20 March 2015

Titles you should be reading.

The great problem of comic book collectors, probably for collectors of things generally, is collection expansion. One item or line, leads to another and your promise (to yourself or concerned loved ones) to collect only a few books, looks more like a junkie's promise that heroine won't be a gateway to a larger world of misery. First you start buying on weekly visits. Then you agree with your local comic shop owner that, "yeah, I probably should get a folder." After that it is a short walk to collecting 10-15 different titles, plus the event books, occasional trades. All of this leads, inexorably toward falling behind in your reading, and a giant (growing) pile of comics you wonder if you will ever have time to read. 

I'm not even treading water here, I'm drowning in unread books. This isn't as terrible as it seems, though I do wonder why I'm so terrible at keeping up with the reading. Never mind that. Despite the fact I am not wholly caught up, I can point you in the direction of some great titles. 

She-Hulk Issues 1-12. By Soule, Pulido and Vicente
The series has been canceled, but as of 20 March 2015 you can probably still get all the back issues in your local shop, or collect it in trade paperback. Just about every iteration of She-Hulk has been interesting, quirky and fun. This run is no different. Jennifer Walters, cousin of Bruce Banner, is a fascinating Hulk. Comfortable in her own skin, she doesn't change when she is angry, nor is she brutish when she does change. She is a capable lawyer, and chooses to be an adventurer. 

In this iteration, we get a quirky art style, and Walters, mostly walking away from superheroing, to pursue her own practice. She is often hired by super-powered beings, or by people who make highly advanced sci-fi gear so there is adventure, and occasionally patent law. In addition to the day to day workaday world she inhabits, she also lives in a building, one of the few in New York City, that will openly house the weird, and uncanny. So adventure abounds.

The tone though is light, and our heroine smart. Visually its kind of a glory. For all these reasons, Marvel fans have managed to overlook it, and the book wasn't picked up for more issues after twelve. You can't see it, but I am, at this moment flipping off Marvel fans for consistently over looking this gem of a character. 

cover #8
 Interior art (#8)

Definitely give Jennifer Walters a whirl. You will thank me for it.

Velvet Issues 1-ongoing Brubaker, Epting and Breitweiser. 

 Velvet is classic Ed Brubaker. It is espionage, through a pulp tradition lens. This doesn't make it light fare by any means, and its conceit, an uber on the other side of her prime (early to mid forties) is engaging and new, even if the story of a mole in the agency and larger conspiracies isn't. Secret Agent Velvet, a Cold Warrior if ever there was one, is engaging, tough and smart. What begins as her personal investigation into a suspicious murder (a friend and agent is accused of killing another agent) widens into a larger story about the roots of the Cold War, and conspiracies within her super secret organization that carry our heroine forward into the 1970s. Mystery, a bit R-rated, awaits. It is a master class in the non-superhero comic art form. 

X-Men Issues 1- Ongoing Various Teams

Its hard to know where to begin with this book. The adventures are fairly standard Marvel Mutant Fare. Consistently plotted, generally well scripted, though its tactical dialogue seems too often to be trying hard to impress, this title is unique mostly in the roster of heroes it gives us. And this roster also influences the human stories that have almost always formed the heart of great X-Men teams. Sure the X-Men save the world, form a ready allegory for racism and and xenophobia and homophobia, but for any of that to work, the stories have to be built on good relationships and family drama. The roster is pretty much all women, in fact the only actual X-Men in the book are women, generally with a nucleus of Storm, Rachel Summers (Phoenix), Psylocke, Monet (no codename), and Jubilee (her actual name). All of these characters have deep history in X-Men mythos, and have deep ,sometimes troubled and tense relationships among each other. This core of X-Men gets to play in the rich fields of the X-Men's rogues gallery with all its grudges and its scheming minds.

Like any X-title it swaps out writers after a few story arcs, and so the quality of the adventure and the internal dynamics can be hit or miss but the book generally rewards the reader, and the all-female angle doesn't feel too much like a gimmick so much as a way for writers to play with the deep field of X-Men that don't always get their own due. It is worth your time.

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03 December 2014

A Brunch Book Review: Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

A Fake history of dubious history. 

