Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reviewing is Hard

One of the best and worst things about online Nerd/Geek Culture is the overwhelming desire to prove the things we enjoy are not simply enjoyable but intellectually challenging and socially responsible. There are masses of people out there who have built their very identities around being intellectual outcasts with a shared interest in popular genre fiction and proving oneself to be the smartest person in the room is a primal urge no matter what gender the fan. Part of proving yourself the smartest person in the room is proving that your intellectual diet is truly refined, that you are careful to consume only that cultural fare which nourishes the mind and spirit as befits the elite intellectual.

This is why we have things like the Fake Nerd Girl and tests for being a Real Fan. Because not only must our stuff be enjoyed, it must be enjoyed on a greater level. The identities of nerd and geek are based upon not only consumption, but on having superior brainpower over the jocks, the dudebros, the poseurs, the mainstream plebs who watch mindless mainstream fare and consume even our scifi without TRULY appreciating it. This is not mere junk food on your plate, as it is for them, it is a gourmet feast which can only be properly appreciated by YOU! The Geek.

Now don't take this opening to mean I'm turning my back on analyzing the minutia of the commercial franchises which I personally enjoy. Don't take this to mean that I think people in Geek Culture are thinking too much.

No, my problem today is that we're thinking too little.

Consider the Bechdel Test. We all know this one, though I doubt all of us have actually read the initial strip. It's based on a one page cartoon joke that is not really a conversation starter so much as something that hits you immediately with how true and bleak it is. It's a punchline, that's all. The conversation only comes after the initial shock over just how barren the wasteland of our culture truly is subsides and we start applying t to every movie we ever liked so that we can say "Ha! The original Clash of the Titans passes the test in the second act where Cassiopeia and Thetis's fallen head discuss Andromeda! That PROVES it was better than the remake!" (Disclaimer: I have not seen Clash of the Titans in over a decade, I only really remember that Andromeda didn't look Ethiopian and that Mechanical Owl was the coolest thing ever and I want one.)

And it grows from there freeing us of the need to analyze and consider the fiction we consume, it frees of the need to take this variable or that variable into account when discussing the work in cultural context with this simple, blessed formula:

[Conversation + (Named Female Character * 2)] - Man = Feminist

What a relief! To be freed of the responsibility of critical analysis without losing our intellectual identity! And Iron Man 3 passed, so it's okay to like it. And now I can go enjoy Pacific Rim without having to worry about accidentally thinking of an uncomfortable truth in our society.

Oh no! Pacific Rim failed the Bechdel Test. It must be limited. THAT'S the problem, it's limited. That's okay, I'll make a new test that we can now apply to everything. It'll go something like this:

(Goal – Woman)2 + (Determination – Woman)2 = Plot2

There, Pacific Rim is exponentially feminist.

Phew! That thinking was hard. But that's okay, I can apply this one to everything and then be free to make gifs.

Now, earlier when I pointed out that the Bechdel Test in particular was actually stopping us from thinking at this point rather than causing us to, I got a bazillion responses explaining to me that that wasn't the original point. (That's right, the original point was to get a laugh out of the Dykes to Watch Out For audience.) I get told its still a useful tool, that it's great for pointing out longterm trends, that it's limited but that's okay, that it shows that the screenwriters STILL aren't thinking et cetera et cetera.

No. It WAS a useful tool when it was new. But that didn't last long. That's not how its mostly used and you know it. It's used to argue that your opinion about a work of art is objective reality, as a simple rule that gives us a chance to argue our favorite movie is feminist. And in the area of the Internet where much of the discussion is about the role of women in fiction, being the Best Feminist is the same as being the Smartest Person in the Room.

We know what nerds can be like. Hell, we know what we can be like. There is this great desire to appear More Intellectual Than Thou. We all want to win the argument. We all want to be the smartest person in the room. We all want to have Reality on our side in any given dispute.

And if we can do that with as little actual thought as possible, all the better.

Just taking these rules and applying them to every fucking movie or TV show we see is not analysis. It's simple pattern recognition. We originally came up with up these rules because they are an easy way to introduce complex concepts like "Women are portrayed as revolving around men in fiction" to people who haven't discussed them before, but after having taken the intellectual shortcut once we take it again in another discussion and again and again until we're not really discussing anything of substance anymore, we're just trying to prove something is objectively good with math. And easy math at that. Just plug in the numbers in the formula. Simple calculations and counting that take a lot less work than actually thinking through all of the variables involved in a story.

We're trying to prove that we're the Smartest Person in the Room without having to actually think.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How to break Star Trek

I've been on a Star Trek binge.  I rewatched most of TOS and TNG and found myself hungry for more stories specifically involving the TNG chars before I moved onto DS9 or Voyager so I started devouring the novels.

That's where I hit a bump.  (Spoilers ahead, I guess.)

It wasn't so much a matter of quality.  I like the earlier novels, set during the series and during the movies.  They are of varying quality.  But when I got into the current books I stalled, and it is not a reflection on the skills of the writer.  Instead, I find myself with the same problem I have with comics, a number of plot decisions seem at odds with what to me is the core appeal of Star Trek.

I do not have this problem, by the way, with the Abrams reboot.  Nor do I have this problem with Star Trek Online, which I started playing after I read Needs of the Many and realized the sort of stories I hoped for might be in the game.  It turned out to be true, and I'm greatly enjoying the Star Trek Online missions even though that setting is overall darker than the novels or DS9 ever was. So it's not tone or traditionalism.

I've only read a couple of the modern novels, honestly (and I have serious thoughts on Needs of the Many vs the Cold Equations trilogy, not the least of which is STO did it better in two chapters), but I just don't have the interest to read the rest.  Why?

Because the Andorians have left the Federation.

I've never been particularly crazy about the Andorians, though they are the most interesting looking of the TOs aliens and they've been no small source of humor in the franchise.  Until I played STO, I never had a favorite Andorian character or really took an interest in them.  The problem isn't the option of losing them, or never seeing an Andorian used again.  The problem is this is a founding planet of the United Federation of Planets.

