Recommended daily reading – 24 November (pre-Thanksgiving edition)

Here are a few items as I wonder if anyone will show up to my evening class:

Two pieces from Mother Jones with reference to Tea Partiers. One points to the results of a survey which shows, among other things, that 61% of self-identified Tea Party members believe that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against African-Americans and the members of other minority populations. I think this is an interesting follow-up to Justin Smith’s 3QD piece on ‘whiteness’ and the Tea Party, which I highlighted earlier.

The other MoJo entry looks at Tom Ricks’s proposal for national service, which includes a “libertarian opt out”. Under that option, anyone who wants to keep their time to themselves can, only they should also expect government workers to do the same in return. This part of the proposal is appealing, because I have often thought that libertarians can afford to rail against taxes, government regulation, public schools, etc. because in the back of their heads, most know that there is very little risk that they will ever actually have to live in the fully privatized and market-driven world of their ideals (although, as I have seen suggested by others, anyone who is serious about living that way is welcome to move to a place like Somalia where there is no effective public sector or government and see how they like it).

I’m a little late in recommending this interview with Martin Scorsese at The Guardian (link via Slash Film). The article covers a number of topics, including Scorsese’s current project, shooting in 3-D, which has been getting most of the attention, and working in TV:

As somebody with such a profound sense of cinema, it’s surprising that some of Scorsese’s recent successes have been on television, a medium which he has credited with providing “what we had hoped for in the mid-60s… this kind of freedom and ability to create another world” with the luxury of “the long form of developing character in a story”.

Finally, on Juxtapoz is a the documentary short “Skateistan”, which looks at a co-ed skateboarding school in Afghanistan. Running just under ten minutes, the film effectively places what it means to skateboard in conditions of war and deprivation, especially for girls in a harshly patriarchal place.

DVD review: METROPIA (2009)

Yesterday, my review of the Tribeca Film DVD for Metropia, an animated, dystopian science fiction film, posted at PopMatters. I found the movie fascinating to look at, but incapable of sustaining its story.

The characters are weirdly fascinating to watch, and in a short film with little or no dialogue, could have been wondrous. Here, where they have to carry the weight of human emotion and dire situations, their uncanny resemblance to flesh and blood works against audience identification. While that may have been part of the intent, fostering critical distance for thought on the part of viewers, in a film that ends with love, it is an odd visual choice.

Read the Review

Recommended daily reading – 17 November (been a week edition)

Here are a few items from the last few days:

On “She Has No Head!”, Kelly Thompson lists her twenty favorite female comics characters (link via Thompson’s blog). I think she makes good cases for all of the selections, but notable exclusions for me are: Kate Spencer/Manhunter, Helena Bertenelli/Huntress, Liz Sherman (B.P.R.D. and Hellboy), Tamsin from Skeleton Key, and Esther de Groot from Scary Go Round and Giant Days. If I were to really do this exercise, I would seriously consider Patsy Walker/Hellcat, Elsa Bloodstone (NEXT Wave), and Bethany Black (Strange Girl). I’m not sure if or how autobiographical characters fit into these kinds of discussions, but Marjane Satrapi would certainly make me want to think about it. As always, the tough question is who to take off of the original list.

Addendum: one of the fun and frustrating things about these lists is that once your brain starts working on them, it’s hard to let go. So, on further thought, Melaka Fray (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) would likely be on my still hypothetical alternate selection, and it would be hard to leave off Hopey and Isabel from Love & Rockets, but not specifically as replacements for Maggie.

Torontoist has a feature on artist Sean Martindale’s urban art project that uses condo ads to make pup tents, a clever comment on housing and inequality and property rights and public space.

Finally, a cute, but kind of mournful looking, little treat from Renee French.

November “Worlds in Panels”

My column for this month is up at PopMatters. I look at fan and artist redesigns of female superheroes, taking Supergirl as a case in point, again, and consider the possibilities that these reworkings open up for how women are imagined in comics.

The main problem when it comes to defending tradition in relation to women and girl superheroes is that tradition has not done well by these characters. Assigned supporting roles, placed in the background, subjected to bodily threats and drawn into sexualized poses that male characters are not, ‘tradition’ when it comes to female superheroes is not an innocent appeal to honoring the past, but a political argument about the (marginal) place of women in comics.

