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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A little bit of politics

Dear America,

The way to have fewer gun massacres is not to limit access to Batman costumes, it's to have fewer guns.

Luv,

Mari

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Other time She dated a Girl

Adventure Comics #384 (Supergirl Showcase vol. 4 maybe, one day)

Now it has to be said, Silver Age Supergirl is a terrible flirt. In fact it's Supergirl standard plot trope #2: Supergirl falls for someone inappropriate and it all goes horribly wrong. Consequently, it's hardly surprising that she'd occasionally fling herself at a guy who was actually a girl in disguise.

No, I lie. That's still weird. But it is all very Shakespearian. Except, despite all the cross dressing, Shakespearian couples invariable end up as male/female.

So in Adventure #384 Linda is jealous of her friends of the issue, who have been computer dating. She's sad that she can't use the service to get a proper match because she couldn't give her true details, and anyway, no Earth boy would be up to her standards.


It then occurs to her that she can use Superman's super computer as a dating aid. Superman is a bit put out at this frivolous usage of his technology, but he will get his own back, oh yes.

Superman's advanced high tech computer concludes that Supergirl would be best matched with Volar of the planet Tomar. Why it picks this person requires some speculation. I'm guessing that either 1) Superman, at his most passive aggressive fixed the results, b) the computer knows more about Supergirl than she's admitted to herself, or iii) it's a piece of junk.

Superman warns her off following the machine's advice, but in a vague way, so that when she gets back he can be all "I told you so" even though he didn't bother to give her the information he has that would have allowed her to make a much more informed decision.

Superman really is a dick sometimes.

Supergirl flies to Tomar for the weekend, and immediately finds Volar. He invites her home to meet his parents, which is maybe moving a little fast, but she's keen. Meeting Volar's father, she notices that his mother is treated as a servant. Tomar explains that women are considered inferior on his planet. It's been this way for centuries, since some galactic Republican misogynist stopped by to preach that women need to be kept in their place, and zapped everything with an X chromosome with his Suppressor Ray to make them docile and obedient. And apparently all the guys went "sure, why not?", subsequently indoctrinating all women from infancy to see themselves as inferior.


The two continue about their superheroing business, catching crooks and rescuing people, but Supergirl finds herself mocked and belittled because she's female. Whether this is the first time Supergirl has faced prejudice, I don't know, but she doesn't like it.


But then she's also put out that Volar is failing to, um, put out, complaining that after several hours in her company he hasn't yet tried to kiss her or even hold her hand.

Later that day, while spying on Volar having a quiet chat with his father, Supergirl learns that Volar will have to give up his career as a superhero the very next day, as they've run out of a mysterious serum and can't make any more. His father tells Volar to get rid of Supergirl, so she won't see what happens.

She hangs about all night, and when they see she's still there in the morning they invite her in. The shock sends Supergirl fleeing back to Earth "where I belong!"


Yes, you've guessed it. Volar is a girl in disguise. The mystery serum just made her boy mask work. She had planned to give up being a superhero and go back to being a second class citizen once she was no longer able to keep up the facade of being a guy, but Supergirl's example has inspired her to continue her career, despite how she knows she will be treated, and maybe she can set an example that will fight against the prejudice.

Supergirl comes off as spectacularly self-centred here. She's embarrassed by her own behaviour, and can't see beyond that to the plight of her colleague, so ground down by prejudice that she has to save the world dressed as a guy or she won't get any respect, or the society which has cast their entire female population into virtual slavery on the word of some visitor who, by his own admission, was out to get back at all women because he got dumped. But then, as is clearly indicated, Superman knew about the entire situation beforehand, and he was entirely okay with it.



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Friday, July 20, 2012

Bandette!

Bandette #1

So I thought I'd try this thing where I review a comic that's actually currently available once in a while, and try to stick to things I either want to recommend, because they are very good, or ones that are so bad I can rant entertainingly about. Bandette would fall into the first category.

