Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Socialist, The Capitalist, and The Internationalist, Thoughts on the Origins of the Big 3 (Wonder Woman #3, Cover Date October, 2006)


Major Heroes: Wonder Woman, Nemesis, Hercules
Minor Heroes: Robin, Wonder Girl, Donna Troy

Major Villains: Circe
Minor Villains: Giganta, Cheetah, Dr. Psycho


After a brief recounting of the birth of Wonder Woman, Hercules single-handedly saves Diana, Donna, and Cassie from the triple-threat of Giganta, Cheetah, and Dr. Psycho. When Agent Prince stops Hercules from killing Dr. Psycho, however, the trio of villains disappear. Hercules proclaims himself Wonder Woman's replacement, but when Agent Prince and Nemesis sneak in to his place, Nemesis and Hercules are turned into bestiamorphs, leaving just Diana and Circe. Circe acccuses Diana of not doing enough good for women, and then turns her into a mortal.


I'm going through a "Golden Age" phase, inspired by my recent purchase of Wonder Woman Archives, Volume 1, and am going back and reading all of the earliest adventures of the Big Three. My summarizations are as follows:

Superman: The ultimate passivist socialist. He stops all violence from war to spousal abuse. He protects the proletariat (soldiers, miners) from the destructive powers of the military-industrial complex. (Action #2-#3)

Batman: The ultimate capitalist. Portrayed as a rich playboy, Batman fights his fight to preserve the status quo. A prototypical adventure is the Joker announcing that he will kill Henry Claridge and steal the Claridge diamond. Batman then must protect the wealthy, and ensure that their wealth remains concentrated. (Batman #1)

Wonder Woman: Started on the cusp of World War II, Wonder Woman is the structural internationalist. She's not fighting for the rich or the poor, she's fighting for "America", assisting against the Nazis. A prototypical adventure has her foiling a German spy ring and protecting the launch of a new, secret submarine. (Sensation Comics #6).

If I could re-imagine the 1940 Presidential election, with Superheroes, my picture is Superman campaigning for Franklin Roosevelt, Batman supporting (and funding) Wendell Wilkie's candidacy, while Wonder Woman is a non-partisan, chairing the League of Women Voters, moderating the debates, serving on the Federal Election Commission, and ensuring that the ballot box counts are accurate. (In the end, the election is unchanged. It remains a landslide even if Batman is able to deliver Gotham's electoral votes for Wilkie.)

I was thinking about these origins and how well they still hold true while contemplating Circe's accusations of Wonder Woman, which Amy addresses well, here, such that I do not feel the need to reiterate, except to re-emphasize that there is more than one method to the same goal. ("I did not renounce my mission -- Just the means --" WW). Where one method may certainly be saving individual women from anti-feminist assault, another equally (or even more) effective approach may be the protect the elements of the political system that allow women and other people to help themselves.

Would "Women" be better off if Wonder Woman stopped a dozen attempted rapes or sexual assaults while the Germans took over America? Sixty-five years later, the advances so many groups have been able to make toward equality emerged with renewed force from America's desire, after World War II, to distinguish ourselves from the Nazi system or strict hierarchy. Sometimes the best way to help women is to make sure that everyone is free. If you do that, the women can take care of themselves.

So, is there really a duality between fighting for "women" and fighting for "the ol' Red, White, and Blue"? Not really, and the accusation that Circe makes is actually answered before it is asked, by Nemesis.
Nemesis: She served in the interest of justice. She didn't mete it out.
And I think that's the point.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Most Dangerous Toys

WATCH -- World Against Toys Causing Harm -- has announced its 10 worst toys for the 2006 holiday shopping season. On the list:

"The Superman Lamp can cause electric shock injuries, according to WATCH."