Read the column

Recommended daily reading – 10 November (been awhile edition)

Taking note of a few items from my recent reading:

Ylajali Hansen at Generation Bubble remembers the mixtape (a common enough theme following Sony’s discontinuation of the Walkman). Hers is my favorite reflection, in part for passages like this:

There’s one mix tape, given to me by an alcoholic second cousin, that I keep in the top drawer of my desk. It’s a white tape, a generic brand, and written across the top in tremulous cursive is “Ylajali’s Songs.” It boasts a motley mix, everything from Style Council (she dated the band’s drummer Steve White) to The New York Dolls (she dated David Johansen as well) and The Ramones (she sold Joey Ramone a saxophone). She was pretty good at making mix tapes. But between Wire’s “Dot Dash” and Love Tractor’s “I Broke My Saw” she apparently pressed the wrong button, and for thirty seconds I can hear faint curses, the barking of a nervous greyhound, and the creaky complaint of buttons half pushed as she attempts to set the machinery right again — a thirty-second audio document of well-intentioned clumsiness on a tape now fifteen years old from a person I once thought wonderful and with whom I’ve since fallen out of touch. It’s my favorite mix tape.

At 3quarksdaily, Justin Smith writes about the construction/fiction of ‘whiteness’ and the Tea Party from the perspective of his own family history and biography. Worth reading just to get to this brilliant summary:

My take on the Tea Party movement is this: Tea Partiers are Americans who have been made to believe that they are ‘white’; have been made to believe, furthermore, that this status carries with it some natural privilege; and who therefore wonder why, in spite of the fact that they are white, they have nonetheless been given the shaft.

Finally, this, via Inhabitat, is cool; and the potential for monkeywrenching makes it even more so.

October comics

Posting this a little late, but here is my October shipment from tfaw:

Monthlies:

Angel #37 (IDW)

I think all anyone needs to know about the current state of this title is that the writing credits are all over the place – three people (four counting the Eddie Hope backup) – with parsing between “plotting” and “writing”. At least the art is fairly settled, fwtw.

Avengers Academy #5 (Marvel)

As always, I read this more carefully than I mean to. This month, Christos Gage offers a typically Marvel take on superheroism and celebrity, with the added background that the kids at the Academy are not, natively, the most upstanding citizens. Add at least one nice visual gag, and you have a pretty good read.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – New World #3 (Dark Horse)

The crossover with Hellboy is coming! I’ll just stipulate now that there will be very few months when B.P.R.D. and/or Hellboy comes in my shipment and they won’t be the best comics I get.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #37 (Last Gleaming Part Two) (Dark Horse)

The end game for this series progresses. Very much a moving things forward issue. Little new here, but I do think that Joss Whedon’s active involvement in writing continues to bring clarity to the “season”.

Casanova #3 and #4 (Marvel Icon)

These are dense reads, and a close second to the Hellboy titles for best things I get in my box. In these issues, the meta, which I like, seems a little less arch than in the previous two, or, at least, looser (check out the asides and the “I love comics” panel in #4). I love the curves and fluidity in Ba’s artwork.

I, Zombie #6 (DC/Vertigo)

A not altogether successful diversion about Scott. Still, a title that A and I are reading together. Fun.

Lady Mechanika #0 (Aspen)

Intriguing teaser, pretty much what I hoped for, though I wish Aspen were less soft core-y. Mechanika herself is nothing you won’t find elsewhere, but the ads for the other titles … do people really need comics for this kind of material these days?

S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 (Marvel)

More weirdness involving scientists and prophets. Trying to ponder what it means that Newton is the heavy, or how this deep backstory is going to be connected to the S.H.I.E.L.D. that readers already know.

Spike #1 (IDW)

Decidedly better than Angel this month. Of course, Brian Lynch and Franco Urru have these characters down. I like the idea of moving Spike to Las Vegas. The loss of this series might be the one thing the move to Dark Horse might not improve for this side of the Buffyverse.

Uncanny X-Force #1 (Marvel)

Sets up the first arc of the series. Jerome Opena’s art has a strong sense of movement and an appropriately cool color palette. Decidedly better than some of the more photoreal work in X-Force. I also like Dean White’s Gotham-y cover. I started this subscription because of Rick Remender, and whether that pans out, remains to be seen.

X-23 #2 (Marvel)

Well, this is a disappointment. I thought the first issue set up an interesting story, but that turns out to just be a pretext for plunking Laura into a Wolverine crossover event. Blah.

TPBs:

Black Widow: Deadly Origin (Marvel)

Paul Cornell walks that fine line between critiquing sexism, and male desire and fantasy, and participating in it with this series. What tips it on the side of critique is Natalia/Natasha’s refusal to accept how others, especially Ivan, see her. Tom Raney, Scott Hanna, and Matt Milla’s artwork does not help here, counterposing interesting looking and beautiful flashback sequences with a more polished, and soft core look for the present. Unlike on the covers, though, they do keep Natalia zipped up, for the most part.