Colleen Coover is awesometarts and always has been. Paul Tobin I'm still not sure about. The only thing of his I've read before is Gingerbread Girl (also drawn by Colleen Coover), and I was a bit nonplussed by the weird narrative device. I'll give it another try some time.

Bandette is, I'm fairly sure, inspired by the French series of novels and comics Fantômette, which in turn was (I think) inspired by the novel Fantômas. How much more there is to it, I don't know, as Fantomette doesn't seem to have ever been translated into English. Which is a sad thing, as it looks like heaps of fun.

Issue #1 of Bandette sees our heroine breaking into a mansion. But things don't go to plan and a chase ensues.

The art is expressive, in Coover's light cartoony style, supported by detailed, if slightly impressionistic backgrounds. In every panel. Tobin's script compliments the art, such that within a few pages you get more of a sense of who Bandette is and what she's about than many comics manage with their acres of exposition.


It's only thirteen pages of story, but it's also only 99c, so by my calculation that's a still cheaper page rate than any comic from the major publishers, and to be honest there's about as much story as a typical DC or Marvel anyway. And it's prettier.

Plus it's 99c. Who can't afford 99c to try out an excellent new comic?

Currently only available digitally from Comixology, but for those who are technologically deprived I have a suspect that it will turn up in trade paperback when it's finished.

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Guardians of a rather smaller Galaxy

Marvel just released some art to promote an upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

Hmm, now what's missing?



Oh, right, all but one of the female members of the team.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Other other Amazons

Action Comics #342 (Supergirl Showcase vol. 3 one can but hope)

Way back in the mists of time, I wrote about how Lois Lane was shipwrecked on a desert island and encountered a lost tribe of Amazons. It seems the oceans are simply awash with Amazon-inhabited islands, as the same thing happened to Supergirl nine years later.

Our story opens as Linda Danvers, along with a couple of other random students[1] from Stanhope college who have won a scholarship to send them to the South Pacific for a week to collect specimens for the college aquarium. The three travel by ultra-modern hovercraft.[2] In fact it's so ultra-modern that it doesn't even have a pilot.

Actual hovercraft circa 1965

Now small hovercraft aren't ideal vehicles for ocean travel, however ultra-modern they are, and while the crew are napping their vessel is caught in a storm. While her companions huddle in terror, Linda slips out and flies the craft to a random island because for some reason she couldn't navigate them to wherever they were supposed to go.[3]

Dawn breaks, and the girls seem unperturbed by their situation, lost on an uncharted island in the middle of the ocean. Perhaps they have a radio and have already called for help. I don't know. It never comes up. But before they can go hunting for marine specimens for the college fish tank they are attacked by strange women, who overturn their vehicle, which by now is looking more like a hydrofoil than a hovercraft, but still nothing like either.

Actually, I think there is a pilot. It's hard to tell, when, apart from the tall woman with the cap, all the other girls are dressed so similarly that it's difficult to tell between college girl and island Amazon. And none of them have personalities.

But back to the plot. The girls are brought before the Amazon Queen Jarta, who tells them they must stay and become Amazons, the strongest women on Earth. To facilitate this, she feeds them with what she calls the "nectar of strength", which will give them great powers in three days.[4]

Until then, they will be kept as prisoners, have to wear slave-girl outfits, and perform menial tasks.[5] So let's see if I'm getting this right; the plan is to piss them off and then give them super powers? I'm not sure this is going to end well.

The next morning they start their labours. Wait a sec. The last scene was only the previous morning, unless the Amazon village is a really long walk from the sea shore.

You can tell it's the Silver Age by how unsexy the slave-girl outfits are.


Linda is set to buffing some statues that are oddly masculine for an entirely female society, while her companions whine about how tough it is to sweep and cook. Looking up, they see what they think is Supergirl passing overhead. But in fact it's just a sea bird that Linda dressed her costume in the previous night. For some reason.

