Friday, November 24, 2006

Just Not Feminist Enough: A Brief Review of Wonder Woman #3

It's Black Friday, Gentle Reader, and that means shopping, shopping, shopping. Like all good college students, I used to work retail (and food service, and I answered phones, and filed) so the Friday after Thanksgiving still fills me with a sort of anticipatory dread: I know something Is Going On, but I know that I don't want to be there.

Shopping always has been viewed as a quintessential feminine endeavor, no? The association of women with shopping, and therefore the willful spending of money, the capriciousness of material desire, and the fluctuation of fashions all lend themselves not to *things*, but to *women*. Because fashion is ever-changing, so, too, must women be. Because the desire for material things is a common women's concern (many people say so, Friends, although I think it An Odd Stereotype), women, therefore, must be greedy.

But the truth of the matter is that shopping as we know it is part and parcel with the invention of the modern department store (gratitude, Ms. Rappaport) and women's so-called affinity for shopping is connected to, yes, it's true, Friends, advertising (gratitude, Ms. Bowlby, Ms. Loeb). And all of these things-—fashionability, shopping, the spending of money-—have been viewed by some as counter to the Feminist Agenda.

You see the problem already, don't you, Gentle Reader? There is, of course, no single Feminist Agenda, the same as there isn't a single definition of feminism. When Diane Herndl and Robyn Warhol edited their collection of feminist literary theory and criticism, they didn't call it Feminism, but rather, Feminisms. This is deliberate, no? Embrace the multiplicity of it all, and understand that if we all have different agendas, then it doesn't divide us but unite us: under us all, we can accomplish more.

But even further, it does seem significant that early feminists divorced themselves from stereotypically feminine concerns. Things like fashion (including corsets and later, bras) and heterosexual marriage were, for the First-Wavers or Suffragettes, controlled by masculine ideology. They were objects set forth by the patriarchy to distract women from their real goals: suffrage, education, raising educated and progressive children, marrying for love and equal partnership and marrying the spouse of one's choosing, regardless of gender. Strangely enough, the Second-Wavers also picked up the anti-fashion feminism, and burned their bras—and discarded makeup, and fashion trends—in protest.


All of this preamble to say the following four things: 1) My academic work is on fashion, and by extension, shopping, so the two are always on my mind, 2) it is Black Friday, so shopping is on *everyone's* mind, whether you want it to be or not, 3) fashion and feminism have had such a troubled relationship for the past 150 years, and 4) Circe accuses Princess Diana of being a rotten feminist.

Diana struggles the entire episode to keep from pulling on her satin tights and fighting for the good ole red, white, and blue. The issue begins with Diana detailing the remarkable events of Wonder Woman's, and not Diana Prince's, birth. She notes that the child had the wisdom, grace, and swiftness of the gods, and was "a child who would become the gods' own champion in the world of men." And in the next panel, she reminds us, "For a time, I was their champion...." The gods are gone. They have left this plane and with them, Diana's true calling. But apparently in her stead they sent Hercules, the man who tricked, and most likely raped, Diana's mother.

Already on page two, we are presented with binaries: male/female in Hercules/Diana, good/evil in Diana/Giganta, and past/present with Diana and the gods then/Hercules and the gods now. We see Donna Troy, Cassie, Diana Prince, all incredibly strong women lose their footing when Hercules swoops in to save the day. His machismo says it all, as does his statement, "You've already caused enough trouble, Diana. Besides, I don't want to have to rescue you, too." In that scene, he is lifting Donna bodily, and pulling her away from Giganta.

Diana has had many disappointments to live up to the past few issues, since even before Crisis: Cassie's, Batman's, Superman's, the world's, her sisters', Donna's, and now, Hercules' and her gods'. After the fight scene is over, she's chastised by Hercules, the same as she will be chastised by Circe at the end of the issue.

Hercules tells Diana, "Spare me your excuses, Diana. You abandoned your role as Olympus' champion. You renounced your mission of peace--turned your back on your birthright-—and betrayed your gods. So the gods have sent me to replace you." And while Diana argues that she has "not renounced [her] mission—-just the means..." Hercules accuses her of "pretending to be someone else" and "dressing [her]self in lies."

Gentle Reader, I posed the following question to Mr. Reads earlier today: when does Diana get to be her own person? In my last review of Wonder Woman (oh so many months ago!), I pondered Diana's constant role-playing. She even said she wasn't sure who she really was, and that’s saying Something Indeed. Mr. Reads responded that the moment Diana did something that she believed in, she became Public—-and Superhero—-Enemy #1; the murder of Maxwell Lord, regardless of intentions, bespoke of a Diana no one wanted to see.