Which is probably why they did it.  It was a species that wasn't developed until Enterprise, and most people reading TNG books would probably have no problem letting go of things attached to Enterprise.  It's a species that developed,  through one appearance and a bunch of side comments over the years, into the volatile faction of the Federation, the Johnny Storm role of the Federation founders Fantastic Four.  From everything I've read, getting them to the table and in the treaty that formed the Federation was a major triumph of the series.  They were probably much more likely than the Tellarites (also never developed until Enterprise) to take their toys and go home for whatever reason the series came up with and when I first read this development I went "Okay, this'll be temporary" and reserved the intention to at least read the Titan book I saw it in and maybe seek out where it happened.

But I didn't.

Instead, I got to thinking about this idea and I realized that even without an attachment to the Andorians, this was a franchise breaker.  It's a founder planet.  This isn't like the Abrams reboot where a founder planet gets destroyed.  This is a founder planet storming off for some ridiculous political plot.  And it hurts the Federation to have that happen.  Not just hurts it in a plot way, but in a theme way.

Here's the thing about Star Trek.  The thing I love about Star Trek that I saw alive and well through all five series and through the Abrams reboot.  It is a series about teamwork.  The central characters are the crew of the ship or the station, and they are from not just different walks of life but different PLANETS and cultures.  They share a common goal, and bring their strengths to the table to overcome whatever the problem is whether it's shallow action like some of the movies or diplomacy and negotiation like the TV shows.

The crew of the starship or station, of course, is a microcosm of the larger organization, the United Federation of Planets, which is different cultures bringing their strengths together to overcome the problems of living in a hostile universe.

And it strikes me especially right now, in this pop culture landscape, that Star Trek remains of this theme.  The Federation is a wholly idealized version of a government.  It was not built on the blood and tears of the oppressed with backtracking after it got powerful. (Or was it?  I haven't watched much of Enterprise but I don't think they strayed that far from the theme.)  It was built on acts of communication and cooperation.  It was built when the Vulcans landed and befriended the humans, and the two made peace with their other closest neighbors and eventually they formed a team.

And that team grew in strength and number, through extended the olive branch rather than the phaser rifle to the new species they encountered, until it became one of the largest factions in the Galaxy.  We meet six major political powers in the Milky Way over the years in Star Trek. (And don't you dare You Forgot me by bringing up one-episode wonders or enemies from the books, I'm talking series-long, season-long and multiple movie villains here.) Six major organizations that run massixe  The Borg, the Dominion, the Cardassians, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the United Federation of Planets.  Each of them, aside from the Federation, are conqueror powers.  They go in, they overcome with threat or force, and they take over. That's how you join those groups, you get taken over.  The Federation simply does not do that.  Hell, the Federation's NUMBER ONE RULE and plot device is not to do that.

The Federation comes in, says "Hi, wanna trade or work together on this problem?" and leaves open an invitation to join their club once they've all gotten to know each other a bit.

And those of you rolling your eyes at it being because the Federation is a bunch of good guys or it's demonization of Russians/whatever US enemy you're telling me the bad guy represents are missing the point.  (You're also being far too superficial about the villains, because while there is no denying yellow peril and anticommunist propaganda in the series there's no doubt to me that each and every bad guy in Star Trek ultimately represents the same thing as the good guys do, humanity and its potential.  They are our vices while the Federation worlds are our virtues.)

The point is, there is one major galactic power in the Milky Way that got that way by cooperation, empathy, and teamwork.  That is the entire point of the series, that we are all stronger when we work together than when we try to get ahead at the expense of others.  That's why the Federation (cooperation) wins against brute force (Klingons), dark intrigue/espionage (Romulans), fear and terror (Cardassians), mindless conformity (Borg), and whatever the Dominion (which seems to be so bad it encompasses multiple concepts of terror and force) represents.   Because it's the triumph of the people who work together over the people who manipulate/force.  The Federation is the biggest badass in the Galaxy, they are a POWER because they are peaceful, empathetic, and cooperative.

And that doesn't mean I think the Federation needs to be perfect for Star Trek to work.  Vulcans are often dicks.  Betazoids need to learn some discretion.  Humans have to constantly fight their dark sides, witness how many TOS plots are about Kirk getting swept up in the emotions of battle and needing to be stopped from getting into it with the Klingons (He had problems with them LONG before the Search for Spock) or the trouble that comes from Dr. Crusher being stubborn and judgmental, or any of the heavy themes involving the crew.  I love the idea of Section 31 and the copious use of the Mad Admiral/Ambassador as a bad guy.

But at the end of the day, despite the dark points and the temptations and the individuals who lose their way, the team itself, the Federation, endures and stands as a moral beacon: that working together is the way to go.  That everyone is safe from the threats of the universe if everyone is allowed to develop their strengths and bring them to the table.

It is a disgustingly pollyannaish message for many of us, I'm sure.  But it is the dream, it is what makes Earth a utopia in Star Trek.  It is the point of the series, and why we had characters representing not just North America and Europe but Asia and Africa in the original series.  It's why they brought a Russian in as a main character during the Cold War.  It's the damned point of the series, the underlying theme.

And it is severely undermined when the powerful world that pulls out of the Federation is one of the founding members.

Honestly, it may hurt it more because Andoria from all indications I've seen sounds like the Big Get of the original Federation charter, the species that was the least willing to throw in with a bunch of aliens but who were brought to the table by repeated acts of peace and faith.

I know, like with Wonder Woman dating Superman, the writers probably thought that the galaxy-shattering aspect of a FOUNDING PLANET leaving the Federation and maybe even allying with an enemy would be a huge plot device that would shake everything up and I'm sure it does.  I'm sure it's fascinating to read.  But I think, like with Superman and Wonder Woman, it does too much harm on a thematic level to make the experiment worth it.

So that's why I find myself uninterested in the current line of novels, even as I am obsessed with the new movies, the old novels, the video game (which has Andorians all over the place) and the TV episodes.







