Friday, October 28, 2005

Nobody home

Regular readers will notice the lack of anything regular to read lately. I know I said that posts might be few and far between during November as I am supposed to be writing my novel then, but my head has been so full of it lately that I haven't had much time to think about a lot else.

For those that are interested the current title is Candy Frankenstein and the Ordinary Phoenix and it's kind of vaguely along the lines of what might happen if Tim Burton directed a transgendered version of Harry Potter. Originally it started as something quite different but after several weeks of carefully plotting out scenes I realised I had only the first half of the story worked out and I had two other competing ideas for novels and I couldn't decide which. The current version is sort of a hybrid of various ideas but with very little in the way of planning other than a couple of interesting characters and an intention to get very snarky about Potterworld. And a lesbian love affair, of course.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

How stupid is Superman?

When Wonder Woman gives up her powers in 1967 she goes to the Justice League to resign, and to tell them about a murder they might be interested in that she noticed along the way that implicates Green Arrow, but Superman is more concerned about how a civilian got into JLA headquarters. No wonder he thinks that putting on a pair of glasses is going to fool everyone when he can't recognise an old friend and colleague when she's not wearing her tiara.

Or maybe he just hasn't been looking at her face enough.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Real Amazons: Hercules wasn't so bad

One of the things that's always bugged me about the silver age origin of Wonder Woman is the role of Hercules. First he is the villain that causes all the troubles for the Amazons, and yet later he becomes a benefactor and gifts Diana with great strength.

This inconsistancy is never addressed in the comic when in fact a little closer adherance to the myth on which it is based would resolve the situation quite nicely. In greek myth one of the twelve tasks of Herakles (1) was to get the girdle (2) of Hippolyta (3) for Admeta, the daughter of king Eurystheus. The girdle was a gift from Ares (4) that signified her authority as queen of the Amazons.

When Hercules arrives the Amazons greet him warmly and Hippolyta comes to his ship to greet him. Upon hearing his request, she agrees to let him take the girdle. Hera (5), however, is not pleased that he is getting off so easy. To stop him, Hera disguises herself as an Amazon and runs through the land, crying that Hercules intends to kidnap their queen. The Amazons charge toward the ship to save Hippolyta. Fearing that Hippolyta has betrayed him, Hercules takes the girdle and escapes. Some versions say he slays Hippolyta, but other myths take up her story beyond this point. Either way, it is here that the Wonder Woman version departs from its myth basis, as in no version does Hercules defeat the amazons in battle or enslave them.

But if the encounter with Hercules is based a little more closely on the mythic version he becomes much less of an aggressor, and the conflict between him and the Amazons becomes a tragic misunderstanding set up by mean old Hera. In this situation it makes sense that once he found out, Hercules would feel tremendous guilt for the trouble he had caused the Amazons, and it would be perfectly reasonable for him to bless the baby Diana. A shame the writers of Wonder Woman never researched the myths the story is based on enough to actually make sense of it.

1. the greek name for Hercules.
2. a sort of belt
3. note that the accepted symbolism of taking a woman's belt meant to have sex with her
4. Ares/Mars was the Amazons' patron in myth
5. Hercules' stepmother

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Quis vestiet ipsos custodes?

Who clothes the watchmen?

Or, where did you get that cute little outfit?

Where do superheroes get their costumes from? Okay, so some have outfits that come free with the magic thingy that gives them super powers like Green Lantern and Captain Marvel, and Batman probably has a sweatshop in Hong Kong working around the clock to keep him and his chums in cowls and utility belts, but what about your average everyday hero?

The Spider-Man movie is a good example. When Spidey first shows up in costume he’s wearing this horrible home-made number that any 12 year old would be proud of (except they’d probably include a cape made out of an old sheet). When he later reappears in the ribbed latex bodysuit we all know and love it is without any explanation of where it came from. Clearly he didn’t make it himself because we’ve seen what he is capable of. So where does he get it from?

In 1971 the answer for Supergirl, at least, was Diana Prince’s exclusive little boutique (this being the "unpowered" period of Wonder Woman where Diana ran a clothes shop). Having ripped her costume in Adventure Comics #397 - and not in the modern boobwar level of costume shredding female characters go for these days but a few discrete tears in the sleeves and fraying at the hem - Kara uses this excuse to dump the frumpy eyesore Ma Kent ran up for her in 1957 and heads over to Diana’s place for a makeover.

