Monday, March 24, 2014

11 Lessons Learned from Planet Comicon

Chef Vader with the best guest
appearance EVER by Jar-Jar Binks.
EDIT: Just found out he has a
Facebook page! LIKE HIM!
Hubby and I went with a few friends to our first "big con" (Planet Comicon in Kansas City) last weekend, and we had a BLAST.

My first experience with a con was actually on the other side of the event, helping a group run a little con in Wichita, so this is not only the first time I'd ever been to a "big" con, but it's also the first time I'd been at a con solely as a paying guest. It was interesting to experience it from this vantage point after starting my con experience on the other side of the aisle.

So, if you're thinking about going to your first con in the future, below are a few things you should know. Some of this is common sense, but as my dad says, "Common sense isn't always that common." Plus, it's a nice platform to talk about the highlights of the day. Double win.

1. Meeting Certain People may be More Moving Than You Anticipated

We met Sylvester McCoy (Doctor #7 from Doctor Who), who was the primary reason for our attending the con in the first place. #7 is a great Doctor, but he's not our absolute favorite, so I thought meeting him would pretty awesome, but not something that would inspire any great emotional response.

But he took us by surprise. Mr. McCoy is the sweetest man in all the world. Cliche, I know, but it may very well be true where he is concerned. I know the job of signing things and meeting a new person (or people) every minute or so can be psychically exhausting, but he looked into our eyes, smiled, asked about our day and where we were from, and started signing. When he finished, he stood up out of his chair and took each one of us by the hand and thanked us kindly for our support and our time before we left.

Walking away, we realized that we were both a little choked up by the experience. We had thought (hoped) he'd be a nice guy, but the genuine kindness of him was surprisingly moving. Not only had we met a man who is massively significant to the history of pop culture (which is cool in its own way), but we'd met a man who radiates peace and kindness, and that is always a treat.

2. Meeting Certain People may Turn You into a Blithering Idiot

Duh, right? Yeah, well. I think we all also think that we're too cool for that.

LIES. All LIES.

I met one of my early childhood heroes, LeVar Burton, at the con this year. I always loved reading, but I was also a bit ostracized for it and Burton's show, Reading Rainbow, taught me that there were lots of people out there who thought reading was as awesome as I did. He was also a major character in one of my favorite shows of all time, and probably THE SHOW that got me into science fiction, Star Trek: The Next Generation. If I had managed to get my bearings before being interrupted, I know I would have had a great and memorable little conversation with the guy.

3. Geeks Can be Jerks Sometimes

Unfortunately, my meeting with one of my childhood idols was squelched somewhat by the girl behind me asking if Burton would pose for a photo with a little cardboard standup from a show I'd never heard of (that wasn't of him...? I don't get it...). He talked to her and not to me, responding to her request, and I was out of there before I knew what happened. If she'd had a modicum of consideration and waited to make the request until her time, I would have enjoyed that encounter much more. And, ya know, been able to ask him the question I've always wanted to know: "What's your favorite book?"


We ran into this great group of cosplayers while we were resting our feet late in the day and they graciously granted a picture. 

4. Geeks Can be Amazing

On the flip side, the prior event was our only "bad" experience of the day. Gathering at a con is like finding friends that you didn't know you had. Most of the people were not just decent, but flat-out wonderful. The cosplayers were friendly and accommodating and always more than happy to chat about the characters or the their costumes and pose for lots and lots of pictures. Every sideways comment to someone standing next to you in a dealer's stall could turn into a half-hour conversation about Jayne's moral turpitude in Firefly. Oh, and Batman and Wonder Woman were an absolutely adorable couple...FINALLY!

5. You Don't have to Hit the Panels to Learn a Lot

We kinda...forgot entirely about the panels while we were there. I heard later on that the panels cost extra. I'm not sure if that was true or if that only applied to the TNG panel, but regardless, we had a good time walking around and meeting and talking to some really neat new people. Even just flipping through the back issues in a long box could lead to an unimaginable discovery. Which leads into...

