Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Do Women Get Empowered?

So, I re-read Empowered Vol. 2 and read through Vol. 3 tonight. As usual, I loved it, and it's great to see some of the subplots coming to a head. Hopefully next issue (September?!) will give us the Weregiraffe-By-Night, because few things would be awesomer.

But I was thinking, I don't see many of the illustrious feminist bloggers talking about Empowered. Granted, I don't see many bloggers of either gender or any political philosophy talking about the series. Sure, Chris Sims does, and he reads great feminist titles like Anita Blake and Tarot, but what about everyone else?

When I read Empowered, what I see is someone trying to do something more worthwhile with fan service. After all, that's how the book started: Adam Warren drew some heroine-in-bondage commissions, and eventually turned them into a real story with fleshed-out characters. That seems to be the mission statement for the series; even when it delves into blatant fan service, it does something clever with it. In the latest volume, one passage was used to give us the lowdown on the unwritten rules of superheroics, while another was narrated by the always spectacular and amazingly alliterative Caged Demonwolf.

But gnawing at the back of my brain, borne no doubt of a healthy dose of liberal guilt, is the lingering question: isn't it still fan service? Doesn't it still just boil down to fetish porn? Sure, Warren's using it to poke fun at superhero tropes and the objectification of women in comics, but he's still using objectification and fetishy fan service to do it. Does a good story excuse what might otherwise appear sexist?

I'm not exactly asking for an answer, because I doubt that there is one. And I'm not looking for validation, for Lady Feminist to drop by and say "I grant thee permission to enjoy the books of Sir Adam of Warren, who doth verily draw women of the bootylicious sort." I'm just curious as to why there seems to be so little conversation about a book that ought to be pushing buttons all over the place. Seems like fan service and objectification are some of the blogohedron's favorite topics, and Warren attacks them head-on. Why isn't this book causing more waves?

Whatever your more philosophical musings on the subject, I recommend picking the book up. At least from my point of view, it's fantastic, albeit a little too brief. I polish these things off in a half-hour, then curse the heavens that another installment is six months away. Damn you, Warren!

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Anonymous no more

After a recent bout of oh-so-constructive criticism, I've decided to finally take the plunge and disable anonymous commenting, at least for the time being. I'm not to the point yet where I mind people making assclowns of themselves on my blog--it happens infrequently enough to be amusing instead of annoying--but if you're going to be an assclown, you're going to have to put a name on it.

Incidentally, while I haven't exactly adopted it myself, this seems like a good place to quote Ragnell's brilliant comment policy:

My comment section is not your blog. You want to take a tangent, be abusive, or write a book on how you agree/disagree with me?

Get your own blog. They're free.

Believe me, if I could force people to read my blog, I would. So far, though, all my visitors are voluntary. I welcome disagreement, dissent, criticism, and advice, but at least make it halfway constructive. If that's too much for you to handle, then you can click the little red "x" at the top of the window, or you can click the little orange "B" and start your own blog. I promise, I won't come over there and berate you with inane whining. All I expect is the same courtesy.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This town wouldn't be so bad if not for all the damn vampires

Hey, my middle school colors!I checked out the film version of "30 Days of Night" a couple of weeks ago. As you might recall, I was rather unimpressed by the source material.

You know, it's so rare and refreshing to see a movie that's actually better than the book it's based on. Especially when it's comic-related. "30 Days of Night" improved on nearly every issue I had with the book. In fact, I think the only problem that remained was the sense of time, that it didn't feel like a month was passing.

Thankfully, though, they really beefed up the character development. That was the biggest thing missing from the graphic novel, and the filmmakers wisely fixed that. Moving the survivors from the vaguely-defined underground furnace to the attic of an abandoned house was a great move, both for clarity and for symbolism's sake.

Cutting out the subplot of the Louisianan photographer was a good move. While it might work for universe-building (no doubt why the comic did that), it took away from the main story in the book.

But the best addition was the feeling of suspense and horror. Giving the vampires their own language of hisses and growls was inspired; it really helped dehumanize them, which coupled with the Ben Templesmith designs, made them far more menacing than they had been in the comic. Giving us several scenes where they appear only in the shadows or on the fringes was a nice touch. That might have been what Templesmith was going for in the original text, but the muddiness of the art and the rushed pace of the story ruined it, if that was indeed the case.

