Foul over my comparison of a national tragedy to comic books or their novelizations, and I would ask why. Is it because fiction can never be true to life? Or is it because fiction, in all of its forms, is entirely too true to life as we know it? Can we possibly understand what New Orleans is like without being there? We've read about it. We've seen the news, the recollections. We probably donated money or blood or goods or services to the Relief Effort, even though We Weren't There. Because we empathized. Because we read, we therefore understood.

It bothers me that some people believe fiction is trivial. That comparisons to books, or poetry, or film, could never explain the sheer horror of New Orleans in 2005, and the continuing struggle in 2006. But what is fiction but pain and fear and hope expressed in words? What is poetry but, as Ms. Marianne Moore tells us, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them"? What is film but the visual image of our very selves reflected back at us?

Elizabeth Bishop, beautifully grotesque Bishop, said it best, and said it thirty years before Katrina ever hit. "The art of losing's not too hard to master, though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster." Sometimes the writing of it is worse than the experiencing of it, because we have to relive it with every word, with every pause, with every comma and period and italicized word. And worse still, we have to *explain*. Sometimes there are no words.

Sometimes there are no words, but here are some, in a vain attempt to explain how even though I no longer live in New Orleans, my life has changed, irrevocably, since August 29th, 2005.

That image of Spider-Man reveals not the superhero who couldn't stop the tragedy, but rather the man, broken by the destruction of his home. Gotham is saved in No Man's Land not by Batman, but by Bruce Wayne and his manipulation of Lex Luthor. And likewise, New Orleans will be saved by people, too. Perhaps what the comic books remind us of is a simple fact: there is no one swooping down to save the day. We have to Save The Day ourselves. And that, indeed, is the much harder route. But as characters are inevitably painted from life, there are heroes out there, struggling, fighting the good fight, and proving to us that the day Can Be Saved, and a city, all the cities devastated by this national tragedy Can Be Rebuilt, one brick, one board, one levee at a time.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Crisis of Infinite Feminisms, Part I

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, Gentle Reader, but the blogging community is rather new to me. Not to say that I haven't known of its existence, but rather, I hadn’t really delved into the non-personal blog before now. But sites like have introduced me to the marvelous world of intellectual blogging about comics, while others like or have shown me that it is possible to blog professionally about personal issues.

One topic that I've noticed over and over again over the past few weeks is the daunting attempt to define feminism. Not just the political movement, but also the attempt to determine if one writer or another is feminist, or if one storyline or another is feminist, or if one action or another is a feminist action. And I began to wonder: why are we so determined to put finite parameters on such a broad, interpretable topic?

As a Card-Carrying Feminist (I did receive the free toaster oven, Dear Reader!), I, too, suffer under the impulse that I must *define* what it means to be me. As an Academic Feminist (I did receive the certificate, Dear Reader!), I, too, suffer under the presumption that I must define what it means to be feminist. The two, as you can imagine, coalesce often, and in interesting ways.

Feminism is a tricky thing. No, no, I don't mean The Fight For Women's Rights, but rather, the Perception that The Public At Large has of feminists. The Fight is A Good One; women across the globe still suffer legal, economic, social, personal, and educational difficulties. The Perception, however, is forever entangled with odd, almost terrifying ideas. Unlike some other designators, "feminist" is both personal and political. I have never met a political feminist who did not fight for rights in her personal life, and vice versa. If you have met such a fascinating creature, then please, Friends, introduce me! But as the second-wave feminists reminded us over and over again, the personal *is* political.

How, you ask? Well, therein lies The Problem. No two people are the same, and therefore no two feminists are the same. My personal politics vary wildly from Jane's personal politics, and Suzy's, and Betty's. But if we four (or hundred, or hundreds of thousands) are to define ourselves as "feminists," then we are lumped into a mass category of strange, angry, rampaging women.

What is Feminism? Let us look to that most communal of all internet sites, Wikipedia.

Wiki says, "Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerned with the experiences of women."

Huzzah, Wiki! The very term "diverse" automatically negates the idea of One True Feminism. This "diverse collection" is composed of "social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies." Yes, yes, all of these things are true. What else does Wiki say?

"Most feminists are especially concerned with social, political, and economic inequality between men and women."

Excellent, Wiki! You even take this further by stating, "some have argued that gendered and sexed identities, such as 'man' and 'woman,' are socially constructed."

Here Wiki gives a nod to Those That Agree With Judith Butler, those Feminists who believe that we are Men and Women not because of biology, but because society determines those designators for us. But what does Wiki say about Feminists?

"Feminists differ over the sources of inequality, how to attain equality, and the extent to which gender and sexual identities should be questioned and critiqued."

Again, we see a variation of the idea of difference, of divergent ideas, with the verb "differ." And therein lies the rub. "Feminists differ." How true it is.

Every feminist defines feminism in different ways; therefore, every feminist has different beliefs in what is feminist. Some feminists believe that men cannot be feminists. This Author has already pooh-poohed the idea, but perhaps it calls for further discussion. In a recent examination of The Blogosphere, I've come across various discussions regarding the possible feminism of male writers, most particularly, Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan.

For those Not In The Know, Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan are the writers of the comic books Astonishing X-Men and the Y: The Last Man, respectively. Let's start first with Mr. Vaughan, and his dystopian tale of The Last Man On Earth.

Y: The Last Man begins with a plague that wipes out every male on the planet except two: Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Over the past several years, Yorick and his various companions, Agent 355 and Doctor Allison Mann, have traveled the globe in search of the answer to the question, why did he and Ampersand escape the plague? and in search of his girlfriend, Beth, who was doing anthropological work in Australia at the time of the plague.

Some people have argued that Y is a feminist book because it deals seriously and respectfully with the idea of a mythological Last Man on a now female-exclusive planet. Some people have argued that Y is an anti-feminist book for the same reasons. And more importantly, some who believe it is anti-feminist also believe that a man should never be allowed to write such a tale.

This Author begs the question, why? The world in Y is most certainly not the feminist utopia some would expect; it demonstrates that the scrabble and grasp for power is not a gendered problem, but a human problem. But further, does Mr. Vaughan's designation as a "man" negate the validity of the plot, the structure, the sheer genius of the tale? Not in the slightest.

Yet people, men and women both, argue again and again that men cannot write feminist narratives. That because Mr. Vaughan is a man, he therefore cannot understand what it means to fight for women's rights.

Gentle Reader, you see it, don't you? How this argument becomes the same sort of argument that keeps women off the frontlines of combat, out of high-paying executive jobs, and not in control of deciding the fate of their wombs? It is a decision based solely on gender; by saying Mr. Vaughan cannot write a feminist tale because he is a man is comparable to saying that Amy Reads cannot fight in combat because she is a woman. Because my body performs the biological function of reproduction, I am therefore a fragile body that cannot be put into danger.

Or, to wit, toy soldiers are for boys; baby dolls are for girls.

If we are ever to escape gender stereotypes, then we must work past gender stereotypes. If we, as women, are ever to escape the biological or social constructions placed upon us, then we must escape the idea of biological or social constructions placed upon men, as well. I believe that I can write a machismo tale worthy of Hemingway, the same way I believe that Mr. Vaughan, or Mr. Whedon, can write a feminist tale worthy of me.

But further, I believe that Mr. Vaughan need not be defined as feminist or anti-feminist (Although This Humble Author firmly believes that Y: The Last Man is a book with feminist leanings). Mr. Vaughan presents several strong female characters, several, not-so-strong female characters, and an empathetic, engaging male character who not only is complex, but who also is *working through* any trappings of misogyny he may have had hardwired into his brain by those very social and/or biological constructions we abhor. What Y: The Last Man gives us is a vision of a world that has utterly failed its own expectations. Particularly in those key first issues, we see women who believed in the gentle and equal community of women violently and aggressively fighting for a toehold of power in a world that finally gives them access to such power. As the storyline continues, we see further violence, and murder, and racism. We see desperation. We see despair. What we see, Friends, is not a Herland utopia, but rather, a Dystopian Nightmare. And I, for one, believe it to be the more accurate vision of such a global atrocity.

We end Part I of this discussion with a return to Wikipedia, and its definition of dystopia. Wiki says, "A dystopia is usually characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government, or some other kind of oppressive social control."

Yes, all of this is true, and we see all of this in Y: The Last Man, but remember, Dear Reader, that a dystopia is at least One Person's Utopia.

Fall Semester begins tomorrow, Friends, and for those of you in school of some form or another, I wish you well in your academic endeavors. Crisis of Infinite Feminisms will continue as I try to determine feminism in my various pop culture adorations. But until then, This Humble Author must bid you adieu, as she continues to prepare for the return to campus.

Friday, August 25, 2006

...Before the Taking of Toast and Tea.