But Diana does what she believes to be right, at every turn: she hands the mantle over to Donna, shares the burden of Paradise Island with Hercules, as the flashback tells us, even accepts, to some extent, Hercules' role as the gods' new champion. Because if Diana seems to stand for anything, it's equality, no?


Not according to Circe.

Nemesis and Hercules are turned to beasts. Seeing the men change, Diana suspects the cause. "Looks like it's just us girls then," she says, and turns to see Circe.

(A short sidebar here, Friends, in which I express my utter admiration for the art in this two-page spread. The gorgeous pinks and purples seem to wash everything, and it's truly magnificent.)

And indeed, it is "just us girls." When Circe mocks Diana with her former title, Diana reminds her that she never called herself Wonder Woman: "The press did. She's an idea. A symbol. She's not me." Circe, however, disagrees that Wonder Woman is just an idea or symbol, because she knows that "symbols have power, Diana, and you have wasted yours. Pursuing an agenda so personal."

What is this agenda, you ask? Why, being a superhero instead of a champion, according to Circe. Circe accuses Diana of fighting herself and squandering her power "battling cyborg centurions and psychic despots when every day, thousands of women are beaten, raped, and murdered, because they have no one to fight for them."

In this moment, Circe accuses Diana of valuing ideology over life, of pursuing philosophical answers rather than solving real-life issues. It seems that Circe accuses Diana of the worst of feminist crimes: of not being feminist enough. She declares Diana self-absorbed, concerned with glory and rank rather than the plight of those women who need her, of those women she declares she is there to help. Diana's ideals are well and good, but for Circe, Diana never gets her hands or feet dirty fighting the good fight, fighting for the humans, for the human women.

This issue intrigues me so very much because despite the fact that technically she's not even human, Wonder Woman has been a symbol of feminism for at least 35 years, if not more. Feminists have used Wonder Woman as an image of women's strength and power since Ms. Magazine put her on the cover, and possibly, even before then. And for Circe to accuse her of not being feminist enough? Of not concerning herself with the very real plight of women across the globe? Of upholding ideals rather than valuing life? Well, that's very intriguing indeed.

What does it mean to be "just not feminist enough"? It's something This Humble Author has heard across the board, from my Sister Feminists, from women who declare themselves Not-Feminists, from men who declare themselves Feminists, from people who Couldn't Be Bothered With Labels, Feminism, or Ideals, and yes, it's even something I've heard directed at myself. How is someone "just not feminist enough"? Are we taking score, Friends? Are we judging this action as worthy of five points on the feminist Richter scale, but this action worth only three? I have aligned myself with feminist theory, political agendas, philosophy, and personal choices for so many years I can't remember them all, and still, while no one has given me the checklist, everyone expects me to have it on hand, perhaps pocket-sized, easily fitted into a wallet.

When we trap ourselves in tit-for-tat, in ideology-for-ideology, we accomplish nothing. When we accomplish nothing, no one is saved. When no one is saved, we all lose. Is fashion "not feminist enough"? Is shopping "not feminist enough"? Is Circe correct? Is Wonder Woman "not feminist enough"? Are there more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Amazonian philosophy? I don't have a definitive answer, Friends, but I have a suggestion.

Salvation comes from action and ideals, from deeds and words, from physicality and philosophy. And while I think the Amazon Princess may occasionally value one over the other, particularly on Earth, I think that we can certainly see the benefits of both.

At the end of the issue, it seems that all of This Humble Author's dreams for this new run have come true. The last panel reveals a change for the Amazon Princess, one I hope will hold true for a few issues, at least. I won't reveal Too Much, Gentle Reader, because I've spoiled the spoilers enough as is. But I think we're about to see a shift in Agent Prince/Wonder Woman/Princess Diana. I think we're about to see Diana, and that's almost Worth Waiting For.

Three issues in? I still adore this comic. I think Mr. Heinberg has done Wonders with the Wonder Woman. But I wish-—oh, how I wish!-—that this was issue #5.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Means Delurking Week!

Good morning, Gentle Reader, and Happy Thanksgiving! It's rather quiet in the Reads Household at the moment, given the early hour, and I wanted to spend a few moments with you. It is, apparently, Delurking Week in the Blogosphere, and I will now prove Parents Reads' Worst Fears by jumping on the bandwagon (or, as they always warned, jumping off the Mississippi Bridge), by doing What Everyone Else Is Doing.

So, Friends, who are you? Are you out there? Who in the audience has not spoken up until now? Come, come, we're all friends here. Wave your hand (hopefully with turkey leg held high) and declare your presence!

But only if you wish. I will not force you, Dear Reader, to surrender to peer pressure! Parents Reads taught me That Much, at least!

