Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ten! Ten Scary Movies! Ah ah ah!

It's Halloween, Gentle Reader, and that means pumpkins, costumes, candy, leaves, scary movies, scary music, bats, mummies, and more! This Humble Author always has been a ridiculous Halloween fan, ever since she was a little girl. I dressed up every year for trick-or-treating or, as I got older, for parties, teaching, fun! This year, alas, Mr. Reads and I both teach until late into the evening, so we celebrated on Saturday with our Halloween bash. But we've the house decorated, the cauldron full of chocolate goodies for this kids, and the terrifying Wonder Woman costume for Pup Reads that I posted just a few days ago.

In honor of my favorite holiday season, I offer you my ten favorite horror movies, with links to their IMDB sites. Please feel free to suggest more; I'm always on the lookout for more horror!

Before I begin, a brief note: I adore horror movies, the smarter and more British, the better. But I also love movies that are Big Stupid Fun, and never have pretensions of being anything else. Slither, for example, is Big Stupid Fun to the nth degree, in a *good* way.

Ms. Reads Top Ten Scary Movies
in order, counting down to #1

10) Psycho - I would be remiss in my duties if I did not put Psycho on the list. Classic and perfect.

9) 28 Days Later - We are the scariest things out there. Don't let any monster movie tell you different.

8) Shaun of the Dead - I don't like zombie movies. I like this movie. A lot.

7) The Blair Witch Project - This almost didn't make the list because if you see it once, you lose interest in seeing it again. But it was scary and terrifying in so many great ways, so it belongs here, no?

6) The Shining - Heeerrreeeee's Johnny! Oh, and rivers of blood in hallways *shudder*. Look! Creepy children, too!

5) The Devil's Backbone - Combines ghosts and creepy children, along with post-war anxieties.

4) The Changeling - Haunted Houses and ghosts? A cinematic dream come true!

3) The Haunting - One of my favorite books brought to life on the big screen. The psychological twists and turns make this movie scarier than ghouls and goblins!

2) The Others - Why is it that creepy children are the creepiest horror devices of all?

1) Below - WWII, ghosts, and a sub. What more could you want? This is, in fact, my favorite horror movie of all time.

And some honorable mentions:
Dog Soldiers, The Bunker, Event Horizon, Scream (not necessarily scary, but very smart), Brotherhood of the Wolf, Descent, and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Mr. Reads adds his two cents:
The Thing, Evil Dead II, Slither, Alien, The Birds, and Dawn of the Dead.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Happy (early) Halloween!

Gentle Reader, I've been rather lax in my duties as a blogger. I have not reviewed this week's Heroes, although I watched it, on time. I have not reviewed this week's 52, although I read it, Thursday, and I do have things to say. I have not read any other comics, however, even though there is new Daredevil, and Action Comics, and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Why, you ask? Well, Friends, it's quite simple.

The Reads Household is holding a Halloween Party this evening.

What time was not eaten up with personal and professional obligations this week was directed towards the cleaning, and the shopping, and the decorating, and the cleaning parts of party-planning. Yes, Friends, cleaning happened several times, and is Still Happening, as we have a pup, and it's been rainy and muddy, and cleaning is just not an activity loved by the Family Reads.

But I use this time to wish you, albeit early, Happy Halloween, and I hope that you enjoy this holiday as much as We Reads do. Pup Reads Herself has a special message for you, Dear Readers. She asks, quite simply, if you have a home to which she can escape the horror and travesty of the Halloween Season, as her Despicable Owners Made Her Suffer Last Halloween:

And are still making her suffer This Halloween:

She wishes me to tell you that if you see her walking down the street, please, for the love of all that is Canine and Pure, remove the tiara from her head, because it pins back her ears.

May your Halloween be candy-filled and fun, and your puppies less stricken by shame!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Crises of Maternity: Brief Reviews of Catwoman #60 and Birds of Prey #99

It's been a rather exciting week, Gentle Reader. Fall Has Come to the South, and right now, it is in the low 60s. Mr. Reads and I did some last-minute shopping for our upcoming Halloween party next weekend. I made reservations for my January research trip in the UK, and we scraped together enough money for Mr. Reads to accompany me. Our Dear Friends delivered a healthy baby boy yesterday. Oh, and Mr. Reads and I got the chance to catch up on our pop cultures. Not only did I get to read The 52 ("don't forget the fifty-two!" - gratitude,– Legion), but I got to read Catwoman and Birds of Prey as well.

***spoiler warning for these two issues and for Fantastic Four/Civil War, recent events***

Both comics this month are, surprisingly, about Motherhood. Dinah leaves the Birds forever to be a mother to Sin, and Selina leaves Helena for the night to be the savior of Gotham. Dinah leaving the Birds I have no problem with. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't want Dinah in the Birds! Dinah and Babs *are* the Birds to me. While I adore Helena B., and am Quite the Huntress Fan, I tend to side on All Things Canary, All The Time. But it makes sense for Dinah to try something new, and I know, deep down inside, that she will be back. Dinah can't leave the Birds for long; she's entirely too important to be somewhere else, even the JLA.

But Selina, Selina, Selina! The entire One Year Later storyline has revolved around her new duties as a mother. She had Zatanna wipe minds to protect Helena. She has Wildcat guard... I mean, baby-sit for Helena. I'm sure Batman has a video camera or ten installed in and around Selina's home to keep an eye on Little Baby Cats. She has said, ad nauseam, that her number-one priority is Helena. She has made Holly her successor so she can raise her daughter. So why, why, why would she ever act so nonchalantly about her own life? She is a mother now, a fact that she has made clear again and again. Yet the second she puts on the Catsuit, all thoughts of her obligations and responsibilities fly out of the window?