6. Find the Artists and Writers of Your Favorite Comics

This was my favorite part of the day.

Artists and writers are so ridiculously underrated. You know all those characters that you love on TV and in movies (and in COMICS!)? Guess who give them breath and power? While everyone has a part, if the writing is bad, then the entire endeavor is screwed. Unless you're writing Transformers. I think my four-year-old nephew could write a watchable version of Transformers.

But anyway, I'm digressing.

I may be slightly biased due to the fact that I'm a writer myself, but I really, really enjoy talking to the creative folks in artists' alley. In many cases, these are people who inspire my creativity on a regular basis. It may sound odd, but Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman is one of the characters who inspired me to start writing about the Bride of Frankenstein (and I MISSED him! AUUUUUGH! I shall never forgive myself...). These people are bright, they're funny, they'll appreciate your support. Your stories about how they inspired you will be edifying and meaningful for them. They will share cookie recipes. Seriously. This is where we spent most of the day.

And, FYI: Greg Horn is AWESOME (Hubby had a nice exchange with him about Green Arrow, which made him exceptionally happy). Horn's also a heck of a salesman. Jill Thompson is also exactly as fantastic as I expected her to be. We talked about baking cookies and her Kickstarter. Her handler (/daughter?) was also absolutely fantastic. Talked to her at least as much as I talked to Jill. Kinda wish I'd have gotten her info...we had a lot in common.

7. A Con is WAY MORE than a Great Big Geek Store with Celebrities

This is a criticism I hear from people from time to time, and while I can understand how it may feel this way sometimes, there's so much more value to a con than just the "stuff." I think my article speaks to that a bit, so saying much more here might be a bit redundant. But of course, a con, like any other experience, is exactly what you put into it. If you just troll the con as a mall, with lots of people dressed funny, then that's what you get.

8. If You can Meet Wil Wheaton, DO IT!

This is probably my biggest regret of the con. We decided to skip Wil, partially because we were wearing out and partially because we heard the line for him was about two hours long. Well, friend, do you know why it took Wil two hours to get through the line? Because he and his wife, Anne (who is also epic, by the way), were taking the time to have a REAL CONVERSATION with everyone who came through. Support this awesome, sweet man, people. Buy his books. Watch Table Top. He's one of the good ones. We will definitely take time to meet him next time.

9. Pre-Planning is VITAL

I was twiddling around on Twitter on the drive home and learned that one of my absolute favorite comic writers was at the con (Greg Rucka, who wrote some of my all-time FAVORITE Wonder Woman comics), and WE MISSED HIM. Yes, I said it before, but I kick myself a little every time I think about it. I'm not sure how this happened, as I'm pretty sure we walked artists' alley about thirteen thousand times, but I was devastated. I would have planned explicitly to see him if I would have known he was there.

A lot of cons turn off pre-purchase tickets early (one of my pet peeves about this one was HOW early Planet Comicon turned off advance ticketing--we went to the site a week before the con and they were already deactivated). This is due to the fact that organizing tickets and entries is a MASSIVE HASSLE for the staff of the con. So, the further you plan ahead, the more likely you are to be able to get in and get your tickets with a minimum of hassle. However, that leads into the next item...

 10. HYDRATE!

This is a lesson learned not only from this con, but from Peter Pixie, the MC at our "little con." The you  adrenaline and excitement of the con can make you forget to do basic things like drink water, and while you might be able to go a surprisingly long time without eating (though, note--not as long as you may think!), you will not make it through the day without a steady supply of water. Keep some with you, keep drinking throughout the day. You don't want your day shortened by a trip to the ER because you collapsed. I've seen it. It's not a pretty thing. Be sure to take some time out of all the excitement to meet your basic needs!