Unaddressed by WATCH is the likelihood that said electric shock will turn you into The Flash or Black Lightning or someone cool like that, which I guess could make it all worthwhile.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

To The Victor Went The Spoils (Checkmate #5, Cover Date October, 2006)

I have been thinking about the (lack of) diversity in the new Birds of Prey #100, but I'm not quite ready to write at length about it yet. Instead, I'm going to approach it obliquely by thinking about another story that was not quite as interesting, but addressed diversity issues much better. Then, I'll get to Birds of Prey a little bit at the end.


Main Heroes: Sasha Bordeaux, Jessica Midnight
Minor Heroes: Mr. Terrific, Alan Scott, Count Vertigo

Major Villain: Amanda Waller


There is a contest to replace Black Queen's Knight Jonah McCarthy, who was killed in a previous issue. Four finalists are chosen. One is eliminated for giving up to Count Vertigo on a mountainside, one is eliminated for giving up under torture, and the last is eliminated during a fist fight among the final two contestants. The winner is Josephine Tautin, who is to be the next Black Queen's Knight.

Meanwhile, Alan Scott has gotten all of the non-U.S. Security Council members to veto anyone other than Mr. Terrific for the job of White King. Also, Amanda Waller threatens Fire regarding some dark secret regarding "Cavalho".


The Checkmate designations are interesting. Under Checkmate's "Rule of 2", every "level" of the organization must be staffed by two individuals -- one human and one metahuman. This is necessary for appropriate oversight and checks and balances. Beyond that, however, there are other "Twos" that are not explicitly in the rules, and it is interesting to see how they are either upheld or not. Specifically there is male/female and white/other dichotomies that are frequent issues in comics.

The organization is headed by the White King and Queen, who are in charge of administrative and organizational issues, and the Black King and Queen, who are in charge of operations. Now, the King and Queen have, to date, been staffed only by gender appropriate individuals (the Kings are all male and the Queens are all female). There has been no explicit requirement, though that the Black Queen, for example, has to be female.

There has been no similar racial or diversity requirement -- a Black Bishop does not have to be Black -- but in this case this does not result in an all-White cast, as one would expect. Quite to the contrary, with the nomination of Michael Holt (Mr. Terrific) to be the White King after Green Lantern Alan Scott was blackballed out of the job, the "White" Royalty (Holt and Amanda Waller) are both Black and the Black King and Queen are both white (if Taleb Beni Khalid, the Black King and an Arab Israeli, qualifies as "White", which I guess is a question of perspective).

Of the 11 active principals however (2 Kings, 2 Queens, 4 Knights, and 3 Bishops), there are currently 5 women and 6 men. There are also 4 or 5 minorities (again, depending on how you count Khalid, plus Waller, Holt, Fire, and Shen Li Po). Put together, with Alan Scott and Jonah McCarthy gone, there are only 3 White Men (King Faraday, Thomas Jagger, and Count Vertigo) among the principals.

This is real diversity. The kind of rare diversity where, when we were faced with the four finalists for Black Queen's Knight -- two men, two women, and a variety of races -- there was never a moment where you thought, "This group would be more representative if they replaced Jonah with a ________ (insert minority group here)." The winner turned out to be a white female, but it could have just as easily been a Hispanic male or a white male or a Laotian hermaphrodite, and diversity would not have suffered. There was just no one I was "rooting for" on diversity grounds.

As I said above, I wrote this analysis to contrast it with my still percolating thoughts on Birds of Prey #100. The analysis on this thread and this thread seem to be that, while more diversity would be nice, how could you complain about Barda, Manhunter, and Judomaster? Well, I have the complete run of Manhunter, so don't question my Kate Spencer cred! And I would have had no problem at all, if they were added to Checkmate, or maybe the JSA or JLA, or some other group that did not begin with a "diversity problem". But when the only three regulars are Caucasian females, I don't think it's a sufficient response to merely point out how awesome Barda is.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

New Carnival

The Seventh Blog Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans is now up at Racy Thoughts! Much that is good and refreshing to be read.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Catwoman Trivium

After Catwoman successfully dispatches the Film Freak, there is one obvious and timely cinematic reference that is not pointed out explicitly (because the Film Freak is unconscious), but videophile readers will all have caught.