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith is a book that is very apropos of the current season. You probably, by the title alone, know the outline of the tale, three wise men, following a spectacular celestial event, happen upon a couple in a stable. They supply gifts, and provide counsel to the poor couple, having only recently given birth to a bright-eyed, calm baby boy. You know, I assume, that the bouncing baby boy is not born of a traditional family. His father is the God of Abraham, and his mother an illiterate 15 year old girl. Her husband Joseph is a willing cuckhold. It is the child of a god after all, and what was Joseph going to say? Those are the outlines of the Christmas story many of us know, if somewhat less reverentially relayed by my synopsis. And that basic outline is the jumping off point for the author.

If you know anything about Seth Grahame-Smith, you know that his literary trick is to take some old tale, or historical figure and put some kind of modern horror twist on the familiar tale, or history. Pride and Prejudice becomes Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The story of Abraham Lincoln attempts to make sense of the great man's life by adding a secret life-long battle, and becomes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This is a tricky literary conceit to execute. I never did read Pride and Prejudice and Zomibies, because no matter how many zombies the book contained, I thought it would probably contain too much Jane Austin. His trip through the Civil War South with hero Abe Lincoln sustained me for the first two thirds but flattened toward the end (still the book looks like a masterpiece compared to the movie it spawned).

That brings us to Unholy Night. In the Grahame-Smith telling of the birth of Christ and the trials that follow, he reveals that the three wise men, weren't really wise men, but something closer to wise guys. That is to say the wise men were escaped convicts fleeing the dungeons of Herod. The leader of the wise men is Balthazar, a notorious thief, and our hero. He travels rather too proudly by the name of the Antioch Ghost, and has been a thorn, minor to be sure, in the side of Rome and a larger thorn to Herod the Great. He is the most interesting and well developed of the three "wise men." Indeed he is the most well developed character in the entire book.  Mary and Joseph fare a little better than other characters and while not explored very fully they are each given interesting vignettes wherein their faith is tested and explained on the foil of the predictably atheistic anti-hero of Balthazar. Can you guess what will happen to Balthazar's godless convictions by the end of the book? Of course you can.

Grahame-Smith could have mined that rich field of human emotion much more than he did. Instead he just sticks to familiar and the predictable.  Herod is the monster that he is in at least some of the Gospels. Pontious Pilate figures prominently in the book, leading an army of Roman soldiers after the unborn child, and the Antioch Ghost. His depiction is a narrative mess, first thinking that he would gain promotion and fame by going after our protagonists, only later to wash his hands of the of the blood in a obvious foreshadowing of a later hand washing 32 years in the future. Grahame-Smith gives us the slaughter of the innocents, straight from the gospel of Matthew, in graphic detail. The slaughter jarred me out of the novel. Which is too bad because it actually forms a very compelling bit of story.  However, I know too much of the history. The slaughter of the innocents appears not to have happened. This problem of really real history crops up again, when Grahame-Smith uses the Roman Census as a plot point. The census described in the Gospel of Luke, where everyone had to return to the lands of their ancestors also never took place.  Its possible that the writer of Luke was referring to the census of Quirinius, but that took place in 6-7 CE. Its the only census that even comes close to working. But if the writer of Luke was referring to that census, then the writer of Matthew must be wrong about Herod the Great being an early enemy of Christ as he died in 4 BCE. But if Luke is right, that places Jesus' birth closer to 6 or 7 CE. Or if Matthew is right, and Herod was actually an enemy of the baby Jesus, then that opens the window of time for jesus to have been born several years before he was supposed to have been born. Odd no? No doubt the historical inconsistencies of the New Testament won't bother every one as profoundly as it bothered me while they read Unholy Night. 

And, to be quite honest, it wouldn't have bothered me that much either. But there is an over all flatness to Grahame-Smith's tale that lets any excitement, suspence and concern bleed out.  This is too bad because I think the source material was rich with possibility for embellishment. The novel never quite feels fun, and never quite feels scary. Its use of deus ex machina to further the goals of both its protagonists and antagonists is lazy. In short the novel never gives a reader with any knowledge or familiarity with the original tale, religious, or historical any reason to become invested in the characters, their lives, or their historical context.

Though the occasional window to into ibex life and philosophical rumination is nice, it isn't enough to make me want to recommend this book.
5/10 stars.

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28 May 2014

Gun Nuts: Tone deaf, insensitive and boorish

I don't understand gun nuts. I really don't. I'm speaking as a gun owner, and a person who really enjoys a day on the range. I enjoy shooting clay, or stationary targets. I can appreciate the care, time, effort and skill it takes to master long distance shooting. I can even appreciate people who train in tactical shooting in an effort to make their firearm a practical weapon of self-defense. I don't think the statistics on guns as a primary means of self-defense make this a very practical approach, but whatever. Sometimes the people engaging in such training display great discipline and skill.

