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...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The complicated origin of Wonder Woman

This is the Earth 1/Silver Age origin of Wonder Woman using the version published in DC Special Series #19 (November 1979) as the basis, with additions and variations from elsewhere as noted. I am not including references from the Golden Age version as that would just make things even more complicated. The Amazons are originally created by Aphrodite as a race of super women (1) who will defeat all men that stand against them through force of arms because they have the power of love (2). She gives Queen Hippolyte (3) a magic girdle which makes them unconquerable. At Mars' direction Hercules eventually defeats them by seducing Hippolyte and stealing the magic girdle before enslaving them all. Hippolyte appeals to Aphrodite who frees them (4) but commands that they must forever after wear the wrist bands that chained them "to teach them the folly of submitting to men". Should a man ever chain them they will become as weak as a normal woman and if they ever remove them they will "lose all control of their emotions" (5). The girdle is retrieved though Hippo's sister (6) Antiope, wife of Thesius (7) dies in the battle (8). Aphrodite decides to separate them from men completely and sends them off to Paradise Island and just to make sure, she decrees that no man may set foot there or the amazons would lose their powers (9). Oddly it never seems to occur to anyone that this is a bad weakness in their defences. If any enemy were to attack Paradise Island, all they would need to do would be to get one man onto the island for the amazons to lose their powers. Mars never takes advantage of this however, and in fact never attacks Paradise Island directly (10), so presumably he has some private understanding with Aphrodite about it. At this point the story gets a little vague. We are told that the Amazons have been on Paradise Island for a thousand years, and Aphrodite does bring them the odd toy now and then, like the Magic Sphere (11) that allows them to keep up to date on the outside world, and indeed get well ahead of it on scientific advances (12). But after 900+ years Queen Hippolyte becomes sad for the lack of anyone to love other than all (13) the other amazons and so Athene directs her to sculpt an infant child (14) which is then brought to life by Aphrodite(15). At this point in some versions of the story several other gods visit to imbue the infant Diana with special powers. Oddly, this includes Hercules. Perhaps after all this time he has reformed and wants to make amends for seducing and then mugging Hippolyte before subjecting the entire Amazon nation to slavery, the direct result of which was their cutting themselves off from the outside world and their stuck with wearing chunky bracelets for 1000 years. Sadly, in no version of the origin is this point addressed. What many consider to be the first Silver Age version of the origin story (16) appears in Wonder Woman #105, and although it is the first to involve the gods doing their fairy godmother routine, it does so in a context that is inconsistent with every other version of the story. Here Diana is born well before the Amazons go into isolation, and they only do so because all their menfolk have died in the wars and they just want to cut themselves off from such a savage world. In fact here Diana as a teenager builds the ship (17) they leave in. Its only claim to accuracy anywhere is the gods’ gift, which is grafted onto later versions of the story. Seen purely in context with earlier versions it is one big mess of inaccuracies and omissions. Things then start to get a little surreal. As Diana grows up she is often referred to first as Wonder Tot and later Wonder Girl. At both periods of her life she wears an outfit that contains motifs from the costume she wears as Wonder Woman. We are even shown her performing trials to win these motifs as a teenager. She and her mother are fully aware of her destiny as Wonder Woman as they have a device that allows them to observe her future adventures. The final act of the story opens with Steve Trevor crashing an aircraft near Paradise Island. Diana rescues him and nurses him back to health. The rules about no man setting foot on the island are here severely strained as the spirit of the law is broken even if the letter of the law is observed. Diana carries Steve onto the island and he then spends his time on tables or in beds to avoid so much as a toe making contact with the floor. I am assuming that this is one of the many exceptions Aphrodite makes (18) as she seems to have set the whole thing up. Hippolyte consults Aphrodite who tells her that an Amazon (19) must escort the man home and stay to fight against evil and injustice. Hippolyte declares a contest to choose who will get the honour despite the