Gentle Reader, I just watched a movie in fast-forward, because I disliked it so. It was a film version of a video game, and while the trailers made me want to see it, thus fulfilling their inherent jobs as trailers, I regret the hour I spent on this movie. Why? Because in a world full of Really Smart People, we seem to suffer under the pain of The Remake. Not just the film remake of the video game, either, but all of these horrifying revisions of movies that don't do anything but update the clothes and the timeline. Because of the constant call back to the eighties, or the seventies, or the sixties, etc. for fashion. Because of the continuing trend of serialized or formulaic novels.

There are real, honest to God smart writers out there with *original*, yes, original ideas that Aren't Getting Published, or Bought, or Made, because someone somewhere decided that we needed another version of Can't Buy Me Love, or The Cutting Edge (two of This Humble Writer's favorite movies from The Eighties!). That what the public really wants to see is a classic movie remade with modern actors.

That's simply Not True, and when someone somewhere decides to remake Casablanca, This Humble Author is going to Scream at the Top of Her Lungs.

But Ms. Reads, you ask, how, then, are you a fan of the superhero movie, or the film version of some of your favorite novels?

Because most of those tend to be a *revision* rather than a *remake*. Think back to how smart the third Harry Potter is. It's smart because it didn't simply put the novel on the big screen. Rather, it took the idea, and turned it into A Film. Or, perhaps, Clueless, which is truly A Smart Movie, because it is a modern retelling of a classic novel.

There is a difference, I believe, between the remake and the revision. The remake simply takes a film, or book, and transposes it to modern expectations for scenery, actors, clothing, etc. The revision takes an *idea* from a film or book, and reimagines it in a different setting, or world, or plot. So when O Brother, Where Art Thou? takes its idea from The Odyssey, it reimagines the hero's journey in Depression-Era America. When Clueless takes its idea from Emma, it reimagines class dichotomy in 90s California. That, Dear Reader, is Smart.

But also, it relies on a writer creating an original idea. So little today seems to be based on original ideas, so that when a movie like Brick comes along, I get wowed. If someone were to take the idea behind Casablanca, and transpose it to, say, the Iraq War, we might see something very interesting indeed. But then, is it a revision of Casablanca, or is it a utilization of the idea of star-crossed lovers caught during wartime? We've seen that over and over again, since The Dawn Of Literature As We Know It: Tristan and Isolde, or Romeo and Juliet, for example.

Sometimes, just sometimes, Gentle Reader, I feel as if we are losing sight of creativity. Let's return to fashion for a moment. Some may make the argument that we bring the eighties back in fashion again and again because people want to wear eighties' fashions. That people buy these fashions, so therefore, they must want them. Instead, I say that people buy eighties' fashions because *that's all there is to buy*.

(This Humble Writer, for one, would like to say that if we are to bring back any era of fashion, why not the thirties and forties? A-line dresses are flattering on any body type, and fedoras and suspenders on men always stylish. But that's neither here nor there.)

I suppose I want more originality in the world, despite the fact that I know Everything's Been Done Before. I suppose I want someone to tell me that original books are being published despite the large amounts of similar plotlines in the stores (look, for example, at the vast amount of mysteries in which a cat is a major character, or ones that revolve around "gimmicks," i.e. recipes or knitting patterns in the back).

And this is not to say that I don't like sequels. That's simply Not True. There are many authors out there that write novels about the same characters that I adore: Greg Rucka, Diana Gabaldon, Charlaine Harris, Stephen King, Connie Willis, Jim Butcher, the list could go on and on. But I find there's a difference between an extended collection of works on the same characters and the serialization of formula-driven plots.

All of this to say that I realized most of my recent blogs were about the same things, over and over again, and that's not why I started this blog. So something different to chew on while I try expand my own horizons.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tangible vs. Intangible, or, Mom, Why Are All The Strong Superheroines Aliens?

A few posts ago, I promised you a discussion of tangible vs. intangible powers among the female superheroes, and never let it be said, Dear Reader, that I don't keep my promises! As a Card-Carrying Feminist, I've heard many strange things from my Sister Feminists, from my Sister Women, and from Others In The World. Some people say men can't be feminists (to which This Humble Author thumbs her nose!). Others believe that men can't write female-empowered characters or storylines (to which This Humble Author pooh-poohs!). Further still, some people believe that The Fight For Women's Rights is Over (to which This Humble Author faints in a fit of fury). It's simply Not True. As we enter what some may term the "fourth wave of feminism," we need to look not to the present but to the past. What has changed in the past 150+ years, since the first true struggle for women’s suffrage began?

Remarkable, vast legal changes: the right to vote, to divorce, to own property, to retaining children after divorce, to education, to employment, to career, to legal justice.

Remarkable similarities: women are still considered second-class citizens across the world, make less money than their male counterparts when All Things Are Considered Equal (education, experience, etc.), are relegated to the processes of their bodies (as maternal vessels, most particularly).

In that previous post previously mentioned, I discussed Wonder Woman as being all body by having a super-body, and thereby being relegated to the processes of that body. She is one of the few female superheroes that has meta-physical strength. While other non-empowered female superheroes physically fight (Huntress, Batgirl, Elektra), most empowered superheroines have intangible powers.

Black Canary has her ultrasonic cry; Kitty Pryde is intangible; Jean Grey is telepathic, as is Emma Frost; Vixen can summon animal powers, but they appear as ghostly images; Rogue gains power through touch (a vampiric lamia of sorts); Sue Storm is invisible, and has a defensive force field; Storm has power over weather; Gypsy is an illusionist; Zatanna has magical powers, the list goes on and on.

In summation, those female superheroes with tangible, i.e. physical powers are otherworldly: Wonder Woman from Themyscira; Big Barda from Apokolips; Hawkgirl from Thanagar; Supergirl and Power Girl from Krypton; Wonder Girl from Earth but empowered by Greek gods, as Mary Marvel is also empowered by gods; female Green Lanterns are aliens, all, as is Starfire; She-Hulk, when empowered, looks otherworldly; Molly Hayes, one of the Runaways, is super-strong, but a mutant, and therefore humans consider her questionable as a human.

I don't claim that this list is complete, Gentle Reader, nor do I claim that I am Absolutely Right. I am not up on my X-Men mythology, and I'm sure there are several physically-empowered female characters I am missing. But it seems for me an overwhelming number of otherworldly strong female superheroes.

Why must the physically strong woman be alien to us? And when I say physically strong, I mean the knock-'em sock-'em strength of the Big Boys, i.e. Those Women Who Could Hold Their Own Against Superman (and we've all heard This Humble Author argue that Wonder Woman could, indeed, hold her own against Superman, and, perhaps, kick his butt). Is it perhaps because strong women seem alien to us, overall? Biology seems against women. We are, in general, built smaller than men. We have lower centers of gravity. But is this because we haven't evolved to be bigger and stronger? Or because we're not encouraged to be bigger and stronger, and therefore can't evolve to bigger, stronger selves? What is evolution but necessary changes? What is survival of the fittest but the actual continuation of what is needed for existence? And if we keep telling our daughters that football and hockey are for boys, then we will never encourage them to strengthen their bodies.

Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus. Utter balderdash, of course, but it comes with heavy connotations. Men are from a symbolic warring planet; women are from a symbolic emotional planet. Mars, Venus. Ares, Aphrodite. War, Love. One is physical, and one is emotional. Emotional is sometimes hysterical. The word hysterical is derived from the idea of a womb (remember, Dear Reader, when women have a hysterectomy, their uteruses are removed). In WWI, men did not suffer from "hysteria," because that would be to suffer from an exclusively feminine malady. Rather, they suffered from "shell shock."

Even in emotions, women are separated from men.

Of course, we could argue that the superhero world is littered with otherworldiness, as powers have to come from somewhere, and I argue this gladly. Superman himself is an alien, and therefore otherworldly. Wolverine is a mutant, and therefore considered, by some, only human by default. But when do we see a female superhero at the peak of physical prowess who can outfight a male superhero of the same?

To wit, what if Huntress, say, and Batman, were to fight? Who would win?

Well, Batman, most likely. The reason would be that Bruce is in control of his emotions and therefore in constant control of his self, while Helena is always rash and somewhat out of control.

That begs another question: why can't Helena, who suffered near the same fate as young Bruce Wayne, control her emotions? Why is she sometimes "hysterical"?

But that is, perhaps, another post.

A Brief Review of Wonder Woman #2

Oh my goodness, Dear Reader! Wonder Woman #2 is out, and in my greedy little hands.

Well, not at *this* moment, as I am typing, but you get the General Idea.

I trust Allan Heinberg the way I trust Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, Brad Meltzer, and Brian K. Vaughan: utterly and completely. The Young Avengers has been one of my favorite runs since it started, and his work on Wonder Woman, thus far, has been truly great. My one complaint would be that we are spending a lot of time introducing the new storyline, and therefore not as much time on character development, but that feels in line with the One Year Later runs across the board. Time needs to be spent on the storyline, after all, before we can truly see how Diana, Donna, and Cassie have all changed since the tragic events of Infinite Crisis.