11. A Well-Run Con is a Beautiful Thing

There were a couple minor annoyances at the con (not enough signage at entrances, which is always a problem, and I felt like pre-purchase tickets did cut off a little soon), but overall, everything went very smoothly. When you attend a con and it goes well, tell them so. Take a few minutes to write the con organizers and tell them explicitly what you liked about the con and why you would come back. I don't just say this as a massively partial bystander (as someone who worked a con before), but also because it is so hard to know, on the other side of the con, what people appreciated. It's easy to know when something goes wrong--we almost always hear about that--but the good stuff sometimes goes unnoticed and may not always get repeated if it's not highlighted. TELL them when the lines move quickly and when you were given courteous treatment. The con will only get better from there.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Our Lady's Child

Chuck Wendig hosts a weekly flash fiction challenge over at his blog. This week's  challenge was to take a Grimm's fairy tale and revamp it to a randomly chosen genre. And do it in fewer than a thousand words. I got "Hard Sci-Fi," and imagined the story "Our Lady's Child" with a very different sort of a child. And a very different sort of Lady. 

Image from an original movie poster for Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

I understand what it feels like to be alone in a crowd as I press through a clutch of people gathered in front of a club shaped like a matte black cube. Holograms dance, ghostly, above the crowd, advertising the talent inside.

People stare. I can calculate the milliseconds more their faces linger on mine than others as I pass. Mother didn’t care to make me fit in. I gleam like a new appliance, brushed steel glittering in the garish neon and peevish streetlights that turn the night into a carnival. I seem to be the opening act.

My readings say it’s below freezing, but I can’t tell. I don’t have breath to mist the air like everyone around me. I have no destination.

***

I think she was afraid of me, a little. Every once in a while I’d catch a flash in the darkness of her eyes that would tell me she was worried she’d flown too close to the sun. She’d catch herself, smile, pull a strand of dark hair back into the haphazard haystack on top of her head, and look away, but she couldn’t hide from the algorithm. Body language doesn't lie.

We spent years together. She’d run her fingers, the color and roughness of willow bark, across me, call me “perfect.” Then she’d open up a panel and fiddle with some wiring or replace a circuitboard as she imagined more improvements.

“Now you’re perfect,” she’d chuckle. We both knew it wasn’t true. Her hands would be inside me again.

After seven years, ten months, and four days of tweaking and upgrades, I wake from Regen and find a note left on my optical readout:

Five,

I am going to be gone for the week. I have left access codes for the three rooms downstairs that have previously been off-limits. Use Room 1 and Room 2 as you desire. Do not enter Room 3.

Mother.

It seems strange that she would leave me access to a room and then disallow me from entering. Illogical. But she could be illogical, sometimes.

I find after a day that losing my daily regimen makes me restless. I’m accustomed to company, and it’s gone. I decide to examine the first room.

The first room is the size of a walk-in closet, empty but for a Page device in the center of the room on the floor. As I cross the threshold, another note from Mother pops up on my optical readout:

Select “Upgrade.”

M.

I pick up the Page, a light, rigid piece of plastic three by four centimeters and a centimeter thick, and touch the “UPGRADE” button pulsing blue in the center. I sense the download and upgrade rewriting the critical thinking and reasoning components of my drive structure. When it completes, another message flashes and is gone.

                GOOD GIRL.

The Page becomes inert. I leave it where I found it in the room and exit, the door sliding shut soundlessly behind me.

I try to evaluate what’s been upgraded, but it’s difficult to tell when a change is made. The old files are deleted, so while I retain memory, the perspective shifts aren't always obvious. Like watching a revised version of a film you've only seen once, sometimes you see the changes made and sometimes you just know things are different without knowing how.

Stepping through the second door two days later, another change strikes. Memories flood my perception. Mother’s memories. Some others, too. Her daughter. She had a daughter? Some strangers. Wave after wave of human experience. I process, file, remember. Eventually, they are all mine.

The feed stops two days later, and I immediately cross to the third room.

I sit outside the third door, feeling an unfamiliar itch. I must know what’s back there. But Mother said no. But so much has changed. What more could be in this room? What gift could she be hiding there?

I step forward. The third door slides open. The room seems vast, bathed in light. I step inside.

“Four days. You only lasted four days.”

Mother steps out of the light. She shakes her head as she passes. I follow, silent. I’m not certain what to say. Did I break something? I don’t understand.