Gun nuts though, these people I don't get. A definition might be useful here. Gun nuts are people who engage in most of the following. This isn't a very rigorous definition mind you so don't get to hung up on the details.

1. Gun nuts are people who think that a firearm represents an extremely viable, primary weapon of self-defense. They think this despite the fact that an abyss of statistics indicate that they, or their loved ones living with them, are vastly more likely to be killed by their self-defense pistol than any bad guy.

2. Gun nuts stockpile both guns and ammo.

3. Gun nuts think their AR-15 and AK-47 variants will allow them to take out our government should it turn tyrannical.

3.1 Gun nuts, often think our government is now too tyrannical.

4. Gun nuts really love violent imagery when discussing their opponents.

5. Gun nuts often think any discussion of gun control law equates to the government taking away all the guns.

6. Gun nuts think if more people had more guns there would be less not more gun violence. Again this violates the stats but sound statistics don't really impress gun nuts. [EDIT: Perhaps the second sentence deserves its own rule?]

7. Gun nuts can't understand why the public brandishing of their weapons in public places makes people nervous and uncomfortable.

8. Gun nuts respond, almost completely in the most tone deaf and insensitive ways to the gun related tragedies that we read about almost daily.

9. Gun nuts are people who really, really, really don't want to get punched in the face, but really, really, really want to run their mouths in an altercation.

Okay, that is probably enough to get us started. Again, I accept that the gun nut criteria I've laid out here are not systematic, or overly rigorous. But, gun nuts are a lot like obscenity for some people, you kind of know them when you see them, like when you, the manager of a popular family dining establishment,  are asking them to leave your Chili's because their loaded assault rifle's, slung over their shoulders, are making your customers nervous and unlikely to stay. One or two on my list don't make you a gun nut, but compounding the criteria makes it more likely you will probably say some thing catastrophically insensitive, statistically unlikely, and silly about guns and the plight of gun owners in the US.

Exhibit A. Joe The Plumber. Many of us thought Samuel Wurzelbacher had exhausted his 15 minutes of fame, but a weekend of dead college students allowed him to really shine and prove us wrong. Joe, as I prefer to think of him, took the time to write an open letter to the parents of the murdered victims, though not to the parents of the three men Elliot Rodgers stabbed to death. No, Joe The Plumber was careful to delineate. Joe was specifically interested in contacting, openly, and with all the sensitivity of a brick through the window, the parents of the victims who died by gunshot. Joe might have penned a more sensitive letter, but instead opted for, "As harsh as this sounds- your dead kids don't trump my Constitutional rights."  At least he managed to navigate the dread your/you're problem even if he missed more sanguine locutions indicative of a real desire to engage in a larger public conversation. The whole letter is sort of breath-taking in its attempt to demonstrate sympathy, while also insensitively exploiting the tragedy of murdered people to have a go at the "gun grab left." Joe set himself a high bar given that in one paragraph he says no one can criticize a grieving father and then going on to do exactly that. 

Exhibit B. Almost all the antics of Open Cary Texas (OCT) 
One of their stated goals is to, "To Condition Texans To Feel Safe Around Law Abiding Citizens That Choose To Carry Them [that is to say, openly carry shotguns, handguns, rifles]." One of the ways they think will best facilitate this conditioning process is to show up, more or less unannounced at restaurants, and other public places with their loaded assault rifle variants slung across their backs in large groups. I own guns, and a bunch of camoed clowns carrying their toys into a public does not make me leap to the conclusion, look, a bunch of responsible gun owners. It would make me want to leave the place the gun nuts were congregating in post haste. And the stats would be on my side. 

OCT has also managed to demonstrate a great deal of disregard and venom toward a group of women, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, who have had the temerity to disagree with OCT and advocate for smarter gun laws. One way OCT voiced this annoyance with Moms was to have a mad minute (a period of high volume fire from multiple shooters toward a target) in which a female mannequin, the surrogate for Moms, naked from the waist up,  was shot to shit in what can only be described as a classy display of respect for not only their intellectual opponents, but also for women generally. This class and nuance was demonstrated most eloquently by the men (they were all men shooting this mannequin) taking trophy pictures with the female effigy, full of bullet holes, with her jeans bunched around her ankles.