But in all seriousness, please enjoy Thanksgiving, and if you are traveling, please travel safely. Also, for the sake of the loved ones, do not eat and drive. Driving while on a Thanksgiving Full Stomach is Quite The Feat Indeed! Mr. Reads and I are joining Harrogate, Supadiscomama, their gorgeous son, and Supa's mother for a wonderful feast: maple-roasted turkey breasts from Tyler Florence's recipe, Mother Reads' recipe for amazing creamed potatoes, Supa's delicious macaroni and cheese, corn, salad, rolls, and apple pie, and Sandra Lee's chocolate buttermilk pie.

Tune in tomorrow, Gentle Reader, because I have a post in the works on the new (yes, new!!) issue of Wonder Woman, which This Humble Author didn't even know was coming out, *that's* how long it's been!

Until then, adieu, and may your pumpkins be pies and your turkeys moist and delicious!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Quick Hits Through My Pop Culture World #2

It's late, Gentle Reader, and I've miles to go before Thanksgiving break. But things, wonderful things have come to light, and as always, I'd like to share them with you.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
Can "A Study in Emerald" and "Closing Time" be better stories? Not at all likely. I find this collection to be great fun but not, I think, as well put together as Smoke and Mirrors. Thoughts, Gentle Readers?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Oh my goodness! There is a Trailer Online, in Quicktime fabulousness! If you are in Any Doubt of This Humble Author's delight over This Upcoming Film, just watch the Parliament fly-by, and then, All Doubt will be erased!

Heroes, 11/20/06 ***Spoilers***
Friends, does anyone else feel cheated over the "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" resolution? I know I do. But Heroes gets better and better every week, although tonight, I found myself missing Hiro, very much.

The Observations by Jane Harris
Finished this gem of a novel just a few nights ago, and greatly enjoyed it. Although I must say that by the third page, I told Mr. Reads, "this book is greatly influenced by the diaries of Hannah Cullwick." Low and behold, the acknowledgements inform me that I am Right. Huzzah!

The Office
It's a sad, sad Turkey day because there is no new episode of The Office. This show, and Battlestar Galactica, are by far my two favorites on television.

Yes, it's true, Friends. I am to begin my first Role-Playing Game, and in the Serenity 'verse, no less.
Remember, it's Not Nice to laugh at a Lady.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Just began this gem of the novel last night and already, it promises to be Quite Wonderful Indeed. I shall keep you updated as it continues.

Happy Turkey Day!
As my current Chapter is due to the Director Herself on December 1, and as Mr. Reads and I are celebrating our two-year wedding anniversary this weekend (!), and as there is a Large Turkey To Cook and papers to grade and The Fountain gracing the theaters, I may be a bit scarce until December rolls around. Until then, I bid you all a wonderful Thanksgiving, and, of course, a wonderful end to November Sweeps!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Very Brief Reviews of White Tiger #1 and Birds of Prey #100

I am Very Far Behind in my Pop Culture World, Gentle Reader, but Thanksgiving holiday is rapidly approaching, and I hope to catch up on my comics and on my television.

Until then, I offer you brief hits through Birds of Prey #100, and the new White Tiger #1. More soon, including A Paternity Post for Batman and Superman, and, of course, thoughts on the most recent Catwoman.

Birds of Prey #100

Dear Reader, you should be well aware of how much This Humble Author adores Gail Simone's work, particularly Ms. Simone's work on BOP. But this issue, in particular, is nothing but sheer genius.

How to explain the joy I felt at watching Big Barda's charade? At Huntress and Zinda kicking Much Butt and taking Many Names? I miss my Canary, but I feel as if Manhunter, Barda, and a brief cameo by The Amazon Princess Herself well made up for Dinah's loss. If Barda or Manhunter would join the team, I feel as if the team would be very worthwhile indeed.

Barda. How marvelous Barda would be as an addition to the Birds! Thank you, thank you, Ms. Simone, for a wonderful 100th issue, and Congratulations.

White Tiger #1

I adored Ms. Del Toro when she debuted in Daredevil, and found her to be a fascinating legacy of a superhero I didn't know that well at all. Tamora Pierce's and Tim Liebe's first issue goes above and beyond the call of duty, and gives us all Quite the Wonderful Read.

There's humor, there's sass, there's content and purpose. There are cameos that never feel heavy-handed, and the interaction between Angela and Natasha (one of This Humble Author's favorite Marvel heroines!) is perfectly played. What's more, I like Angela, and her purpose, and, yes, I'll say it, even the new costume (particularly the reaction to the new costume!).