She breaks into the police station. She frees Holly. Yay, Catwoman! Let us Applaud Her For It. Not only does she ensure the continuation of her legacy, she does A Solid for her friend, as well. They escape to the roof, and decide that they need a distraction. Enter stage right: the eight-thousand-pound gorilla in the room.

Film Freak frees a giant, rampaging gorilla. Selina sees Gotham's Finest turn their lasers not to "stun" but to "kill," and decides that she Must Protect The Innocent Of Gotham, no matter the species. She goes to help, but before she can, Holly stops her and asks, "And what if you get killed?" Selina responds, "Then I get killed. Go home, Holly. Back to my apartment. I'll be there soon. And call Karon. Let her know you're okay."

Of course this could simply be Selina Being Selina: arrogant, confident, assured, so very charming and fabulous. This is the Selina we have loved over the past several years. But see, she *hasn't* been very arrogant, confident, or assured since Helena was born. She has new responsibilities and concerns, which she reminds us of, every month. And this *new* Selina is just as charming, perhaps even more so. Her awkwardness, her insecurity, her post-baby belly that is undeniably sexy, how can we not love Selina-the-Supermom? Yet her first response to Holly's concern over her safety is "then I get killed"?

Now perhaps I'm overreacting, and I admit, Gentle Reader, that I have A Tendency To Overreact. Maybe it's because I read books for a living; I'm paid to overanalyze, to discuss, ad nauseam, the implications of tiny moments of dialogue such as this one. But reading these two books back to back, and reading them so soon after Sue Storm leaves her children with Reed, I can't help but see a larger argument about Maternity and Superheroes, whether implicit or explicit, being made here.

Dinah hangs up the tights for her daughter; she decides she can't be a good mother and a good superhero at the same time. Selina, however, puts the suit back on and seemingly forgets that she has larger obligations now. Sue Storm goes off to Fight The Good Fight, and she leaves her children with their father in an attempt to force them to interact. Three mothers, three radically different viewpoints, and, while none of them scream "Bad Motherhood," all of them suggest something Different.

Friends, *I* like Different. *I* think Different is what Makes Us Great. But in these three different interpretations of Motherhood-—-the single, adoptive mom, the divorcee (for all intents and purposes), and the single, working mom--—Different just skirts the realm of Social Not Good. *I* as a person may like different, but the *I* indoctrinated into social expectations--the *I* who is forever influenced by social judgment and stereotypes and genres--anguishes over Canary's decision to leave the Birds to raise her child, but judges Selina and Sue for leaving their children at home while they pursue their careers or ambitions. I guess I am suffering under That Greatest Of Feminist Quandaries: I want the job and I want to raise my children, too, and I want it for my female characters as well.

This issue has popped up again and again in my life, as more and more of my friends are having children *and* careers. Feminism gave us The Right To Choose: pregnancy, career, child, no child, child and career, no child and career, etc. Yet society sometimes judges women as Lesser Beings if they choose to stay home and raise the kids, the same as it sometimes judges women as Lesser Beings if they *don't* choose to stay home and raise the kids. Supermom or Superhero? Pick one or the other, Dinah, Selina, and Sue, because apparently, you can't have both.

There is no similar quandary for men, is there, Gentle Reader? I can't think of a Superdad or Superhero situation in comics, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen, over and over again. But Mr. Fantastic is allowed to go off and work and still have children, as is Batman (who actually takes his kids to work, every day!), Green Arrow (who didn't even know he had a kid for a good long while), and Power Man (who sent his kid off with Jessica to protect them). Please let me know if you can think of any such situations in normal continuity (not in the "now retired and having kids" world of, say, future Spider-Man and his web-slinging daughter Spider-Girl).

These three comics, while perhaps not overtly judgmental themselves, offer up Motherhood in the Superhero Community for public scrutiny. Dinah, Sue, and Selina are all of them available for judgment, acceptance, and yes, Friends, even scorn. Readers can judge them as fit or unfit mothers based on how they balance life and career.

After I struggled with this, with social indoctrination, with gender expectations drilled into me from the moment of birth (gratitude, Ms. Butler), I discovered that I did judge Selina, but not for leaving her child at home, and certainly not for putting on the Cat costume again. I like Selina as Catwoman; I like Holly, too, but Selina Is Catwoman for me. There can be no other. And Selina will put the costume on thousands of times between now and retirement, and I applaud every single one of those times.


But here's the thing: I found her nonchalant, laissez-faire attitude about the value of her life to be off-putting, even more off-putting than last issue's sex-with-Sam scene. More off-putting than the Sam-telling-Slam scene of this issue. Because it stings of the previous, near-suicidal incarnation of Selina that I thought we'd overcome. She fought, so long and so hard, to be who she is, to treasure her own life, to believe in herself and her self-conversion to The White Hats again. And in one sentence, all of that comes crashing down.

