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Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Secret Histories: Wonder Woman, Feminism, and Uncomfortable Truths

In books, feminism on March 16, 2015 at 6:02 am

Sarah S. lepore_wonder_woman_coverThe secret history of Wonder Woman is in many ways the secret history of feminism in America. Or at least this is how it is portrayed in historian Jill Lepore’s book of the same title. Feminism in the U.S.—indeed, the history of women in the U.S.—seems to be constantly forgotten and rediscovered and forgotten again. And so too Wonder Woman, who’s popularity and overt feminism have both ebbed and swelled and waned again.

The secret history of Wonder Woman is also the secret history of the character’s creator—William Moulton Marston—and the inspirations for his super-powered Amazonian—his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and his/their second wife, Olive Byrne. Psychologist Marston invented the polygraph but failed to bring it into reputable use, earned extra income during college by writing movie scripts, and advocated for women’s rights while at Harvard. He met suffragette Holloway, a woman whose brain, ambition, and political fervor exceeded even his own. But Marston was also a proponent of free love. He carried on one affair that Holloway at least tolerated, possibly participated in, setting the stage for their relationship with one of his college students—Byrne.

The secret history of Wonder Woman includes a bevy of such tricky or uncomfortable realities. One of these is Olive Byrne’s mother, Ethel Byrne, a birth control and free love activist almost forgotten by history, overshadowed by her better connected and more PR savvy sister, Margaret Sanger. And so it includes her daughter, Olive, who grew up learning about birth control and free love from her mother and aunt, and then lived in a secret polyamourous relationship with Marston and Holloway from the time she graduated college to Marston’s death. (Byrne and Holloway continued to live together for the rest of their lives as well.) And it includes Marston, who let his ego mask his general inadequacies and lack of financial success (Holloway was the primary breadwinner for the household and the only consistent one) and yet this same ego also emboldened him to woo and “marry” two such brilliant women.

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Hit the Books: The Best Feminist Reads of 2014

In books, race on January 1, 2015 at 2:50 pm

BITCH PLANET LOGO 1Welcome to 2015! A new year means 365 days’ worth of opportunities to read great books written by people who are not dead straight white dudes. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are a few of the best reads that crossed Girls Like Giants writers’ desks, nightstands and Kindles last year. Be sure to check back next week for even more recommendations.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Vacationers is the first novel I read after finishing graduate school and moving across the country. It is the novel that saw me through a tough time where everything was stretched too thin and chaos and uncertainty ruled the day. Reading The Vacationers is particularly pleasurable when everyone you know is on luxurious vacations, yet you can’t afford a pedicure. Readers are quickly acquainted with a family whose operational dynamics are complicated yet intimately familiar. The heady intimacy I developed with the characters was the most pleasurable part of the novel. A close second was the sensory experience Straub offers to those for whom Mallorca is but a fantasy. This novel, better than any of the other vacation-themed novels I read in desperation this past summer (to compensate for my lack of a holiday), captures the warm, damp weight of exhaustion that follows excesses of sun, sand, and wine. This, combined with Straub’s wit and refusal to shortchange any of her characters, makes the story a keeper for me. – Chelsea B.

Bitch Planet, Pretty Deadly & Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Two years ago, when her reboot of Marvel’s spacefaring superhero title Captain Marvel was launched, barely anyone had heard of Kelly Sue DeConnick. It’s safe to say that 2014 belonged to her. KSD’s Carol Danvers, the game protagonist of Marvel, dropped the thigh-high boots and the “Ms.”, started going by “Captain,” traveled back in time to retcon herself a more feminist origin story, and joined up with the Guardians of the Galaxy (in the comics). Not to mention the recent announcement that DeConnick’s definitive run has inspired what will be the big M’s first female-led superhero film. 2014 also saw the completion of the first arc of DeConnick’s first creator-owned series—the surreal, supernatural western Pretty Deadly—and the beginning of her second, Bitch Planet. The last is a feminist reworking of 1970’s women-in-prison exploitation films: here, ‘noncompliant’ (NC) women are sent to a remote space station where their jailer—a giant, pink whore/nun hologram called The Catholic—attempts to rehabilitate them into normative femininity. Needless to say, our inmates are not going down without a fight. Bitch Planet is biting and timely and smart, playing out a little like Orange is the New Black meets But I’m a Cheerleader meets Django Unchained. (In space.) – Brian Psi
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GLG’s 2012 Picks: Brian’s Top 3 Books