Photo Courtesy of Mother Jones.  
CJ Grisham, the founder of OCT couldn't be part of this particular mad minute but said, in a further display of his extreme class and respect for women, that the image, "....warmed the cockles of my heart." And what a warm magnanimous heart it must be to delight in such an image. 

What is almost amusing about this fantasy of violence against women is that the members of OCT can't really understand why the image above is so offensive. It is almost as if they cannot understand symbolism they are offering. Why can't they put the gang rape symbolism together. It seems fairly obvious to all of us looking in. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, CJ Grisham is deeply intimidated by these moms, or as he has calls them, "ignorant, retarded people," or "thugs with jugs." Maybe this is the only way he and his friends know how to deal with people that frighten them? That thought does not make me feel any better. 

Exhibit C.  The National Rifle Association, or as everyone knows them, NRA. 
Here is an organization that really ought to be leading the way toward better guns, and smarter legislation. But instead they tend to lobby against any measure that might bring greater clarity to our nation's gun issues. The gun lobby, of which the NRA is a leading part, has limited the amount of federal monies that can be doled out to research organizations for research on guns. They oppose smarter guns. They oppose doctors asking patients about their guns, despite the fact that this has positive health outcomes (such questioning by doctors seems to encourage more responsible behavior by gun owners). However, such facts don't matter to the NRA. The problem with NRA, is that, gun nuts seem to have taken over the leadership of the NRA. I've no idea how in step with its membership NRA leadership is, I just hope the answer is something like, "not very much."  

Let me end where I began, "I don't understand gun nuts." 

Rant over. Feel free to contribute your own gun nut criteria, tell me where you think I am wrong, but whatever you do, just don't shoot me. 

Addendum: Allen Clifton was examining some of the same themes over at Forwardprogressives.com. You should check out his piece, its full of wit and sharp observation like this: "Because in a world where open carry is legal, you know what a potential mass shooter is called right before they unload 20 rounds into a crowd of children? An American citizen exercising their legal right to carry their assault rifle out in the open."

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05 November 2013

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy: The Sexual Subtext of Batman: The Animated Series.

Gratuitous Comic Book Post. Fair warning.

 Image from Newageamazon.buzznet.com

Recently I have been watching Batman: The Animated Series with my son (who is obsessed with crime fighting super sleuths) and I noticed an obvious thing. This obvious thing I missed completely as a teenage boy when I first watched the show.

That thing I missed Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy were sometimes lovers. Some people may disagree, but I think I can go a little further, and suggest, with some confidence the dynamics of this relationship. Ivy was probably actually in love with Harley, but for Harley, the relationship was casual, or very nearly so. Ivy was an warm and inviting ego boost in between bouts of separations from her one true love (or obsession), The Joker. It may take me some time to build your agreement with this, but I think I can.  As I watch it now its all pretty obvious, more obvious than Bert and Ernie, but any adult watching would probably have picked up on the clues.

But let me build my case.

In the episode Harley and Ivy Harley Quinn, a one time psychiatrist whose obsession with understanding the Joker led to the most dangerous Stockholm Syndrome in comic book history, now the Joker's chief and most able enforcer gets thrown out. Booted, broken up with. A door opens and Harley is thrown ass over tea kettle on to the street, landing unceremoniously on her back side. However Joker might describe his feelings for Harley to himself, or, if asked, to others we may never know, but to the outsider looking in, abusive is the only word that adequately describes the relationship between he and Harley Quinn. The break-up is not different and characterized by verbal, and physical abuse, and intimidation. The break-up, of course, had nothing to do with her poor performance in the gang, but was rather the product of the Joker, feeling shown up by her in front his other henchmen. To her credit, when Harley leaves, she doesn't come back, though clearly love sick for Joker. Dialogue between Joker and his gang establishes this has been the typical pattern. Instead of repeating this pattern, she makes a vow, that she would show him, and be a better heister on her own than with he and his gang.

Enter Poison Ivy, idealistic eco-terrorist, but one with with bills to pay. Funding her kind of activism is not in any way cheap. Ivy and Quinn meet while robbing the same Museum, Ivy for rare plant toxins, and Quinn to nab a rare diamond. Quinn deftly defeats security systems and is about to secure the diamond, with a demonstration of skill that even Selina Kyle would admire the alarms are set off. Posion Ivy runs by, and nearly into the arms of the police before being pulled back to temporary safety by Harley. After brief introductions, Quinn manages to lead them out of the museum -demonstrating considerable ingenuity- with their swag, having given the GPD the slip. As they drive away we hear Ivy say, "This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

She isn't wrong.