What was it?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Death and Reincarnation: Xena #1 (2006)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

-- Sylvia Plath


Main Heroes: Xena, Gabrielle
Minor Heroes: Joxer, Autolycus

Major Villains: Levitriol, Hydra
Minor Villains: Greek gods, Egyptian gods


When a gift from the Egyptian god Ra to Isis is stolen, the Egyptian gods blame the Greeks and declare war. During all-encompassing battle, a hydra attacks a passenger vessel. Luckily Xena and Gabrielle are aboard and quickly dispatch with the beast. Joxer, also on board, steals a lifeboat and the three ride to shore. There, they find a bunch of Egyptian beasts attacking a Greek town.

Meanwhile, Zeus receives a messenger from his Egyptian counterpart Ra. The messenger states that the war is killing all of their worshippers, and that the war could be ended with less bloodshed if the parties each choose a Champion, who will fight on behalf of their gods in single combat.

As Xena and company flee the Egyptian monsters, the find Autolycus tied to a tree, and rescue him just before he is to be killed by the giant Levitriol. At this point, the Greeks gods start looking on, trying to choose a champion. Hades suggests Callisto, and Ares suggests Xena, but Zeus is impressed by Levitriol. As they watch the fight, Zeus determines that his Champion will be either Levitriol, or whomever defeats him. Xena and Levitriol fight, with Gabrielle as backup and Joxer and Autolycus nowhere to be seen. When Xena flips Levitriol off of her, though, she flies through the air and is accidentally impaled on Gabrielle's staff. Zeus thus choosing Gabrielle to serve as his Champion in the battle with the Egyptians.


It is either a strength or a weakness of fantasy in general (and comics in particular), that everyone's a potential "firebird". As any real Xenaphile knows, Xena was killed in the final episode of the TV series (okay -- I never actually watched that particular episode, but I watched enough of them.) And yet, there she is, walking around and kicking butt. It has reached the point where we can completely elide over how she came back to life. While the next arc of Xena (starting at #5) is supposed to fill in the gaps and explain how she returned, that is almost irrelevant at this point. For the first issue, though, a couple of short points:

1. Levitriol. This just completely cracked me up! A perfect name for a giant, macho villain! (For those who have functioning Spam filters, Levitrol is a male "enhancement" supplement).

2. The outfit. It's the same on, in general, that she had in on TV, with metal circles around her breasts, curving down to a point just above her navel, but in the comic book it looks a lot more like a cutesy heart, which I don't like. (See art, above).

3. The art. Spotty. Some images are very good. A bunch of them, though, just don't cut it. In Xena's first appearance, I was trying to figure out why Gabrielle was with an Asian woman in Xena's outfit. It would have been an interesting plot point, but it turned out to just be a poorly drawn Xena.

4. The writing. I am liking the writing, though, and it gets better after Callisto shows up. Good writing trumps bad art any day.

5. The covers. Each issue, so far, has come in a choice of three covers -- two drawn, and one with a picture of Lucy Lawless. I have been picking one of the drawn covers (whichever one I like best). Seems like a little overkill, though, for a low circulation comic. The Lucy Lawless cover of the next issue has always been the back cover, so I'm getting 2 out of 3 anyway.

6. The hydra. Wasn't the whole point of the hydra that when you caught off a head, two immediately grew back in its place? That's certainly not what happened here.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Fear of a Vaccinated Planet (Superman #222, Cover Date Dec. 2005)


Major Heroes: Superman, Lois Lane
Minor Heroes: Perry White, Jimmy Olson, Superman Robot

Major Villains: OMAC
Minor Villains: Weather Wizard


The story is told in both "real time" and "flashback". The real time story shows Lois Lane alone in her apartment, where she is being attacked by an OMAC. She attacks it with her "pulse hammer repeller rifle" and, when that doesn't work, flees to her "panic room" in the bathroom. When the OMAC seems like he is about to break into the panic room, Lois blows out the pilot light in the room, and sets the gas on fire, stopping the OMAC and almost killing both of them. The OMAC reverts to her friend Kelly who we learn in the interwoven flashback . . .