The thing that made me happiest, though, was that they kept the creepy little girl. That was easily the most effective scene in the book, and it worked very well on screen.

Beyond that, the use of gore was well-done, not in the current trend toward overuse and overstatement. Ending the film at the emotional climax (and leaving off the book's epilogue) was another good choice; while the epilogue would have been good for the possibility of a sequel, it would have been bad for the film's impact. Wouldn't mind seeing it as the start of the next "30 Days" flick.

It's fairly well-known at this point that "30 Days of Night" started as a screenplay, and after seeing it in both movie and comic form, I think it shows. It works much better as a film, to the point where I'll be glad to add it to my collection and I'd look forward to a sequel.

Which is quite a pleasant surprise.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Why'd it have to be snakes?

Top o' the mid-afternoon to ye, folks, and a happy St. Paddy's day to all! In honor of ol' Pat, who allegedly drove the snakes out of Ireland, it seems like a perfect time to run through my Top 5 Favorite Snake-Themed Supervillains (and Groups)!

Oooh, shiny.5. Copperhead: DC's resident snake-suited thug; there's not a whole lot to him, really, especially since he got killed by Manhunter early on in her series. He was a nice, generic villain in the Justice League series, and I'd like to see more power-thugs in the DCU. Too many megalomaniacs, not enough people to work for them.

By the Power of Laoco├Ân!4. The Snake Men: When it became obvious that Skeletor and his minions were a little played out, Mattel decided to come up with a new villainous faction--a third side, against both He-Man and Skeletor. And thus was born the Evil Horde. A few years passed, the Horde became the cartoon villains for She-Ra, and the need for a third faction was felt again. And so we received the Snake Men, a team of ancient villains on a snake theme, who had some cool features and creeped out my mom. Unfortunately, the second coming of the Snake Men (during the second season of the 2002 He-Man series) brought with it this hideous costume, and so they drop down to the fourth slot.

Their costume designer makes a friggin' mint.3. The Serpent Society: Marvel's own snake-themed villain organization, where every member has a snake-themed name, costume, and power set. When those supervillains come up with a theme, they really go all-out. I've always liked the Serpent Society, who sadly seem to be a little too fun for most of Marvel these days. I'd love to do a comic with the Serpent Society, or several, because it seems like there's just a lot of material to mine there. The membership roster is extensive and the powers and costumes are pretty well awesome, so just check out your nearest Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Goatees are evil.2. Kobra: Followers of the Kali Yuga, Kobra is DC's ultra-versatile international cult-slash-terrorist organization. Need a megalomaniacal supervillain group to battle the Flash? Kobra. Need a decentralized terrorist organization to be a foil for Checkmate? Kobra. Need a convenient analogy for religious fanaticism? Kobra. Just need a bunch of nameless henchmen in matching themed costumes? Hydra--er, Kobra. Kobra is plot panacea; they can fit anywhere, they aren't particularly tied to any one hero, and they can make just about any point.


And, obviously...

What a badass cape.

1. Cobra: Sure, they're often only marginally snake-themed, often limited just to vehicles and shock troops, but they're easily the most recognizable, most insanely fantastic group on this list. You almost have to admire a terrorist organization who manage to hold such lofty ideals (world domination, natch) with such a terrible track record. Every aimless laser battle and attempt to hypnotize people with an evil rock band manages to end with Cobra Commander shouting "retreat! Retreat!" but the group keeps on truckin'. After all, when life gives you lemons, you make a new leader using the genetic material of the most ruthless military leaders in history. Sunrise, sunset.

So, when you're out drinking your green beer tonight, raise a glass in tribute to terrorism's little engine that can't, Cobra.

And may we never speak of Cobra-La.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jinkies!

There was awhile as a kid when I was really into the Hardy Boys books. The first one I remember buying (at a school Book Sale) and reading was "Hardy Boys Casefiles #42: The Last Laugh," naturally based around a comic book convention. I read most of the Casefiles books (before they switched to the TV tie-in photo covers) and generally preferred them to the regular series.