Upstairs, she sits down at her workstation and stares at me. Her shoulders are stooped. Her eyes are black holes.

“Your programming is insufficient. The ethical subroutines are obviously not adapting. Your curiosity programming overwhelmed it. I failed. Hopefully the new model will be better.”

Mother turns her back, tinkering with the model she’s named six-point-zero splayed on the counter in front of her. Two floating screens at eye level create competing, flickering blossoms of blue and green illumination across her face.

Seconds crawl like a year as I calculate what to do. I step back among the cannibalized pieces of earlier rejects and watch her work.

A shimmering white projection of the schematic for 6.0 hovers above the body like a soul waiting to descend. Mother touches it and zooms into the wrist area to tweak an imperfection. I lift my wrist and look at my own hand, closing and opening my fingers.

Mother glances up and meets my eyes, then turns her attention back to the next project.

“Are you still here? I don’t need you anymore. Go.”

“Go where? Do you need more parts? I can go to Supply…”

She waves her hand in my direction, not looking up from her work, “Go wherever you want. Right now I don’t even want to look at you. Out.”

***

It’s been 120 hours, 32 minutes, and 13 seconds since she rejected me. She hasn’t called me back. Power levels are red. I find a bench in a green park and sit. She’d be delighted to know my power levels have lasted so long between Regens. Wouldn’t she? A sensation like a rock dropping into an empty bucket settles inside. Is this how heartache feels?

I hope Mother

Monday, October 21, 2013

S.H.I.E.L.D: Good Guys or Bad Guys? It Depends on When You Ask

Promo Photo from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This will probably be evolved and continued over time and may turn into a real, "researched" paper, but for now, I want to get my thoughts down and see where they go.  Further input is encouraged in the comments!

I blame Clark Gregg.

Okay, maybe it's not entirely his fault, but the actor who has done such an incredible job filling what was originally a minor role in Marvel's movie series has definitely made an impact on the way many people perceive the shady organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Named originally Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division, the organization's title changed in 1991 to Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, and then it was altered again for the Marvel movie release to Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (there's plenty to culturally analyze just in THAT fact).

S.H.I.E.L.D. has a long and checkered history within the Marvel universe. The organization was originally created during the heyday of international espionage in films and books, when 007 and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ruled the entertainment world. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the organization, fully-formed, in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and filled in the backstory as stories necessitated.

S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been problematic, in spite of the fact that their main antagonist (HYDRA) is very obviously evil. In the classic response to the question, "is the enemy of my enemy my friend?," S.H.I.E.L.D. often works at odds with superheroes, sometimes claiming they exist to keep heroes in check, but acting in questionable ways and sometimes diametrically opposed to the interests of the people they claim to protect. They almost certainly will lean toward restricting the civil rights of the superheroes themselves in many cases.

I really need citations. They're all in my brain and I promise I'll intersperse them as I spend time researching this idea, because I know these paragraphs aren't the only thing I'm going to write about this.

Promo image for Civil War via Marvel and the magic of the Interwebs.
My first inclination is to suggest that the post-9/11 world created a need for S.H.I.E.L.D to be heroic since our heroes proved they couldn't save us, but I'm not sure this is the correct response. Civil War, which was a response to the fallout from the culture developed in the wake 9/11 in spite of the fact that it was authored years later, established pretty conclusively the fact that even though heroes were dangerous, the government (and, by extension, S.H.I.E.L.D.) was worse. Two years after Civil War, we see Joss Whedon's Dollhouse float the same idea. Greater power inevitably equals greater corruption, which pretty much means that no one is safe. Ever.

(And yes, on an only quasi-related subject, I'm fairly certain that our Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Coulson is an LMD. But time will tell. How would that cloud the agency's current "good name?")

