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.