Eventually I began branching out into other similar and related series. I liked the new Tom Swift books, which put a more sci-fi spin on the standard plots; I even read a few of the more contemporary Bobbsey Twins novels. The one series, though, that I could never get into was Nancy Drew.

This wasn't for lack of trying; I own several Nancy Drew books (from various clearances), I liked the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys crossover books I read, but I couldn't manage to get more than a few chapters into any of her solo titles.

Having gotten way, way into the adventures of a different young female detective recently, and with Nancy's new film conveniently available through Netflix, I'm thinking now might be a good time to satisfy my curiosity and give "Carolyn Keene" another shot. I'd at least like to read through a complete book before I check out the movie, after all.

So, I did a teensy bit of Wikiresearch, and discovered that the Hardy Boys: Casefiles series was aimed at an older audience, which I imagine was why I preferred it. Given the often mature subject matter of my new favorite blond detective, I wondered if there was a parallel version of the Nancy Drew series, or something similar. Failing that, are there some classics in the Nancy Drew library, ones I should look to for an interesting introduction to the character?

I know there's got to be at least one closet paperback reader among my visitors, so speak up loud and proud.

On a related note, is it just me or does the concept behind "The Boxcar Children" get creepier as time goes by? "See, it's like 'Party of Five,' except they live like hobos." Weeeird.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Let's Play a Game

It's called "Spot the Real Movie":

A)



B)


C)

This makes me happy like a wonderful happy-making thing.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Who Wants to Watch the Watchmen?

I've not been paying much attention to the news about the "Watchmen" movie. I don't expect it to be good. At all. I mean, the fact that Hollywood managed to botch something as cinematic and deceptively simple as "V for Vendetta" doesn't give me high hopes for the fate of comics' most oft-mentioned maxi-series.

So the costume shots came out recently, and while I don't have much of a problem with Nite-Owl and Rorschach (and while I wonder how they're going to pull off Dr. Manhattan), I was really surprised by this:

You ain't got no alibi.

Holy Hera, that's an ugly costume. I didn't even realize that it was Ozymandias at first. I mean, that's Joel Schumacher ugly. It even has nipples. NIPPLES! Have we learned nothing? People (i.e., Peter David) are apparently saying that this trend in superhero costumes is so the movies don't look ridiculous like the old Batman show; don't people realize that this is just a different flavor of ridiculous?

There's not much more to say about that; I can't find a single redeeming quality about that costume. It's ugly, it's impractical, and worst of all, it doesn't make any damn sense.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Myth Motifs and Gender Stereotypes

By this point, it should be obvious how much I enjoy looking at themes and story-archetypes that worm their way through various mythologies and folk tales. There's one, however, that I keep coming across, and it nags at me because of its ubiquity and its general misogyny. Here's the basic format:

Woman is told by a male authority figure not to look in/at something, but is given no reason. Woman looks in/at said thing. Bad stuff happens.

That's pretty generalized, but it's at the heart of more myths than I care to count:
  • Bluebeard--Bluebeard's newest wife is told not to look in the forbidden room; she does, and finds the remains of Bluebeard's previous murdered wives. He attacks her in punishment.
  • Pandora's Box--Pandora, the first woman, is told by Zeus not to open her jar/box; when she does, she unleashes all manner of evil into the world, preserving only hope.
  • Cupid and Psyche--Cupid visits his new wife at night, in the dark, and tells her never to try to see his face/reveal his true form. She looks at him while asleep, and manages to fall in love with him, but he flees when he finds out she's seen him.
  • Lot's Wife--Lot, his wife, and their daughters are fleeing Sodom as Yahweh rains fire and brimstone down on the city. Yahweh tells them not to look back; Lot's wife looks back. As punishment, she is turned into a pillar of salt.
  • Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" (not sure if it's in the de Beaumont version)--takes a page from Bluebeard; Belle is told by the Beast that she cannot enter the West Wing of the castle. She does, where she discovers the magical rose that binds the Beast, and when discovered she is cast out.