This one's added to my pull list, starting now. This Author bids you many thanks, Ms. Pierce and Mr. Liebe, for a fantastic first issue.

[edited to correct the co-authorship of White Tiger]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In Which The Author Polls Her Readers On The Originality of Powers

Gentle Reader, what's your superpower?

Of course, I don't mean What's Your Superpower, but rather, if you were to have one, what would it be?

A silly question, perhaps, but I think the things we desire say a lot about us, as fans. Even further, the things we like, we appreciate, we *fandom* say even more.

Or, to wit, which of the existing superpowers do you think is the most interesting?

As you all know by now, I adore The Amazon Princess. But if I had to pick The Most Interesting Superpower, The Scarlet Witch's wins, every time. Control of probability? What in Heaven's name does that mean, anyhow? I'm not sure, but damn, do I want it.

Think of the possibilities. I could win the lottery *every day*. One percent chance of a cure for cancer? Done. .001% chance that cheesecake is no longer fattening? Welcome to My Perfect World.

But in all seriousness, we've seen strength, and flights, and tights, and telepathy. We've seen laser beams and perfect aim and sonic screams. But *control over probability* is just smart. Too damn smart for words.

I am currently working on a prose comic-book-type thing (which doesn't really mean anything at all, understand!), and in working on this piece, I marveled over the sheer originality of The Big Two of the publishing houses (the originality, I must admit, that I found sorely lacking in my own attempts). To wit, I wondered how Marvel came up with The Scarlet Witch's power? And how did DC come up with Black Canary's sonic scream? Both so fascinating, and so original, it all seemed too fantastical for words, and yet... and yet, it works. It's smart, it's original, and it very much works.

So tell me, Friends. In honor of originality, in homage to creativity, what do you think is the neatest, most original, perhaps, superpower out there?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why I Read Comics (and books, and television, and movies...)

Gentle Reader, first, let me please direct you to the sidebar on the right. Under "About Me," there is a blurb entitled "why the name Amy Reads." In that blurb, I state that "to read" means several things, including reading words on a page and critiquing and evaluating texts. It's what I do for a living, in fact. I Read Books. Also? I Write About Books. Sometimes, I Write Books, but no one's paying me to write anything but the Dissertation at the moment, so I don't believe I shall count that one.

But when we read, we don't just read a book. We take into that book, or television show, or play, or movie, or song, the things that we are. We take our gender, our sex, our privilege, our lack of privilege. We take out of books what we bring into them. It's just the way this works.

This Humble Author actually takes a lot to books, and out of books. I go into a book with ten years of training in literary criticism. I go into a book with me, all the parts of me: the reader, the writer, the woman, the feminist, the wife, the daughter, the friend, the pop culture lover, the David Bowie fan, the Whedonite, everything that I am. I come out of a book with certain readings because I go into a book with certain expectations.

To wit, We Read What We Are.

So, when I read a comic book, and I critique it, and I say things like "it's somewhat misogynistic," or "this book speaks to white privilege," or "holy crap! That's freaking awesome!" (not that This Humble Author would ever use such vulgar language, of course) it's not because I Dislike Comics. I *adore* comic books. I read them, I've written about them, I want to write on one (*cough*WonderWoman*cough*), and because I love them, I feel absolutely, 100% comfortable critiquing them.

Why do so many people believe that critique is hatred? That criticism can never be constructive? That analyses are judgments? When I declare my utter astonishment and dislike for the Sam Bradley Is the Father of Catwoman's Baby storyline, it doesn't mean I dislike the book, the writer, the artist, the publishing house, the fans, or even the characters. It means that *I don't like that particular part of the plot*. That's an opinion. When I declare that Sam Bradley shouldn't be the Father of Catwoman's Baby for the following five reasons, that's a critique. If I say "Catwoman, bleh!" that's "teh crazy" talking, and you should cyberly smack my hand, forthwith.

We do not exist in a vacuum; why should we pretend we read in one? Why should we pretend that race, sex, gender, economics, religion, and love of cheesecake have nothing to do with the books/television/movies we read? Once the book leaves the writer's hands, it's not just hers anymore. We get a tiny piece of the story, once we read it, because we remember it, we like it, we don't like it, but somehow, through all of that, *we're invested in it*. There are no "take-backs," or explanations, or justifications. I can't assume authorial intention, but the author can't come sit next to me and say, "well, when I wrote Wuthering Heights, I really meant..." not only because Ms. Bronte is No Longer With Us, but because it doesn't even matter what she meant.