Perhaps it was meant as a sign of confidence, or perhaps a taste of nihilistic flair. Perhaps it was meant as all of those things and more. But I didn't read it that way. I read it as the Return Of The Repressed. I read it as The Taste Of Things To Come. And always, always the future smacks of the past, because no matter how far we shove it down, it always, always comes back.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Quick hits through my pop culture world

Another busy week, Gentle Reader, and as usual, I'm behind on my pop culture addictions. I haven't watched Heroes, I haven't read 52 or Catwoman or Birds of Prey, and in fact, the only thing I have done On Time is watch Lost (oh my goodness! Lost!). At this moment, I am writing on tourism for the dissertation, so I decided to take a quick break and give you a brief tour through the pop culture I *have* managed to tackle this week:

***there may be spoilers below***

Gilmore Girls
I am very, very, very disappointed with the way this season is shaping up. In fact, I haven't even finished this week's episode yet. I will continue to watch, but only because I am that invested in the characters (several seasons in now). The writing is stilted, and the characters feel as if they are caricatures of themselves.

Lady Sovereign
How wonderful is she?!? Mr. Reads called me to the television yesterday to see the video for "Love Me or Hate Me" and it's true, I Love Her (and apparently, I am Thanked for it!). I find her talented and adorable, like an English one-woman Bis.

Egad! Lost! I think Desmond is either a) a time traveler, or b) another figment of Hurley's imagination. Locke becomes more interesting and more crazy, and Boone is still beautiful and creepy, even dead. Perhaps *especially* dead.

Muse: Black Holes and Revelations
Can this album be more beautiful than it already is? This Humble Author has read several people pooh-pooh the album as "too indebted to Radiohead," and I scream foul. The obvious influence for this album, and for the band in general, is Queen. Big beautiful arena rock. Watch the video for Knights of Cydonia and you'll even see the lead singer make Freddie Mercury Arms (held upwards towards the heavens).

Nancy Drew: Creature of Kapu Cave video game
Hush, Gentle Reader. It isn't polite to Laugh At A Lady. I don't play video games because I am Quite Awful at them, but I do enjoy my Nancy Drew puzzle games. I'm not very far in at all, but apparently with this game, I can play as both Nancy and one of the Hardy Boys. Unfortunately, I caught part of last week's South Park (blame Mr. Reads for this one) and I'm a bit jaded now.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Mr. Reads and I appear to be The Last Two People On Earth who love this show, and we will continue to watch it every Monday, or Friday, or at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning, if NBC treats it the way Fox treated Firefly. I have never found Matthew Perry to be interesting, talented, or charming before this show, and I find all of these things true, and more.

While the movie has not come in on Netflix yet, your (yes you, Gentle Reader!) response to the post has inspired me to walk through my past every week or so. Next in line is the delightful, the fabulous, the "never-can-we-top-that" Teen Witch.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"That sunny dome! those caves of ice!"

"in Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a stately pleasure-dome decree" – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Now that I'm here / Now that you're near in Xanadu" – Olivia Newton John

Parents Reads believed in Family Vacations, and you can imagine, Gentle Reader, what that entailed. The three of us—-Mom Reads, Dad Reads, and Amy Reads—-piled into the Reads-Family Van, a large white contraption with no seats in the expansive rear, and went Cross-Country. I rode in the back most times, with my sleeping bag, my stack of books, my individual serving cereal boxes, my individual serving cartons of milk. There were no curfews on Family Vacation, and if I wanted to lie on my back and read all day while Mom and Dad Reads navigated the Open Highway, I could do so, no questions asked. No chores, no homework, no rules. Bologna and cheese sandwiches, sugary cereals, and fast food ruled the day. We had ice chests, we had maps, we had a CB radio, and we had a marvelous time.

Like all good middle-class families, we went South, to Florida, to the great and fantastic Disneyworld. Even now, some twenty-five years later, Disneyworld beckons to me with its alluring siren song. Mr. Reads and I took that great and fantastical honeymoon to Disney, and loved every second of it. As I believe I've mentioned before, we even headed over to Universal Studios, and Marveled at the Marvel Islands of Adventure.

But Dad Reads also believed in Visiting America, and as we drove along the highways in the late seventies and early eighties, we caught the tail-end of the Great Roadside Attraction Boom. One of those said attractions was on the road down to Disney. One of those said attractions was Xanadu: Home of the Future.

Do you remember, Gentle Reader, the bizarre yet oddly seductive movie Xanadu? I honestly don't, since the last time I saw it, I couldn't drive, date, wear makeup, vote, or even answer the phone by myself or stay at home without a babysitter. But I've just (just, Dear Reader!) discovered it is available for rent on my beloved Netflix, and I've Moved It Up In The Queue. Please, don't tell Mr. Reads, but it's been moved to Number 6, right after Prairie Home Companion (Short Wait), Slither and Monster House (Releases October 24), Short Cuts (which Mr. Reads has never seen, and we can all shame him and mock him mercilessly for it) and Art School Confidential (Available Now).

But what I *do* remember about Xanadu the Movie is this: roller-skating, Olivia Newton John, rainbow colors, Greek mythology, and a white fluffy Styrofoam house.

What I remember about Xanadu the Home of the Future is this: standing in line in the Florida sun—-which isn't that much different from the sun in Louisiana, but to a 7-year-old, it seemed monstrous-—losing my mother because I wandered away during the tour, and a white fluffy Styrofoam house that I got to touch, yes, touch with my own 7-year-old hands. Well, a version of it, anyways.

But isn't that always the way? You only get to touch a version of Xanadu and never, ever the Real Thing.

The two memories are caught up in my head: discovery and loss, wonder and anguish, joy and suffering. For one single moment I was *lost*, alone, surrounded by strangers in the House of the Future.

Coleridge lost Xanadu, too, supposedly when someone knocked on his door and startled him out of an opium-induced dream.

We've lost Xanadu, too, surprisingly enough, when someone knocked on our doors and reminded us that The Future Is Now.

