Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Graphic Novel mini-reviews #32 (Women be kickin' ass)

Ms Marvel: Generation Why (Volume 2)

Written by: G. Willow Wilson; Illustrated by: Jacob Wyatt, Adrian Alphona

Published: 2015

My Thoughts: Ms Marvel is one of the comics I keep on top of month to month, and it is such a treat each and every time. The comic, aside from being freaking fantastic for female and POC representation, is always fun, humorous and fantastically written and drawn. This volume continues with the main mystery about the missing kids and the Inventor, but there are also wider story arcs about the origin of her powers and her life outsider of superhero-ing. It does a fantastic job balancing these aspects of her life and having the lessons from high school/family situations influence her approach to being a hero and vice versa. If you haven't started reading this series yet then I implore you to get on it. You're are really missing out on something great.


X-Men: Primer (Volume 1)

Written by: Brian Wood; Illustrated by: Oliver Coipel, David Lopez

Published: 2013

My Thoughts: I've only read a few X-Men arcs (there are just so freaking many) but as soon as I heard that there was an all-lady arc of X-Men comics I was on board. I mean, OF COURSE I WAS. The comics don't eliminate the male characters (Beast and Wolverine have bit parts) , but it's great to read a kickass story about women banding together to eliminate an alien (and a lady one to boot) that's threatening to destroy the whole world. There's also a lot of female-related issues incorporated, from lady-on-lady rivalries, motherhood, and growing pains (emotional, not physical) which makes it just a really fantastic volume for female comics fans, especially younger ones. There's also a bonus issue from the 80s which is all BIG hair and HIGH fashion and shopping montages and strip clubs, which is absolutely everything I want and need in a comic.


The Lumberjanes (Volume 1)

Written by: Noelle Stevenson; Illustrated by: Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen

Published: 2015

My thoughts: This comic is just the cutest comic around. The story is pretty simple, a bunch of girls are at a summer camp and constantly find themselves up against a bunch of weird ass stuff, monsters and were-bears and feuding Greek gods. But all of that is secondary to this group of 5 girls just having a freaking blast with each other as they deal with these supernatural obstacles. There's something really amazing about media that tells a story of girls just getting along. There's usually a guy in the way or girls hating on other girls and it gets SO tiring. These girls are all so different and unique and yet they support each other through everything and it makes me SO HAPPY. I'm grinning like a loon just thinking about it. Absolute must read.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

March in review

BOOKS: 

What I Read:
Books
*Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson
Stats:
0% male /100% female
0% American / 100% International
100%white/ 0%POC
0% ebook / 100% audiobook / 0% physical
0% fiction / 100% non-fiction
Comics
*Deadly Class: Reagan Youth (Volume 1) by Rick Remeder, Wesley Craig, Lee Loughride. 
*Deadpool Killustrated by Cullen Bunn, Matteo Lolli
*X-Men: Primer (volume 1) by Brian Wood, Oliver Coipel, David Lopez
Stats:
100% male / 0% female
75% American / 25% International
100%white/ 0%POC
100% ebook / 0% audiobook / 0% physical
100% fiction / 0% non-fiction

So. That's a pretty pitiful March. It was a tough month for me, reading wise and in general. I was so busy with so many things and when I finally got time to read I just didn't connect with anything. I picked up so many books, got a few chapters in, and put them down, or gave up a couple of pages in. I considered going back to a book I knew I loved, like Harry Potter, but I was so busy I didn't really feel like rereading books either, haha. In the last week I seem to have finally moved out of my funk though. I'm most of the way through Joyce Carol Oates' Wild Nights, which is a collection of short stories written about the final days of several iconic authors, and Elizabeth Wain's Codename Verity. I'm enjoying them both a great deal, plus they're both ladies, so huzzah for April's diversity stats!!


LIFE:

I don't have much to report on because moving house is taking over my life, as is teaching/finishing my PhD. Oooh, one thing!  I got my Ninja book swap gift in March! Yay for bookish gifts in the mail!