The next day Linda pretends that the Nectar of Strength is already affecting her, and generally screws around with the Queen, spoiling her ponygirl fun,[6] dropping coconuts on her head, and almost drowning her. The Queen retaliates by commanding her to finish building the royal pyramid [7] while she goes on a picnic.

Unfortunately the Queen hasn't provided enough stones to finish the huge monument, so Supergirl, in full on asshat mode, partially dismantles the village to provide stones to complete it. She's really going out of her way here, too. Rather than take down one building at a time, she's clearly taking stones from all over the village to cause as much chaos as possible.


This is too much for the Queen who begs her to just go the hell away. Linda's smug thought balloon here assumes she doesn't want the competition of someone so strong, blithely ignoring what a huge pain in the ass she's been and the damage she's caused the community.

So Linda and her two fleeting acquaintances [8] sail away. I can see there's only three of them now, so either they never had anyone to pilot their "hovercraft", or she decided to stay on the island and hang out with the super strong, all-girl society and play pony games.

It's an odd Supergirl story. She's usually the nice one, not given to the dickish behaviour and sadistic mind games often displayed by her more famous cousin and his close friends. She would eventually make it to the official home of the Amazons, but not until 1973.


Notes:
1) She studies there for six years, but never seems to hang out with the same students two issues in a row.
2) Which the artist clearly did zero research on. I know this was pre-Wikipedia, but hovercrafts were news in 1966; that's why writers kept dropping them into stories. Pictures weren't that hard to find.
3) I'm assuming red kryptonite, as that was the excuse for everything in those days. I mean she's got X-ray telescopic vision and can navigate between stars, but she can't find her way in the rain?
4) Charles Atlas eat your heart out.
5) On second thought, this sounds a lot like Golden Age Paradise Island.
6) This gets more and more like Golden Age Paradise Island. If you don't know what a ponygirl is, you probably shouldn't Google it.
7) I think you're mixing your mythologies there.
8) Who do have names, but there's no point in remembering them as they'll never be seen again.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Assuming Amethyst

After almost thirty years, Amethyst Princess of Gemworld is getting a relaunch. And it looks exactly how I thought it should be; Amethyst reimagined in Magical Girl style that would appeal to all the teenage girls that read manga and watch Smile Precure.


And then there's also a comic. For reasons that elude me, the new comic looks nothing like this and to make sure it will only appeal to the same old comic readers, they've grown Amethyst up and made her all gritty and miserable.

Says writer Christy Marx:
"She's just turning 17 rather than being 13. She has a very different family background, but the same basic things are there. She grew up on Earth with a strange childhood and ends up back in her homeworld which she's never seen before.
I'm taking a more intimate, familial approach to her adversary, who is her homicidal aunt who does not want to share power. I'm going for something dynastic with emotional complexity that will draw people in, and not just a bunch of people swinging swords. I'm trying to avoid a sparkly-crystals-and-pegasuses kind of approach. This is an alien world with blood powers that are related to crystals, but I'm going for a much more holistic approach."
So more adult, blood powers, no sparkly pegasuses (pegasii?). Got that.

So what if I wanted sparkly pegasuses? If Amethyst isn't going to fill that gap in the market, who will? Why do you hate sparkly pegasuses, Christy Marx?!?

Dan Mishkin, co-creator of Amethyst, had this to say:
I also think what they're setting out to do isn't worth doing. My understanding is going to be this is going to be a seventeen-year-old Amy Winston who discovers that she's Amethyst and that she's had a pretty rough life in those seventeen years. You can do that, and because of the rules of the game you can even call it Amethyst. But to say that it's essentially the same as what we did -- I'm sorry, I just don't think that's true, because essentially what we did was a story about being on the cusp of adolescence and discovering what the moral choices of adulthood are going to be. You don't do that at seventeen; you do that at twelve or thirteen.
On the plus side the new version seems to have an outfit that covers more of her body than most comics heroines are allowed. But on the other...


No sparkly pegasuses.



