Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ho, ho, ho

Well, this is a Christmas Eve to remember. So far, it's right up there with the New Years I spent alone with stomach cramps after learning that just because I can eat the whole thing does not in any way mean I should.

I'm not sure if I mentioned it here, but I've chosen to spend X-Mas in Ontario rather than going home to see the family. Some family members were planning on doing their own thing anyway, and between the Toronto wedding and the Saskatoon wedding earlier this year, I had pretty much blown my travel budget. And maybe, just maybe, I'd finish the dissertation if I stayed behind.

Well, that didn't happen. Granted, I've been writing constantly, and it's a quality and quantity higher than  I usually do, even during regular days, let alone holiday time. But it's a long way from being finished yet. I look at the amassed pages, ask myself if I made the right choice, and I'm not sure what the answer is.

On the other hand, I can say without any measure of ambivalence that I have made some wrong choices today--or rather, yesterday, I guess. See, my roommate, being a kind and generous soul, offered to let me eat Christmas Eve Dinner with her family. They were even providing a special vegetarian dish for me, which is an incredibly thoughtful thing to due. Alas, due to a series of unfortunate events, it looks unlikely that this will come to pass.

I woke up today at 10 am, still unsure exactly when and where everything today would go down. I should have asked the roommate last night, but, well, I forgot. Surely, I thought, there were will be plenty of time today. But she was already gone when I got up, so I missed an opportunity there. Well, that was fine; I had to be going too, as I was cat-sitting for a friend who didn't decide to spend Christmas thousands of kilometers from her family. Anyway, I left at 11, leaving behind a note asking her to contact me with the plan.

I get back just before 3 pm; It's about an hour of walking, there and back, and I like to spend a little time with the cat while I'm there. There's evidence my roommate has come and gone, but no evidence she saw my note, as it is still lying in the same place. At this point, I'm starting to get somewhat worried. I vaguely recall the plan was to start at 4 or 5, and the clock is ticking down. So I immediately leave a facebook message for the roommate, leave a voice message on her smartphone, and leave a facebook message for her sister for good measure. All of which says basically the same thing: I'm at the house, I'm ready, let me know what's going on.

Four o'clock rolls around. Four fifteen. I know she has my number, so if she got concerned, she'd be able to contact me. I try her phone again, and that's when I realize she left the phone on the coffee table in the living room. Bending if not breaking the rules of roommate propriety, I spend another fifteen minutes working up the courage, and then check the phone for her sister's number, and give it a call. No one answers, and I leave another voicemail.

I continue to dither. The important thing when people miss connections, I tell myself, is to make as many points of contact as possible, then stay in one place. And stay in one place I did. Until five.

At this point, I realize that no one is coming for me. On their end, they probably thought I bailed at the last minute on account of nerves (which is reasonable, given I've skipped out on other large family gatherings of theirs I've been invited to, albeit with more notice) or there were crossed wires, and they thought I was spending X-Mas supper with them rather than X-Mas Eve, and I thought the inverse. But at any rate, what was clear at this point was if I was going to get there, I'd have to go myself. That shouldn't be too hard, I reasoned. After all, I had been there just yesterday for breakfast. Surely my spatial memory is good enough that I can remember how to walk somewhere I was driven to the day before.


In my defense, it is now 5:30, growing dark, and friggin' cold; at -22 with windchill, it's colder than it's been all winter up to this point. And so I give up, and head back home. And it's not the cold that bugs me on the way back, or getting lost. It's that I have to go back through a residential area, where it seems like in every single window, there's a family sitting down for a Christmas meal. Standing out there, looking in, I feel like I'm living the down beat of an X-Mas special. Three ghosts could have shown up at any time. I reach home and I'm feeling very cold, very tired, and very alone.

And then my roommate calls, and everyone's looking for me, and they pick me up and drive me over and I eat the delicious 3 kinds of mushroom veggie meal and we all watch the original Christmas Carol and it's pretty good but not as good as the Muppet X-Mas Carol and I go home and phone my parents and wish them a happy holiday.

Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bibliophile: Wait, We're Still Doing These?

"Books are for mooks." --Timon the Meerkat

This is Bibliophile.

It's been a long time since I've done Bibliophile, a look at the new books available at a randomly chosen Canadian university library. In part, that's because the blogging bug in general no longer creates the itch in me it once did (note to self: come up with better metaphor), but also because, even in the compromised, 12 books per post version, it was still regularly taking over 3 hours to compose. So we'll play around with the format a bit, and see if we can't come up with something still useful, but less time-consuming. After the break, then, six new books from the University of Calgary. As always, a bolded H marks a book also held by the University of Waterloo.

(In other news, my computer reset on me, meaning I lost all unsaved work. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but I actually was working at the time for once, and lost five pages of the dissertation. Yes, I should have saved more frequently. I am aware of this fact. Believe me, I am aware of this fact. The level of my awareness could not currently be overstated. If the sounds of my curses could have been harnessed, the winter heating bill would be a thing of the past.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

80 Hours, and I'm still stuck at the Snakemen's place

I did a podcast with a few of my fellow game scholars on the videogame Dark Souls. We put it up on at that site I work, First Person Scholar. You can listen to it here.

Later Days.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fearless Defenders Covers: More Comics! Because, why not?