got a flu shot. Lois didn't and is now coming down with the flu in a rainstorm, which is being caused by the Weather Wizard. Superman chases him off, but Clark quickly comes running back to help Lois. Lois has a lead about the origin of the OMACs, but Clark sabotages her attempts to meet with the anonymous source and replaces her at the meeting. The anonymous source tells how she was part of a vaccination program funded by Maxwell Lord, and that she did not suspect until too late that the OMAC outbreaks were coming from the same locations are her vaccination program. Thus, it was Lois's failure to get a flu vaccine that kept her from turning into an OMAC. The OMACs attack the secret meeting at this point, and while Superman chases off the OMACs just as Perry and Jimmy arrive, it is revealed that "Clark" and "Superman" were really Superman robots, and that the robot replaced Superman when he was off chasing the Weather Wizard. Lois is so angry she throws Clark out, so that he is not around protect her from the subsequent OMAC attack in real time.


Last Friday, the kids all got their flu shots. They were supposed to get them about 3 weeks ago, but the pediatrician ran out, and said they'd get back to us when more came in. I knew that more was in even before I got the call, though. They had already notified the elderly, and were using the kids' pre-school as a vaccination site for the nearby Old Folk's Home. The parking lot last Monday was, well, like a parking lot. We made it to the entrance on time, but 20 minutes later we were still in the car. Teachers were walking up and down the rows pulling out their students and walking them into the classrooms, but I was still stuck in the parking lot.

I never actually got a flu shot. I got one a few years ago. It made me really sick, and I still got the flu in February anyway. I'm generally healthy, so not at high risk for complications. Didn't seem worth it. Kids, though, are the major carriers and spreaders of the flu, so I felt like they needed them for their own benefit, and also for the public health.

Even as I'm sitting in the waiting room, though, I was thinking of Robert Kennedy, Jr.'s now discredited argument that mercury in children's vaccines were causing the spike in autism (discredited because now they took the mercury out, and autism rates haven't decreased.) I was looking my five month old, and thinking about how even though the risk was discredited, I was still afraid that the vaccine would have negative side effects, and how I would so much prefer to free ride on the mandatory vaccinations of others.

And this, of course, got me thinking about Superman #222, released about this time last year, where Lois and Clark meet a secret source who informs them that the OMAC infection came from a charitable flu vaccine program. So, now, I'm looking at my little girl and picturing the blue matallic armor covering her up, leaving a single yellow eye staring at me.

It made me wonder two things:

1. How many people didn't vaccinate their children out of either some unspoken fear of autism or OMACism or whatever people are afraid of?

2. Where were all the child-OMACs and elderly-OMACs? They all seemed to become "regular" middle aged people when they un-OMACed, but "regular" people like me aren't the ones who are getting the majority of the flu shots.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Schroedinger's Dropped Comics

Redlib asks: "What comic have you dropped that you had the highest hopes for?" I was going to post a short answer, until it occurred to me that I didn't actually know the answer to it. For me, there's several levels of "drop", and it's not at all clear (even to me!) whether I've dropped a comic or not until well after the fact. These are my levels:

1. Pick it up monthly. There are a lot of comics in this category.

2a. Wait for the trade paperback. Currently, I've got all the Superman and Batman titles, as well as Fables and Green Lantern, in this category (because its cheaper). If, after a while, it looks like they are not going to promptly collect a story arc, I will definitely go back and collect the uncollected.

2b. Hope for the trade paperback. It might not be worth it to buy all the individual issues, so I will wait for the book. If there is no book coming out, then I'll go back and reconsider whether to buy the individual issues. Flash and Green Lantern Corps are currently in the category for me. I haven't bought them since #1 of the current run, but I haven't actually decided to drop them yet.