***Spoilers Ahead***

We begin with a beautiful image from The Past, of Donna in full Wonder Woman regalia, and the new suit is quite beautiful. My favorite WW suit is, surprisingly, the Red Son suit, but that's because it's just *pretty* (and scary, but that's another post). The Past Scene continues with a lovely and sad repartee between Diana and Bruce (in Batman costume) in which we get some glimpse of Diana's internal struggle in the wake of Maxwell Lord's death.

What surprises and pleases me is that neither DC nor Heinberg is tiptoeing around about the issue of Lord's death. Batman asks her, "So, killing Maxwell Lord was a mistake?" and Diana replies, "Some people think so." Thank you, thank you, DC. Thank you, Mr. Heinberg. I would have had a hard time forgiving either of you if you let Diana say "yes." Why? Because she made a decision. She made, for her, the right decision. Lord was trapped by the lasso, and when asked how to stop his mind control over Superman, he said, "kill me." So WW did. I'm not saying I'm pleased about the idea of murder; rather, I'm pleased that they have Diana struggling with a moral issue. To me, that defines humanity. We constantly struggle with moral quandaries, and Diana, more often than not, has not had the same struggle. Think back to the issue in which Flash appears to help stop a forest fire, and Diana won't let him. She tells him that the fire is the forest's natural way of cleansing itself, and we shouldn't interfere. In Rucka's run, he characterized Wonder Woman as having very black and white morals: either right or wrong, there was no middle ground. That felt very natural to me, because Diana, as an immortal princess from an island of warriors, would see things strictly in terms of right or wrong, of good or bad. Now, Heinberg's taking that and turning it on its head. We see her struggle, her determination not only to find herself, but also to find her place in humanity.

Diana says, "I think the only way I can accomplish my mission is if I don't have to be Princess Diana of Themyscira or Wonder Woman. If I can just be me," to which Bruce responds, "Who is that, Diana?" She doesn’t know who she is, or what it means to be happy. And she's determined to find out.

These inklings of characterization have me reeling a bit, because it's exactly what I want to see in my beloved Amazon (and how often does it happen, Dear Reader, that we see Exactly What We Want To See?). I want Diana to figure out who she is, and her place in a world than no longer supports Paradise Island or the Greek gods. Who is she outside of the costume, the title, the lasso, the mission of peace? Who is she beyond the warrior?

We jump forward months, or perhaps, a year, to present day, in which Diana is now Diana Prince, agent of The Department of Metahuman Affairs. She seems settled in her position, although her first impulse to deal with the Donna Troy kidnapping is to call in The Capes. But my one worry with the presentation of Diana in this scene is simple: this seems like yet another title for her. She's not *her*. She's playing a role that Bruce designed for her. Former head of security for WayneCorp, Army Intelligence, these are all bits and pieces of other Dianas, real and fictional, but perhaps not the Diana we came to love in Rucka's run. How can she find herself if she's still pretending to be someone else? Who, then, is Diana, if not Diana Prince, if not Wonder Woman, if not Princess Diana?

To be coy, who is this mysterious glassed woman?

I've adored Cassie as Wonder Girl for many reasons, but mainly for the humanity she brings to Diana. Cassie is a normal kid; sure, she has superpowers, but she didn't come from Paradise Island. She was Born of Human Woman, and she acts every bit of it. When she challenges Diana for leaving her in her time of need—-Conner's Death, the loss of the gods—-she is completely justified for it. Bruce didn't leave Tim behind, or Dick, but took them both, together, with him on his journey.

And what's this, Gentle Reader? Implication that he took Diana, too? The Mind Does Boggle!

I won't reveal much more, Friends, because I don't want to over-spoiler the spoiler warnings, but I will say this.

Um, that last page?


Very curious to see how this character introduction will play out in what I find to be a very female-centered book.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Elementary, My Dear Diana

When I chose "ettacandy" as my blog address, I did it for largely three reasons. The first is, of course, because I am a rabid Wonder Woman fan; I collect All Things Amazonian, from action figures to daily planners to, yes, Dear Reader, drink coasters. I had underoos as a kid, watched the television show while growing up, and fought off imaginary Nazis with my bullet-deflecting yellow terrycloth armbands. Wonder Woman was *the* role model for The GOP (The Girl of the [Seventies/Eighties] Period). And I never got over it.

As far as I can tell, Wonder Woman is the only female superhero with her own sidekick(s). We have Cassie now, an intelligent young woman who fulfills her role as Wonder Girl not as a justice-blinded warrior, but rather as any teenaged girl would: in amusing, terrifying, emotional, conflicted, Amazonian ways. We had Donna Troy/Troia/the original Wonder Girl, who grew up to have A Name Of Her Own. But before the blonde daughter of Zeus, before the mirror image of young Princess Diana, we had Etta Candy.

Which brings me to the remaining two reasons:
Sidekicks are more human than their heroes.
Etta Candy is the first True Fangirl.

Let's start not with the superhero sidekick, but rather, her more literary predecessor: the detective's sidekick. We could go farther back, all the way to The Beginning Of Literature As We Know It, but really, why be pretentious? Instead, we start with Edgar Allan Poe, "Murders in the Rue Morgue," and Dupin's nameless sidekick who narrates the story.
Dupin is what some would call an "armchair detective." He has extensive knowledge he's culled from the thousands of books he's read, and he stumbles upon the Murders down on old Rue Morgue because he reads the papers. He pokes and prods and clinically analyzes every detail of the case, and our anonymous narrator, and we, the Reading Public, sit back and awe at his massive brainpower as he solves, yes, *solves* the case without ever really doing any hard detecting work. Yes, of course, this is before the days of real detecting, long before fingerprinting and DNA testing and other sorts of things we see nowadays. But he's *smart*, Ladies and Gentlemen, very very smart. And if the story were written from his point of view, we would have stopped reading after the first paragraph.

See, that's what makes the sidekick so darn useful. Dupin's brain probably isn't a very fun place to be. But the sidekick, oh, the sidekick's a hoot and a half. Why? Because he's *just like us*. He gets some parts of the puzzle, but mainly, he's caught in Dupin's wake, trying to tread water, just as the reader is doing the same. He can crack sly jokes to the reader about Dupin, he can revere, he can be astonished, but most importantly, he can tell a story.

Let's shift forward a few years on the Literary Timeline, and look at the most famous of detecting partners, Holmes and Watson. These stories, too, are told from Watson's point of view. Holmes is quite out there, after all, with his violin, his chemistry experiments/tea servings, and Watson, Dear Watson, gives it to us straight.

The secret here is very simple: Holmes would never explain how he got from point A to point B, but Watson gives us Holmes's every step, every one of his own missteps, and we end up liking a guy we probably wouldn't like very much at all, if the story were all in his point of view.

Moving farther and faster, we have Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (although I hesitate to call her a sidekick!), Nancy Drew and Bess and George, Joe and Frank Hardy (partners, sure, but Joe's always struggling to catch up), Buffy and the Scooby Gang, and, of course, Batman and Robin.

While we don't get many stories from Robin's point of view, outside of his own book or Teen Titans, of course, we do see a different side of Batman because of Robin. We see the man struggling to form a family. We see loss and pain and hope, especially hope in the recent runs (how This Author melted into a puddle when Bruce asked Tim The Big Question a few issues back!). We see the human side of a hard, clinical man.

Of course, like any theory, this doesn't always work, and can't be proven definitively. But when faced with a hero and her sidekick, more often than not we are presented with the hero's human side through the people with whom she interacts. Not only do the sidekicks present the human face of the sometimes inhuman hero, they also critique, speculate, support, and judge as needed. Buffy was never so weak as when separated from the Scooby Gang. Batman is never so broken as when losing a Robin. Angel chooses Cordelia as a sidekick specifically because she is his connection to humanity. Holmes needs Watson to point out those ordinary details that he, as a somewhat extraordinary person, overlooks.

Even Nancy Drew, Girl Detective, forgets to fill her gas tank unless Bess and George remind her and that, Dear Reader, is quite an interesting thing.

Which brings me back to Wonder Woman and Etta Candy.

Etta has utter faith in Wonder Woman. In fact, she knows that Diana will save the day, and more importantly, she knows that Diana relies on her. That means something. Two things, in fact: 1) that she trusts in Diana as a hero, and 2) that she respects her for it.

What is a sidekick but The Ultimate Fan? Therefore what is Etta but a fangirl? And what is a fangirl but someone with enthusiasm for a character, a show, a person, a book? What is a fangirl but someone who trusts the character, the writers, the readers to Do The Right Thing? And what is a fangirl but someone who is confident enough to support, to criticize, to recommend, to analyze, and to have an opinion?