The amazing Emma (Mab is Mab) sent me the most amazing package of Bristol themed goodies! I got a copy of Alice Munro's Dear Life, a pair of sparkly earrings, a Bristol Balloon Fiesta-themed coaster (see below), a Bristol-themed greetings card, some candy and a whole lot of insight into the city of Bristol. Emma also added little post-its to her gifts to give me a little more info about the city or to explain the gift, it's such a sweet touch! So I'm pretty set on visiting Bristol when I eventually make my way across to Europe now. Especially if I can time it to coincide with the Balloon Fiesta!





Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Graphic Novels mini-reviews #31

Saga (Volume 3)

Written by: Brian K. Vaughan; Illustrated by: Fiona Staples

Published: 2014

My Thoughts: What a sad, sad volume. A large portion of this volume is about grieving for people and past relationships and learning to live again. After two volumes of our delightful little family being on the run and hunted it was nice to see them settle down and enjoy actually being a family. Not only is Heist's home a sanctuary away from the chaos of the warring worlds but it's a respite where Marko and Klara can attempt to deal with their loss and, as we see, heal and begin to create a new future for themselves. This is all true for the enemies as well. Gwendolyn and the Will and Slave Girl/Sophie get a glimpse at a new future, one that doesn't involve murder and revenge. But what makes this volume sad is how quickly these possibilities are wrenched away. Their little moment of freedom or happiness or love is just that, a little moment, and I'm left sitting here feeling very, very sad.



Deadpool Killustrated

Written by: Cullen Bunn; Illustrated by:  Matteo Lolli

Published: 2013


My Thoughts: The second I saw the cover of this comic, with Deadpool riding Ishmail's dreaded white whale and holding a bomb I knew I had to read it. Then two years passed. But now, now I have read it and I can say I was completely justified in thinking this looked like a terrific romp. The basic premise is that after the events of Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe Deadpool decides to get to the source of the problem and eliminate the seeds of famous character archetypes. What happens is a brilliantly meta and intertextual look at the history of storytelling and character archetypes through an absurdly bloody and camp Deadpool story. When Deadpool kills an "original" like Dracula, he also kills all the characters that Dracula has inspired. That includes the obvious vampire characters from Anne Rice and Twilight, but also characters who may not be vampires but clearly drew inspiration from the King of Vampires. As he kills the original, they flit between this first form and the characters that developed from it and a great deal of my love for this comic comes from me trying to work out exactly who all the comic or literary characters are. Very League of Extraordinary Gentleman-y in this way, although without any of the subtly!


Deadly Class (volume one)

Written by: Rick Remender; Illustrated by: Wesley Craig, Lee Loughridge

Published: 2014

My Thoughts: High school is hell for a lot of people. There are hormones flying through the air, people are struggling to find an identity and there is far too much homework. High school is a whole different hell when the students have to deal with all of that AND train to become assassins. Add in a bunch of family/gang feuds and you have a high school where watching your back is even more crucial. Deadly Class takes a lot of the problems we all experienced in high school (being new, being different), adds assassins in training and transports it back into the 1980s. It's like Harry Potter, if there was no magic or fun in HP and it all took place in the Forbidden Forest. It's a mash of musical, literature and film references, managing to make me feel nostalgic for a high school experience nothing like mine, in a decade also not mine. The art was really interesting, it's very minimalistic and colour plays an extraordinarily important role - which you can get an idea of from the cover. I'm very interested to see where this series heads.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven

Written by: Emily St. John Mandel

Published: 2014

Synopsis:
Day one: The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb. News reports puts the mortality rate at over 99%.

Week two: Civilisation has crumbled.

Year twenty: A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe. But now a new danger looms, and it threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild. (from library copy's blurb)
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

The wren goes to't

If you had asked me what was missing from my literary life I don't know that my answer would have been "a mix of dystopia and Shakespeare with just a smidge of Star Trek" but there you have it, it's exactly what was missing from my life.