What happened to the Houses of the Future? The Cars of the Future? The Clothes of the Future? Is the Future Right Now? Or have we passed our fantasy future by, and our real future, the Future That Is Now, is entirely too bleak for words, speculation, fantastical constructions, and Styrofoam houses? Where are our utopias? Our dystopias? Our revolutions? Where are our flying cars, our dogs-that-walk-themselves, our bubble skirts and Lives On Mars? I'm better acquainted with the Flintstones than the Jetsons, and that makes me feel cheated, somehow. We bemoan every cent NASA spends on space exploration, but turn the other cheek as our brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and friends are sent to the desert. We have lost our sense of adventure, and instead of exploring, we sit in our corner, hoarding our toys, and growling at anyone who comes near.

What will they say, our children's children, when they look back on our quaint and archaic selves? Or will they not say anything at all, because our vision is entirely too familiar to theirs?

What are our visions of the Future? Hollywood and Fiction Writers give us dystopian military totalitarian structures (Equilibrium) dominated by technology (The Matrix trilogy) and taken over by the technology we've invented (The Terminator movies). We have fears of genetic testing (The Island, Brave New World), of each other (1984), of aliens (Independence Day, X-Files), of planetary destruction (The Time Machine, War of the Worlds), of friendly-destruction ("Last of the Winnebagos"), of self-destruction (Firefly, Serenity), of male-destruction (Y The Last Man), of mail-destruction (The Postman-—ha, ha). But it seems that more often than not, we've lost our sense of wonder of the unknown.

When did the unknown become frightening? When did we look to the future and see not flying cars and foam houses, but rather, war and destruction and totalitarianism? When did we hunker down and decide that This is Mine and That is Yours and Never the Twain shall meet?

I was seven-years-old when I saw The House of the Future, and I remember, so very distinctly, how it felt against my hand. It was made of foam, and I expected it to be soft, malleable, but instead, it was hard, tangible, and resisted the pressure of my hand. The future was *solid* and I felt it, against my palm. That night I looked up at the stars and wondered what was out there. I wondered, for a long time then and since, what the future might bring us.

And now, I can't help but wonder why we've *stopped wondering* about wonder, and instead, wonder only about pain and fear.

I'm guilty of this, too, Dear Friends, and a part of me can't imagine why I'd rather write about the fear than the joy. Is it because fear is complex, and joy simplistic, and complexity sells when simplicity does not?

I don't have the answers, but I do have the memory of Xanadu, the House of the Future, with its sunny dome, and its caves of foam, all of it honey-dew fed and drunk on Paradise's milk. And that might just have to do for now.

The Sixth Feminist Sci Fi Carnival

The Sixth Feminist Sci Fi Carnival is up, with the best of the feminist sci fi blogosphere. They have reviews, comics, gaming, Supergirl, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, and more! Enjoy!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Do Heroes Dream Of Their Own Salvation?

I'm sure you remember, Gentle Reader, Gail Simone's Very Smart Essay on the preponderance of Women in Refrigerators in the Comic Book World. What the WiR theory sets forth is that in comic books, dead wives and girlfriends are used as plot devices to trouble our intrepid heroes. Their lives, the very meaning behind their existences, are whittled down to so much meat and bone and blood, and there is nothing left but body. My Sister Feminists and I often complain that women are reduced too often to the processes of their bodies, and Ms. Simone's theory demonstrates the starkest, deepest reality of that very fact in the Comic Book Universe.

There are fights against this, of course. Some women are represented as stronger, faster, better, more productive in comic books. Big Barda, Diana Prince, Power Girl, Supergirl, Wonder Girl, these women pack some mighty punches, and they fight back, hard. It's difficult to imagine any of them ever falling prey to the Refrigerator Syndrome. They are Too Mighty, Too Strong, Much Better Than Their Male Counterparts, right?


I have argued before that perhaps women like Wonder Woman are all body because they have superbodies. Unlike most of their female colleagues, they possess physical, i.e. tangible powers. Strength, healing, impenetrable skin, any of these could be considered tangible counterparts of, say, telepathy, control of the weather, intangibility, right? They are physical powers because they are both offensive and defensive powers.

A legacy of strong women. A great step forward for Us, The Feminists. Right?


Imagine my surprise, then, Friends, when I see this week's episode of Heroes. When I see something so incredibly horrifying, so tragic, so troubling that I believe we have taken Three Steps Backwards.

***Spoilers; you know the drill***

I still enjoy this show. Let me make that perfectly clear. I think the characterization is going quite nicely, and I am curious about the buildup and the plot. That being said, I would like to offer you my two favorite characters, Hiro, the teleporting Japanese office worker, and Claire, the invincible American cheerleader. I like Hiro for the same reasons I like Snow Crash's Hiro Protagonist (great name) or Buffy's Willow Rosenberg (contagious perky). I like Claire, because she doesn't fit neatly into an American high-school peg.

In my last post, I bemoaned the stereotypes plaguing Hollywood's portrayal of American high schools. Be it the Queen Bee, the Outsider, the Head Cheerleader, the Overweight Pariah, these stereotypes are, I believe, just perpetuating stereotypes. So to see the cute, petite, blonde cheerleader Save The Day and Save Her Own Butt at the same time brought back memories of Buffy for me, which means that I liked her. A lot.