Dr. Horrible And Other Horrible Stories (Dark Horse)

This book is pretty much what you would hope for: a fun, witty elaboration on the characters and storyworld for the web serial. This success is no doubt due in no small measure to having a single writer, Zack Whedon, who is also a co-creator of the original show. The artwork is supplied by a variety of interesting people, including Joelle Jones and Farel Dalrymple. My favorite story, artistically, is Penny’s, which features excellent, emotionally resonant work from Jim Rugg, but narratively, the Evil League of Evil chapter made me laugh the most. Despite its charms, I doubt a casual reader would get much from this book.

Her-oes (Marvel)

Like many of the books I get for A, I ended up enjoying this one myself, but I am left unsatisfied by an ending that promises more, more that I doubt very much we will ever see.

Hopeless Savages: Greatest Hits 2000-2010 (Oni Press)

I have wanted to dip into this series, and this collection was a perfect way to do that. I prefer the shorter, slice of life stories in the back of the book, to the higher concept adventures that make up the main chapters, but the Hopeless-Savages grew on me as I made my way through the book. I love the idea of the kids as comics geeks, and think that the creators did well to focus on Zero and Arsenal, each of whom, I think, are more unqiue characters than the other members of the family, although I enjoyed the storylines with Twitch, too. I was happy to see the overt tribute to Love & Rockets, an obvious inspiration for the book.

Perhapanauts Vol. 0 (Image)

I pick up these books every time I get to a Powells and when this “0” volume showed up in iCos, I decided to jump in. Reading this book, my attraction to stories about teams of misfits started to come into focus. That may, in fact, be driving my return to reading comics on a regular basis. Might need a whole blog post on that subject.

Secret Six: Danse Macabre (DC)

Many’s the time I’ve picked up a trade collection and said to myself, “I like this series, but what would make it awesome is if it had undead characters randomly showing up, prancing around and babbling incessantly about things like ‘fear’ and ‘death’ and who they want to kill. Because that’s, you know, soooo scary”. And now with this book, my wish has been fulfilled! Perhaps I have been ruined for  all other comics.

In actuality, Gail Simone and John Ostrander make a fair game of adapting “Blackest Night” (I assume) to Secret Six, but even there the, “didn’t I/he/she kill you?”-type jokes only go so far. In the end, I just don’t care, and don’t buy books like this to find out how they fit into the latest ‘universe shaking’ crossover. I wish that DC and Marvel could, every now and again, leave well enough alone and let readers like me hold onto the weird and marginal titles we like, instead of pulling them into storylines devised to make people buy books they don’t normally pay attention to.

Wonder Woman: Contagion (DC)

Gail Simone gives a sweet and heartfelt farewell to Wonder Woman in this collection. The stories themselves are a mix of big fights, and while I prefer the previous collections, which were more tightly drawn together, I appreciate that Simone remained committed to Diana as an epic figure throughout her run on the title. That’s when the character is at her best, I think.

X-Men Forever Vol. 5 (Marvel)

Like a lot of comics readers in my same age group, Chris Claremont pretty much defined the X-Men for me, which is no doubt a major reason why X-Men Forever exists; many of us have disposable income, and pop culture isn’t something you ‘grow out of’ anymore. I like the loopiness of this series, this volume most of that is focused on Kitty, and Claremont certainly knows how to write the soap opera and how to treat the X-Men as one big, complicated family without getting ironic or maudlin. I read this right after having watched X-Men: The Last Stand, and, of the two, the comic comes out much, much better. I also appreciate the series for being in its own little bubble. Indeed, sometimes I wish I had started pulling it monthly.

See last month’s comics.

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Recommended daily reading – 2 November (distracting you from this f@$%ing election edition)

Crazy last week, but here are a few choice items:

Better before Halloween, but here is Kate Beaton’s series of Dracula strips. I especially like, “The Horror of The New Woman”.

Sticking with comics, at NPR’s Monkey See, Glen Weldon looks at the curious tendency for mainstream media to report on certain ‘big changes’ in comics characters, the latest being ‘hipster Superman’ from Earth One, even where there is little evidence that regular viewers or readers even care. Most importantly, he notes that most of these reports are devoid of context, and any understanding of what it means that Superman is in a hoodie (which is to suggest, not much).

Finally, Bill McKibben has an interesting and wide-ranging look at public radio at The New York Review of Books.