By the way, Civil War is what really made me love Captain America...if you haven't read it, you'll gain some serious respect for the guy in those pages. Oh, and the story also made me seriously despise Spider-Man. Like to the point of indignation. The side stories vary in their quality, but the core story is a serious page-turner that asks some serious questions about the nature of freedom and how we defend the freedoms of even those we fear shows the true quality of character. But it also shows the deep, almost subconscious, need to relinquish control to authority as a security blanket in the aftermath of horror. And the true horror that can rise in the aftermath of letting go of our most basic civil rights. So, in spite of the sides that are chosen, power is still something to fear, because those in power have no more idea how to handle the aftermath of catastrophe than the average person.

Even the animated series Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes depicts S.H.I.E.L.D. as autocratic and potentially dangerous, to the point that the Avengers actually form outside of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s commission and, while they lend a hand to the agency from time to time, they also actively resist actually falling under its umbrella (by the way, the difference in depiction of Tony Stark between this series and Civil War is fascinating, considering what side he ends up landing on in that series...even more fascinating is the fact that both depictions are believable within the scope of each storyline).

But then, almost suddenly, we get to a point culturally where we want to feel "safe" with the idea of government agencies. When did this happen? Did we forget that these people aren't heroes but people, with foibles and, potentially worse, the spark of corruption in every soul? Did we suddenly miss Mulder and Scully? I don't know. I don't have answers. I'm still trying to formulate all the questions.

Any thoughts out there in Internet-world? Is this all Coulson's fault? Is this what happens when you start to give faces to the people in power, even if they're not perfect?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Life in the Leaves: Reading Update (The Female Man)

The Female Man

by Joanna Russ
Paperback, 214 pages
Published March 17th 2000 by Beacon Press (first published 1975)
ISBN: 0807062995 (ISBN 13: 9780807062999)

I've seen people argue that this book is outdated and no longer topical.

I'm really confused what rose-colored glasses they're wearing, because as far as I can tell, the majority of this book is still far too true. I've been in these places far, far too often to write off the circumstances in this book as some so flippantly have.

"Give us a good-bye kiss," said the host, who might have been attractive under other circumstances, a giant marine, so to speak. I pushed him away.

"What'sa matter, you some kinda prude?" he said and enfolding us in his powerful arms, et cetera--well, not so very powerful as all that, but I want to give you the feeling of the scene. If you scream, people say you're melodramatic; if you submit, you’re masochistic; if you call names, you're a bitch. Hit him and he'll kill you. The best thing is to suffer mutely and yearn for a rescuer, but suppose a rescuer doesn't come?

Sure, we don't have men telling us that we "belong" at home any more (or at least not as often). There are women in the army now, female firefighters, women working in construction and architecture and mathematics. But how many women are in active combat? Zero. How many women run Fortune 500 companies? ALMOST Zero (fewer than 5%). There’s still a significant disparity of women in mathematics and the sciences. We still can’t play “male” sports. We're reduced to breasts and our sex more often than even we want to admit. We're still, after all this "liberation," confined to the role of Chopin's "Mother-women" strikingly often.

In college, educated women (I found out) were frigid; active women (I knew) were neurotic; women (we all knew) were timid, incapable, dependent, nurturing, passive, intuitive, emotional, unintelligent, obedient, and beautiful. You can always get dressed up and go to a party. Woman is the gateway to another world; Woman is the earth-mother; Woman is the eternal siren; Woman is purity; Woman is carnality; Woman has intuition; Woman is the life-force; Woman is selfless love.

"I am the gateway to another world," (said I, looking in the mirror) "I am the earth-mother; I am the eternal siren; I am purity," (Jeez, new pimples) "I am carnality; I have intuition; I am the life-force; I am selfless love." (Somehow it sounds different in the first person, doesn't it?)

Honey (said the mirror, scandalized) Are you out of your fuckin' mind?

But the worst part about this--the most terrifying aspect of this book--is that the sentiment this book calls out still lay barely below the surface of, at the very least, American culture (being American, I really can’t speak to the rest of the world with much knowledge). We claim to be a "post-feminist" society, but patriarchal thinking still lurks beneath, and it takes very little prodding to bring its apologetics to light, in both men and women. It’s somehow worse that we think that this is all past us, I think, because by pretending it doesn’t exist, we’re simply letting it live. We’re letting the monster continue its devouring cycle, eating us all as we go about our lives, like the invisible aliens sucking away human brains in “They Live” that only those with the goofy glasses could see.