Kara is in luck and has managed to catch the shop open as Diana is between jet-setting adventures in foreign parts with her ancient oriental transvestite mentor I-Ching, and Di runs her up a neat little number from what she has in stock. And so before you can say “kinky boots” Kara is fashionably attired for crimefighting. Whether Diana is also responsible for Supergirl’s subsequent adventures in fashion is unclear, though it does seem that once Kara finally develops some interest in clothes, she runs wild with it, and subsequent issues of Adventure Comics show some highs and lows in superhero haute couture.

Ah, but if only this idea had been developed and extended to other titles. Diana Prince could have been the superhero costumier, like Edna Mode in The Incredibles, only taller. DC would at last have a simple explanation of where everyone gets their costumes. But it was not to be. And within a year Diana had shut up shop and was back in a costume of her own which showed very little influence from her experience in high fashion, due to an amnesia inducing bash on the head and subsequent memory tampering from her mother. It wasn’t until long after Crisis that she was again to show any hints of fashion sense.

But I can’t help wondering that even to this day in some long lost parallel universe there is an exclusive little boutique currently called “Capes and Belly Shirts” (it’s too fashionable to keep the same name for more than six months at a time, dahling) where (by appointment only, of course) an unpowered Diana Prince creates fashion fit for heroes.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Passing Through Air

Kate Bush has a new album out for the first time in twelve years.

The big question is whether the new album will further develop Kate's helicopter fetish.

Hounds of Love is well known for including a helicopter sampled from Pink Floyd's The Wall, but I was just listening to The Dreaming (is Neil Gaiman a Kate Bush fan?) while making breakfast and I noticed a distinctive helicopter sound during Pull Out the Pin.

There are numerous references to flying in her work (The Big Sky, Kite, and obviously Passing Through Air) although only one specific reference to helicopters, from The Red Shoes comes the telling line "They're gonna whip her up like a helicopter". But while I am still waiting for someone to make the definitive study of helicopter imagery in the works of Kate Bush I have to wonder what the new album has in store for us. After all, the title Aerial could not be more suggestive.

A dictionary definition of AERIAL:

aer·i·al Pronunciation Key (âr-l, -îr-l)

1. Of, in, or caused by the air.
2. Existing or living in the air.
3. Reaching high into the air; lofty.
4. Suggestive of air, as in lightness; airy.
5. Unsubstantial; imaginary.
6. Of, for, or by means of aircraft: aerial photography.
7. Botany. Growing or borne above the ground or water: aerial roots.

Coincidence? I think not.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nailing my colours to the mast

During the month of November you may find things a little quiet around here as I have decided to take up the NaNoWriMo challenge and attempt to write a novel in a month. But just to make sure I really make a complete and utter fool of myself doing it I will be blogging the whole thing.

My novel in a month blogsite can be found here, but don't expect to see much action there until November 1st. After that I will be posting each day's writing as I go along. Any encouragement or support in this mad venture will be welcomed.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I want Elektra Barbie

If anyone is wondering what to get me for christmas and can't find a copy of Sun Girl #2, here's an alternative option: Elektra Barbie.

I don't know what it is about Elektra Barbie that makes it the pure distilled essence of absurdity. I think it's a lot to do with the incongruity of the wholesome, whitebread, superficial, blonde cheerleader, always trying on wedding dresses but never quite getting married, coupled with the ninja assassin steeped in blood.

Okay, so I've had my doubts about her little "sister" Shelly for a long time. The age gap between them is clearly so large that it seems far more likely that Shelly is really her illegitimate daughter and it's all been hushed up in the way these things are. But it's still a bit of a leap from teenage pregnancy to hired killer.

EDIT: I did finally get one of these, some time later.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Babushka connection

When my friend Sleestak (who always says nice things about me, so it's about time I gave him a well deserved plug for his excellent blog) did a piece about Kate Bush over at Lady, That's My Skull which prompted a comment about her dressing up as Red Sonja, this set off my Amazon Trivia Sense. In fact she was dressed as Raven.

Raven, Swordmistress of Chaos was the star of a series of Five novels by Robert Holdstock and Angus Wells writing under the name of Richard Kirk. They collaborated on the first book and subsequently wrote alternate volumes, Holdstock doing 2 and 4, Wells doing 3 and 5. I was at a convention once where Holdstock talked about Raven. He said that it had been their intention to playfully subvert the conventions of heroic fantasy, thus the heroine named Raven is a blonde, and where most stories of this type are set in a large island landmass, Raven is set around an inland sea.