fact that she has known for years that Diana will win it. I can only assume that she's been sniffing the mists of Nepenthe. She even forbids Diana to take part because she can't bear to let her go, but Diana enters anyway, wearing an unconvincingly small mask. Either the other Amazons are extremely stupid or they must be humouring her by pretending that they are at all fooled by it (20). Inevitably, Diana wins the contest. Probably because of those powers the gods gave her at birth. She is given her costume that Aphrodite has cunningly designed for her incorporating patriotic symbols of the country to which she is heading. Aphrodite has also directed Hippolyte to take some links from her magic girdle to create a magic lasso. Diana flies Steve back to America in her magic invisible robot plane which she just happened to have lying around (21). Arriving in America, Diana is a bit mystified as to what to do next. Although the Amazons have been observing the outside world for centuries and looting it for technological advances she seems oddly unprepared for her situation (22). Eventually she bumps into a crying nurse who coincidently is her identical twin, has the same name, and is tending Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman finances a trip to South America for her in exchange for her identity. There are several mutually exclusive variations on what becomes of this woman later, though all but one (23) refer to the golden age/Earth 2 Wonder Woman. And so established as a nurse in a military hospital where security is so lax that nobody notices the difference, Princess Diana becomes Diana Prince and nurses Steve Trevor back to health. When Steve returns to duty she follows him and somehow manages to get a job as his secretary in Military Intelligence (24) and spends many years having a chaste romance with him despite his treating her like a servant in her secret identity and alternately nagging her to marry him or exhibiting bouts of insane jealousy when she is in her heroic identity and they live happily ever after until he drops dead, gets resurrected, dies again, and is finally replaced by an alternate version from another dimension. Notes 1. from clay according to #159 2. no, I’ve never quite understood how that works, either 3. often spelled Hippolyta 4. or supports them when they free themselves 5. invariably this is depicted as running berserk with overwhelming anger and never any other emotion, which suggests they must be repressing a lot normally, and somehow it doesn't seem to apply to Diana when in her secret identity. 6. if they were all created simultaneously by Aphrodite surely they are all sisters? 7. only mention that the amazons had anything to do with men. 8. in #247 it is an Amazon called Diana who dies at this point 9. other consequences appear to be them losing their immortality and crumbling to dust (#223) earthquakes, and sundry disasters, or immediately falling in love with the visitor (#216), although Aphrodite seems to suspend this law as it suits her (25) 10. except #198 when he is wearing a false beard, calling himself Ares, and claiming Hippolyte is his daughter, but perhaps this is an alternate dimension Ares/Mars. 11. it's a disc. 12. though we never, ever see any of the infrastructure required to create their advanced society. Where are the mines, refineries, factories, etc? It’s not like they can import anything. 13. how many women make up the Amazon nation is also very unclear, as is the size of the island they live on. 14. she usually looks like a toddler, so Hippo is cunningly bypassing all that midnight feeding and diaper changing business. 15. the addition of a second infant only appears in #206 and is otherwise ignored. 16. there’s one in #97 but I’ll probably end up doing a whole separate article to explain why this should be ignored. 17. how many can one ship hold? All the main versions only show them using a single ship, which rather limits the size of the population. See (13). 18. without telling the amazons. 19. in Secret Origins she specifically states "a young Amazon". Since no men are allowed on Paradise Island, they are either kidnapping girls from the outside world or cloning themselves, because otherwise the only young Amazon is Diana. What a giveaway. 20. They are a small closed society who have been together for a thousand years. It is absurd to think that everyone would not know everyone else. They would immediately know who the masked one was, if only by a process of elimination. 21. in Golden Age continuity each of these items is quested for separately. 22. though not as unprepared as Orana in #250 who is so utterly clueless that she mistakes policemen for villains. 23. issue #172. 24. the story glosses over this part. 25. she must have a soft spot for I-Ching, who is allowed to visit in #198 without any problems; unless he is secretly a female transvestite or had a sex change