Fans, in general, suffer under the outsiders' mass assumption that We Do Not Criticize. Firefly's Browncoats, Buffy fans, X-Files aficionados, and yes, especially comic book fans, are painted as panting dogs, waiting for their masters to throw that plot bone. But frankly, that's simply Not True. Who is more critical than the true fan? Who has more respect for the story, the character, the writer, the vision, than the fan?

Look about at some of these great websites that list the rapidly growing comic book blogosphere (in which This Humble Author was surprised to find herself mentioned!), and we decidedly do *not* see panting, rabid fans. We see intellectual discussions, critiques of plot choices, general awe or dismay or fascination. We see *discussion*, and we see people who aren’t afraid to discuss.

That's a Sidekick.
That's a Fan.
That's a Fangirl.
That, my Friends, is Etta Candy.

The heroes learn something from the sidekicks, and not a tripe and tried Moral Lesson. No, the sidekick teaches something intrinsic, something almost primal, about the way the world works. The hero is often off in her Ivory Tower (or her Island of Paradise) and she forgets to get her hands and feet dirty. That, Dear Reader, is where the sidekick comes in.

Holmes often explained things away to his sidekick with the catchphrase, "Elementary, my Dear Watson," and that phrase has been used to mark the mentoring relationship, the near-arrogant explanation of Important Goings On. But I feel we need to reverse that and look, truly, at how the sidekick teaches the hero. Therefore, it is not Elementary, my dear Etta, but quite the reverse.

I am experiencing my own Identity Crisis at the moment (apologies, dear Mr. Meltzer) in that I did not expect an audience for this blog. I started it as an experiment, to see if I could write about my interests without writing about myself. Or perhaps I started it because, "Mom! Everyone else has a blog!" Or perhaps I felt a sense of restlessness, a desire to write thoughtfully about something other than The Dissertation. For whatever the reason, I began blogging a few weeks ago and woke up one morning to find that People Were Reading. Therefore, Dear Reader, my name may undergo a few fluctuations over the next few weeks as I struggle towards a blogging identity. But as my job is to read books, and write about said books, I plan to do a lot of that, recreationally, with this blog.

All of this to say Stay Tuned, Friends, for more installments of the Fangirl's Geekosphere Blog Index, and keep your eyes on the sidebar, as my name promises to change with the wind.

But hey, really. It can't change more times than Donna Troy's has.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wives Under Tables, Crawling Across Floors

There are times, Gentle Reader, in which I wonder about the various hats I wear. You are familiar with this, I'm sure; we change, subtly, our speech and action and mindset with our different environments. I am a scholar, a feminist, a writer, a reader, a geek, a "cool chick" (well, I was, once), a daughter, a puppy-mother, and a wife. Once or twice the stars align and the moon shines down on the me that is all of those things, combined. But more often than not, I have to put aside the student hat, say, and wear the daughter hat, or exchange the geek for the cool, etc. Tonight, I am the pseudo-intellectual, pondering the meaning of The Wife Hat in the comic book world.

I don't wear hats well; no matter the literal hat, I look like Debbie Gibson, circa Electric Youth, all round cheeks and glossy eyes and radiating 80s innocence. But figurative hats chafe as well, and the fit is just as uncomfortable. Perhaps it's the sheer fact that I grew up at the tail end of Gen X: not as rebellious as those who came before, but not as needy as those who came after. Or perhaps it's that grunge streak still lingering in my bones. Or perhaps, just perhaps, I'm Mary Contrary, refusing to admit how my garden grows.

Gail Simone's article "Women in Refrigerators," and my recent rereading of it, got me thinking about the role of wives in comic books today. The wife is a different hat than, say, the girlfriend or lover. The wife's attachment to the husband is preceded by a wedding, an announcement, perhaps a gimmick or two. But no matter what it is preceded by, it is followed by a Huge Shift In Storyline. What to do with her once she's on board? We have to give her *some* role, right? If she's a superhero as well, then fine, no worries. Sue Storm and Reed Richards form a family, and their marriage works (well, pre-Civil War, but that's another post) precisely because they are in the same profession, and understand the dangers. But what of the others? Not an infinite group, certainly, but there are several wives we can, and will, talk about.

But first, a caveat. Understand I'm speaking strictly of comics within, say, the last ten years. And also, please understand that I am speaking only of the comics I read on a regular basis (see the current list in my previous post, "Wednesdays (and sometimes Thursdays)..."). With those concessions in mind, let's move on.

In the finite group of wives in comic books, cross-universes, who has the healthiest marriage? I posed this question to Mr. Reads, and his immediate reply was "Sue Dibny." Hm. Well, I definitely see this pre-52, and yes, Dear Reader, I even see it in Identity Crisis in Ralph’s reaction to Sue’s death. But the most recent issues of 52, and in particular, those dealing with the Superboy cult, are twisting this healthy marriage into an unhealthy obsession. But as Sue is deceased, perhaps we should move on.

My reply was, "Linda Park West." I would scream it from the mountain tops, if I could. But as I am 8 feet below sea level at the moment, I'll settle for posting it on the internet. Wally and Linda, even when they had problems, were *real*. Their problems were mirrors of every marriage's problems. Work, public and private faces (as a reporter, Linda exists in the public as much as Wally does), miscarriage, these are real problems that real people deal with on a daily basis. And they worked *through* those problems, and made their marriage work.

But what truly makes Linda a fascinating example of the superhero’s wife is this simple fact: she’s utterly human. She responds as a “real person” (whatever that is, Dear Reader!) would to all the situations she is faced with on a daily basis, and, in particular, those that involve her husband. Think back to Infinite Crisis, when the Flashes push Superboy Prime through the Speed Force. Wally is about to be sucked away, and he uses the last bit of the Force to see his wife. He tells Linda that he loves her, and the twins, and will see them as soon as he can.

Linda says, basically, “to hell with this!”, grabs on to the twins and her husband, and we are presented with one of the most beautiful images in recent comic book history: Linda, refusing to let her husband sacrifice himself and leave her and their children behind.

But why is this such a healthy marriage? The Flashes, as a whole, tend to take to marriage well, but I believe there's something more to this. Linda Park West is a character drawn from life. She wasn't a main character in the Flash series, nor was she a sidekick or partner. She was a woman, married to a man. She did her job, he did his, and sometimes, the two collided.

Perhaps, then, I should revise my earlier statement regarding superheroes marrying superheroes. Is it easier to marry someone in your profession? Does it allow for sympathy or understanding? Or does Linda Park West, and to some extent her counterpart Lois Lane, counter that assumption? Lois Lane, too, is a reporter, married to a superhero. But Lois’s tendency to put herself in harm’s way because she knows her husband always saves her speaks to something a bit deeper and darker, something, say, that we might see in The Ultimates.

We turn now to The Ultimates (and yes, Dear Reader, I *do* read Marvel, despite my DC-blogging-evidence to the contrary) and the marriage of Hank and Janet Pym, Giant Man and Wasp.

Remember the image I mentioned earlier, of Linda and Wally and the twins? The polar opposite of that image, for me, is in an early issue of The Ultimates, during a disturbing scene of marital abuse between Wasp and Giant Man. Janet shrinks down and hides under a table, while Hank, normal sized, looms over her, a can of insect spray in hand. It's been a while since I've read it, and my memory may be faulty, but I believe he asks her, "Why must you make me feel so small?" before he sprays her with insecticide and attacks her with ants.

Like Ms. Simone and her image of a woman stuffed in a refrigerator, I am haunted by the image of a wife hiding under a table and being attacked by ants.

Now, let's do remember that The Ultimates is a comic that is rather brutal and nasty, on all levels. That's what makes it so smart. But this scene, this very frightening scene, demonstrates a level of reality that we don’t normally see in the comic book universe. Giant Man and Wasp feed each other’s abuse cycle. She is written as a classic abused wife, and he is written as a classic abusing husband, and they torture each other, and return to each other, ad nauseam.

Superheroines hiding under tables to escape their superhero husbands. Janet Pym, burnt and attacked and so very small, cowering away from Giant Man, who in this scene is not Giant at all, but rather quite normal sized. This image has a long legacy in the history not only of comics, but of literature at large. Of the world at large. Her power is to shrink down in size; his power is to grow taller. She is “the classic abused wife” (and although I say it, I quibble with that terminology), and she participates actively in the abuse. She gives as good as she gets in the scene just prior to her cowering. She fights back. And then Hank takes it even farther.

What does this *mean*? *Why* is her power to shrink down? And why, why, why do I remember this image before I remember Linda and Wally? Why do I think back to the wife under the table instead of to the wife jumping into the speed force, children and husband in hand? And why, oh why, does it only rank just a point above Sue Dibny's corpse crawling across the floor in last week's 52 on the Amy-Reads-Freakout-Richter-Scale?