Amethyst can be found in upcoming editions of DC Nation on Cartoon Network. The comic Sword of Sorcery launches in September, along with a Showcase collection of the original series for you to compare it with.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Supergirl Silver-Age Same Sex Marriage shock!

Action Comics #357 or Supergirl Showcase vol. 3 if it ever gets published.

Look, it was the Silver Age, and a Superman-related comic. Nobody could ever do anything straightforward, especially if it was anything to do with relationship stuff. If people went straight to the point, instead of concocting convoluted and unwieldy schemes, we'd lose about two thirds of Superman comics of the 1960's.


 So here we have a typical example. Thal and Veena, who live on the planet Zhonnia, are engaged, but Thal becomes infatuated with Supergirl after she rescues the two of them from drowning in a burning sea of oil, and he breaks of his engagement to Veena.

So does Veena simply call Supergirl and have her tell Thal she isn't interested?

If you said yes, then you fail at Silver Age.

What Veena in fact does is disguise herself as a man and convince Supergirl that she (Supergirl) had married disguised-Veena-guy [1]and then a year later got amnesia and forgot about the whole thing.

This includes getting yet another girl to dress up as Supergirl to help her fake the wedding photos.

Then she invites some friends over from Zhonnia including Thal, so that he, seeing that Supergirl was married, would lose interest in her, and go back to Veena.

Of course Supergirl is not so easily fooled by a girl pretending to be a guy, and catches on while they are snogging, when she notices that Veena (in disguise) puts her (his) arms around her (Supergirl's) neck, like girls do, and not around her waist, like guys do.
 


Honestly, Kara? That's what you're going with?  That's the only thing that gave it away?[2]

Despite this "proof", Supergirl is entirely comfortable continuing with the relationship until she works out what exactly is going on. and when she does put the pieces together she cheerfully helps Veena conclude her plan, and at no point says anything that resembles "What the HELL were you THINKING?"[3]

 So no, Supergirl didn't actually marry another girl. But she did think she had. Possibly. Well, she definitely kissed another girl, anyway. At least once.

Interestingly, they would one day rerun this plot for realsies. The getting married and then forgetting it, not the complicated pretend part. I thought it was in particularly poor taste, myself. But in Superman #415, after Supergirl died in Crisis of Infinite Earths, a different alien guy pops up and spins the same yarn to Superman, about how he had married Supergirl but then she forgot, which is why she never mentioned to anyone that she was married and never invited anyone to the wedding or anything, and I'm going to just assume it was a con that time too, I think.


Notes
1. But didn't invite anyone to the wedding, even Superman.
2. At no point does she use her x-ray vision to gather further evidence. This is a family comic. 
3. It was the Silver Age. This kind of thing happened so often it was hardly worth commenting on. Or maybe she was bi-curious and this was a good excuse to try out some girl on girl liplock. "But she told me she was a guy!"

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Speed of Thought

.22 bullet = 720mph
M16 rifle = 2,180mph
Speed of sound = 768mph
Speed of light = 670,615,200mph (186,282 miles per second)

Speed of thought* = between 23 and 268mph. Which may seem kinda slow in comparison, but bear in mind it doesn't have to travel very far.




*By which I mean the speed of action potentials in the myelinated neurons of the human brain, if you want to get technical.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Bit Grimm

I'm interested in folk tales, or fairy tales, if you prefer. These days they are generally considered only to be the province of children, but go back a couple of hundred years and they are decidedly not purely kiddie fare.

I'd blame Disney, but to be honest, the rot set in decades before the Evil Empire of The Mouse first started putting their stamp all over them. Thomas Bowdler got the whole thing started in 1807 by rewriting Shakespeare with all the good bits cut out. He has justly been recognised with the introduction of the word 'bowdlerize' to the English language:

bowd·ler·ize

transitive verb
1: to expurgate (as a book) by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar 
2: to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content 
bowd·ler·i·za·tion noun
bowd·ler·iz·er noun
With the success of the hacked up Shakespeare, other people without the talent to write anything original got on the bandwagon of desecrating important work by taking stories not specifically intended for children and making sure that even the most delicate five year old wouldn't find anything remotely challenging in them. Thus we have the Thousand and One Nights becoming The Arabian Nights (with all the sex cut out) and Andrew Lang's variously coloured Fairy Books.