Saturday, September 29, 2012

What Sword of Sorcery #0 has to do with everything else

When the Amethyst reboot came out last week and we discussed it on Twitter, Anna remarked that it was always the football players and never someone like the chess club who engage in this sort of criminal activity.

And while certainly there is a toxic defensive masculinity in sports culture that mirrors the irresponsibility and criminality in frat houses, our media has by this point depicted and portrayed such behavior to the point that it is a cartoonish stereotype. And while it would be valuable to unpack the mentality of so-called jocks to see where embracing traditional masculinity requires rejecting femininity to the point that actual violence against women becomes a bonding experience among boys, the treatment in Sword of Sorcery #0 does not attempt this. It is five pages of completely superficial stock jock villains.

It is also worth noting, as Lyle did back during the original conversation, that if the villains had been the chess club it would be an interesting commentary on geek culture right now. Because we're seeing the term "friend zone" take on a bitter, acidic meaning. We're seeing a backlash against female-oriented properties like Twilight while male properties such as Transformers movies that are equally terrible get a pass. We're seeing a woman used as the Quintessential Poseur invading the geek community. We're seeing fanatical straight male nerds demand that female-oriented properties such as My Little Pony cater to them rather than female children. Hell, we're seeing the previously female-oriented Wonder Woman be completely repackaged and repurposed for male adults (See how the goddess of womanhood becomes the villainess as nearly all of Diana's supporting cast becomes male) just as we see the love story that appeals to female fans of Superman cut almost completely (See Lois Lane criminally underused in all Superman books since the reboot) from the story. We're seeing women passed over for jobs in the comics and STEM career fields. We're seeing sexual harassment scandals at gaming tournaments, comic conventions and atheist conferences and rape threats over research projects.

Right now, we're seeing in every aspect of geekdom a complete rejection of the feminine that is every bit as disgusting and pervasive as in the stock jock stereotyped cliques, and every bit as dedicated to defining those aspects as masculine in nature rather than neutral.

And it is nothing new.

Thing is, with this rejection of the feminine comes the same criminal behavior we associate with jocks and frat boys. With this rejection of the feminine comes a feeling of entitlement to female bodies. With that feeling of entitlement comes the belief that you can judge and police female bodies. With that feeling of entitlement comes the belief that you can claim and use female bodies as you want. The wicked underbelly of misogyny is the same whether it claims women can't play football or women can't read comics. Any community that despises and rejects women to the extent that geekdom does has it. Any community that hinges its manhood on "No Girls Allowed" has it.

But our media likes to pretend that sort of thing doesn't happen with nerds. The chess club has no creepy guys angry at perceived rejection, who project assholishness on the boys with dates, and who fantasize about hurting the women who should have been theirs but weren't. The chess club is a bunch of soft, sweet, shy guys who get passed over by girls.

The jocks, those are the REAL misogynists.

So that is what bothers me the most, what I personally think the saddest part about Sword of Sorcery is. It perpetuates the othering of misogyny. It is a geek-focused property that allows geeks to safely file the mistreatment of women as something THOSE guys do. It lets them keep on, in this environment, ignoring their own communities in favor of assuming that they are the good ones while the jocks are the bad ones and someday girls like Beryl will come around. It even offers an outsider girl in Amy ("Oooh, I have the superpower to become blonde!" she says sarcastically, rejecting the stereotyped cheerleader haircolor like any good fantasy goth/geek/manic pixie dream girl would) who can "smell pervs like you guys a mile away."

And I know some of you are going "So, you'd be happier with 5 pages of the chess club instead?" and maybe, I don't know. It'd be different. It'd force the audience to examine themselves. As is, this is yet another stereotyped rape scene on the pile, added to a thousand that allow us to read everyday horrors are things done to and by Other People, things we needn't really pause to think deeply about when there's ogre-slaying to be done.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wonder Woman #7 (Spoilers)

I probably wouldn't comment on the issue in question if so many others have, but the fact that I found out the spoiler on the day of publication wasn't so much due to carelessness on my part but omnipresence on the part of the spoiler.

The Wonder Woman #7 spoiler was released as a sensational description along with out of context scans of the pages. The pages showed a narrator describing the Amazon's crimes (with the Dave Sim-esque metaphor of them draining sailor's lives, which goes deeper into slanderous folklore than the evidence thus far in this reboot supports) and showing them going onto boats in the moonlight, seducing sailors, then attacking them and tossing them off of the side once they're finished with them.

I saw the initial annoyance on Twitter and found myself bombarded with requests for my opinion. I bookmarked and bypassed two articles ranting about Wonder Woman #7 before I stumbled across the spoiler. By this time, of course, the Amazons were guilty of rape and torture as well. I was greatly annoyed.

But not yet convinced.

This did not mesh well with the impression Steve Trevor had in Justice League #2's backmatter, where he insists that the Amazons were peaceful, helpful, and just wanted to be left alone. The idea that a single-sex culture that despises men but is desperate to continue their bloodlines would come upon the injured Steve Trevor, an attractive helpless man of fertile age, and nurse him back to life to let him go and give him the impression that they are "good people" is completely nonsensical.

On the other hand, completely nonsensical breakdowns of continuity do occur in the rebooted DCU on a regular basis, and this was the sort of thing a dark horror writer like Brian Azzarello would be excited to portray.

Of course, Diana was due a trip to Hades. Hades the god is a solemn and just deity that is maligned simply for doing his job and for that thing he did once that his brother did a few thousand times. Hades the Wonder Woman character is a completely different story. And Eros was to be introduced. He doesn't always come off a terribly friendly in Wonder Woman either. At the same time, Steve Trevor, the only mortal male character that had actual genuine contact (and not from a position of power) was the focus of Justice League #7. I broke down and bought the digital copies of both.

I'm very angry at all of you for making me so stressed out.

