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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tribes, Wonder Woman, Blood, Guts, and Iron

If you've been following this blog for a while you're aware of my occasional digressions into the world of superhero comics in between Big Important Literature Books Only (BILBO). Also, you're probably my wife and haven't needed to follow my blog closely to find this out but I appreciate you reading anyway. Also you have pretty hair.

Why just this week I've had a couple Really Good Books (RGBs) on my bookshelf, two of which I'm halfway through and another that has now been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, but here I am reading Wonder Woman comics.

Listen. I've always been a Marvel guy. Not sure why other than I started out reading X-Men comics and DC didn't have X-Men. Also, Superman is the worst. Like, I'm not breaking any news stories here but he's overpowered and boring and works for 8 hours a day at a newspaper even though (A) there are tragedies happening during those 8 hours when he's doing Sudoku at a desk and (B) nobody reads newspapers anymore. Newspapers and phone booths, Supes. Look into alternatives.

DC has Batman. I don't have to tell you guys this, but Batman is cool. They have the Green Arrow. I like him sometimes. Man, though, the Green Lantern is some hot garbage and let's not talk about the Green Hornet. DC is at about a 33% success rate just when it comes to guys with Green in their name. Aquaman, pass. Martian Manhunter, what? Bizarro Superman? Come on.

When I was a kid, the DC squad just seemed like a load of poorly drawn also-rans. I was a kid in the 90s, so calling any comic well-drawn is a bit of a stretch, I know. Check out Rob Liefeld's 90's work. Especially Captain America there.

Look at all the light sources here. According to the shading, the sun is up and to the right, correct? Yet there's a cool glint coming off the shield on the left-hand side. Also the reflection of maybe flying saucers in the shield? Captain America in this picture is an anatomical aberration. His face begs for the sweet embrace of death as his every moment on this earth is torment. It's like the artist started drawing what he thought was a human body, realized it was all wrong, and just said screw it here's a shield instead.
What I'm saying is that kids are idiots.

We establish our loyalties, the ones that many of us will carry with us well into adulthood, when we are the least aware of the world. I'm a Nintendo fan to the exclusion of all other platforms, even in the face of mounting evidence that Nintendo does not care if I'm a fan of theirs or not. Why? Because I was forced, as a young tyke, to take sides in one of the epic debates of my era. The Console Wars. If I have to choose sides, and one side has Mega Man? I'm going to take the Blue Bomber every time.

Somewhere in there, there was a Reagan vs. Dukakis deal that we kids were also passionate about, but none of us knew why other than we'd asked our parents. 49ers vs Cowboys was a thing, too. Again, our decision on who we backed depended more or less on whether or not our grandma gave us a Starter Jacket and for which team.

As adults we're all saddled with these decisions and it gets us in bad spots. I grew up a Raiders fan (why? Because my cousins liked them.) and when I was young it was pretty fun. Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, Howie Long, etc. They were good. Guess what, they aren't anymore. But if I decided that I hate watching a team lose over and over when there are other teams out there who win, or if I decide that I don't like the ownership or the reputation or heck, even every single quarterback they've had since my son was born 13 years ago, I'm a traitor. When you've been a fan of a football team for decades, there isn't a single piece left at the organization than when you started to like them. Especially if you've never even been to the city where they play. You're essentially a fan of a logo.

I get that we're a tribal people. It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint to want to group up. It even makes sense to exclude strangers when strangers could potentially bring in death and disease. It's just that nowadays we have more that separates us than joins us. When I was a rock climber I would go on climbing websites and join in the great battle between sport climbers (who used bolted routes for protection) and trad climbers (who used removable gear). Rock climbers are a tiny subset of the population, and when access is attacked from an outside party, they unite. However, within the community, the battle raged constantly and with great swears and personal insults.

How many times have you been in a group of people, enjoying yourself immensely, and the conversation turns to politics. You sort of laugh along, or smile, or stay silent. But you realize that deep down if they knew how you felt about the subject you would no longer be welcome in the group. What if you're in a meeting in your church and the topic shifts and suddenly you're aware of just how fragile a thing it is, your acceptance within this tribe? Our sense of belonging defines us, yet it can be taken so very easily. Feeling alone, unless you want to be, is one of the scariest feelings in the world.

What if you're an Amazon (now we're getting somewhere!), and you're the baddest one on your island. Also your mom is queen. But because you were told since birth that you were formed from clay and not born, like the rest of 'em, that you don't belong. No matter how hard you try, and no matter how ably you prove that you are not only worthy enough to be among said company, but easily surpass them, you'll never be anything but "Clay" to them.

Does this resonate with you? Wow! Honestly, Wonder Woman, I'm flattered that you're reading my blog. Also the fact that you're real is frankly sending my image of reality on a bit of a tailspin so I'm going to have to breathe for a minute.

This is some real inside baseball but DC has been in the midst of some restructuring. The books I've been reading about you, Wonder Woman (still wrapping my head around this!) are in the New 52 series. Specifically volumes 1, 2, and 3 titled Blood, Guts, and Iron respectively. Now I have my reservations about the New 52 series, art-wise (New 52! We've never let a women dress or undress without capturing it!) but the writing has been just the best.

Here we have Brian Azzarello doing a real bang-up job of a Neil Gaiman-esque exploration of mythology as Wonder Woman (again. HI!) takes on Hera and all of her wandering husband Zeus' offspring as she protects a young pregnant woman from all of the forces the gods can throw at her.

Cool characters, interesting locales, super gross hell stuff. It's all here. Plus it's pretty funny sometimes. Not as funny as Batman: Harley Quinn, though. Mercy.


Harley is the best, and this collection of stories really shows why. This book made me laugh a lot. Paul Dini (one of my favorite all time comic writers and Harley creator) works with a bunch of writers and artists telling issue-long one-off stories about Quinn and her pals. She psychoanalyzes Batman, makes bets with Poison Ivy, and generally causes mayhem.

She's sad, though. Like a sad character. Harleen Quinnzel is still in there somewhere. The one who wanted to do great and save the world before she cracked. Everyone in the Batman universe is crazy, including and especially Batman. None of them fit in and are just glad to find someone who understands them. Unfortunately sometimes understanding means you both like to blow up banks.

This is rapidly turning into the blog that won't quit, but here's some more comics to write down on a little piece of paper and put into your pocket protector or to plan your next cosplay adventure. I would be absolutely remiss if I did not tell you guys about Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel and Thor, God of War.

I don't write about every comic I read, because I read a lot of them. I'm going to say these books are special, though. And also I still have to finish Brontë's Jane Eyre and Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari before I can write another blog post.

(By the way I knew that Brontë has an umlaut but didn't know how to put it in, so I found it somewhere and copy and pasted. It's amazing that I do something that requires this much effort for free, frankly.)

In closing, I will say that tribes can be good or bad. When we feel involved and included it's amazing. There's so much we can learn from other people who are willing to share. They can be bad, though, and scary, and enforce conformity for its own sake. All of these comics are about non-conformists who do something amazing just because they know they can (also super powers doesn't hurt). If you're going to join a tribe, join Howie's Book Club. PEACE OUT.