Shakespeare survived the destruction, but many folk tales were not so lucky. You need to look very hard indeed to find unexpurgated editions of many stories, which is something I've been hunting for a while. I'm particularly interested in Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Originally Jacob and Wilhelm studied folklore, collecting tales and stories from oral tradition and recording them. Their book of Children's and Household Tales was a huge success, and they continually added to it over 17 editions. Unfortunately, they also got a bit overenthusiastic about copy editing the stories to make them stylistically similar, adding dialogue, removing pieces "that might detract from a rustic tone", altering the plots and incorporating "psychological motifs". Over the years, they expanded and added detail to the stories to the point that many grew to be twice the length as the original versions; in later editions eliminating sexual elements, and adding Christian elements. After 1819 they began writing specifically for children (children were not initially considered the primary audience), adding entirely new tales or adding new elements that were often strongly didactic to existing tales.

And that was before the book was even translated into English.  I thought I'd found an early English edition in Google Books.  It was called German Popular Stories and dates from 1823. But as the preface indicates, the English editors were already hacking out bits that the Grimm's hadn't got around to bowdlerising themselves, yet.

I started with Snow White as a point of comparison, to make a quick check of each edition I found. Earlier editions call her Snow-Drop, for one thing. And then there's this curious part where, after consulting her mirror,  the Wicked Queen sends the girl away. In this edition it goes:

When she heard this, she turned pale with rage and envy; and called to one of her servants and said, "Take Snow-drop away into the wide wood, that I may never see her more." Then the servant led her away; but his heart melted when she begged him to spare her life, and he said, "I will not hurt thee, thou pretty child." So he left her by herself; and though he thought it most likely that the wild beasts would tear her in pieces, he felt as if a great weight were taken off his heart when he had made up his mind not to kill her, but leave her to her fate.

Which is odd, because the Queen hasn't told the servant to kill her, just take her away. I spot a clumsy edit. Also, right at the end, the Queen is so annoyed that she falls ill and dies, which is kind of vague and convenient.

So then I hunted up all the other editions I could find of the Grimm's work, under various titles, and looked up Snow White/Snow-Drop in each one. All of them seemed to be derived from this same version except Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm which dates from 1886.

 This variant, entitled Snow-White, tells the story slightly differently. The passage quoted above becomes:

This gave the queen a great shock, and she became yellow and green with envy, and from that hour her heart turned against Snow-white, and she hated her. And envy and pride like ill weeds grew in her heart higher every day, until she had no peace day or night. At last she sent for a huntsman, and said,
"Take the child out into the woods, so that I may set eyes on her no more. You must put her to death, and bring me her heart for a token."
The huntsman consented, and led her away; but when he drew his cutlass to pierce Snow-white's innocent heart, she began to weep, and to say,
"Oh, dear huntsman, do not take my life; I will go away into the wild wood, and never come home again."
And as she was so lovely the huntsman had pity on her, and said,
"Away with you then, poor child;" for he thought the wild animals would be sure to devour her, and it was as if a stone had been rolled away from his heart when he spared to put her to death. Just at that moment a young wild boar came running by, so he caught and killed it, and taking out its heart, he brought it to the queen for a token. And it was salted and cooked, and the wicked woman ate it up, thinking that there was an end of Snow-white.
Which is much more fun, and makes the Queen much nastier. Of course she also gets a much more specific and unpleasant fate at the end:

First she thought she would not go to the wedding; but then she felt she should have no peace until she went and saw the bride. And when she saw her she knew her for Snow-white, and could not stir from the place for anger and terror. For they had ready red-hot iron shoes, in which she had to dance until she fell down dead.

Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm is available free at Project Gutenberg, along with several other, tamer versions of the Grimm's stories.

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