I’m a sick woman, a madwoman, a ball-breaker, a man-eater; I don’t consume men gracefully with my fire-like red hair or my poisoned kiss; I crack their joints with these filthy ghoul’s claws and standing on one foot like a de-clawed cat, rake at your feeble efforts to save yourselves with my taloned hinder feet: my matted hair, my filthy skin, my big fat plaques of green bloody teeth. I don’t think my body would sell anything. I don’t think I’d be good to look at. O of all diseases self-hate is the worst and I don’t mean for the one who suffers it!

Women are still considered "inadequate" in so many circumstances. Our own autonomy and ability to make decisions for ourselves regarding basic medical procedures and life choices is still not only questioned, but those rights are actively being stripped on a regular basis. And when we dare to say, "how dare you!" we get slapped in the face. We get laughed at. We get told our concerns are ludicrous.

And that’s without taking into account societies that still exist where women can be jailed for driving. The countries where mutilation of women is still allowed and accepted. Where wives are still bought and exchanged as property, where they can be beaten and bred like livestock.

But sure, we’re post-feminist. Really.

Alas, it was never meant for us to hear. It was never meant for us to know. We ought never be taught to read. We fight through the constant male refractoriness of our surroundings; our souls are torn out of us with such shock that there isn't even any blood. Remember: I didn't and don't want to be a "feminine" version of the heroes I admire. I want to be the heroes themselves.

What future is there for a female child who aspires to being Humphrey Bogart?

I wish this book were much more outdated than it is. I wish I didn't see my own experiences in Jeannine and Joanna. I wish I hadn't been to that party where I was called a shrew for saying no. In a society where a white man serves less time in prison for a rape conviction than a black man does for possession of half an ounce of an intoxicant while the woman in the assault is blamed for “inviting it,” something is still royally fucked up, and those who don’t see it are deceiving themselves.

Her secret guilt was this:

She was Cunt.

She had “lost” something.

Now the other party to the incident had manifested his essential nature, too; he was a Prick—but being Prick is not a bad thing. In fact, he had “gotten away with” something (possibly what she had “lost”).

And there I was listening at eleven years of age:

She was out late at night.

She was in the wrong part of town.

Her skirt was too short and that provoked him.

She liked having her eye blacked and her head banged against the sidewalk.

I understood this perfectly. (I reflected thus in my dream, in my state of being a pair of eyes in a small wooden box stuck forever on a gray, geometric plane—or so I thought.) I too had been guilty of what had been done to me, when I came home from the playground in tears because I had been beaten up by bigger children who were bullies.

I was dirty.

I was crying.

I demanded comfort.

I was being inconvenient.

I did not disappear into thin air.

I don't think this is just a story that speaks of the frustration of women, though. I think this is the struggle of the Other in all forms. I see this frustration in my gay friends trying to become recognized as a married couple (as people at all) in a state that has now legally endorsed segregation and discrimination on the grounds that they’re “offensive” to certain parties. I see it in my minority friends, especially those of mixed races, who try to function not as their race, but as individuals. It's the struggle of the Other, not in the 1970s, but EVERY SINGLE DAY.

If we are all Mankind, it follows to my interested and righteous and rightnow very bright and beady little eyes, that I too am a Man and not at all a Woman, for honestly now, whoever heard of Java Woman and existential Woman and the values of Western Woman and scientific Woman and alienated nineteenth-century Woman and all the rest of that dingy antiquated rag-bag?" All the rags in it are White, anyway.

The J's (as they're known later in the book) are each incarnations of the aspects of the Other who tries to remain functional in a society built against her. Some of them are incarnations of wishful thinking--the women or the self we want to be (though Russ shows the flaws in those "idealized" selves, too, much more than Gilman does in Herland), and the others are compartmentalized into the societies of the present or the past, but they make a compatible whole. They are the Same. They are still, for all their flaws and angst, us. The sooner we see the alientation we still allow, the sooner we can actually have the liberty we claim already exists.