My first conclusion on seeing those pages in context, as a story told by Hephaestus, was that this is the exact way that Herakles and his men in the Perez reboot would have described their encounter with the Amazons. "We met them, had sex, and they turned on us right afterwards." We all know what happened in the Perez reboot, but that's part of the story. That the Amazons get maligned by the men they meet, warping their reputations in folklore. If I see a story in Wonder Woman and think "That's the way Herakles would have described the Amazons", I am instantly skeptical.

Hephaestus is the storyteller, and he is a generally trustworthy character but he's not a god renowned for the ability to see across vast distances or even just know stuff. He's not Athena, Hecate, or Hades or any of the deities of wisdom and secrets. He's the god of the forge, doing his job, making wonders. Someone else told him this story. He's also a guy who has a bad relationship with his mother Hera and his wife Aphrodite. Where even Ares has daughters and handmaidens hanging around in his entourage, Hepheastus is generally associated with men. He has had bad experiences with the opposite sex and has every inclination to assume the absolute worst about women.

Basically, if someone tells him the Amazons are black widow succubi who would kill their mates and male children, he's likely to believe them and pass that on.

You could ask how we can trust anyone in this run if you want (Granted, that seems to be the point of the run. The world is full of lies. Do you really think Zeus is dead?), but I'm particularly skeptical of Hephaestus here for several reasons:

1) As noted, Steve Trevor in Justice League #2, #3 and #7 acting like the opposite of a man who narrowly avoided death at the hands of black widow succubi who would kill their mates and male children. It'd be one thing if his loyalty to Diana was because she'd defended him against them, but he seems well-inclined towards the people as a whole. Diana's shock and disgust at the story told by Hephaestus suggests she had no indication from her sisters during Steve's time on the island that this is how they would behave. She clearly did not spend the entire time protecting him from attack.

2) Previous issues of Wonder Woman where a major reveal went like this: A goddess tells Diana her Dad was Zeus and her mother has been lying to her all her life, Diana reacts in shock and disbelief and confronts her mother, her mother's actions are understandable and she has a perfectly reasonable explanation for keeping her in the dark on this one, and Diana really regrets judging her so harshly when it's all said and done. I'm inclined to wait for Hippolyta's side of the story on these kinds of accusations now. ("But she's dead!" Oh please, either Hera's stone spell is reversible, or we'll see Hippolyta on the trip to the underworld next issue. Worst case scenario we'll hear her take on things secondhand through a character like Steve or Aphrodite.)

3) Hephaestus is not only a deity that is not omniscient, he is proven wrong in this very issue about an item that he created. He tells Diana the lasso is not a weapon. She soon demonstrates that it can be used as a weapon. Not only that, he tells Diana that her "real power is intimidation" and that the lasso only helps, while over in Justice League #7 Diana uses the lasso for comedic effect on Green Lantern, a character immune to intimidation. (The second is probably the lack of message discipline at DC, but it still makes two examples in this story of Hephaestus being wrong.)

4) The context of this issue, where the main theme is that "Perspective is everything." After telling about the Amazons being black widow succubi who kill their mates afterwards, Hephaestus explains that he saved the lives of the unwanted male children by trading them for weapons. Diana assumes that her family has been selling her brothers into slavery, and attempts to free them. She ties up Hephaestus and tells them they're free. Her brothers beg her to untie him, because they see him as a savior from cruel mothers who would leave them to die. That is how Hephaestus sees himself too, and the person Diana perceived as a villain gives her a pat on the back and tells her to get some sleep.

It's entirely possible that the only theme of this story is that previous assumptions about the peacefulness and compassion of women and the brutality and aggression of men are wrong. I'm not ready to take that as the sole conclusion, though. We haven't heard from the Amazons about that boat. We know that there are stories in folklore about seductive sirens and mermaids. You need LIVING sailors to tell such stories. The seductive maiden who turns on a man the morning after is one story. Another story is how Camelot was brought down when someone saw a snake on Camlann field and raised their sword. Was it policy to go, get laid, and systematically kill every man who saw them? Or was it a rule to periodically go out, get impregnated and disappear but sometimes things got out of hand. Was this just the Amazons turning on the sailors, or was this the Amazons taking to arms when an amorous sailor decided he wasn't satisfied, or wasn't letting go?

As for the boys, honestly I don't think that looks too bad. Ever read a Greek Myth? Unwanted children were left in the woods to die all the time. The Amazons are gender essentialists in all portrayals, like Marston they think that men are inherently aggressive and unwilling to submit to female rule. (Which makes the peaceful pleading of the Amazon brothers the most interesting part here.) They operate from the assumption that any male children would be the end of their civilization. Their philosophy prevented them from keeping the boys, so they cut a deal with the Smith and gave them to someone who would care for them. They no doubt considered themselves kidnder than patriarchal city-states that left girls out to die.

Just because Hephaestus thinks that without him those boys would perish doesn't mean the Amazons wouldn't have found another way around it. The deal with Hephaestus was finding a way around it. Everyone is mad at the Amazons for something they went out of their way not to do

5) Tone. I remember an annual from the Perez era, where it was revealed Julia Kapetalis was anb honorary Amazon. The Perez Amazons, bereft of children, would on occasion rescue shipwrecked chidlrne who washed up on the shores of Paradise Island. They would name them, play with them, feed them and bless them. After a few blissful days of motherhood they would take these children down to the shore and set them adrift so that the gods could guide them back to their families.

No, the Perez gods weren't actually much better behaved than the Azzarello gods.

The Azzarello Amazons actually have children periodically, keep the female children, and give the male children to Hephaestus, who is married to one of their patronesses and known for his gentle temperament.

The Perez Amazons are wise and noble, while the Azzarello Amazons are thoughtless mankillers, huh?