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

If I was an evil overlord

If you've never read The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord then you are missing out on some fun stuff. I always wanted to add something to the list but they seemed to have covered just about everything you could expect to find in Evil Overlording for Dummies. And then I was inspired by a film (which I won't name as it would be a tremendous spoiler) to produce this:

When my #1 agent has seduced an enemy of the opposite sex and led them into a trap, but probably fallen in love with them, I will not then command my agent to take the enemy away alone to a secluded spot and execute them. I will send my agent out to get pizza and while they are gone I will have the enemy immediately executed by a firing squad of people they have never met.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Double Feature

It's true! Not that you'd know it from the amount of feedback I get, but like a successful comic character I'm getting a feature spot in a whole other blog!

From now on I can also be found at Comics Should Be Good where I will be subverting the establishment from the inside with tales of obscure comic characters, and other such revolutionary activities.

This shouldn't make a whole lot of difference to what goes on here. The plan (such as it is) for CSBG is to focus on more stand alone articles, while the long rambling series and obscure Wonder Woman related trivia continue here. How it will work out in practice is anybody's guess.

Edit: It's my first entry over there, and already I've got a crossover going. What next? House of Infinite Crisis of Super Secret Blog Wars?

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Other Amazons 2: Marvel's Hippolyta

DC and Marvel have both looted the world's myths and legends for characters and ideas, and even though early on Marvel staked a claim on the Norse pantheon with Thor and DC got the greco-roman gods with Wonder Woman they weren't averse to poaching on each other's territory and doing their own interpretations. I believe Thor actually appeared in a DC comic before Marvel even existed. He certainly showed up more than once after Marvel made such a success of him, though usually in a much more traditional form with a big red beard to avoid copyright issues.

One mythical character who achieved a long history with both publishers was Hercules. He features in Wonder Woman's origin as both villain and benefactor. Despite having enslaved the Amazons and being the root cause of their seclusion from the rest of the world, he becomes one of the patron gods that show up at Diana's birth to do the good fairy bit and ply her with gifts. He also appears elsewhere in DC as a hero, even gaining his own title briefly. Over at Marvel Hercules is often portrayed as Thor's opposite number on the rival greek team. They occasionally fight and often team up. Hercules also had a title of his own at Marvel once or twice.

But at one point in Thor Hercules becomes a regular member of the cast, and it is in Thor #127 that Pluto plots against him and is assisted by Queen Hyppolita (sic) of the Amazons.

It's an interesting sidelight on propoganda that your point of view changes how you tell a story. Since Hercules is the hero in the days when superhero stories were less morally ambiguous, his backstory with Hippolita is at some variance with the DC version and the myth cycle on which it is based, and Hippo is here cast as the spurned lover out to get revenge for his rejection of her advances, rather than the victim of his attack.

And so Hippo plays the femme fatale with Hercules, tricking him into signing a contract with Pluto while masquerading as a movie star in a film production calculated to appeal to Hercules' vanity, since it is a movie where he gets to play himself. But once the contract is signed and the deception revealed, Pluto and Hippo vanish off to Olympus. But sadly Pluto arrives alone and Hippo is never seen again. It's a shame because Jack Kirby was having a lot of fun with her, and she didn't get up to anything nearly as interesting at DC (other than a little light brainwashing) since the Wonder Family were retired.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Other Amazons

In 1942 Wonder Woman arrived in the U.S.A. from Paradise Island as the representative of the Amazon nation to help with America's war effort. Fifteen years later Action Comics #235 featured a story in which Lois Lane is shipwrecked on a desert island and meets another, lost tribe of Amazons.

It's probably just as well she hadn't arrived at the original Amazon homeland.

Superman blunders in as usual to bail Lois out of trouble but in doing so breaks local laws that forbid any man to set foot on the island. Luckily the consequenses seem rather less dire than if he had made the same mistake on Paradise Island, but Amazon queen Elsha declares that by their law he must be sold as a slave. Superman smugly goes along with this for a laugh, and with no real respect for another culture, believing that no chains can hold him, but he has quite forgotten that this is a period where kryptonite can turn up anywhere, and guess what his chains are made of?

And yet the kryptonite fails to affect Supes, so he allows events to unfold while he tries to work out what is preventing the kryptonite from hurting him. The Amazon queen holds a ceremonial auction to sell the super-slave. It is clearly ceremonial since she gets to be auctioneer and also to bid, using funds from the royal treasury, which one assumes would also be the beneficiary of any profits from the sale, so she is basically selling to herself. But Lois fails to understand the ceremonial nature of the event and attempts to destablize the local economy by introducing vast quantities of american money into the country in order to influence the situation.

In an attempt to stave off this foreign imperialism Elsha ends centuries of tradition by declaring emancipation. But there still remains an ancient law relating to male trespass that the queen desperately attempts to enforce, which decrees that the offender will be married to the first woman who can give him a task he cannot perform.
After graciously allowing Lois and her friends to set tasks Elsha once again shows the entirely ceremonial nature of these laws that Superman and Lois have so completely failed to grasp, setting him the task of making her a commoner. The solution to this task is in plain view, but rather than responding with the symbolic gesture that is clearly called for here, Superman acts entirely selfishly and completely destroys her royal emblem of authority, rather than symbolically "losing" it as is all that is required. Thus the culture is destablised further as the legal authority is removed from power due to Superman's blundering self-centred attitude.