Claire can't die. That could be interpreted as a variety of powers: advanced healing or invincibility, for starters. But that's not just it. She's a complex kid trying to sort out her own life. She's confused, troubled, not just about these powers (although she is well within her rights to be troubled about them!) but about her place in the high school hierarchy, her friendship with the geeky kid, her adoption and birth parents, and her crush on the school quarterback. In other words, she's not her cheerleader counterpart, the bubbly blonde who takes the credit for the daring rescue Claire performed. She's not a glory hound, as shown when she asks the cop after the man she rescued. The look of concern on her face, the look of relief when she finds out he’s all right, those things point to someone other than the "stereotypical cheerleader." You know, the one Hollywood keeps telling us about?

Yes, Gentle Reader, you're with me, right? I thought they were breaking stereotypes here, and I applauded them for it.

Then, oh, and then, the quarterback rapes Claire. He shoves her down and a sharp branch goes through her skull. She dies. Yes, the invincible, stereotype-breaking cheerleader dies, because a rabid, power-hungry megalomaniac thinks he deserves everything he wants. It wasn't even the disgusting, insulting excuse of "no means yes," but was rather, quite simply, "I want, I get."

The episode ends with Claire on an operating table, branch removed by an unknown hand, Claire coming back to life. The camera pans down, and her chest has been peeled back, exposing muscle and rib and bone. She has tangible, physical powers. She saved someone's life. She has moral quandaries and crushes and aspirations and a decent relationship with her parents (troubling as the one parent may be), and she is whittled down to so much meat and bone and blood that that very meat and bone and blood is *exposed*. It is *on display*, to the mysterious person in the lab, to the quarterback before this scene, even, to Me, to You, Gentle Reader. She has been objectified in such a way that there hasn't been a term invented for such a grotesque, horrifying, tragic, and belittling image. Woman on Operating Table takes objectification of women's bodies to a Whole New Level, and I, for one, am furious.

Friends, I would be disturbed had this scene happened to a male character. Please don’t doubt that. But I can't assume, ever, that such a scene for a male character would come about because he was almost raped by the head cheerleader, or even the quarterback of the football team. She saved someone's life. She survived dozens of should-have-been deaths, and she is taken down by a son of a bitch who takes whatever he wants, including women. She dies not by performing a heroic act, but by a boy her age shoving her head down on a branch. She struggled, and tried to get away, and she is killed for it.

Next week, I want to see retribution. I want to see trial and judgment and justice for this boy, not just for killing her (even though she now survives) but for attempting to rape a friend, a classmate, a girl, a young girl who trusted him enough to kiss him, to share secrets with him, to smile and laugh with him. I want Claire to escape and point at him in the cafeteria. I want him labeled Rapist. And I want Claire to fight back against this mysterious man that has objectified her even more than she already was.

Then, I will take three steps forward again. At least I'll be back where I started, right?


Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Brief Review of Supergirl #10

Gentle Reader, I have to admit it. I've been wary of the Kara-Supergirl run since Greg Rucka left.

Now, I don't dislike Kara, not really. In fact, I find her quite fascinating, and her character written if not well, then charmingly. I love her alienness, her Otherness, her strange almost gut reactions to the scary things in her life. She has the darkness that Linda had, more so, even, and has retained it, fostered and nurtured it, and it has grown, by leaps and bounds, over the progression of her book. But in the same way that I was more interested in Linda trying to live as a superhero, I'm more interested in Kara trying to live as a human.

I like Otherness. I don’t know if I've mentioned this before this post, but I enjoy seeing characters put in Chandler-esque situations over and over again, just to see how they respond. Fishes out of water fascinate me, and in my own writing, I mess with my characters' world over and over again just to see what happens.

It's not even the fact that you see someone's true mettle in strange and threatening environments, although that's certainly a part of it. Rather, I just find the idea of people trying so desperately to fit in with something that they will *never* fit in with, or should even *try* to fit in with Good Storytelling. It's the Tale As Old As Time, no? It's the hero's journey, the extraordinary person trying so hard to be ordinary when ordinary is the very *last* thing she should try to be. Perhaps that's why I love Buffy, and Malcolm Reynolds, and Batman disguising himself as Bruce Wayne, and the Amazon Princess Diana.

There is no story if there is no conflict, and what Spider-Man II taught us, what The Odyssey taught us before that is that a *true* hero can overcome obstacle after obstacle. Fate, The Bad Guys, The Gods, whatever you wish to call it keeps throwing the hero tragedy after tragedy, and it is up to the hero to overcome them, become a better person, and then face the next, slightly-more-horrifying-slightly-more-tragic circumstance, and overcome that, too.

***Here Be Spoilers***

Kara has suffered, and is still suffering, so where better to let her suffer than an American high school? Because is there any place in America more tragic, more gruesome, more dangerous than the suburban high school? Well, of course there is, but Kara's faced down Luthors and Her Father's Dying Wishes and Darkseid. High school is just the next natural step on the tragic evolutionary chain.

The true strengths of this issue are the parallels it draws between Kara's horrific high school experiences on Krypton, and her horrific high school experiences on Earth. The issue begins with Kara talking to Boomer (Captain Boomerang's son) about her upcoming foray in an American high school. He gives her some prison movies to watch and says that "They're to help you survive." When Kara asks why, he asks, "You ever speak to a group of 16-year-old girls?"

Gentle Reader, I have to admit that the overbearing, omnipresent stereotype of the vicious, catty, cruel teenaged Queen Bee Of Maintown High School, USA is starting to get on my nerves. I hate it because it perpetuates a stereotype of cattiness among women. For those of you in the working world, I'm sure you've been told, by someone seemingly Older and Wiser, that your biggest enemy in the office is another woman. Or perhaps you've been told that women can't stand to see other women succeed. This insanity is, of course, The Grown-Up Version of the catty Queen Bee and her Drones stereotype that exists in America. Women have enough social handicaps to deal with; why add each other to the mix? But this stereotype exists, as does its Juniors Counterpart, and I don't know if I'm annoyed with the stereotype because it's believed to be true, or because I believe it's false. I'm just not *sure*.