Tone plays a big part here. Everything Perez wrote, no matter how utterly illogical, had the tone that the Amazons were right and the rest of the world was wrong. Everything Azzarello writes has the tone that every except for Diana is up to something, and that something may be sinister. Even Hephaestus seems somewhat sinister in the early parts of these issues. In the Perez reboot Themiscyra is peace and truth while Man's world is lies and uncertainty. Diana is a beacon of truth because she was sheltered, raised in a romanticized past where they still believed in heroes (because despite all the bits about the Amazons having trouble with the Greeks, the Amazons are out of time, an idealized culture that stopped evolving in the Bronze Age), and is stunned at the uncertain world and holds tight to her sense of self against an assault from one direction. The sin of the Amazons in Perez is isolationism, repeatedly in fact. They withdraw from the world and took their wisdom with them. Therefore, everything that is revealed about the Amazons in the Perez run, no matter how objectively foolish it is, is presented as a positive revelation and proof of their nobility.

In Azzarello's reboot, Diana is a beacon of truth who finds lies and uncertainty in all parts of the world. She is a beacon of truth because she seeks the truth. She is being forced to examine not only the ideals of men and gods but also the ideals of her mother and sisters. She has to look at her own origins and hold tight to her sense of self while she is being made to question everything. As a result, everything in the Azzarello run is a negative revelation that shakes Diana to the core, warped to come off as horrifyingly as possible until we've heard both sides of the story.

That said, just because the initial revelation seems negative and horrible doesn't mean that there is no extended explanation for it, or that the characters are actually horrible people. Uncertainty and lies from all directions isn't the same as a certainty that lies are coming from all directions.

As such, I'm not quick to condemn any characters in Azzarello's run for any revealed actions until I get a complete picture. (And even then, Azzarello probably has something else up his sleeve.)

I may be wrong, of course, or in a couple runs I may be cursing Azzarello's name for putting these ideas out there. Because while Justice League is a poorly written book using very good ideas, Wonder Woman is a well-written book using some very bad ideas. But for this one I'm not angry or disgusted. (Yet. Hippolyta has some explaining to do) I'm actually delighted and intrigued at the chance that Diana might have a male relative who hates violence but is good at making/repairing weapons and armor for her.

And I'm hoping this will be used as a way to bring back Achilles from the Simone run.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Quick Links

The Women Write About Comics Carnival is going on right now and I may not have time to get a post in myself, but here's the first couple sets.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I wish I could say this was unheard of.

I'm not into the Walking Dead comics (sorry, me and zombies were never a good match), but Cheryl Lynn who is pointed this out on twitter:

"Playboy" Reveals Origins of The Walking Dead's Michonne in April Issue.

That's Playboy magazine, not a 'Playboy' as in a real-life Bruce Wayne, having an exclusive on revealing the origins of the "iconic and sexy" Michonne from the Walking Dead comic.

The zombie survival horror comic.

This is of interest to the soft-core porn mag.

Robert Kirkman seems super-excited talking about it, too:
"It's an honor to be a part of a historic publication like Playboy," said Kirkman, "I'm thrilled to share The Walking Dead with the magazine’s readers, especially such an important story like the origin of Michonne."

I don't know when exactly comics and porn started becoming the same thing, but this needs to stop. I know I know, Wally Wood and Joe Shuster and Harry Peters all did dirty comics but... those were dirty comics, with even some winky nods to the regular properties. They weren't like, the same thing. They sure as fuck weren't the same thing as zombie survival books.

What we're seeing lately is the baffling "Well, it's the same audience" mentality. This causes the storytelling art of mainstream comics to get bogged down by ridiculous artists like Ed Benes, who sacrifice dramatic strength for ass shots. And this causes promotional efforts where books like The Walking Dead offer exclusive interviews that drop story information in media that shuts out half the audience.

It would be one thing, if alongside the men's mags we saw some efforts in mainstream magazines and women's magazines to balance it out, and it wasn't exclusive. But this stuff is exclusive, because "Hey, women aren't reading anyway" and "Well, if they are, they must like this stuff because all our art looks like the inside of Playboy anyway."

Do you want to know why female comics fans are angry so often? Why even when we make neutral fannish blogs we inevitably end up turning our articles to issues of sexism? Why often our blogs and columns turn into gender-analysis niche projects?

Because of this. Because of this mindset that it's basically the same thing, that Playboy and all comics (not even just superheroes, this is a horror comic) have this same audience. Because female characters are categorized entirely as male fan service, and we have things like this in Playboy and Wonder Woman's New 52 preview showing up in Maxim.

Because it's infuriating as fuck.

"Well, why don't you drop comics, then?" Because 1) there's still stuff I love. The problem is the stuff I love is overwhelmed with the industry being stupid and sexist. 2) This shit is everywhere anyway, so if I didn't rant about comics here I would be ranting about television, books, my coworkers, or politics here or elsewhere.

And 3) I'm right. And you know it, whether you're nodding your head in conscious agreement or you're getting infuriated and typing up a trollish comment.

This mentality that comics do, can, and only ever will appeal to men so it's okay to take as many measures possible to shut women out and blur the lines between pornography and regular superheroes because the audience loves both, wants both, and will buy more if both are the same (which is just stupid, I can find far wilder and more believable porn than I would ever find in comics on DeviantArt, for fuck's sake, why would you even bother watering down your story with these distractions? You can't compete) and there is no chance of reaching out to other demographics is just plain wrong.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to Read Womanthology for a Fraction of the Price.



"It's $50! I can't afford it."

"I want it, but it's SO expensive!"

Every time I see that I wish there was a way to knock down the price on Womanthology, and then I slap myself for that. Because it's a charity book, and that money is going towards a good cause.

But what about the people who want to read but can't spare the full price?

Well, I have a solution. Unfortunately, it means that you need 1-4 friends. If you are so fortunate as to have 1-4 friends, you can split the price between the group of you and only pay $10-$25.

There is, of course, only one problem there.



But this is one easily solved in the spirit of the Womanthology project! Each investor can read and enjoy it in an order determined by use of a random number generator, and then when the last person is finished you can donate it to a nearby library for other people to enjoy.


But, I hear you say, then the five of us will have spent our $10 on nothing! No, you donated $10 to Global Giving and your local library, supported your local comic book store and got a good read out of it.