3. Drop until a slow week and reconsider. I wasn't terribly impressed with the Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters or OMAC minis. I didn't buy them after #1. Then, last week, there weren't many comics I wanted, and I had some extra money. I went back and bought Uncle Sam #2, #3, and #4. I didn't buy any of the OMACs, but there's plenty in the store, if I change my mind the next slow week.

4. Reconsider when the trade comes out. If I end up not buying the rest of the OMACs during a slow week, and they put out a trade paperback of it, I might buy that when it comes out. Or I might not. This is how I currently feel about the upcoming "Battle for Bludhaven" trade.

5. Drop. I don't want to book, and won't pick up the trade. I'm just not interested. Currently in this category for me is Nightwing and Hawkgirl.

Of course, there's a lot of flow back and forth between categories, based on the arc, the writer, and my mood that week.

How's that for a long answer to a short question!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Create Your Own Thirteenism! (Tales of the Unexpected #2 Backup Story, Cover Date January, 2007)


Main Heroes: Dr. Thirteen, Traci Thirteen

Main Villain: I, Vampire


Dr. Thirteen awakens from a dream to find himself in the cave of a vampire, who claims to have died two (or three) times already. Dr. Thirteen thinks he's just a goth. Traci walks out of the cave and is kipnapped. When he runs after her, he is knocked out by what appears to be a Nazi Ape. Dr. Thirteen has another dream, and awakens to find a cro-magnon buried in the ice below him, completely missing the floating pirate ship above and behind him.


Giant Floating Nazi Pirate Apes! Is there a better concept for a villain in all of comicdom?

Putting behind all thoughts of incest this week (not even in two otherwise ambiguous dream sequence), Dr. 13 gives us some good quotables this month, that seem to fit into an ineffible category of their own. Image John Cleese from Monty Python, playing a straight man in a show that was not otherwise a comedy. Or maybe the comedy team of Abbott & Hardy.

For example:

Dr. Thirteen: As much as the rest of the world would have us believe otherwise, cavemen didn't speak French.

What an unusual conspiracy! And again:

Dr. Thirteen: Look, I'm humoring you as far as the bloodlust goes, but cryptozoology I just won't cotton to.

A guy's got to have his limits!

So, what would your Dr. Thirteenism be if you were, say, attacked by giant floating Nazi pirate apes? I'm thinking something along the lines of:

"Keep my daughter as a slave if you must, but for the love of decency please dispense with at least one of your cliched villainous tropes!"

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Superman in Action Comics #3 (Cover Date August, 1938)

Continuing the Long March, started here and here . . .


Major Heroes: Superman
Minor Heroes: Stanislaw Kober

Major Villains: Thornton Blakely


Clark Kent hears of a mine collapse and rushes to the scene. Disguised as a miner, Superman pretends to fall down the shaft. He saves the rescue party, which has been overcome by poison gas, and then rescues the original trapped miner Stanislaw Kober. When the signal cord didn't work, Superman climbs up the rope.

Interviewing Kober, who is now crippled for life, Clark Kent learns that the tragedy could have been prevented, but the boss refused to take safety precautions. Interviewing the mine owner, Thornton Blakely, Clark learns that there is no plans to give Kober a pension, as the mine owner blames Kober's carelessness. Instead, the mine will only pay for a portion of his medical bills, and a $50 retirement bonus.

That night, Superman again pretends to be a miner and is caught sneaking into Blakely's party. Blakely livens the party up by inviting the "miner" to stay, and then decides to continue to party down in the mine. Superman engineers another cave-in, and while the rich folks panic, Blakely realizes that his safety devices don't work. The wealthy are forced to dig to try to escape. After they collapse in exhaustion, Superman digs through the rubble, allowing rescue crews to save them.

In the last panel, Blakely tells Kent that his mines will henceforth be the safest in the country.


This self-contained story is actually based on the identical premise as the main plot in Action #2 -- that the big, rich boss-man will see the error of his ways if only he could see the world through the eyes of the poor guys who actually do the dirty work for them. But here, instead of the munitions dealer forced to be a soldier, there is the coal mine owner forced to work in his own coal mine.