One answer, simply, is this: The Ultimates is a scary little book. Captain America is a jock jerk, Tony Stark is a frightening obsessed man, Natasha is an immoral wench, the list goes on and on. But to look at this scene as it exists not in The Ultimates but in The World, is to see what some envision the role of the wife to be. Gail Simone said it better than I ever can, and I fully admit this. But I think it’s worth reconsideration. Wives under tables, crawling across floors, we live with these images every day. We can’t escape them. Sure, we try to turn a blind eye to it, and pretend that it doesn’t exist. Or, even worse, we admit that it exists but we refuse to talk about it. Why? Literature, whether defined canonically or loosely, is a safe space in which to talk about huge social issues. And this is, indeed, a huge social issue.

So I leave you with this, Gentle Reader, and I promise a more upbeat post soon. But this has been brewing on the backburner for some time now, and who better to inflict with my thoughts than The Internet At Large?


Monday, August 14, 2006

Your batarang, your gobbledygoo

If you were ever in doubt, Gentle Reader, that New Orleans has become A Different World Post-Katrina (tm), I am here to tell you, that doubt is misplaced. Mr. Reads and I just spent 30 minutes in the 20 items or less line at the local grocery store, at which every single line was open, and every single line had 20+ people in it. I have a post brewing, a very odd "when comics meet real life" post regarding Batman's No Man's Land and New Orleans Post-Katrina, but I believe that topic is better discussed in retrospect. I am, as they say, too close to the situation now to be objective.

So instead, I bend your ear about a conversation Mr. Reads and I had in said line, waiting for said checkout of water, Barq's Red Creme Soda, Hubig's pies, lettuce, and microwave pizza.

Why do we swoon over Batman?

This topic came up after Mr. Reads slyly posted the following poem in an earlier entry of my blog, with thanks (or apologies) to Ms. Plath.

I have always been scared of you
With your utility belt, your gobbledygoo.
And your batarang
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Fledermaus, Fledermaus, O You--

Not God but a bat-signal
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like Bruce.

Yes, Friends, Mr. Reads is a Bonafide Degree-Carting Poet (tm), which is why I feel it is safe to say that the above rewriting of "Daddy" is not at all snarky but rather brilliant.

Why *do* we love Batman?

I don't think I'm speaking to the incarnation of the batusi Batman, but rather to the morose, Byronic, meta-ist, possible father to an illegitimate Ghul child Batman. I'm talking Dark Bruce Wayne, the one who Selina Kyle swoons over, who Talia al Ghul would kill for, who women always, always want to love. And always women, I've noticed, unless anyone can point to a same sex crush on Batman/Bruce Wayne that has escaped my attention?

I believe it is very much a feminine malady in the comic book world, this love of the Byronic Hero. He's broken, Ladies, completely and utterly. He's a little boy still crying out into the night over the death of his parents. He's paranoid, he's racist against metahumans, he's been terrible and rotten to women (look at his treatment of Sasha, for example, in the Bruce Wayne, Fugitive run), and he desperately attempts to build a family, only to destroy it from the inside, over and over again.

And we, Those Who Love Batman, gush over him for it.

Oh, don't worry, Gentle Reader. I am, of course, including myself in that number.

We have many, many smart female characters in comic books today, on both sides of the DC/Marvel divide. Speaking specifically of women who have been involved in one way or another with Bruce Wayne/Batman over the years, we can start, of course, with Catwoman. Selina Kyle is a woman who knows what she wants and goes after it, and that has been, many a time, Bruce Wayne/Batman.
And Lois Lane? She loves Bruce, but hates Batman (in the same way that some would argue she loves Superman but merely tolerates Clark Kent). Sasha Bordeaux, the current Black Queen of Checkmate, wouldn't break in prison and refused to implicate Bruce Wayne in Vesper's murder in any way. Even this author's favorite superheroine of all time, Wonder Woman, was romantically linked to Batman in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.

But *why*, Dear Reader? Why, why, why? Why do we kowtow to this complicated, quite-destructive man? Is it because he is so very broken? Do we Batman adorers, and these multitudes of strong female characters, imagine that we can fix a man like this?

The Batman/Bruce Wayne Byronic Hero archetype has a long history in literature, of course, which dates back to this author's beloved Victorians and beyond. Rochester, Heathcliff, Lord Byron himself, are men who are "broken" somehow, and must be fixed. A strong female character--a Jane Eyre, a Catherine Earnshaw, a Selina Kyle--falls back on some primitive and archaic notion of a "maternal instinct" and insists, *insists*, Dear Reader, that she can "Fix Him," when she darn well knows that you can't fix anyone who won't fix himself.

Most recently, however, the brilliant genius Mark Waid (whose story brings hope and sunshine to rabid fans everywhere!) has declared that yes, the comic writers can fix Batman. They can take this broken man and make him whole again. This author, for one, sat up and shouted Huzzah! at such a notion. Finally, the responsibility is taken *off* a woman and put onto the figure of Batman himself. What inspiration! What foresight! What...
But wait.
*I* wanted to fix him.

Perhaps Sylvia Plath was right: some women adore a brute brute heart, and try to get back, back, back to that brute heart, over and over again. But more so, I believe that we women who are Batman aficionados see the little boy inside, and crave to protect him from the horrors that he will, inevitably, grow up to face. The batarang becomes a security blanket, the utility belt a teddy bear. The darkness is ever-present, and we strive to keep it at bay, the batsignal trying, desperately, to illuminate.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, Gentle Reader, we find the pain sexy, the brokenness attractive. At heart, we desire those qualities in a man so that when we get him, we can pretend we are The One Who Brought The Light To His Life.

I've only seen one female character romantically attached to Batman that I believe Can Save Him, and that is Selina Kyle. Why? Because she herself had been in pain, had been broken, and she *fixed herself*. He becomes a better man when he is with her, and I think that is A Very Good Thing.

DC? Please take note. This Humble Author waits with baited breath to find out the identity of Helena's father. And This Humble Author begs you to let it be Bruce Wayne. Because why else would you tempt us with such a delicious image of Batman bringing Helena a college fund *and* a large teddy bear?
Indeed, Selina. If only the criminals of Gotham could see him now.
So I ask, very politely, for you to keep this author's faith.

Pretty please?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Millennium and Bricks?

Greetings, Gentle Reader, from the Parents-Reads House!
How strange it is to post a blog from here. The memories just come flooding back, which is, in itself, Very Strange, as I grew up before the internet was "cool" (or very accessible--I remember the days of pay-by-the-hour AOL!). But as Mom and Dad Reads are sleeping, and Mr. and Miss-Pup Reads are watching television on the couch, I decided, once again, to grace you with my presence.
In keeping with the mood of One Girl's Foray Into Geekdom (tm) that this blog strives towards, I wanted to talk about two recent additions to my geekosphere: the television show Millennium, and indie-movie Brick.

Mr. Reads and I, as previously mentioned, have subscribed to Netflix recently, and are working through all nine seasons of The X-Files. But sometimes (just sometimes, Dear Reader!) the discs don't come fast enough for our liking. As mentioned in "Part IV: Collecting New Geeky Things" of my blogging introduction, I'm very, very good at obsessing over new, geeky things (hence the apropos title of that post). What we do, and do very well, is barge through several seasons of a television show in a few weeks. We did this with Buffy, with Angel, with Carnivale and Sopranos and Band of Brothers. Working in academia allows for few stretches of time to call our own; between writing dissertations and grading papers and visiting family and--very rarely--attempting to have A Life, Mr. Reads and I find that, say, Thanksgiving, or Arbor Day, lend themselves well to obsessive tv watching. That is, of course, dependent on having current obsessions in hand.
All of this to say that we can't get our Netflix fast enough in those rare pockets of time, and the other six and a half days of the week, we are forced to work, *work*, Gentle Reader, instead of sitting on the couch, eating microwave Kettle Corn, drinking coffee or tea, and watching The Show.
All of *this* to say that we've borrowed Millennium from Mr. Reads' father, and are supplementing our Netflix viewings with it.

First episode, first season:
Very intriguing, albeit a bit anachronistic for us, as the Y2K fervor has, in the passing six years, proved to be a bit hysterical. Frank Black, a near-psychic profiler, is an intriguing and sympathetic character, but I find myself longing for Mulder/Scully repartee, witty barbs slashed back and forth between two rather interesting people. The tension just isn't there for me. First episode, first season of X-Files, you are immediately on the defensive. There is conspiracy about, darnit, and you will find out what the black hats are up to! But here, I don't feel conspiracy as much as legacy, and that legacy has long since expired. But who loves on the first date? We have several more episodes to go, and really, all of that "spare time."

Brick, however, is The Smartest Movie I've Watched In Months, the last being, of course, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. If you've not seen Brick, Dear Reader, or Kiss2Bang2, then you must run, run, run to the video store (or open a new tab on Firefox and pull up that Netflix queue) and rent this movie (or these movies) forthwith. When Mr. Reads' Very Hip 20-Something Brother asked me to describe said movie, I replied, "It's The Big Sleep meets Miller's Crossing meets Clueless/Cruel Intentions. That is to say, if Marlowe and Tommy and Vivian were in high school, this is who they'd be."