But I don't have the spare ten dollars. I understand. Can you find five friends who do and then check it out of the library once they've donated it?

I don't have five friends who live near me. You can either work out some sort of mail order thing, or convince other people on the internet to do this, and then check out the book by Inter-Library Loan.

I have $20-40 dollars and 2-9 friends. Should we do this with more than one copy? Yes. And let the two people above know which libraries.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Links

This week there was a "Women Write About Comics" blogcarnival, and it's full of good posts. She's got four roundup posts so far.

I had been putting off blogging in order to participate, but I was hit by the double-whammy of a particularly draining workweek and being completely obsessed with Sherlock still so I had to hold off until the next one. It's projected for mid-march.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Birthday Dad!

It's my father's birthday and like so many other special days since I've gone overseas I've had a little trouble catching him. So each year I've been keeping to a tradition where I honor my father's career choice with a panel of my favorite superhero policeman... The original Human Torch.

This year I have a very special page for you, from the fateful Marvel Mystery Comics #7.



What emergency could this be? What justifies frightening the citizens of New York before they've learned that the Human Torch is not their enemy? What is so urgent that, in full fire mode, Jim Hammond must fly down to the sidewalk and run to his friend's house? What matter could possibly be so important that he must scare all of these bystanders in order to quickly contact Johnson?

Why, it must be a truly urgent matter that cannot wait!



Okay, Jim... I know you're excited, and only a few weeks old, and this is a very important decision but... yeah, you could've walked upstairs in non-inferno mode to ask him about this.

But that's okay. That's why there's a training school.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How do you solve a problem like Irene?

I've held off on blogging about Irene Adler because after the double-punch of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Sherlock S2E2 A Scandal in Belgravia everyone seemed to have stated what we need to know about her. They've covered the problems of oversexualizing her, making her a subordinate to Moriarty, making her a love interest, becoming a damsel in distress, giving Sherlock a ridiculous amount of power over her, and the major problem of making it so that she doesn't win out in the end. All of these being things that are not in the slightest canonical (fucking one King does not a Femme Fatale make), undermine the theme of the original story, but somehow appear to be popular in adaptation after adaptation after adaptation.

And while many of you seem to be more focused on Moffat than Ritchie, I think we mostly agree A Scandal in Belgravia was a far better showing, even for all it's flaws. Those of you who haven't seen A Scandal in Belgravia and are jumping to the conclusion that it makes the exact same mistakes Guy Ritchie did in his two movies, you're jumping the gun. Irene's far more formiddable in Sherlock than in either of those movies, she makes a far better showing, and I believe she's placed equal to the level of Moriarty and Mycroft there. At the very least, it's something we can argue about over several seasons. Do my blood presure a favor and actually watch this one before you start throwing the same criticisms Ritchie is deserving of at Moffat.

But there is one big problem that I haven't seen anyone touch on. One major change from the canon that leads to all of the smaller problems with Irene. One major change that is at the core of what pulls the rug out from under those of us who loved the original Scandal in Bohemia story. One major change that betrays a complete misunderstanding of the point of A Scandal in Bohemia and the real reason Irene Adler could win against Sherlock Holmes and walk away from him scott free holding everything she ever wanted.

Stephen Moffat and Guy Ritchie made the exact same mistake that a million fanfic and pastiche writers have before them. They looked at the Rogues Gallery of Sherlock Holmes for a formidable female villain, someone with potential for romance and intrigue, and picked out the perfect-seeming Irene Adler. This is understandable. She's popular among fans, particularly female ones. She's one of his best known opponents, possibly the best known after Moriarty. She looks good in a suit. Her story involves political and sexual intrigue. She's cunning and resourceful. She won.

There's just one small problem.

Irene Adler isn't actually in the Rogues Gallery of Sherlock Holmes.

Look back at A Scandal in Bohemia. She's not the bad guy. She's the good guy. Sherlock's client is the bad guy, wrongly pestering his ex-girlfriend and painting her as a extortionist when all she wants to do is live her life. He lied to Sherlock Holmes. Her explanation for trying to keep a little insurance against future bad behavior from this man is perfectly understandable. The entire story is a misunderstanding.

And that, more than anything else, is why she got to win. Because in addition to being his equal, beating him fair and square, she was also on the side of right and he was the manipulated one.

Listing her among his "villains" is like listing Spider-man as a Daredevil villain.

I think I understand their logic. I love Sherlock Holmes, but there's only a few recurring characters and the active ones are men. But they want a really notable woman, a strong feminine presence (notice I didn't say strong woman character) for female fans to latch onto and straight male fans to be attracted to. And really, we all do. We want a decent dose of estrogen in these stories. Oh, there's Mrs. Hudson and Watson's wives and plenty of the clients, bystanders, victims and villains are women and they run the gamut from smart and willful to pathetic and panicky, but none of them shine like Irene. We love Irene better than any other woman because she was a match to Sherlock and she threw his unbelievable sexism back in his shocked face with three words. So we not only want to see Irene, we don't want her to disappear at the end of the first story like she does in the canon. We want her to come back for a rematch. We want to see her as a regular recurring character.

But because she began as an antagonist, a lot of "further adventures" want to keep that dynamic. So they come up with the interpretation of this character as a badass "Femme Fatale" (a role that in Sherlock's Gallery goes to one Isadora Klein, who lost) and the most coldly clever woman of the canon (actually, Maria Gibson was a hell of a lot more clever than Irene and she would've gotten away with it too if not for those meddling kids) that basically places her somewhere on the supervillain scale. This leads to our next problem.

Supervillains lose.

Oh I know, we've been reading grown-up pessimistic comics for so long we've forgotten this but in Sherlock Holmes stories this remains the rule. The Bad Guy loses. The criminals get caught. Justice prevails. The minor bad guys pay and the major bad guys might dick around for a while before they lose but in the end... Supervillains lose. That's why Sherlock can be the biggest jerk in London and we still love him, because he uses that horrible personality for good and he is very, very effective at it.

And before you say it, yes, Moriarty loses.