The original art for the book covers was done by Chris Achilleos. It's some time since I read the books so I cannot now remember how accurate his costume designs for Raven are to the description in the story. Kate Bush wore a costume based on this design (with the addition of a studded bra for the sake of modesty) in the video for her song Babooshka.

Babooshka is an interesting song. The lyrics tell of a woman who wants to test her husband's fidelity by attempting to seduce him as another woman, but who finds a whole new passion for him as a result.

She wanted to test her husband.
She knew exactly what to do:
A pseudonym to fool him.
She couldn't have made a worse move.

She sent him scented letters,
And he received them with a strange delight.
Just like his wife
But how she was before the tears,
And how she was before the years flew by,
And how she was when she was beautiful.
She signed the letter

"All yours,
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!
All yours,
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!"
The video, somewhat incongrously has her dancing around in her Raven outfit and waving her sword. It doesn't seem to work with the song on any level, other than to possibly reinforce a theme of female assertiveness. But what is even stranger is the name the woman in the song takes for her femme fatale. Babooshka is from the russian word babushka which means "grandmother" or "old lady".

There is a another very subtle and clever connection that works. Babushka is also another name for a type of nested Matryoshka doll, known as a russian doll in the UK; a simple wooden shape with an elaborately painted figure on it that opens to reveal another one inside it, and that contains another and another. These can contain a couple or as many as fifty dolls, and would fit the song very nicely as a symbolic name for a woman finding a new aspect inside herself, but I've never seen this interpretation proposed before.

In fact Kate Bush just says this on the subject:

Yes, well apparently it is grandmother, it's also a headdress that people wear. But when I wrote the song it was just a name that literally came into my mind, I've presumed I've got it from a fairy story I'd read when I was a child. And after having written the song a series of incredible coincidences happened where I'd turned on the television and there was Donald Swan singing about Babooshka. So I thought, "well, there's got to be someone who's actually called Babooshka.'' So I was looking through Radio Times and there, another coincidence, there was an opera called Babooshka. Apparently she was the lady that the three kings went to see because the star stopped over her house and they thought "Jesus is in there.'' So they went in and he wasn't. And they wouldn't let her come with them to find the baby and she spent the rest of her life looking for him and she never found him. And also a friend of mine had a cat called Babooshka. So these really extraordinary things that kept coming up when in fact it was just a name that came into my head at the time purely because it fitted.

She is mistaken about the spelling (though this quote is from an interview so it may just be the journalist who is ignorant). Although phonetically very similar, the only usage I have found anywhere that uses the double "o" construction is in her song. Everywhere else it is spelled with a "u" or "ou".

It's hardly a coincidence that she saw Donald Swan singing about Baboushka and then found reference to an opera of the same name in a TV listings magazine, as it was probably the same show . Donald Swan was co-writer of the opera Baboushka (although he also wrote a song called Baboushka's Carol), and it was broadcast on british TV in 1979. Both are based on a russian folktale of the old woman, Baboushka who was too busy to accept The Three Kings' invitation to join them on their journey to Bethlehem, and now seeks the Christ-child throughout the world, leaving presents for good children as she passes.

The fairytale she refers to is probably the story of Baba Yaga, a cannibalistic witch who looks like a little ugly old woman and lives in a hut that stands on giant chicken legs.

As for how stories about little old russian women prompted the name for Kate Bush's character who was rediscovering her sexuality; my best guess is that she had confused two very similar sounding names, and was actually thinking of Varoomshka, a sexy politically satirical newspaper strip written and drawn by John Kent that ran in The Guardian, whose heroine is a far more appropriate source for her character.

The Real Amazons

When you are dealing with events that occured so long ago, it's hard to seperate myth from history and fact from fantasy. Just as real events today are rewritten as fiction, the same was done throughout history. Even more so because there was no mass media to inform everyone what was happening in the world so most events were passed along by word of mouth, getting romanticised in the telling and retelling.

And just to complicate matters further, modern writers with their own agendas seem to spin out great complex theories from precious little hard evidence, and it's often difficult to tell where the historical extrapolation ends and the pure fantasy begins. And while some writers talk of great Amazonian empires, archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball doesn't believe they existed at all, even though the tomb of a warrior woman she excavated in the Russian Steppes is cited by many as concrete proof of Amazon culture.

But there are plenty of contemporary accounts. Amazons are mentioned in the Iliad, where Homer talks of an Amazon army that took part in the Trojan war. Herodotus in his Histories tells of the Greeks at war with the Amazons. There are many records of other matriarchal societies and entirely female armies throughout history, so it seems absurd to deny the existence of the most famous matriarchal society of all.

More to come...