During a scene in which Ivy inoculates Quinn from the toxins that seem to permeate her hideout, Quinn wonders aloud why shots bother her so much after living with Mr J. 
"Why do you put up with that clown?'
Harley offers up the excuses, we might identify as typical of battered spouses. Ivy is having none of it. After pointing out Quinn's similarity to a doormat, Ivy, somewhat seductively gives Quinn a rose, and says, "From now on, we play with the boys on our terms." Their first act as a dynamic duo, is to rob a mens only club haunted by wealthy men.

They are an extremely successful pair. The papers run story after story of them lamenting the success of this daring pair. Months pass, and the first clues to a deeper than work relationship appear. Their kitchen fridge is plastered with their headlines for sure, but also with just pictures of the two of them. When we see them after their crime montage of success, they are both wearing only shirts, and Ivy has prepped dinner. She has presented her favorite beverage, not wine, but in wine glasses. This is clearly not breakfast, why are only in t-shirts? Why would Ivy make them both of them dinner in that ensemble? Why does Ivy look so hurt when the colors of the dinner remind Quinn of the ill tempered Mr J? And why is Harley wearing Poison Ivy's shirt? There is also only one bed in their apartment. As this episode approaches its climax, the pair manages to defeat the Batman, and the Joker (fed up with their press and success, he has traced them to their hideout and tries to steal their loot, and kill Ivy in the bargain). As this nefarious duo speed away from the two men in their lives (Batman and Joker are fighting it out at their safehouse) Ivy makes the declaration, "No man can take us prisoner!" Almost immediately afterward one of their tires is shot out. They are caught, by Renee Montoya, who in the comic book was the only firmly established lesbian in DC. In Batman: the Animated Series Montoya is a beat cop with little backstory. I've come to think that was a little fan service to underscore what writers were trying to imply about Harley and Ivy. At the end of their first episode together the two are in a garden working at Arkham (Gotham's porous home for the criminally insane), Harley says of Joker, "I think we can still work it out." Ivy hurls soil into Harley's face. This behavior is certainly not at odds with a lover who wants to be more to the person they love.

These clues repeat throughout the series. Whenever they are alone, and not in crime mode, they are always depicted together in t-shirts, at least one shot in the scene shows a messed up bed, and messed up hair. Ivy always asking probing Harley to be free of the Joker for good.

This show was early to mid-ninties, Ellen hadn't yet come out, we hadn't even gotten the beautiful Bound, or Chasing Amy. I think you could still find usage by good guys of the word fag, or faggot in popular entertainment. That word now, if it appears at all in popular fiction, is as sure a marker of a villain as a Nazi attire. Positive depictions of homosexual couples were not common in mainstream adult shows at this time and yet here in the often subversive universe of Batman, we have a bit more than hints about Harley and Ivy. It may be reaching to say that they were a positive depiction of a non-hetero couple, but I don't think I am reaching when I say that there is clearly something romantic going on between the two. And Ivy was certainly good for Harley. Together they made an incredible team.

Did the show, ostensibly for kids but consumed by fans from 8 to 80, break any new ground? Did it increase empathy and sympathy for the GLBTQ community? If so, I would guess only a little. But it is nice to see that they introduced their attraction in a positive way, even if their relationship is uneven in its affections. They are honest with one another, and betrayal is something they leave to the men of Gotham's underworld.

While googling for a picture to go with this post, I noticed I am not the first person to think these kind of thoughts about Harley and Ivy (something I had already guessed). It is a popular theme in fan fic about the characters. Google it. Some of it is decent, some of it is just racy.

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23 October 2013

Girl Scouts, their yummy cookies, and Satan's Loyal Communists (who just happen to be single women).

Fundamentalist Christians are masters of making themselves look ridiculous in the face of innocuous popular culture. Its hard to guess what will trigger their foam flecked rantings the most dramatically. In recent years though, two items in particular seem to be in competition for the top spot. At the moment the top spot for ire earner probably goes to equality for GLBTQ folks. At present nothing will set a fundamentalist off a'ranting about moral decay and invitation to divine judgement quicker than suggesting that equality ought to be extended to the GLBTQ community with the God granted and defined borders of these Blessed United States. As John Hagee, insane pastor to many a conservative politician, has said.  Homosexuality is an abomination unto God. Haggee will be only too happy to tell you that it is in the bible. He will neglect to tell you that the abomination passages are not far from passages that teach that bats are birds, and that rabbits are ruminants. Neither of which is true.