Canonically speaking, he loses in the first story he appears in just like everybody else does.

In adaptations it takes a while. That's what makes Moriarty Moriarty. But he always loses in the end. We know this. We expect this. We sat in that theater last month knowing exactly what would happen the second Mycroft said 'Reichenbach.' We'll all be glued to our sets tomorrow even though we're absolutely sure of the outcome. An experimental writer or two might throw this in our faces but the truth of the franchise is that at the climax, two men go over the falls and one man walks away. The supervillain does not walk away.

And so by the rules of the franchise, when we incorrectly position Irene Adler as a supervillain, she loses. And no matter how well you do it (and Moffat does manage this well, while Ritchie's Irene is more a nuisance and a henchwoman than a real threat, Moffat's is a full-fledged crime boss playing at Mycroft's level and poised to win completely at the climax), you're going to miss the appeal of the original story when she loses.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I've run out of synonyms for blinding fury, so bear with me.

I've been blogging for quite some time, and I've had a few of these dry periods where I don't post much and when I do it tends to be something lackluster or sad. I suspect these periods happen because I'm not especially anxious or angry about something fictional (and I have a rule where I try not to blog politics or work) usually use this blog as an outlet for rage. I do this for rational and irrational reasons. I prefer expressing my anger to bottling it up. I've found that if I dedicate some time to writing about my reaction I can often find the underlying truth to it, the real cause of my anger rather than the often frivolous-seeming trigger. It lets me network my outrage, find people who feel the same way about these things and commiserate. And it lets me do some writing that can be clever and beautiful.

I'm not about to say everything on this blog is clever and beautiful, but every once in a while I get a turn of phrase or an analogy that makes me really proud. I think there's a poetry to ranting, if you really get yourself going, and you can come up with some vivid images and phrases to convey your level of upset to someone who is not reacting as severely. I'll often get a little carried away by that and express a higher level of indignation than I feel.

All the more disappointing then, when I run across something so infuriating, so gut-wrenchingly awful and insulting that I can't outline my reasons for it or come up with a pleasing way to express just how terrible I think it is.

I came across that today. The preview for Secret Avengers #21, courtesy the vigilance of David Brothers:



Let's move in for a closer look, just to make sure we're seeing this right.



Yes, that is Captain America saying "I'm going to let my friends torture you" like it's some sort of cool badass fucking thing for him to say.

I agree with David on the reasons this is vile. This subject for Americans is too raw and important to be treated like this.

And maybe it's a trick, and he's just trying to intimidate the guy but you know what? Fuck that. Fuck that stupid idea where it's okay to pretend we don't have any principles like it's not something that treads on the line of not actually having any principles, where it's okay to pretend threat of torture is good because it's not as bad as actual torture.

And oh god, just the thought that this character, the symbol not of everything my culture is but every ideal my culture aspires to be, actually walking out of the room to let someone else do this is so infuriating I can't even verbalize it. I was so angry when I read that page that I had to stand up, and walk back and forth doing breathing exercises so I wouldn't fall into a hyperventilating frenzy at just how careless a treatment of the subject and the character this is.

There's a way to handle this and show the character isn't perfect. Ed Brubaker wrote a scene in the "Winter Soldier" storyline where one of Captain America's colleagues, a Vasily Karpov, tortured a Nazi for information. He didn't interrupt. He in Karpov's territory, outnumbered by Karpov's men, and had the rest of the Invaders and the war effort to think about it. He stood outside the tent brooding, and confronted Karpov about his methods. He showed clear disapproval, but he compromised himself and it was clear to him they only shared a side against a common enemy. And later when Karpov turned out to be a fucking horrible piece of shit it was reinforced that the sorts of people who do these things are bad people, at least. At best, it reinforced for the character that he should never have allowed this sort of shit to go down in a camp he was in, or allied himself with that sort of man.

This? This is bullshit macho posturing. This is "See how badass he acts and sounds?" This is the loophole as a joke to show he's kinda clever, in addition to being unprincipled. This is treating Captain America like one your anti-heroes, because hey, everyone loves them and really they're the only kind of heroes you can write.

Except he's not like them. As David says, he's like Superman and represents the best of us. Captain America is your honest-to-god every good thing from the American culture, everything worth saving of our values, placed into a body that can make a difference in the world. He's the guy who is not only supposed to adhere to the moral standard, he sets it for the other heroes. Your anti-heroes, your fallen noir stars, your monstrous demeanors that cover hearts of gold and tarnished but upward-looking souls will pull this. They're coming from the bottom up, and steeped in the flaws of humanity. Captain America is already up there, though. He's established as an idealized hero, to the point that in the MArvel Universe he is the indicator of which side occupies the moral high ground. Having him do something like this, even in his Steve Rogers super-soldier leading a covert team garb, Says something about the moral high ground.

Even as a trick (ETA: It is not a trick), this is the further dilution of the sincere sadistic brutality into acceptability as "tough tactics." This is a complete misunderstanding of Captain America, the subject of torture, and the reality of what's going on in the United States right now.

The only thing left to say is Fuck You, Warren Ellis. Avengers is not Nextwave. Captain America does not fucking act like that, especially not for one of your cheap fucking jokes.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

I don't often blog about work, but then I rarely think about the future.

I seem to be settled into another one of those weird phases of disconnect, where I'm removed from the rest of my social circle at the same time I begin to consume media created by others rather than make it myself. It's weird, you'd think these periodic fits of reclusiuveness would be the perfect time to order my life, do creative projects, or even just blog but instead I read, go through all of the analysis and reaction in my head and never sit down to type it out.

I don't consider this a depression, though. I've been depressed in the past and my avoidance of creativity and society coincided with withdrawal at work. This is more like when I first got to Germany, when I threw myself into my job and found myself without energy for the rest of my life for a few months. I'm doing the same at my new base. I've gotten very energetic at work, where I'm currently filling the position of what's not even a glorified secretary, where I answer phones, track jobs for the other shops, and give briefings. For a few months I was on the lovely, relaxing night shift and was able to spend most of my time focusing on getting fit. Then I spent a period of time where I rushed into work and spent my first hour in preparation for a briefing which was actually in preparation for another briefing that turned out to be in preparation for a third briefing later in the day. In between this I answer phones and coordinate things. When I'm not doing that I'm spewing profanity because I've run across inefficiency, incompetence or sexism. I spend a good 95% of my day talking. About once a week I lose my voice.