Station Eleven is very successful at crafting a story about a world 20 years after a catastrophic medical disaster that both conforms to genre standards and completely leaves them behind. I, personally, love books and films about pandemics that decimate the human population. I love to see how people adjust (or straight up don't), especially considering the world we live in today is SO dependant on technology to do even the simplest of tasks*. I mean even farmers who you'd think would be in a pretty sweet situation would probably suffer since everything from milking stations to combine harvesters are almost entirely mechanically self-reliant. So you usually end up with these fantastic explorations of society falling backwards in terms of education or mechanics but also progressing forward in a cultural sense, for instance, community becomes far more important for survival, and bartering takes over from the traditional monetary system.

And you get tonnes of this good stuff in Station Eleven. The Travelling Symphony makes their way through tiny towns where people have tried to adjust to this new world. Reminders of the old world, Walmarts and airports and highways, of the previous world still linger but they're rendered useless in their normal form so they're transformed into storage spaces or homes for the people who managed to survive. And like folk did pre-cars, trains and planes, they become pretty insular. They might hear news from the next town over, but it takes weeks and only reaches them if someone happens to be moving through. And with this insulation comes, of course, a level of superstition. News travelling from one town to the next over a series of weeks tends to evolve like a game of whispers, something fairly innocuous is slowly warped and shifted until it becomes a warning or something to fear. As a great deal of this novel takes place 20 years after the Georgia Flu annihilated life on Earth, a lot of the characters were either born post-flu or were so young they can barely remember the life they used to have, which only exaggerates this disconnect between the world that was and the world that is. Stories of planes flying through the air and told to children who are amazed and also slightly disbelieving of their parents tales. I just find all of this stuff utterly, utterly fascinating.

But where the book diverges from these more traditional aspects is where I think it truly shines. The book begins and ends on a stage in Canada as a cast perform King Lear. The death of the play's Lear on stage coincides with the beginning of the Georgia Flu but it was a heart attack and not actually the flu which ended his life. Even though this actor, Arthur Leander, dies in the opening pages of the book of a completely unrelated illness, he is pivotal to the book. The direction of the central characters, who haven't all necessarily met, are motivated by their relationship to Leander regardless of how tenuous that link may be. It's like this spider web of causality and influence and it's incredibly hard to explain here but it blew my mind. Seriously, I finished this book over a month ago and it is still blowing my mind how freaking gorgeous and complex the whole damn thing is.

Since I read it over a month ago I am blanking on some of the smaller details that I wish I'd noted down, but this book is really something else. I went into it knowing very little and that may be why it had such an impact on me. The writing is beautiful and yet it never got too flowery or Literary for the post-apocalyptic setting, a balance I think must have been incredibly difficult to maintain. The secondary characters aren't always incredibly fleshed out but because there's an element (or a feeling at the very least) of a play within a book I was able to push past those moments and instead appreciate the characters for what they stood for. There are large chunks of this novel which take place way before the outbreak of the Georgia Flu, most of them relating to Leander's life (which, damn, what a terribly sad story that is), so I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone who wants a straight-up post-apocalyptic tale but seriously everyone else, read it**.




*Obvs this isn't the case everywhere in the world. But since these books typically take place in the Western world I'm going to keep going with this.

** I think just about everyone in the world (blog world anyway) has already read it, but if you're one of the 10 people who haven't then GET ON IT.

Monday, March 2, 2015

February in Review

BOOKS:

What I Read:

Books:
*The Supergirls; Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy and the History of Comic Book Heroines by Mike Madrid (my review)
*The Returned by Jason Mott

Stats:
100% male / 0% female
100% American / 0% International
50%white/ 50%POC
0% ebook / 50% audiobook / 50% physical
50% fiction / 50% non-fiction


It's very easy to get either amazing or terrible stats when you only read two books! On the one hand this is probably one of my highest months (stats wise) for POC reads, but it's also terrible for female or international respresentation. But what are you going to do? Maybe it was because it was a pretty busy month (made busier by the sudden requirement to move) but I really dragged my feet blog-wise this month. I struggled to get any of my reviews from last month written and I made barely any progress with my reading. Hopefully I manage to bump myself out of this funk in March or I'll have to return a whole bunch of books to the library unread (which is the worst, it feels like book abuse).