All that said, when the Girl Scouts of America are selling their delicious, though apparently Satan filled, cookies, fundamentalists spend a lot of time bashing them too. The main reasons are probably too obvious to need mentioning but I will mention them anyway.

Well, first let me point out a very important fact. Fundamentalist Christians don't actually know much about the GSA. Though they do like to imagine a lot of lesbianism, for reasons about which I dare not speculate. This is similar to when they worry, sometimes in great detail, about what will happen if they let gay scouts or gay scout masters into the BSA.

Lets hear from directly from the GSA about what they are about:

Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

That isn't a bad mission statement. You will note nothing about communism, or about becoming lesbians. I mean it doesn't even mention Marx, or the movie Bound. I admit that doesn't constitute slam dunk evidence that the GSA isn't promoting either communism or homosexuality, but you have to read really hard, and imaginatively, and without evidence between the lines to derive that conclusion. The most you can say, is that the GSA doesn't care if you are a communist, or a homosexual lesbian. No doubt that will be vastly too progressive for some in the religious right. 

Empowering Girls? Incredible, but that seems to be what they are doing. Here is the proof.

In Girl Scouts, girls discover the fun, friendship, and power of girls together. Through a myriad of enriching experiences, such as extraordinary field trips, sports skill-building clinics, community service projects, cultural exchanges, and environmental stewardships, girls grow courageous and strong. Girl Scouting helps girls develop their full individual potential; relate to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect; develop values to guide their actions and provide the foundation for sound decision-making; and contribute to the improvement of society through their abilities, leadership skills, and cooperation with others.

Its difficult not to jump to the conclusion LIBERAL AGENDA when you see words like myriad, enriching, and environmental so I can certainly see the Religious Right's point here. Actually I can't. But I can see why they might fear educated, broadly educated, gregarious, and enlightened women. They don't understand such women, and as The Roman once told Bruce Wayne, "You always fear what you don't understand." 

When you look at their program its hard not to be impressed with its scope and ambition. The laudable aim of the GSA is to provide a robust journey of enlightenment, engagement with a broader world, and the development of the social skills to be an active participant in that world. However, its focus on building self-esteem, environmental and global awareness among the young and impressionable XX crowd is not universally embraced. 

Kevin Swanson, pastor and host of the awful show Generations will inveigh against the GSA (inaccurately of course) at the merest provocation. According to Swanson, the GSA is "antithetical to the biblical vision of womanhood." The GSA is an arm of feminism, that encourages a problematic female individualism. 

Jan Crouse of the completely objective Berverely Lahaye Institute (part of odious Concerned Women for America) suspects that Christian friction with GSA stems largely from its affiliation with Planned Parenthood, and the fact that the GSA speaks frankly to its members about sex. Jan's big beef with the GSA is that it promotes safe sex. Which Jan then suggests leads to sexual exploration,  as if teenagers of any era have needed any help with this desire. And without any evidence she suggests that this attitude leads to "...the sexualization of our culture."

Kathryn Jean Lopez had this to say: "The Girl Scouts' leaders hope to make their youthful charges the shock troops of an ongoing feminist revolution."  

The Family Research Council, a Fundamentalist Christian organization whose primary mode of research is reading the bible, and cherry picking through the scientific literature, has been attacking the GSA for years. It contributes, they charge, to sexual immorality, and feminism. This is apparently a forbidding combination. 

I could go on pulling quotes out for your entertainment but that would be pointless. The truth is the GSA is a very moderate organization that is doing very good work, and has been teaching young women valuable things, about themselves, and about their -active, non-submissive- place in a larger world for a long time. If you think they are some radical organization dedicated to the mission of destroying traditional American values then you live in a ridiculous comic book world. 

Buy their damn cookies. Or, failing that, stop telling lies to get other people to not buy girl scout cookies  I think it is fairly obvious that Jesus would like a Girl Scout Cookie. 