This isn't my actual job, though. Sometime in the near future I'll be moved to my actual job, which is still removed from the parts of my job that I love, which mainly involved taking things apart and putting them back together. It's still technical work, but less of the blood and bones of the machine than I'd prefer. I'm in a unit that's filled with software technicians, and I am a hardware technician. I don't know what they're required to know, but a disproportionate number of them suffer from Alpha Male Nerd syndrome and I'm too old now to be dealing with that sort of bullshit from people who were in middle school when I was getting Ace Awards in Electronics Principles. (I don't even think most of these brats took Electronics Principles.)

I was getting quite depressed for a little while, because I'd worried a recent career field realignment had forever taken me away from the basic electronics work that I enjoy so much. Then I got my promotion study material, and found that even though a lot is cut out there's still enough of the basics to keep me happy. Still, the further I get from circuits and signalwaves the less joy and pride I take in my work. Which brings me to the ever-present question of what I'm going to do when I leave the military. No one stays in forever, and my first enlistment was basically a way to push final plans for the future down a few years. Sooner or later I'm going to have to take up a second career. All my life when I've considered higher learning I and everyone around me assumed I'd go for the softer social sciences or liberal arts, because I find it so easy to dedicate my leisure time to that and I disliked math so much in school. The idea of physics, engineering, or any of the hard sciences was not even brought up. But I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't go into engineering. It's not something I study on my own, but it's the natural direction to go now that I've spent so many years in an electronics career field to realize what parts of the work I enjoy, and more importantly what parts of the work I can do best.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Winding Down.

Every time I've come up with a post idea in the past few days I've put it aside until after the New Year, because around this time of year everyone else is doing an end of year wrap-up or something about resolutions.

This is a fairly ridiculous impulse, because I never do an end of the year wrap-up. My memory is geared towards things like the exact wording that was used on the phone, a national stock number, or the name of an obscure Wonder Woman villain. I'm not particularly good with dates, as my family (who have seen their birthdays forgotten nearly every year for the past decade) would attest. A year-end wrap-up would require me to remember things from earlier in the year, and even more dauntingly, remember just when in the year they happened.

In the meantime, I don't place much stock in New Year's Resolutions, because anything that requires more than a couple weeks is planning too far ahead for me. I hate planning. I went out of my way to form a lifestyle which excuses long-term planning, I'm not going to muck that up with New Year's Resolutions. Instead, I do End of Year Resolutions and this year I have busted all but one of them.

Still, if anyone is interested in a snapshot of this point in my life:

I have work this weekend, so I'm spending a quiet evening at home rather than going out.

I finished a Dispatches from the Fridge post, and am feeling rather satisfied that I've managed to post most of the weekends since starting it. We've managed 93 posts this year, nearly two per weekend.

I'm sitting in the middle of my uncleaned living (broken resolution number one), watching episodes from the old Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. Lately, that series has been something of an obsession for me, and I'm getting a great deal of enjoyment out of it. I'm chatting with Kalinara about Sherlock Holmes inspectors.

I live in the middle of the village, rather than on the edge this year, so I'm surrounded by people setting off fireworks. I can see them from my window, but I hadn't noticed last year how much like artillery they sound. I didn't have any particularly interesting experiences in Afghanistan, but the sound is a bit unsettling.

I managed to beat the 50-book mark this year again. I used to keep track of every year I tried on Librarything, but sometime in 2011 I decided to delete all of my tags and start over. I wish I hadn't done that. Here is this year's list if you're interested.

The one strange end of year resolution I completed was to read through all of the comments on this post. (Warning: it gets pretty transphobic around the 700s.) Basically, one of the old and rather irritating personalities in the mainstream feminist community, Hugo, was interviewed for that blog. Hugo is quite disliked by a number of readers, and so they discussed that. Hugo's whiny, patronizing, and uninteresting so those who dislike him have ignored his blog for several years, and missed the post where he confessed to attempting to murder his ex-girlfriend and got out of being arrested because the police got the idea that she was suicidal from someone he chooses not to name. (Safe bet it rhymes with Lugo.) Someone who had been paying attention brings this up in the thread, and it is promptly shut down. Begin shitstorm. A post about the virtues of forgiveness follows this, with closed comments. Then an apology post that had reached 956 comments by the time I finished it went up.

I felt compelled to read through the entire thing to get links and elaboration on the murder thing, because it couldn't have been what it sounded like. But yeah, got high, saw her sleeping there, decided he needed to put her and himself out of his misery, tried to gas her. So, what it sounds like. Then it was a matter of disbelief that people were actually defending him. In the end I posted a comment siding with the "Are you kidding me?" faction and left.

On the bright side, through the tangents I read about some interesting comments and found out about some interesting books.

I was also duly reminded why I dislike the main political feminist blogs, and why I stopped reading them, and stopped reading and linking to a lot of the "Big Name Feminists" out there. I ducked out a few years over the whole mess about the tasteless illustrations chosen for Marcotte's book, but I'd been softening since so many of my newer friends who weren't around back then seem to be linking these guys. Much trouble as I've caused, I really don't like to be the one who constantly brings up old shit, especially if the people have finally recanted in the meantime and I just missed it. Based on these events, I'm going to guess nothing has improved.

Anyway, my apologies for the dim tone of this post. I had a long day at work and look forward to a long workday tomorrow. For 2012, I intend to exercise more (for the sake of my job), clear out some of the squalor in which I am living, shoot for the 75 book challenge, and use less profanity in day to day speech.

Those are only intentions, though. I resolve to drink a little wine and finally write that post about Irene Adler.