FILMS:

What I saw:

*Jupiter Ascending - directed by the Wachowski siblings. Starring Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne
*Kingsman - directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
*Big Eyes - directed by Tim Burton. Starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz

Ugh, not a great month for films. Thank god I watched First Wives Club on DVD.  Jupiter Ascending is, wow, so bad. Like actually offensively dumb. It's such a pity because visually/effects wise it's top notch. If only they put as much attention and care into their titular character as they did the designs of the ships. It crosses into the category of great-bad movie a lot, but the action sequences are so dull and Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis have so little chemistry that I recommend leaving it until it comes out on DVD. Even then you should accompany it with copious amounts of alcohol. Kingsman was mostly fun and Taron Egerton is a delight, but it was a solidly B movie for me. It was fine and I laughed a lot (also swooned at Colin Firth in his amazing suits) but I don't know that it'd hold up to a repeat watch. And Big Eyes ... *sigh* I wanted to like it, I really did, but I just found it incredibly dull. I feel awful because I really love it when Tim Burton branches away from his Johnny Depp aesthetic but I could not get into it.

LIFE:

I had my final seminar on Friday and it went well! That means I'm on the home stretch for finishing my PHD! The finish line is finally in sight. It's been a long 3 years you guys. On another front, I'm moving! Not far, just to a new house but hey, any adventure is good adventure right? Tom and i have been in our little home for 4 years but a couple of things came together and made it pretty clear it was time for us to move on. I am hating packing boxes (uggggh books I love you and i hate you) but I'm excited! And that's really about it (are pressing phd deadlines and moving not enough for you people?!),  oh except that I started an 8 week challenge last week at my gym and i hate my life. Haha. How is everyone else treading so far?

Monday, February 23, 2015

(Audio)book review: The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy and the History of Comic Book Heroines by Mike Madrid

The Supergirls; Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy and the History of Comic Book Heroines

Written by: Mike Madrid

Read by: Colby Elliott

Published: 2009

Synopsis: A much-needed alternative history of American comic book superheroines—from Wonder Woman to Supergirl and beyond—where they fit in popular culture and why, and what these crime-fighting females say about the role of women in American society from their creation to now, and into the future. The Supergirls is an entertaining and informative look at these modern-day icons, exploring how superheroines fare in American comics, and what it means for the culture when they do everything the superhero does, but in thongs and high heels.

Has Wonder Woman hit the comic book glass ceiling? Is that the one opposition that even her Amazonian strength can’t defeat?
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What do you do when you're a book reader who has gotten into comics but are too lazy to read the years and years of back issues? You read a bunch of non-fiction books about said comics instead. And since just about everyone can already recite the history of many, many, many male heroes you obviously leapfrog over those non-fiction books and instead set your sights on the ones that are about the ladies and that dastardly F word (dare I say it?), feminism. Females don't get an easy ride in comics. They get an even rawer deal when it comes to female fans. It seems like whenever a fight breaks out between comic fans online there's a female superhero at the centre of it, and it's typically male fans (self-proclaimed REAL fans) versus female/feminist readers. Take for instance the Milo Manara Spider-Woman variant cover controversy. It got to the point where it was near impossible to explain your dislike for that cover without "real" fans shutting you down for pushing the *ahem* feminazi agenda.