And yet his own hubris defeats him, for once Supes has destroyed the crown it becomes apparent that it was this that was counteracting the effects of the kryptonite, and he is so pissed that he immediately leaves the civilisation he has wrecked, never thinking to ask if there was any more where that came from.

And that's the last we hear of the alternative Amazons. Superman never bothers to mention to his fellow Justice League member that he's found a lost offshoot of her race reduced to its last few members, struggling to preserve their ancient ways on a nearby island. But then he's probably just embarrassed about the damage he has done to another culture in pursuit of personal interests.

Dog eat cat

In Star Trek we are introduced to different cultures that are supposed to represent different attitudes or points of view, thus we have the aggressive Klingons who are given the traits of predators and extremes of warrior cultures, and the Ferengi whose lives revolve around acquisitiveness and the accumulation of wealth.

And yet the writers often think quite short term with these differing cultures and introduce elements that really make no sense in context. There was the early episode of DS9 where education and basic literacy were considered a waste of time to the most acquisitive species in the galaxy, as it hadn't occured to them (or at least to the writer) that knowledge is power.

A consideration of the warrior culture of the Klingons doesn't bear much examination, either. The driving credo that it is shameful for a Klingon not to die in battle might work for a small hunter/gatherer culture of northern Europe where every fit male was by definition a warrior, but in an interplanetary culture (particularly one that practices sexual equality) the majority would be working in support services, and never get the opportunity to fight a battle, let alone die in one.

But don't all klingons aspire to the same ideals? You are left with an image where every hair stylist and checkout girl is just looking for an excuse to face mortal danger. Every restaurant serves blowfish as standard because of the risk factor and childrens' toys are only rejected if they don't have spiky bits. But would you want every bus driver or postal worker to be thinking "Today is a good day to die"? It would surely have to lead to a very tense society.

And as for the whole concept of promotion by assassination, it may have some merit in assuring that those in charge are the fittest and strongest, but they must also be the most paranoid.

There's a great Jonah Hex story about a girl who goes around picking fights with famous gunslingers. They don't take her seriously so she shoots them and claims it was a fair fight because she had called them out. Which all works fine and dandy until she tries it on Jonah, and of course he does take it seriously and blows her head off.

But back to Klingon society. You'd think there might be some basic etiquette about when it was appropriate to assassinate the boss. Like it would be bad form during a mission to stab him in the back unless he was actually incompetent. It must be hard to get anything done when the guys you are leading are as much of a threat as the enemy.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Mother Hutton's Littul Kittons

Over the course of your life you read stories in comics and books, watch movies at a movie theater or on TV, and for the most part they entertain and go on their way, but now and again for no obvious reason one of them sticks forever in your mind.

One of the authors I discovered at an impressionable age was Cordwainer Smith. He didn't write a whole lot, and all his science fiction works can be found in two volumes of short stories and one novel, but he had such style. He seemed to be in love with language itself, and his words are poetic and evocative, weaving subtext and symbolism and hinting at so much more while telling hard science fiction stories with titles like The Colonel Came Back from Nothing At All, Scanners Live In Vain, The Game of Rat and Dragon, The Dead Lady of Clown Town, and The Lady Who Sailed the Soul.

These stories give glimpses of a history stretching far into the future, where the Go Captains and their starships are protected from the dragons of space by pinlighters and their cats, where the galaxy is ruled by the benign dictatorship of the near immortal Lords of the Instrumentality, defended by the mythical golden ships larger than moons, and served by the underpeople - animals genetically altered to a human form (including, yes, catgirls), and where the secret of immortality can only be found on the planet of Nostrilia, where giant sheep are farmed for a sickness that produces Stroon, the immortality drug.

But when you produce the most valuable commodity in the galaxy, you need the best security system in the galaxy. Nostrillia has Mother Hutton's Littul Kittons, and for one reason or another the phrase has stuck with me ever since I first read about them.

And no, I can't tell you what Mother Hutton's Littul Kittons are or I'd have to kill you.

Or worse.