I tell my students, every day, that they cannot assume authorial intention. They cannot tell me "When she wrote Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell meant that..." because *they don't know what Elizabeth Gaskell meant*, and further, does it really matter?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it doesn't change the way *I* read the text, any text, at all. And Gentle Reader, I can't control the way you read this post, either. Because some of you may read this as The Gospel Truth, while others may read it as An Attack, while others still Won't Read It At All. Fair, all fair, but unless I police every person who wanders by, and sit every person down and explain, "well, what I really meant was..." and even then, still never capture The Exact Meaning of the post at The Exact Moment of its creation, then you will interpret this post As You Will.

Or, in the words of Mr. Eliot,

Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (lines 106-110)

I read, because I love books. I read, because I love to talk about books. I read, because I think about books (and television, and movies, and...) all the damn time. And I read (critique, analyze, evaluate) because of all of those things and more.

I am, therefore I read.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Are you a Hal Guy or a Guy Gal?

I know, Gentle Reader. It's been Some Time since I've graced your monitors with my presence. But the past few weeks have been, shall we say, less conducive to internet blogging than I would like. There was that Halloween party, I've been writing again (huzzah!), and speaking of huzzahs, I attended my first Renaissance Festival just yesterday. Yes, it's true, Friends. I held a turkey leg aloft with the best of them, and while I did not dress up-—my dressing up for outdoor festival days have long since gone the way of my black eyeliner and fishnet shirts—-I did admire the clothing of several of the attendees around me.

Well, let me clarify: I adored the children in costume, because they were adorable. I adored the Ren Faire workers in costume, because they were elegant. But mostly, I enjoyed seeing the variety of fan-shirts on my fellow attendees.

I myself wore a shirt with a skull and crossbones on it, in honor of my pirate Halloween costume, perhaps, or just because I find pirates in popular culture delightful. I saw a Serenity shirt, a Batman shirt, a Spider-Man shirt, an X-Men shirt, and 4, yes, count them, Friends, Four Green Lantern shirts.

Four, you ask? I know, Gentle Reader. I am wondering the same thing myself. At a festival with an attendance of at least 16,000 just yesterday, I was surprised to only see one Spider-Man shirt, or one Batman shirt. But to see four Green Lantern shirts on four different individuals-—three male, one female—-seems to defy the very odds.

That's not to say that Green Lanterns are unpopular. They certainly are not, particularly among my fellow fangirls. Now while This Humble Author is quite above pointing fingers-—she finds it vulgar and common and philistine-—she isn't above bowing in deference to her Sister Feminists who are Loud and Proud of their Love Of The GLs. Yes, Sisters. You Know Who You Are.

I, however, am not Gaga Over Green Lanterns. I swoon for Batman (how I love my dark, broody, Byronically broken men), and I adore The Wally West Flash (funny and charming and awkward weakens my knees), and sometimes—-just sometimes, Dear Reader!—-I have been known to find the growling, hulking Wolverine or the snotty, self-absorbed Daredevil deliciously delightful. But a Guy Gardner or a Hal Jordan? Not in a million years. Kyle Rayner? I don't feel I know him at all. John Stewart I know A Bit More, but that, I must admit, is entirely dependent on my Justice League/Unlimited knowledge.

But. But, and here's the rub, Dear Friends, I feel as if I *should*. One *should* have a favorite Green Lantern, no? And for someone as Devoted to the DC Universe as This Humble Author, to be as unacquainted with the Green Lantern Corps seems a horrifying tragedy. Oh, sure, I could spout Amazon Mythology until blue in the face, or recite the Origins of Linda Danvers or Kara until you yawn with boredom, and yes, even detail the tiniest moments between Wally West and Linda Park-West, but when asked who came first in this sector's Green Lantern lineage? I would guess Hal Jordan, until I remembered (and Wikied) Alan Scott.

But what this all really boils down to is this: I know enough to say that Green Lanterns, any of them, are not as mainstream-popular as Batman, or Superman, or Spider-Man. There is no Green Lantern movie (although This Humble Author is to understand that there is one in the works!). There is no mainstream Green Lantern marketing (which will come, inevitably, with the movie). So to see more Green Lantern shirts than, say, Superman or Batman shirts is to Say Something About Fandom Indeed. It is to say that these fans are vocal; they demonstrate to DC, to the Ren Faire, to the world, that they want to see more GLs. That they know the ring-—like Amazon fans know the lasso, or Flash fans the lightning bolts-—and they hold it dear.

Hal guy or Guy gal? Not sure. But My Fellow Ren Faire Attendees, you in your Green Lantern shirts, you've made your point. I don't know my Green Lanterns. But thanks to you, that's a problem that I shortly will remedy. Until then, I bid you fare-thee-well, or perhaps faire-thee-well (!!!), and return, once more, to my Dissertation Cave.