This story takes place only 5 years after the United Mines Workers were granted the right to collective bargaining for their union members (1933), and over 30 years before mandated safety guidelines for mine workers, so was a somewhat timely topic. In a time soon after mine owners would frequently open fire on striking mine workers, this issue is probably even more "liberal" than Number One's stance against domestic violence, or Number Two's anti-war sentiment. And the naivete is at least as strong here, with Blakely changing his tune literally "overnight", as if it had never occurred to him before that mining was not a safe job.

Perhaps equally interesting is that Superman is only "in costume" for a single panel in this issue, as he speeds from his office (disguised as Clark Kent) to the mine (where he immediately disguises himself as a mine worker). The focus is clearly on Superman "the man", not "the icon" which he was quickly becoming.

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Unleashing Your Closet Republican: Creeper #3 (Cover Date December 2006)

President Gerald Ford and the Creeper: Separated at Birth?

Major Heroes: The Creeper
Minor Heroes: Batman, Vera

Major Villains: Gavin


Batman sneeks into the Gotham police station to determine who captured Axeman for him. It was the Creeper, and Axeman was surprised that he withstood a hatchet to the chest. Batman steals the hatchet, and a DNA test shows red and green blood fighting for dominance. The green blood is unidentified, but the red blood is clearly shown to be Jack Ryder's.

Meanwhile, the Creeper is fighting Gavin, the mutated boy who continues to consume skin to grow larger and more mutinous. Gavin tries to eat the Creeper, but finds his yellow skin unpalatable. Jack convinces the Creeper not to kill the boy, so that they can try to track him back to Dr. Yatz. The Creeper turns back into Jack, but Gavin attacks him again, and the Creeper won't take over until Jack admits that he needs him. The Creeper, however, is knocked out and thrown into the river.

At Jack's office, his ex Vera convinces their boss to run a "Best Of" week until Jack can be found. Later, Vera breaks into Jack's apartment, and finds what she believes is hair from a redhead. Awaking on the coast, Jack and the Creeper decide to follow two sets of tracks into the distance.


So, I had found the first two issues of Creeper interesting enough. Jack Ryder is an "Incredible Hulk" type character, in that he changes between small, white, weak, and relatively "mild-mannered" and big, green, strong, and relatively wild. There are certainly differences. Primarily, that both personalities are present all the time -- when he is Jack, the Creeper is always talking to him, critiquing his decisions, and vice versa when he's the Creeper. Also, he can change back and forth "at will", (but only if both personalities agree to the change.)

But in Issue #3 there was something else. Something that maybe was there before but I didn't notice (I'll have to go back and check), or that maybe wasn't intended and I read into it (but with Jack Ryder's job as a liberal talk show host, it seems unlikely), and it was really only something that was there for a frame or two, but it suddenly made the whole series much more interesting.

Jack: Take it easy on the kid, Creeper. He's as much a victim of Doc Yatz as we are.
Creeper: Victim? Everybody's a victim these days. Boo-freakin'-hoo!

And it hits me. The Creeper is a Conservative! What better "dark side" is there that could emerge from a famed outspoken Liberal!

There are many stories about strong/weak (Captain Marvel), good/ evil (Supergirl), or restrained/aggressive (the Hulk) living in a single body, but where are the stories about the character who switches at will between Democrat and Republican? That makes for good drama, and I hope we see more of it in the second half of the mini-series.

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Losing the Prefix

Dear Black Marvel Family,

While we appreciate the fact that you acknowledge and accept the range of religious practice outside of your neck of the woods, and are attempting to be inclusive, please recognize that yesterday's festivities were a blending of Pagan, pre-Christian rituals and the Christian holiday of "All Hallow's Eve." There is nothing "Judeo" about Halloween, and as such, your attempt at inclusiveness is misplaced.

Best regards,

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