This movie is *smart*, Gentle Reader, and while I've said it before (re: Buffy, re: Angel, re: Firefly, re: X-Files, etc.) and I'll say it again and again, it's just true. It's Chandler meets Hammett meets my teenaged journal meets the Coen Brothers meets Vanity Fair meets genius. But a word to the fairly wise: through the first viewing, leave the subtitles on. The characters speak so fast and with such style and vivacity that lovely trips of the tongue may get lost in the shuffle.

Stay tuned, Friends, for more installments of Ms. Reads' Geekosphere Index. When I am more awake than I am now, mere hours after a lovely meal at The Melting Pot for Momma Reads' birthday, I will return to the discussion of superheroines and their tangible vs. physical powers, of the Mulder/Scully dynamic in The X-Files, and, of course, Whedonesque musings. But until then, I bid you adieu as I return to my irregularly scheduled programming of Vacation.

It's a fairly alien concept to me, so please understand if I am a bit giddy.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ladies Night

Good morning, Gentle Reader!
I found myself sleeping unbelievably long this morning, all the way to 9:30 a.m. I hear your questions now: Amy, are you sick? Are you perhaps unwell, Ms. Reads? Fret not, Friends. While I greatly appreciate your concern, I am not sick at all, but sleeping late in preparation for the 5 a.m. departure tomorrow morning. Road Trip, here we come.
But as I will be rather busy over the next week, and unable to grace your browsers with the prose that astounds the bourgeoisie and makes the angels weep with... wait, no. Those were the essay instructions from my Honors College profs back in the day. I mean, since I won't be able to shout out into the void about sugar and spice and everything super, I've decided to do leave you a nugget to chew on while I am carousing in the Big Easy.


Already, I find that word problematic. Why aren't they all superHEROES? Why do we need male or female designators for our characters? Look at the history of comic books. We have a Superman, a Batman, a Spider-Man, a Power Man, a Mr. Terrific, and the female counterparts, Supergirl, Batgirl, Spider-Girl (Peter Parker's daughter). Of course, there is also a Spider-Woman, and a Batwoman (who, in her most recent incarnation, is the former romantic partner of Gotham PD's Renee Montoya), a Wonder Woman (and her apprentice Wonder Girl). There is a Huntress, and a Miss Marvel, a Marvel Girl, Black Canary and Gypsy, but very, very few female superheroes have non-gendered names.

Now some may argue that Black Canary, for example, is not necessarily a gendered name. Well, certainly, that argument may be made, but the original Black Canary had a magic purse of tricks, complete with a super-compact. No, Gentle Reader, I'm not lying to you. Why would I?

Let's take a look at the greatest heroine of them all, Wonder Woman. I have argued in the past (an argument that often brings surprisingly controversial results) that Wonder Woman is stronger than Superman. Where is the evidence, you ask? Well, she's super-strong. She's matched up to him again and again. But more importantly, she has no weaknesses, and Superman has three (kryptonite, telepathy, and magic, four if you count red suns). In issues past, Batman, our lovable neurotic paranoid, decided that if the metas ever got out of hand, it would be up to him to stop them, so he devised a failsafe to counter every major hero. This, of course, blew up in his face when the OMACs became cognizant and started indiscriminate killing in Infinite Crisis, but that's neither here nor there.
What is here and there is this simple fact: Batman carries kryptonite on his person at all times. It's the only way to defeat Superman if he gets out of control (and honestly, does a year go by in which Superman *doesn't* get out of control?). But his ultimate plan to defeat Wonder Woman?
Lock her in a room and let her defeat herself.

That's *smart*, boys and girls. That's just *smart*. In one little detail, the comics establish that Wonder Woman's worst enemy is herself. She's immortal, she flies, she has superstrength and magic weapons (a lasso of truth, bullet-deflecting bracelets, god-made armor), and the only way the smartest superhero of them all could determine how to defeat her is to lock her in a room and let her wear herself out.

And she proves that her worst enemy is herself when she kills Maxwell Lord to stop his mind control over Superman. This horrific event is televised over international channels, and the world turns upside-down. Not only did Wonder Woman kill a seemingly innocent and unarmed human, but she did it on international television. The OMACs go nuts, the world erupts into chaos, and everyone begins to fear, truly, those stronger than themselves.

Wonder Woman broke the cardinal rule for metas: she killed a human. Superheroes don't kill humans, even if it's the only way to stop Lord's mind control of Superman. Wonder Woman has a history of selfless and heroic acts, like, for example, when Medusa got loose and threatened to turn several million football (European, not American) fans into stone over live broadcast, and Wonder Woman blinded herself in order to defeat her. But in that one moment, she reminded everyone, hero and non-hero alike, that she is not human. She is an immortal warrior princess from an island of Amazons. She was forged from clay and given life by the gods. She has a pure sense of justice, but doesn't, perhaps, know the value of human life.

See what I mean? That's complicated, that's complex, and that's *way* smarter than comics used to be in the past. Wonder Woman's current image is still caught up in her inception, as the bondage fantasy of William Marston. We see the silliness of her, of her sidekick Etta Candy, of the immobility caused when she's tied up by a man. With Greg Rucka, we see the politician, the alien (always, always more alien than Kal El, who is truly, at heart, Clark Kent), the hero blinded by justice.
What's very interesting about Rucka's run on Wonder Woman is that she's never given a romantic interest. So many superheroines have romantic entanglements of some kind. Black Canary and Green Arrow, Oracle and Nightwing, Wonder Girl and Superboy, Catwoman and Batman, the list goes on and on. But no so with Wonder Woman. What is it about her recent incarnations that transcend sexuality? A crossover event with The Flash during the Medusa trials has Wally gripping the lasso of truth and pondering how coldly beautiful and *frightening* Wonder Woman is. No one jokes with Wonder Woman about her beauty, her sexuality, or sexually threatens her, as many criminals do with other heroines. At least, not in Rucka's run.

In summation, we're looking at possibly the strongest superheroine cross-universes. She has the beauty of Aphrodite, the wisdom of Athena, the grace and blessing of the gods. She stands at a little over six feet, all blue eyes and black hair and muscles. And she's *cold*. She's damn near asexual. What, then, does that say about society's views about strong women?
It's a good thing and a bad thing all rolled up into one.
The good thing: she's not reduced to the processes of her body. Or, rather, she is, but not in the way that so many women are. Wonder Woman is all body, inasmuch as she has a superbody. She is a superhero. There's no way around that. She has immense physical strength (and when I get back, we'll talk about the overwhelming amount of intangible vs. physical powers granted to female superheroes) and she is a warrior.
The bad thing: is this, then, suggesting that strong women are, or should be, asexual? Is Wonder Woman cut off from sexuality and romantic entanglements because she is strong, or because she is distant and cold? I'd like to believe it's the latter. At the end of Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman decides to go off and learn what it means to be human. We'll see how that unfolds.

But until then, Gentle Reader, some reading.
Gail Simone, one of the strongest female voices in comic books today, once wrote an intriguing article about the role of women in comics, and how most were reduced to the very processes of their bodies. i.e. their dead bodies were used (and stuffed into refrigerators) in order to torment their superhero lovers.
Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wednesdays (and sometimes Thursdays) are comic book days

Today, Dear Reader, was a bit of a bust.
Oh, socially? A rampaging success. I got to snuggle with a wee bairn. I joined The Ladies Who Lunch. I went to Target. I spent 40 minutes on the phone with my mother.
Well, that wasn't a rampaging social success. But it was social-ish, all the same.
But today was my car's turn at the maintenance shop. No, no, Gentle Reader, don't worry! There's nothing wrong with it. It's just that we (the husband, the pup, and I) are off to visit the respective families this weekend, and it was time for the car to get an oil change and some new tires.
Now, a theoretical 400 million dollars later, I wait, and wait, for the phone call to come and pick up my car.
Then we go to the comic book store and pick up our subscriptions.

For those of you who have lives... I mean, who aren't rabid comic book fans, here's a bit of info.
Wednesday is Comic Book Day.
Yes, it deserves capitalization.

Comic Book Day is the day of the week on which comics are sent to the stores to be sold. A weekly street date, if you will. Most comic books are released monthly, with a few specials released weekly.

This year, for his birthday, my husband received the promise of $3 a week to subscribe to 52.

DC has exploded its universe, and universes, again and again over the decades. The most famous bust was Crisis on Infinite Earths in the 80s, and, most recently, Infinite Crisis of the past year. The lead-up to this was Brad Meltzer's brilliant superhero murder mystery Identity Crisis, a book I am considering teaching next year. At the end of Infinite Crisis, DC jumped all of its storylines ahead one year, with the slogan "One Year Later," and the weekly run of 52 is a "real-time" expose of the missing year. It's a unique concept my husband and I both felt worthy of weekly subscription.