All of this to say that what this issue of Supergirl does incredibly well is demonstrate how truly alien Kara is, and make her aware of it, so utterly and completely. In a previous episode, Kara asks Ma Kent why she was never asked to live at the Kent Farm. Ma Kent brushes her off, but for those of us who remember her arrival on earth, we know that Kara was deemed dangerous. And indeed, she very well was.

Kara's changed since the Crisis, and you know what? I think I like it. The Kara in Legion is different from the Kara here (although I admit, Gentle Reader, that I am no longer following Supergirl and the Legion), and I find that very curious—-what has happened in the interim? But even more so, I find the final scenes of Supergirl #10 very curious indeed. Kara is treated to some nasty little vengeance courtesy Maintown USA's Queen Bee, and there is a juxtaposition of Earth-Kara with Krypton-Kara. The issue teases us with images of Krypton Kara that are strikingly similar to the goings-on on Earth. Both Karas, caught up in petty high school politics. Both Karas, naive and vulnerable. Both Karas, suffering at the hands--and voices--of others.

Then we see the ultimate prank Worthy of Mr. King, complete with bucket of nasty filth. And, of course, we see the ultimate revenge Worthy of Mr. King: Krypton-Kara is shown with large crystal-gun in hand, complete with "S" logo, surrounded by dead and bloody high school Kryptonians, run through with crystals. Earth-Kara, on the other hand, goes red, literally, in the eyes, and there is a moment when the two images hang side by side in the balance.

And then Earth-Kara rises above the situation, again, quite literally. She walks through the crowded, whispering halls peeling off, piece by piece, her "disguise," which for Kara are her Earth clothes. Once she is herself again, stripped of the "secret identity" she tried so hard to form, she is an Angel reminiscent of the Fire Angel, hovering above the crowd, beautiful and terrifying.

She imparts words of wisdom before she leaves, and tells the crowd, "Do yourself and each other a favor... Be yourself. It makes life a hell of a lot easier." And with that, she's gone. Kara is able not only to triumph over her red rage, but is also able to accomplish the one thing that every kid who's ever been picked on dreams of: she shows them her true self. With each layer, the real Kara comes shining through, and what's truly fascinating is that real Kara is not pure Kryptonian or pure Earth or even pure Themyscira, but rather, a nice combination of all three.

Instead of resorting to death and destruction, Kara rises above it all, and she demonstrates that rage is not the only way out. She didn't need violence to show them that she was better than they were. She even takes the time to thank the faux-Queen Bee for helping her, and ponders, just for a moment, the marvel of everyone's need for secret identities.

The ultimate message of this issue is something stark, and a little tragic, but in the end, hopeful. We *can* be better than we let people tell us we are. We are not tragic stories, and violence solves nothing. To read this in the wake of so much tragedy this week-—the Amish school shooting, for example—-and this year-—torture, death, murder, mayhem—-is to see that pain, while a human condition, does not have to own the soul.

Earlier in the issue, Cassie (Wonder Girl), tells Kara, "We're all messed up, whether we know it or not. [...] In high school, everyone has a secret identity." What this issue demonstrates is that the secret identity is more complex than we've ever given it credit for. The new girl is a Supergirl; the Queen Bee has a heart of gold. The Nice Girl is a Queen Bee in disguise, and the Boy Next Door is as awkward and shy as we've ever dreamed. I wasn't crazy about the Supergirl run when Greg Rucka took off, but this issue sealed the deal. I'm Back In, Friends, and quite happy to be so.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

We Could Be Heroes (for ever and ever)

Gentle Reader, what d'you say?

As I tend to stick to television and comics on this blog, I hardly ever end up talking about my other fandoms—-music, for example. As rabid as I am for the Amazon Princess, that's my rabidity for David Bowie. Seeing him live was one of the greatest moments of my life, and well worth the large amount of money spent. I love Ziggy Bowie, and Scary Monsters Bowie, Outside Bowie, and Reality Bowie. I love Suffragette City Bowie, although not so much weird synth-pop 80s Bowie. And of course, I love Heroes Bowie.

Rereading the lyrics to this song, I'm beginning to suspect that it's in some way about Kurt Vonnegut's dystopian short story "Harrison Bergeron." While that's neither here nor there, what is interesting is the dichotomy the song sets forth.

On the one hand, it says, "We could be heroes, for ever and ever," and on the other, "We could be heroes, just for one day."

Friends, must be choose? Must we be heroes *either* for ever and ever, or just for one day? What is the difference, and what does it mean? Even further, how does one even begin to define such an ambiguous, all-encompassing word such as "hero"?

All of this to say that last night, I finally scrounged up some time to watch Monday's airing of NBC's Heroes, and have since been singing this wonderful, complicated song by Mr. Bowie. By the end of this show's second episode, we are presented with several different visions (and revisions) of heroes, and the utter complications that heroism entails.

***spoilers for Heroes; tread carefully***

I was struck by the repetitive image of what I call the single-DNA helix strand: that weird loopy, armed snake-like image that is, among other things, a pool hose, a metal statue, the subject of a painting, the black spaces in a computer program, and quite possibly the laying out of a dead body struck through with arrows (but I couldn't tell for Certain). As reading and viewing are never isolated activities, and as both often lead to spiraling thoughts all on their own, I immediately jumped to the idea of genetic engineering.