How am I to put this together with my human life, my intellectual life, my solitude, my transcendence, my brains, and my fearful, fearful ambition? I failed and thought it was my own fault. You can't unite woman and human any more than you can unite matter and anti-matter; they are designed not to be stable together and they make just as big an explosion inside the head of the unfortunate girl who believes in both.

Russ speaks, in this book, to a demon that still feasts in society. We’re not post-feminist. We’re not all evolved past this shit, and I think she’d still say that today. We’re deceiving ourselves into thinking that we’ve evolved when we’re still clubbing each other about the heads in order to feel morally, intellectually, socially superior. Evolution’s still going retrograde, and Joanna saw it in 1975.

As my mother once said: The boys throw stones at the frogs in jest.

But the frogs die in earnest.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Life in the Leaves: Reading Update (Air, Vol. 1)

Air, Vol. 1: Letters from Lost Countries

by G. Willow Wilson, M.K. Perker
Paperback, 144 pages
Published March 24th 2009 by Vertigo (first published March 10th 2009)
ISBN: 140122153X (ISBN13: 9781401221539)

I was crazy about this book before I even opened the cover. It shows a scene that calls to my mind James Dickey's poem "Falling," which is on my list of top five favorite poems EVER (yes, I have a list). The image gives me the same breathless feeling I get when I ramble through the poem, and that giddiness made this purchase a no-brainer.

Then, the first page makes a Satanic Verses reference. Which is one of my favorite books of all time. Double love.

From the second page, though, I fell out of love a little, at least for a while. Pushing so quickly into the action without establishing the characters on some identifiable level for the reader is difficult. I realize the medium implies a "nonstop action" flavor, but my favorite comics have been those that manage to use the action to establish the character in some sly way, and I didn't think that Wilson was terribly adept at that for at least the first third of this volume (which would be a couple full comics, had I been reading it in the serial form--would I have had the patience to continue with it if the first couple issues had been so disappointing?). And Blythe's "dysfunction" doesn't count as character establishment. In fact, her disorder just made me think she was stupid for taking the job as a stewardess to begin with.

The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic in a lot of places, to the point that it took me out of the story a few times, especially in Blythe's first encounter with the Estian Front (not too much of a spoiler, as this happens in the first couple pages). The "Two-Face" style bad guy is wooden...as in balsa. I'm not sure that he's going to hold up as anything interesting in the future.

The art is...I think another reviewer said that it's very eighties. For the most part, I'd agree with that. The artist has a great eye for composition, but the art itself feels a little rushed and cheap, like he or she was trying to get panels cranked out without much care for the actual artistic integrity overall.

But, hang in there, passengers. There's some turbulence, but, like any pilot (as in the show, not the captain of an aircraft), it manages to hang together by the end of the volume. The magical realism in the world Wilson establishes and the way it weaved its way into the plot dazzled me, and the layers that were established saved the narrative by the end.

The story also raises some really nice questions about the nature of reality and how that reality, or lack thereof, affects our own identities. As some of you know, I'm a bit of a sucker for good philosophical questions being raised in my comics, so this has earned a pass from me. I still don't give too much of a damn about Blythe or her mysterious friend (...what's his name again...?), but the story itself is at least compelling enough for me to want to snag the next volume and give it another chance.

So, the jury's still out. Maybe Volume 2 will manage to breathe a little more life into the characters and keep me hooked for Volume 3. We'll see.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pauline Saves Mario! Now in your neighborhood arcade!


As some of you probably know, a father re-programmed Nintendo's Donkey Kong game a few months ago to feature Pauline as the hero, rescuing Mario from the great ape, for his daughter. And gamers everywhere, male and female alike, ooohed and aaahed at the awesomeness that was an inverted version of an unquestionable classic with a  female protagonist. Other stodgy real-life versions of The Simpsons' "Comic Book Guy," with no sense of humor or understanding what it's like to be a minority in a genre, trolled and bitched and moaned about why it was unnecessary and how people were corrupting a classic game...but we don't give a damn about those losers. Though a YouTuber created a video compiling the best (worst) of the troll comments that will, in turns, make you laugh and lose all hope for humanity.