We're not weekly subscribers because frankly, we don't have the money or the storage space. We prefer graphic novel collections, and 99% of our comic book archive is in graphic novel form. But there are some great writers on the 52 lineup, included our beloved Greg Rucka, and it's something we want to share with our future, hypothetical children lurking about in the ether.

So every Wednesday (or sometimes Thursday) we head over to our preferred comic book store in town and purchase 52, and once a month (well, once so far) the One Year Later run of Wonder Woman. We chat with the owner, we rub elbows with the other geeks in town, and we usually end up spending more money at the Indian buffet next door for an impromptu lunch.

But I read other comics, too, Dear Reader, although I purchase them in graphic novel form rather than single issues. Today, I decided to figure out all of the series I'm currently reading, and here is the rather daunting list:
52 (DC)
Action Comics (Superman) (DC)
Angel (IDW)
Astonishing X-Men (Marvel)
Batman (and all of its spinoffs like Detective Comics) (DC)
Birds of Prey (DC)
Catwoman (DC)
Civil War, and its spinoffs, Frontline, X-Men, and Runaways versus Young Avengers (Marvel)
Daredevil (Marvel)
Fables (DC)
Fallen Angel (IDW, formerly DC)
The Flash (DC)
Justice League of America (DC)
Runaways (Marvel)
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane (Marvel)
Spike and Spike vs. Dracula (IDW)
Squadron Supreme (Marvel)
Supergirl (DC)
Teen Titans (DC)
The Ultimates (Marvel)
Wonder Woman (DC)
Y the Last Man (DC)
Young Avengers (Marvel)

That's just *currently*, mind you. What I'm reading actively *now*.

So now that my introductory posts are finished, the next few steps will be to hash out the above lists of comics.
You were warned, remember? This is the blog of one girl's foray into geekdom.
Still reading?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

In Which the Author Fights the Future

I know, Gentle Reader. I said I wouldn't have time to post today. And I didn't. Not really. My day started around 6:30 this morning and hasn't stopped since. What is it about inanimate objects' complete and utter inability to make themselves understood that drives us to cursing and screaming? We attempted to fix my husband's car battery on our own. Five hours and 1200 degrees later, we had it towed to the mechanic's and let *them* scream and sweat and curse for a while. Our time, we felt, was served.
Now I find myself in possession of a stolen moment in time, and as there are no new comic books to read at the moment (mental note: head to comic store tomorrow for subscriptions), only 70 pages left to savor of the fluff book I'm reading, and a husband distracted from X-Files by Jon Stewart, I decided to blaze ahead with my final introductory post.

Part IV: Collecting New Geeky Things
I have a tendency, a very strange tendency, towards obsessive compulsion. This is sometimes A Good Thing (tm) when one dedicates one's life to the pursuit of truth and scholarship of a very specific time period. This is sometimes A Bad Thing (tm) when one latches on to a television series, or comic book, or novel sequence, and just can't let go.
The husband and I are recent subscribers to that radical internet phenomenon, Netflix. This was brought on by the sheer lack of decent rental stores in our area. That big one--you know, the really big franchise--did a bad, bad thing a few years back: it purged all of its stores of older movies to make way for more new releases. One may therefore find dozens of copies of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, but a classic like Flash Gordon is, I'm sorry to say, nowhere to be found. Although our local public library fights the good fight against this, bless its heart, and its stock is generous, we've exhausted it.
A few months back, we checked out X-Files, Season One, from said library. I've seen X-Files in bits and pieces over the years--who hasn't?--but have managed to catch the same one or two episodes over and over (the mushroom fungus camper one high on that list). I believe I've mentioned before that I refuse to watch a television show unless I see it from the start. The trend towards releasing series on DVD has helped this compulsion of mine; Buffy, Angel, Carnivale, and Sopranos were all watched via DVD. But X-Files was a show I had always wanted to watch, and never had the chance to catch all nine seasons, from the beginning, on television.
After the first few episodes, I was hooked.
We're elbow-deep in Season Four, and I find myself screaming, "Kiss her, Mulder!" at the screen on a regular basis.

I consider myself a collector. There was a time when I could name my collections on all fingers and toes. Paper journals, bottles of rain (oh, the angsty confessions of the nineteen-year-old incarnation of the adult!), books about Mary Shelley, I had several. Now, I've whittled it down to a few.
I collect Wonder Woman paraphernalia, mainly action figures, but other things, too. I have a soft spot for comic book character-inspired Barbies (Batgirl, Elektra, Harley Quinn), and original art (thank goodness the brother-in-law and the best friend are artists, otherwise I would be even poorer than I already am!). But I also collect new aspects of my geekiness.
That, currently, is X-Files.

I see What Came Before in What Has Come After. All of my shows, all of my pet loves, are influenced by X-Files. It paved the way for supernatural, conspiracy-driven, freak of the week and season- or series-long Big Bads. It blazed a path towards character-driven television. And come on. Mulder is the geek girl's dream come true the way Batman is the former angsty teenager's dream come true. And an inspirational platonic relationship between a man and woman on screen that actually *works*? It defies explanation.

We're almost finished with season four, and that leaves several more seasons to go. But this comes on the heels of Carnivale, and Battlestar Galactica, and I wonder, what will come next? How will my geek OCD manifest itself several months down the line?

Time, as we know, will tell.
Until then, we fight the future.
Because The Truth Is Out There, of course.

np: The Fire Theft

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In Which the Author Becomes a Bit Snooty

Tomorrow proves to be an even busier day than today, thanks to my husband's iffy car dying a slow and painful death (complete with a push home!). I'm on driving duty, that pesky dissertation is staring me in the face, and I need to clean the house, you know.

So, right, then. Off we go.

Part III: Books
My parents decided, long before I was born, that their child would be A Great Reader (tm). My father once told me, "if you know how to read, and read well, you can teach yourself anything." Sage advice, especially since so many people know how to read, but so few know how to read well. So I was introduced to books before I could walk. Before I could talk. And long, long before I could read.
My mother read to me while I was still an infant. She made me follow along with her when I could sit up and pay attention. And I was reading as soon as possible.
Books amazed me. Entire worlds existed on white paper, trapped in black ink. Books upon books upon books, waiting to be discovered. Millions of books in the world, hundreds of millions of books, and I could read them *all*, if I wanted.
According to parental lore, I used to fall asleep with a book on my face, and would wake up, and start reading again. I worked through most of my grammar school library, my public library, but that wasn't enough. My obsession demanded that I *own* books, because if I possessed them, they were, in part, mine. Right?
Bless my parents, they bought into this, hook, line, and sinker. Sure, I had Barbies, and GI Joes, and my Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, but when my mother punished me for what I'm sure was something trivial and inconsequential *ahem*, she took away all of my books and made me stay in my room. That's how important they were to me. Punishment means nothing if a child doesn't learn, right? And I learned. Boy, did I ever. If I sassed off, or did something incredibly stupid, my books were taken away.
At grammar school, there were other bookish kids like me. I was never chastised for being "a bookworm," although I was forbidden, by my parents, my grandmother, other family members, my teachers, from reading books at meals. It wasn't until I started living on my own that I was able to indulge in that delicious little piece of selfishness. Food *and* books? Could life be better than this?
When I started college, I was an International Relations major and a Russian minor. I wanted to go into international law, primarily dealing with the former Soviet Union. I had visited Russia at 15, mere months after the coup, and it had a lasting impression on me. And I had always thought I wanted to be a lawyer.
Then I took Russian.
Then I interned at a law firm.
And I switched my major to English.
I was what I call a "typical English major." Writing and reading came naturally to me, but I was a procrastinator. I always said "I do my best work at the last minute" which means, as I tell my students, "no, you *only* do your work at the last minute." But in the same way I breezed through English honors and AP in high school, I breezed through English in undergrad. I loved my classes, I loved to read, and I loved to write about books. What I lacked in sophistication I made up for in enthusiasm, and my professors, bless their hearts, rewarded me for it.
My master's was a completely different ballgame. I had to break my bad habits and learn new, better ones. My professors, the same ones I worked with as an undergrad, pushed me, and pushed me hard. What I lacked in sophistication, I made up for in potential, they said.
It was the first time in my life that I wasn't great at English. I suddenly "had potential."
Potential. What a rotten little word that is for someone who has snobbish ideas of her own intelligence. It knocked me down, several notches, and I began to experience what grad students refer to as "imposter syndrome." What if I wasn't smart? What if I had fooled everyone my entire life, and now, surrounded by truly smart people, they weeded me out? And who the hell were "they" anyways?
God, did I need that knock down. I fell off the literary pedestal I had placed myself on and sat in the mud, rubbing my eyes with my fists and crying out to the world that I *was* smart. That I had more than potential, dammit. And I set out to prove it to them.
I changed my work habits. I dusted off my work ethic, pounded into me by my work ethic-y parents, and considered what it really meant to be *good* at something. I revised, and revised, and reread and reread until I wrote a master's thesis that wasn't half bad.