Do you remember, Gentle Reader, the quiet but utterly fabulous movie Gattaca? The premise of the movie is pretty much, "you can do whatever you set out to do." In the futuristic dystopia the movie sets forth, genetically engineered babies are The Thing, and God-Babies (those born the old-fashioned way) are relegated to the lower classes and all that entails (poverty, little chance for career or educational advancement, etc.). Our truly intrepid young hero, played by Ethan Hawke, is one such God-Baby, but he doesn't let that stop him from his dream of going into space. It's Quite The Movie, Friends, and if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

What Gattaca, and Brave New World, and Anthem, and The Giver, and "Harrison Bergeron" and 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale and "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" and V for Vendetta and Equilibrium and every other dystopian tale teach us is that *you can't regulate humanity*. You cannot genetically engineer a master race, or determine class systems for every person on the planet, or even plan out whether your baby is born with green eyes or brown. To do so would bring about Disastrous Results. But even further, what these stories teach us is that we *shouldn't* want these things. We should not desire sameness and continuity. Chaos lends itself so well to creativity, and creativity? Well, that makes Life Worth Living, no?

Now, don't believe for a moment that This Humble Author doesn't see the greatest of benefits in genetic testing, and stem cell research, and yes, even genetic engineering. But I am first and foremost a reader, and books have taught me, again and again, that people want to control every aspect of their lives, and their children's lives (will no one think of the children?!), and that explorations in genetic engineering may lead eventually down The Dark Road of micromanaging lives. Once we start planning out the eye color, skin color, sex and gender (and yes, they are two separate things), and of course, talents, we start placing cultural, economic, social, and class capital on those very things. Aren't we trying to move away from judgment based upon skin color, gender, sexual preference, and whether I prefer chocolate cheesecake to raspberry (although quite honestly, I like both at once)?

That is to say, I have another theory regarding Heroes, and the genetic testing on these characters by either the mysterious glassed man or by Dr. Suresh. I think in short order we will find out that more of our heroes are adopted, or have mysterious origin stories (such an integral part to the hero development, no?), or are so very connected socially (even in a six degrees sort of way) because they are so very connected genetically. Why else would we keep seeing the twisted image, so similar to a DNA strand? Why else would we follow Dr. Suresh's research, and his son (who seemingly has no superpowers and, indeed, no common sense, because doesn't he know that when someone's trying to kill you, you don't trust cute girls with big guns who just show up out of the blue??)? Why else would we have some similar-looking characters (Claire and Niki; Isaac and Peter, for example)?

But also, I think what this show ultimately will come down to is choice. Niki Sanders is choosing a different path than, say, Claire Bennet or Hiro Nakamura. And while I commend Niki for saving herself and her son, I question her blind obedience to this mirror self of hers. It seems as if she's digging herself into a hole from which she will never escape. In the long run, this will lead her, inevitably, to the dark side. And I believe her son will become a major player to get her back.

And finally, I have one remaining theory that I'm not even sure if I can support it. But theories are, in some ways, opinions. Sometimes you just feel it; you don't need to support it. And I feel this one, just a bit.

What if Isaac's power is to make things happen? What if he dreamt everyone's powers into creation? Because if I read this right, everyone's powers are recent acquisitions. Something triggered them, no? And I don't know if I know what did it.


Mr. Bowie's "Heroes" tells us,

"We can beat them
for ever and ever
oh we can be Heroes
just for one day."

This automatically sets up a framework in which heroes must conquer, must "beat them for ever and ever" just to be a hero for one single day. What Mr. Bowie reminds us of is this: it never stops, this heroism. The fight for right and justice is a never-ending, tireless, sometimes thankless task. But for one day, for one single, beautiful day, you can be a Hero, and that moment can be relived, for ever and ever.

And *that's* the moment worth waiting for.

We can be Heroes, Friends. For ever and ever, just for one day.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pointing out the obvious

This is quite the Week From Hades, Gentle Reader.

We lost power across several counties last night, and among many tragedies, including eating in a strange place in the dark, our DVR did not record Gilmore Girls. I had a massive deadline today, papers are waiting to be graded, books are waiting to be edited, and there *is* that pesky dissertation.

All of *this* to say that I am Quite Behind In My Pop Culture, as I have not read comics, watched much television, or even ventured places other than campus or home, which is in desperate need of a good housecleaning.

Therefore, patience, please, Friends, as I get caught up on Heroes, on books, on life. To pass the time--and because teachers never escape the classroom and that need to instruct and introduce--I leave you with a few things to admire:

Project Rooftop has a gorgeous reimagining of the original Teen Titans.

I found the smart, funny, charming, witty, and beautifully drawn webcomic Platinum Grit recently, and thought I'd share with you if you hadn't already seen it.

Megs over at Webcomics Are From Uranus! has some very interesting things to say about the reactions to the how-to-draw-like-Marvel guidebook making its rounds on the blog circuit.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Kudos to the Fifth Carnival of Feminist Sci Fi and Fantasy Fans!

Good morning, Gentle Reader! I would like to call your attention to The Fifth Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans over at One Hundred Little Dolls. This Humble Author is Very Humbled Indeed to find herself among the mentions, but much more importantly, This Humble Author finds this Quite The Impressive Fan Feat. Very, very smart and fun, and really, the internet comic fandom should offer more things like this and When Fangirls Attack!