This month saw the cancellation of Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney's "Fearless Defenders," proving once again that we can't have nice things. The idea of the series was that Valkyrie was charged by the All-Mother of Asgard (the lady triumvirate that currently rules the place, because let's face it, Odin is pretty terrible at it) to form a new band of Shield Maidens. Valkyrie's reluctance to select contemporary female heroes to do that led to a power vacuum that was filled by other nasty warriors, and she was slowly putting together a team not of shield maidens but of fearless defenders to protect people; as of the cancellation, the ranks included Annabelle Riggs (super genius, unpowered, body merged with Valkyrie's through some weird doings); Misty Knight (bionic private eye), Dani Moonstar (sometimes X-Man); Hippolyta (Marvel's more war-oriented version of Wonder Woman, with the serial numbers field off); Clea (sorceress and frequent paramour of Stephen Strange); Elsa Bloodstone (British, monster hunter, probably best known for her role in Ellis' NextWave); and Ren (Inhuman, whose powers... um... I forget. She's new).

Besides the female-positive cast, the book was... good, usually solid fun, edging towards great, but never quite reaching it, to be honest. I would have preferred a little more character and a little less nonstop action, although I can certainly see how the virtue of the superhero comic is generally that it does it the other way around. But what was great was the covers of the series, drawn by Mark Brooks. Especially towards the end of the run, they were pretty amazing deconstructions of gender and power in various media forms, a perfect purified version of what the series was aspiring to. But I haven't seen anywhere where all of the covers are collected, so I thought I might as well do the honors. In order then, without further ado, I present the covers of Fearless Defenders.
Issue #1
So far, so generic, though it's nice that each hero is facing the other's regular villain type.
Scottie Young drawn variant cover, which is roughly the same action, but everyone is adorable.
Manara variant, which goes for a pin-up cover-type approach--
A little too much cheesecake, I think.
Deodato variant. ...My, that's a big gun.

Issue #2

Here's where things start to get interesting. It's a very simple idea for a cover, but it works really well. And it starts a transmedia theme that's going to come up a lot.
Martin's variant cover. I like the way the blue and orange juxtapose.

Issue #3
Back tattoo title. Nice way of establishing Hippolyta's style, and putting her at odds with the existing team.

Jiminez variant. I believe this makes the Wonder Woman analog fairly obvious.

Fearless Defenders #4

This one got a lot of attention when it came out. It has the paper doll play aspect, which is generally a feminized activity, but by virtue of being a comic book cover, and featuring a comic book character, it also says something about how comic book creators and fans "dress up" their (female) characters.
Fearless Defenders AU #4

I'm not sure this one counts, to be honest, as it it's a Jiminez cover and was part of the tie-in to the Age of Ultron series, not this series proper. But I do like the way Wolverine, Hulk, and Captain America look sort of dumbfounded at Hippolyta's beheading.

Fearless Defenders #5
Cover as Street Fighter-esque fighting game, illustrating another way that we play with our superheroes. And illustrating the roster of characters that were felt to fall under the title's mandate, though not all of them ever appeared in its pages proper.
Amanda Conner variant. It's a little more generic (the team pose) but it also shows the variety of Defenders the book could potentially feature.
This, on the other hand, shows no members of the series at all, in order to participate in the "Wolverine Through the Ages" cover series, a bunch of alternative covers that have nothing to do with the comics, but do feature Wolverine from various points in Marvel past, present, and future. Well done, Marvel. You have taken your all-female comic, removed the title characters, and replaced them with your best-selling male character. Very on the nose.
Fearless Defenders #6
Recasting the superhero cover in the genre of the 50s horror comic. Undead Norse vikings lend themselves well to that sort of thing.

Fearless Defenders #7
I think there's a reversal of the manual labor = men stereotype, though we've also got the medium-displacement joke (comic book cover as billboard) and the displacement of labor (superheroes in costumes wearing uniforms for manual labor).

Fearless Defenders #8
Cover as sketchpad, and one that's definitely emphasizing the female form. The pencils are eraser are a nice touch.

Fearless Defenders #9
Another example of re-appropriating a genre that's highly charged when it comes to female depictions: manga. The bottom has Dani Moonstar saying "Okay, now we're just pandering," in part to show the reader, yes, we realize what we're doing here.

Fearless Defenders 10

Another media appropriation, this time the hip-hop album cover. Makes a nice introduction to the new character too.

Fearless Defenders 11
Soviet-esque poster. Kind of surprised that they didn't put Natasha in the front here, although any chance that avoids stereotyping a character who is already "Russian spy" is probably a good idea.

Fearless Defenders 12

And here we have the end of the line, as the train pulls into the cancellation station. This is probably best of the bunch: a pastiche of the romance novel covers, and maybe the only one that can credibly claim to be inverting heteronormative tropes as well as gender tropes. I also like that it's Riggs that's holding Valkyrie, as it demonstrates how their roles in relation to each other have changed over the course of the series.

So... what have we learned? Well, variant covers aren't all they're cracked up to be; with all due respect to the artists' skills, most of them fail to hit the same height as the original. And that's no surprise; you've got a regular person who's connected to the entire series, compared to someone who's just in to do a single issue, then the regular artist should be able to connect better to the series' theme; otherwise, they probably shouldn't be the regular artist. Moreover, we've got a pretty powerful case that the comic book cover can and should be used better than it is. The covers here generally don't connect to the events of the book, but they do illustrate the characters we should be paying attention to, and do a great job of presenting visually the themes that the book wants to claim as its own. That's so much more than a generic pose or random action shot that the typical cover conveys. And it really explores what the cover is allowed to do, as a type and medium. I don't think I've ever become a fan of an artist before just for their cover designs, but I will look out for whatever Mark Brooks does next.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Super Heroin'

Words aplenty about Joe Casey's run on Adventures of Superman (or rather, the run from issue #600 to #623) after the break.