When I started the Ph.D. program, I realized that I was being offered a very special, precious gift. Someone was going to pay me to read books and to write about them. I was going to spend the rest of my life with *books*. *I* got to pick the books I read. *I* got to decide what to teach, what not to teach. *I* got to reward myself with stolen moments of "fluff" books (i.e. non-academic, non-classic, purely fun), over a grilled cheese and some chocolate milk, and it felt really, really good.

It's so rare these days that someone actually gets to do what she wants to do in her career. And I got that.

It's stressful, it's crazy, and sometimes? very expensive. But my love affair with books, one that began with The Pokey Little Puppy and traveled through Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown and Stephen King and Emily Bronte and Connie Willis to end up at Elizabeth Gaskell, William Thackeray, and George Eliot, has evolved into something quite lasting indeed.

Now about that pesky little dissertation....

In Which The Author Becomes A Rabid Fangirl

I'm breaking cardinal rule #2 of internet posting: posting before coffee (rule #1 is, of course, no PUI-posting under the influence). But I have quite the busy day ahead of me, so I decided that sleepiness was the better part of valor. What is so busy about today, you ask? Well, in an hour or so, I'm helping a friend move. Then I'm meeting another friend for coffee. There is, of course, the much-anticipated Netflix arrival of discs 3 and 4 of X-Files season 4 (which will get its own post momentarily), and let's not forget that pesky little dissertation. Notice it's last on the list? Right.

But as no power in the 'verse can stop me from posting pre-caffeine, I'm going to do it.

Whew. Sorry about that, Gentle Reader. You don't know it, of course, but I was just called away from this post by 1) a phone call from the husband reminding me of something, 2) which reminded me of my coffee with Mommy, Ph.D., 3) which further reminded me that one of the purposes of our coffee date, besides the fact that we are Very Busy and Important People (tm) and the stars finally aligned for us to meet, is to bring her our fondue pot, 4) which reminded me to get said fondue pot, 5) and plates, 6) and since I was up, I decided to make coffee.

Now, caffeine is coursing through my system--God bless you, Community with Chicory--and we shall begin.

Part II: The Whedonverse

I have a confession.
I didn't trust Joss Whedon until 2002.
I know, I know. Those Whedonites among you scream heresy and call foul. I am Less Than A True Fan. But please, let me explain.

I saw my first Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode when I was a junior in college (and that, Dear Reader, was a long time ago indeed). I was working that sometimes-dreaded but never-avoidable college job, Retail, and I was staying at my parents' house for the weekend, getting ready for work. As these things happen, and as one cannot dress and read at the same time, I had the television on. On the screen was a fascinating little show, something I didn't recognize. But there was a wee blonde girl, and several of her friends, and some odd British man all fighting against this one, rather attractive... vampire?
Hmm. At this time in my life, I was inclined to wear some dark clothing and read Byron and M. Shelley, so I was rather intrigued. I sat down to watch. And watch. And I fell a little bit in love with the fairy tale of the boyfriend gone bad, the girl who had to kill him to save the world, and that last moment in which he turned good again, got his soul back, and she had to kill him anyways.
It was the last episode of season 2 of Buffy.
As I was running late for work, I made a mental note: watch Buffy in the fall.
Then I went back to college and didn't have a television.

Flash forward several more years. I had long since abandoned my mental note: watch Buffy. In fact, I sneered, actually *sneered* at the idea of a petite blonde Vampire Slayer. What an asinine concept, I said. What utter balderdash. My students, my freaking high school students, begged me to give Buffy one more chance. I wavered, until I found out there was a musical episode, and the sneering, I'm sorry to say, began again.

That summer, before I left teaching high school to start the Ph.D. program, my then fiance (and now husband) watched the entire run of Buffy. Smart man that he is, he showed me choice episodes: "Hush," "Gingerbread," "Once More With Feeling" (the dreaded musical episode!). I was intrigued, but as I refuse to watch any television show unless I can see it from the beginning, he went out, bought me a DVD player and the first season, and sent me home.
Three days later, season two came out, and I bought that.
A few days after that, I was A Fan.

How to explain Buffy to those who are like I was, refusing to watch a television show based on such a seemingly silly concept? She's a Vampire Slayer, for Christ's sake. That already suspends disbelief. And a petite blonde with super-strength and a mission to save the world? Never has society encountered such dichotomy. Well, but it has, over and over again. See, that's what makes Buffy *smart*.

I watched Angel, too, and can honestly say that the second half of Angel Season Five is better than anything on television, ever. And Firefly? I watched it every Friday night of its short reign on television. I even delayed going out with friends, or going out at all, in the hopes that someone, somewhere, would know that I Was Watching, and wouldn't cancel the show.
(It was cancelled anyways, after a very short run, and I will never forgive Fox for it). I saw Serenity, opening day. I read Whedon's run of Astonishing X-Men. I wait with baited breath for Whedon's Wonder Woman movie because really, what man can write conflicted superpowered heroines better than he?

Absolutely no one.

I even went to the Buffy Academic Conference, boys and girls, and presented a critical paper to an audience of eager, academic fans. That, I think, demonstrates a level of geekiness even I didn't know I possessed.

But why, why, why? Everyone asks me why. Why Buffy? Why Whedon? Why a western space opera? Why a souled vampire private investigator? Why, why, why?
And why, why, why can I only answer with "it's the smartest stuff on television"? I've reached a point in my fandom that defies explanation. I find myself tongue-tied, blushing, and toeing the ground as I try to explain my brainy crush on three very odd television shows.

Why, you ask?

Because Buffy stretches the limits. It refuses a wheel of morality (turn, turn, turn--tell us the lesson we shall learn). It uses monsters to talk about school violence, or premature intimacy, or responsibility. It shows us, again and again, that the humans, not the monsters, are the scariest Big Bads. It takes a bizarre and insane idea, a musical episode, and instead of letting it be filler, uses it to reveal three HUGE storylines. And it does this through the figure of a diminutive blonde. That's just *smart*.
And because Angel redefines the idea of the tragic hero, constantly struggling against the scariest demon of them all: the demon inside. Whether through the figure of Angel, or Spike, or the once-loathed now-loved Cordelia, Whedon pens complex characters who try so very hard to Do The Right Thing (tm), regardless of personal cost. But they fall. As all tragic heroes do, they fall, again and again. And God, do we love them for it.
And because Firefly gives us a vision of the future that is not so different from our vision or now, or our vision of then. Because there are no aliens to fight out in the black; just men turned mad at the edge of space. Because that is scarier than any abduction, any probe. And also, because he takes the figure of the prostitute with the heart of gold--standard in any good Western--and makes her an elite member of society, with a position and caste respected and revered throughout the 'verse.

But the rabid fangirl in me is panting to be let free. She wants to tell you something.
Because it's *good*.

Trust me, yeah? I mean, come on. I'm smart. I've got fancypants degrees that attest to that. Give it a try, would you? I've got everything on DVD. You can borrow them, you know. All you need to do is ask.

Monday, August 07, 2006

In Which The Author Becomes Reminiscent

I'm a geek. It's just true, and I fully admit it.
There are many levels to my geekdom, but it usually falls into four areas:
comic books
the Whedonverse (Buffy, Angel, Firefly)
collecting new geeky things.

Today, let's begin with...
Part I: Comic Books

I'm a DC girl, through and through. I collect Wonder Woman paraphernalia. I swoon over Batman and The Flash (Wally West, not so much Bart or Barry or Jay). I want to join the Birds of Prey. Now don't get me wrong. I occasionally foray over into Marvel, for my Astonishing X-Men fix, for The Ultimates, The Runaways, The Young Avengers, and, most recently, Marvel's Civil War. But there's just something inherently iconic about DC that appeals to me. And you know, I never did recover from wearing Wonder Woman underroos underneath my grade school uniform. It was like I had my own secret identity. Sure, on the surface I was the chubby kid with a retainer and glasses, thick curly (read frizzy) hair, who was more comfortable living in books than outside of them. But underneath? Underneath I was Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman in training, ready to save the world. I mean, I had a costume underneath that scratchy wool school skirt. And no one knew but me.

And my mother. But that's a whole other issue.

I fell away from comic books for a while, until my husband reintroduced me to them. I had forgotten, you see, how wonderful the world can be when superheroes save the day. And comic books had *changed*. There were moral quandaries, emotional problems, social issues to be worked out--or not--in an issue, or in a run.

I envision this blog (how I hesitate to use the term blog!) to be a geek journal of sorts. A place to work out my reading and viewing issues and pleasures. A place to discuss comic books, or book books, or movies or television shows or other aspects of my nerdiness that rarely get to come out and play.

Some come out and play.
I double dog dare you.