Bravo, Sisters. Bravo.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Possible Theory Regarding NBC's Heroes

Two posts in one evening, Gentle Reader. One would almost think I was procrastinating.

But as this has been rumbling about in my mind since last Monday, I thought I would let it roam free In The World At Large.

***Do understand that this may reveal spoilers for the pilot.***

In NBC's new drama, Heroes, one of the characters, Niki Sanders, is a single mother who made a Very Bad Decision by borrowing money from some unsavory ruffians. When said ruffians come forward to collect the money she doesn't have, and then demand that they be allowed to rape Niki to "lower her loan," Niki loses time. When she wakes, she discovers that the odd reflections that she has seen of herself in mirrors have, it seems, slaughtered said ruffians without Niki ever even knowing it.

Now this show is titled Heroes, yes? And what do Heroes never, ever do, Gentle Reader?

Correct. Heroes never, ever kill.

(Well, except they do sometimes. But that's another post.)

Let us look further at Niki Sanders and what we know of Hero Creation.

1) She is desperate to protect her family.
2) She is in financial ruin.
3) She has been sexually threatened.
4) Her superpower is uncontrollable, as in, she doesn't know how to use it. It acts on its own accord.
5) Said superpower *kills*.
6) Said superpower also has a selfish core; it does things solely for her benefit. As a replication of self, or a mirror-image of her basest desires, this is particularly interesting.
7) She allows said superpower to kill without turning herself in to the authorities (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Dead Things" for an example of how heroes are traditionally supposed to treat situations such as this).

Few of these things really scream Hero Creation, do they? But they should be familiar to us, Gentle Reader, because they scream Creation Of Another Kind.

My theory, therefore, is that the character of Niki Sanders is not a burgeoning hero, but rather, a burgeoning villain.

Many, many villains are reluctant villains (again, I point to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the character of Faith), and many turn to the dark side for lesser reasons than these. And many villains begin their track on the dark side because they make Very Bad Decisions in trying to protect someone they love.

Just a theory, Friends. Any takers?

A Brief Review of The Amazing Spider-Man #535

Gentle Reader, a few posts ago I said that I didn't read any comic with the word "Spider-Man" in the title except if it were followed by "Loves Mary Jane." Well, not to call myself a liar, but Mr. Reads threw The Amazing Spider-Man #535 in my General Direction, and I did, indeed, read it. And it was, in fact, quite good. But that's not why I read it. I read it because I am in the throes of Marvel's Civil War, and this issue of Spider-Man contained quite The Big Reveal.

***spoiler warning here; please do tread carefully***

I will not plague you with A Lengthy Review, Friends, particularly in that I am not well-versed in the Amazing Spider-Man World. In fact, I know little about the vastly different publications of Spider-Man, which seem as tricky and as varying as the many different lines of X-Men comics. I read Astonishing X-Men, I read Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, and that is all for those worlds. But I feel somewhat obliged to talk about this issue, if only for the fact that Mr. Reads felt somewhat obliged to hand it to me.

Have I mentioned that Mr. Reads is to Spider-Man fandom what Ms. Reads is to Wonder Woman fandom? Rabid, frothy-mouthed goodness. But while I've never really cared about my friendly neighborhood Web Crawler, not really, I've got to hand it to Peter Parker. He recognizes Crazy when it comes.

Albeit several weeks too late, but hey, he recognized Crazy, so that counts for something, right?

Tony Stark and Reed Richards take Peter on a magic space ship/time continuum ride (I really can't tell you for certain, Gentle Reader!) to the Negative Zone, where every superhero and villain (but mostly heroes) who won't get with the registration program has been sent to live out his or her no longer valued human(ist/oid) existence. Peter wanders around, in shock, over the atrocity wrought before him. The whole time, I find myself asking, "Well, what did you expect from the Crazy, Peter?" but alas, my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man refused to answer.

Well, answer me, anyways. He tells Tony, in an effort to placate The Crazy, perhaps, that thank goodness it's temporary. To which Mr. Stark responds, "This isn't temporary, Peter. This isn't interim. This is permanent. Get with the program."

But Spidey *did* get with the program, Tony! He registered! He bowed down before your fascist act and is now having second thoughts because unlike you, he's a decent guy. I don't even read the comics, Gentle Reader, and even I know that Spider-Man is supposed to be A Decent Guy. So being that Decent Guy, Spidey says, "You can't just lock people away."

Mwuahaha, says Mr. Stark. "Yes, we can. And we have. And that's the end of it."

Yes, I know, Friends. This is a rather snarky and childish retelling of what I happily admit is a well-written comic book. I do not intend snark towards the writers, but rather, towards the horrifyingly awesome power of Tony Stark's mind. What frightens me the most about this very succinct final statement by Mr. Stark—-"Yes, we can. And we have. And that's the end of it."-—is the simplicity of it, the finality. At the beginning of Civil War, you knew Spidey would Do The Right Thing In The End. He's Spider-Man. That's what Spider-Man *does*. He fights for the underdog. Mr. Stark may have wooed him with big scientific compliments and promises of safety for the loved ones in Avengers Tower (Mr. Reads does talk, Gentle Reader, and I do listen), but in the end, Spidey will prevail, right?


Pardon the cliché, Dear Friends, but power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Unfortunately, that's not what we have here. Tony Stark is not a megalomaniacal Dr. Doom, lifting his fist and screaming to the heavens. No, it's actually much, much worse. Tony Stark is a guy doing his job; a guy who, in fact, keeps reiterating that all he's doing is his job.

And as history has shown us, over and over again, *those* are the ones you have to look out for, no?