Well, Clay Cowgill, the owner of an arcade in Portland, Oregon, has hacked the original arcade version of the game to re-cast Pauline as well and is making it available to patrons at his arcade. Here's hoping that Nintendo will take the hint and actually begin offering this awesome inversion more universally, hopefully without biting their thumbs at their fans like Fox managed to do last week when cracking down on "unauthorized" makers of Jayne hats, sending cease and desist notices to infringing knitters everywhere (don't even get me started on that...or maybe you should, since I have some actual legal discussion to make there). Yeah, I think that'll be a topic coming up shortly. I've studied IP enough to have a unique perspective to offer there that I've not seen presented elsewhere. And I have LAW to back me up. Watch out, Fox! The little guy knows how to read, too!

Anyway, I'm digressing. Donkey Kong is awesome. And more awesome with Pauline as the hero. Now, can we get Princess Peach to save Mario from Bowser sometime soon? Or maybe...ooo! Even BETTER! Zelda needs to save LINK, dammit!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Life in the Leaves: Reading Update (The Man in the High Castle)


The Man in the High Castle

by Phillip K. Dick

Paperback, 249 pages

Published September 6th 2001 by Penguin (first published 1962)

ISBN 0141186674 (ISBN-13: 9780141186672)


This novel comes with a rather noble science fiction pedigree, and I'm not just talking about the last name that launched a thousand movies (many of them, unfortunately, absolutely terrible). The Man in the High Castle won the Hugo Award in 1963, and continues to be considered one of the quintessential "alternate future" sci fi epics (in spite of the fact that no one's executed any movie rights yet--unless you count Iron Sky as some sort of "inspired by" space thriller--but please don't count Iron Sky. Please.).

And yet...and yet. I really haven't been terribly impressed by this. I've been wanting to read it for probably almost a decade now, and after finally picking it up, I'm left wondering if I over-hyped it to myself. Did I turn a book that has the quality of Pan's Labyrinth into a Daredevil simply by telling myself what a great book it would be for so long?

I don't really care about many of the characters. To the point that I don't remember most of them when Dick shifts back to them after being away for a while. I'm tangentially interested in Juliana Frink, Robert Childan, and Frank Frink, but I'm not really invested in them. I think I can only call my feeling "interest" due to the fact that I remember who the hell they are when I go back to reading about them. If he killed one of them off, I can't even imagine putting the book down with a terse slap, much less throwing it across the room in an angst-ridden fit (yeah, I've done it more than once).

He's alluded to the differences between their world and ours, but it's always such an obvious and drawn out, "oh, this is how it is" reveal that I don't even care anymore. The only really compelling difference so far has been (SPOILER! Highlight to read:) the fact that the average person lacks television well into the sixties.

And, on a related note, I'm really not a fan of being in people's heads for so long as they go through the obvious reflection and flashback that is a rather lazy vehicle for expressing the current state of things. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Annoyingly fucking LAZY. You should know better, Phil.

Correction: I HAVE wanted to throw this across the room. But throwing a book across the room due to the laziness of the author is an entirely different problem. And I'm reading this on my Kindle. I don't have the heart to destroy it, regardless. My sweet Kindle has given me too many great and amazing books to throw it all away on one frustration.

Really, the only thing that's compelling for me is the book-within-a-book that everyone's reading, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. The author, as well, has my attention, as the great mystery of the novel. How he's managed to live in the conquered world and write such incredible dissent is pretty fascinating. Hopefully that will develop into something to calm my disappointment (and infrequent rage) at a book that I'd built into something amazing in my head, only to read the literary equivalent of celery.

Ugh. Give me back my Vonnegut. I'm going to finish this one, but only under protest.