31 August 2013

A brunch Review: Wonder Woman: Issues 0-23

Wonder Woman
Writer:  Brian Azzerrello
Pencils: Cliff Chiang
Color: Wilson Matthew (among others)
Created by: Moulton Marston (waaaay back in the day)

Amazons through a Vertigo filter

[There are a few spoilers ahead, but seriously not so much that you won't enjoy the book]

Wonder Woman has been an iconic fixture at DC comics for decades. She has been, in various iterations, a warrior princess, an ambassador, a simple superhero of Amazonian origin. She is probably the second most powerful person in the DC universe, which is to say, there is Superman, and then there is the Amazon (arguments could probably be made for Martian Manhunter, Darkseid, or Doomsday being number two). She is part of what everyone calls -fans, writers and editors alike- the DC Trinity. That is to say, she is part of the crew of DC superheroes around which the rest often coalesce. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are DC's big three. Sadly with the exception of Batman, two of these three are probably also the hardest DC characters to write. Of the two, Superman and Wonder Woman, its probably the WW whose book has most often been on life support. Judging by the fact that she has no character defining stories I have to suspect she is the more difficult character to write (by character defining stories I mean stories that all the fans look to and say this story defined the direction of the character for years, stories all the fans know). That isn't to say there haven't been good runs on Wonder Woman. There certainly have been. But Wonder Woman, the noble, just and deserving Princess Diana, hasn't had her Days of Future Present, or her Year One. She hasn't had it that is, until now.

For those of you who don't know Princess Diana's origin, here it is in a nutshell. Her mother, the queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta had a beautiful baby girl. This girl, Diana, did not have a father. Hippolyta said she fashioned her daughter out of the clays of Themyscira and her love and need for a child brought the girl to life. Praise Hera, patron of Amazons rah rah.

Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang et al, as part of the DC's reboot, looked at this origin and realized that it smelled a bit fishy. And being mischievous, they decided to turn all of it on it ear. Hippolyta had, for very good and sound reasons, told a very massive lie. Hippolyta had fallen for one of Olympus' more well known scoundrels, become with child and she and her inner circle had attempted a cover-up. We can see why she might opt for a cover up given that the scoundrel was, of course, Zeus. Hera has never taken this kind of thing well, nor has she ever really taken it up with Zeus, but rather taken it out on the mothers and many children of Zeus. Amazons know this better than most, Hera being their patron.

Secrets, as any adventure story will explain to you, are hard to keep, and it is only a matter of time before this one, a doozy to be sure, comes out. We meet Diana just before her outing as a demigod. She is eighteen maybe, and while she loves Themyscira and her rich Amazonian culture she also doesn't feel like she fits in. This is because she doesn't. She is stronger, faster, and better than any other Amazon who has ever been. She is kind, but resents that most of her peers call her "Clay." The revelation of her true origin comes out early in the series and Diana, feeling her life one of lies, decides that the unknown world (the Amazons live in isolation from the World of Men) is preferable to the lie.  It is at this point her adventures and troubles truly begin. Once the secret of who her father is comes out, it is well and truly out, and every scheming Olympus is in on the cruel joke.

The series has been incredibly inventive, especially in its character design. These characters seem fresh and accessible in a way  Wonder Woman's Greek Pantheon just hasn't been prior to Azzerello and Chiang's run. Wonder Woman's greek gods seem like us and not like us in odd, and sometimes unsettling ways. There are no togas here. Ares is an old man, bored out of his mind and possessed of nothing but contempt for his fellow immortals. He walks bare foot and his eyes are deep pools of black that reveal nothing except maybe his weariness. His sleeves and the cuffs of his pants are soaked always with blood and we get the sense that he would like to burn Olympus down.  Strife, takes great pleasure in her cousin Diana's company, and in spoiling her optimism and sowing, casually and with out apparent effort, discord where ever she goes. When we first meet this godly cast, they are sitting around a pool, Apollo wearing board shorts. There are other things I could say about this cast of deities but there should be some surprises. If you know your Greek mythology, you will already know that they don't all like working together however they look.

There are stark contrasts here to be sure. Diana has lived like an Amazon for most of her life (like the ones that gave Theseus and Nestor so much trouble). Her self imposed exile has forced her to confront a world that has moved on from the times in which the Amazons went into their timeless hiding. Azzerello and his team manage this pretty subtly and don't go for the easy gags. There is a wide cast (the rest of Zeus' brood) and a big adventure whose thread runs through nearly all of these twenty three issues.

I do hope I have made it entirely clear, dear reader, that there is plenty of action and adventure waiting for you in the first twenty three issues of Wonder Woman. Cliff Chiang has dynamic and delightfully quirky pencils that breath a strange life in to his drawings and these characters.  But that is only part of why this book works and has worked for nearly two years. Wonder Woman defies the gritty, darkness that has come to define most comic book stories for the last twenty five years. Wonder Woman's issues don't always end on an up-beat note (serials gotta have a cliff hanger sometimes), but she does manage to be optimistic in spite of her troubles.  This optimism has emerged very organically and has never seemed strained. That is to say, I think Azzerello understands Wonder Woman and this tendency of hers has just come out in the writing.