The over sexualisation of female characters is a huge issue for a lot of female readers. The Hawkeye Initiative is a brilliant art project that exemplified just how sexualised female heroes are compared to their male colleagues. Not only are women posed to best flaunt their breasts and ass, but their costumes, complete with boob and stomach windows, knee high stiletto boots and g-strings, are impractical and bordering on the absolutely absurd. But it's amazing to see how much we've internalised this type of characterisation of females, because it's often only when a male is replicated in those poses and costumes that the absurdity is actually evident.

Which is where Mike Madrid's book comes in. It's primarily a historical account of female heroes in comics but as the subheading suggests it also explores feminism and fashion as it relates to this history. I saw a few complaints on Goodreads which suggested that the focus on fashion was at the expense of a feminist examination of female superheroes but that's not how I experienced the book at all. When Madrid describes the changes in Wonder Woman's costume, whether that's the longer hems during the 1950s when the comics code authority came in or the elimination of just about all of her clothes sans g-string and bodice during the 1990s,  he does so in the context of the particular era. He isn't describing the g-string to be salacious but because the fact that the costume incorporated a g-string instead of a skirt or pair of pants is intimately tied to the sexual politics of comics at the time. The g-string wasn't just a random choice of the artist drawing Wonder Woman at the time, it was a requisite for female heroes during the "babe" era as Madrid describes it. Or at another point in the book Madrid points out that after J-Lo wore her scandalous Gammys dress every article questioned whether she could actually sit or walk in it while nowhere near that amount of attention has been paid to the accidents waiting to happen that so many female heroes are costumed in while they attempt to save the world and wrangle the bad guys. I did listen to this as an audiobook though, so perhaps the reader's inflection and tone made it clear that Madrid wasn't salivating over the ladies but critiquing a very important component of the character, while that distinction isn't quite as obvious in the text.

This book is fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because it's interesting to see how the real world impacted the comics world, especially when it came to the female characters. When WWII hit and women were needed in the workforce, super-heroines suddenly became a lot stronger and were all about helping with the war efforts. But when the war ended and the men came home, the female heroes were also relegated to smaller roles and positions as side kicks again much like the women who were forced to become secretaries and housewives again. Even Wonder Woman, everyone's go to feminist superhero icon was relegated to being the freaking secretary of the early Justice League even though she was stronger and more powerful than most of the men! However it's frustrating to see how secondary women have always been in comics. It wasn't that I was surprised by this really, even today female characters are left off of merchandise and relegated to support positions, but I hadn't ever really considered how rarely female heroes were written for women. With the exception of Wonder Woman, a great number of female heroes began as female sidekicks to their male characters. They were occasionally included to draw in female readers in the 1940s and 1950s, but they were essentially a sexy way to hook young boys into keeping up their subscriptions to Superman or Batman. Or, in the case of Batwoman, they were included to dispel rumours of a homosexual relationship brewing between Batman and Robin. It's really no wonder then that female characters are still considered secondary to many male (and female to be honest) readers with origins like that.

Even though this book is about female heroes Madrid often used the dominant male heroes of the era to anchor his discussion of the females. While I felt like he occasionally spent too much on these parts, I actually think the book succeeded best when it was comparing the female characters with the male. A prime example of this was when he talked about the female iterations of popular male characters. Not only were the women always called 'girl' or 'miss' in their titles, automatically infantilising them and setting them up as secondary to the men, but their powers were often weighted towards female attributes. Case in point: Mary Marvel is Captain Marvel's twin but where he had a military title and powers like speed and stamina, she had the power of grace. A similar strong point of comparison was made early in the book where Madrid highlights the fact that while male heroes were heroes because they believed in justice, their female sidekicks were heroes because they were in love with the heroes. Talk about setting the females up to fade away into obscurity.

So if you are a fan of females and superheroes this book is made for you. It's not perfect and it does seem to skew heavily towards the first half of the 20th century (the 70s/80s/90s seem to race past) but if this is a subject that interests you I think it's probably a great book to read in collaboration with a number of other books on the subject. And at the very least it's a book full of delicious trivia and historical facts with a nice frosting of feminism which I know I always enjoy.

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