Expand it just a little and you can include the story of Eve as well. There are more, though some are slipping my mind at the time, but the pattern should be fairly clear. And of all of these, I can think of only two variations where a male character is the one to turn back: one classical, one more modern.
  • Orpheus--Orpheus the poet descends into the Underworld to rescue Eurydice, who was killed on their wedding night. After softening the hearts of Hades and Persephone with his song, they allow Eurydice to follow Orpheus back to the world above, on the condition that he does not look back until they have left the Underworld. Almost at the end of their journey, Orpheus turns back, only to see Eurydice disappear forever.
  • The Girl with the Ribbon--a man falls in love with a woman who never removes a ribbon that she wears around her neck (usually of a specified color; I first read it as black, but I've heard it as green, red, and pink as well). Eventually the two are married, but she makes him promise that he will never try to remove the ribbon. Eventually, he does, and her head falls off.

That last one there scared the hell out of me as a kid. Most ghost stories didn't, but for some reason that one stuck with me.

It's interesting to see how nearly all these different myths, from various places around Eurasia, play on this notion of women's curiosity and disobedience of male authority figures, who expect them to obey unquestioningly and without any stated reasons. Even Orpheus is portrayed with stereotypically "feminine" traits, being an emotional musician who never even consummated his marriage. Only in the modern telling do we get a really complete gender reversal.

In folktales with male protagonists, cleverness is a virtue. How many stories of giants and genies end with the male underdog outsmarting their physical foes? Yet for these women, curiosity is a singularly dangerous trait. I applaud the more modern retellings for spinning the heroines' intellects into a positive quality, but I still wonder why this theme is so prevalent in the earlier stories. I have little doubt that this was part of teaching young girls the proper way to think and behave, preparing them for lives of quiet obedience; after all, when girls showed an inclination toward curiosity, their parents could point back to these stories and say "don't be another Eve/Pandora/etc." But what about the attitude and stereotype at the heart of these stories? Where did that come from? Aren't men just as curious as women? Haven't men been taking credit for the fruits of curiosity (science, for instance) since the dawn of civilization? I suspect that it's partly a relic from a time when men's curiosity was seen as something that could be directed toward producitive ends through training and education, while women's curiosity was useful only in producing unhappy shrews who longed for the same rights that men received by default. But I really don't have anything to back that up.

In any case, I think it's interesting to look at, and I'd be interested in your input--has someone done the legwork to explain all this? Are there stories that I'm forgetting? What do you think?

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

At least it's better than that Morgan Spurlock show

This was scarier.I picked up "30 Days of Night" yesterday--the graphic novel, not the movie. I plan on checking the film out, but I figured I ought to read the story first (especially given some of the movie reviews I heard).

And well, that was disappointing. I've heard so much good about the book for so long, and it's a brilliant concept besides (not as brilliant as werewolf astronauts on the moon, but close), but I was really unimpressed by the final product. It felt more like a story pitch than an actual story.

For one thing, it was way too short. For a story about a town under siege by vampire hordes for a solid month, it felt more like a really quickly-paced bad weekend. We made huge jumps forward in time without much notice, and never really saw the weeks taking their toll on the tiny group of survivors. There's such a thing as over-compression. The brevity of the piece came at the expense of character development, plot development, and suspense, all of which are slightly important to the average horror story. The end might have had more emotional punch if our intrepid hero had received more than half a dozen pages of development; meanwhile, who were the other survivors? Who was the Louisianan photographer? Why didn't they ever follow up on the "we don't have enough supplies to last 30 days" thread?

Ben Templesmith's art didn't help on that front; I hadn't seen his work before this, but it reminds me of a cross between Dave McKean and Bill Sienkiewicz. That sounds like a compliment, since I like both McKean and Sienkiewicz, but it really isn't. What it means is a lot of really sketchy, dark, minimalist art that often obscures the action entirely. While the vampires were necessarily monstrous, it's less scary to see them tearing into and/or leaving behind just amorphous splotches of red that bear no resemblance whatsoever to corpses. Combining an abridged script and unintelligible artwork leads to utter confusion in spots, and as I've said before, confusion kills suspense.

Seeing the ads and previews for further "30 Days of Night" stories in the back of this trade only reinforces my opinion that this book was simply a pitch, a zero issue for the "30 Days" universe. Good for the sequels, I suppose, but bad for those of us looking for a good, suspenseful, substantial horror story.

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