My advice, stop by your local comic book store and pick up Wonder Woman by Brian Azzerello and Cliff Chiang in the trades. Ask the nerd at the desk for help if you are going into a store for the first time. They will know what to do.

Formally leaving the Catholic Church Part 2: What?

This was a short project.
I sent an email to the local Bishop. He informed me that there really was no way to route out of the Church of Cathol. He further claimed that if one didn't belong to a local parish though that they were not calculated into any estimates of Catholic numbers. I do find this last bit hard to believe as it is well known that Catholic church attendance is declining and strong sense of Catholic identity is lower than it has been in years, and yet the Catholic claim of a billion hasn't changed in some time. I'm also doubtful because in the response to me it is claimed that since I've only been to mass once or twice as an adult it is, "...highly unlikely that you are on a Catholic roll anywhere." I'm dubious of this for a simple reason, I know that my parents haven't been to mass for at least a decade, and I saw their names on a the St. Mary's directory just this year. Now that may have something to do with my parents but I somehow doubt it.

But here is the response, in full, from Msgr. Andrew Dubois.

Dear Mr. Driffill,

Although I do not know you or your reasons for your request, it is with great regret that I received your email.  That said, I do respond to offer a few items for your consideration:
·         First, an invitation to talk with someone in the Church so as to have the opportunity to discuss questions and concerns you have led you to this decision, if that would be helpful to you.  Depending upon where you live, I could help you make a connection with a representative of the Church should you desire to discuss that matter.
·          Second, it is my understanding that there is no official process for you to "renounce your Catholicism", except in that you yourself choose not to be registered in a parish.  Reports that summarize the number of Catholics are compiled in various ways, but most often from parish census records.  If you are not registered in a parish, then you are not be "counted".  In fact, you indicate that you have only been to Mass once or twice as an adult; therefore, it is highly unlikely that you are on a Catholic roll anywhere.
·         Third, because of our belief that the sacrament of Baptism permanently changes a person at the core of their being, uniting them to Christ in a unique way, a baptism cannot be undone.  Once a person is validly baptized, regardless of their denomination or ecclesial affiliation, that person remains a Christian.  Again, whether that person, like yourself, chooses to identify themselves with (or not), and participate in (or not), a particular church (i.e., Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, etc.) is entirely up to them.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
God's abundant blessings upon you.
Msgr. Andrew Dubois
Moderator of the Curia

I don't know how likely I am to pursue this further, because this organization is horrendously tedious. But if I do, I will post the experience on the blog. 

01 August 2013

Formally Leaving the Catholic Church

Cutting all ties to the Roman Catholic Church.

I'm embarking on a quest. Scientologists would call it routing out, and I suppose that term is useful here in the Catholic context too. I am formally renouncing the Catholic Church. You may be thinking to yourself, Max, you haven't been in Roman Catholic Church in at least twenty years, you are an atheist, and so, as a right cross follows a jab, you are not a Roman Catholic now.

Too right, constant reader, too right. However, and crucially, the Roman Catholic Church still counts me as one of their flock, and not just privately. I form one unit of Catholicism, according to them, in the numbers apologists like to throw around when they are being talking heads attempting to influence public opinion. The main way in which such numbers are used as an apologetics tool is to justify the plea for respecting the opinions, and doctrines of their institution. It is alleged by the Church that nearly a billion people are Catholic. I'm not sure how valid those numbers are (though I suspect they are inflated) but I certainly don't want to be used to artificially given them a bump of even one.

Its strange that, given my more than thirty year absence, from the Church that they would continue to use me in the tabulation of their numbers. For years I thought that since I had stopped going, they would stop counting me as a member of their congregations. In the grand history of immorality that is the Roman Catholic Church this is most likely at tiny deception. No matter,  knowing this is how they do things I feel I must see myself removed from their rolls. If you have let your Catholic faith go, no longer attend, and plan never to attend again, I would urge you to consider this course of action. Its such an immoral organization why let your name even be minutely associated with it?

Anyway, for how ever long this process takes I will keep Brunch readers updated. I've sent my first email inquiry today, and hope to hear back from someone with a funny collar, or crazy hat soon.