In books, dystopian literature, misogyny on December 18, 2012 at 9:56 am

brian psi

The books I was most surprised by this year—Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Secret Confessions of a Justified Sinner—are8 and 188 years old, respectively. But here are some of my favorites from the last year (and a half, sorry).

Ernest Cline – Ready Player One

The future sucks. So people stay inside, create avatars, and log into OASIS, an enormous virtual world—think Second Life if it was fun. The simulation’s eccentric, dead creator James Halliday has hidden a number of easter eggs inside, and so those with the requisite time, resources, and encyclopedic knowledge of the 1980’s pop culture Halliday loved search for them. These ‘gunters’ compete or cooperate in their quest to win the game, billions of dollars, and control of OASIS itself, now threatened by a corporate takeover. The plot follows Parzival, a high school kid from one of the teetering ‘stacks’ of trailer homes inhabited by the residents of 2044 Oklahoma City, and his online friends/rivals (frivals?) Aech and Art3mis. Together they obsess over the minutiae and meanings of the Duran Duran lyrics, Dungeons & Dragons modules, and John Hughes movies presumably also loved by first time author Cline (and many of his readers, including this one). Ready Player One was certainly the most joyous book I’ve picked up this year, even if I couldn’t shake the feeling that on some level it was always pandering to me. When it works—and it does more often than not—it’s because Cline makes an unabashed claim for the value—nay necessity—ofhit records and bad television. Artifacts of pop culture, like OASIS itself, provide an escape from our problems and those of the big bad world outside. But their playful scribbles, adorning our inner landscapes, also make us: building us up and breaking us down and giving each other things to share and argue about and just overall making life, well, livable.

Halloween Eve Cover

Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder – Halloween Eve

I have already written a little about DC Comics’ 52 relaunch and some of its representations, so now I’ll shovel out some coal for their increasingly puzzling relationship with their female creators. It’s already been something of a dark December, with the great Gail Simone relieved of her duties as writer of Batgirl, and the killer Karen Berger—arguably the most important comics editor of the past 25 years—has announced her departure from the Vertigo imprint that she created and ran. Earlier in the year, the amazing Amy Reeder was forced off of Batwoman apparently at the behest of its new writer, J.H. Williams [alliterative deleted].

Shortly afterwards, Reeder (art) and Brandon Montclare (words) financed Halloween Eve through Kickstarter, and had it published by creator-owned Image Comics just in time for the holiday. The comic is a retelling of A Christmas Carol, with the titular Eve as the Scrooge of Samhain: she works in a popular costume shop but hates Halloween, dressing up, and unseriousness generally. Forced to work late the night before the big night, she is startled to find that the costumes are coming to life. They whisk her away to Halloween Land where Eve discovers the real reason for the season… which after a couple of reads is still somewhat unclear: at 40 pages, Halloween Eve is long for a single issue of an ongoing, but rather short for a self-contained work, and so the character relationships and development has to occur very quickly. Montclare’s script works within these limitations, but the book largely relies on Reeder’s art and layouts to tell its story. Luckily, while Halloween Eve is not as strong as the best issues of their collaboration on Madame Xanadu, it is neverthelesss a fantastic showcase for Reeder. Eve herself is a wonderfully realized character, and the monsters and demons that populate the other realm are perfect subjects for her (somewhat-manga influenced) art style: does anyone draw more expressive, almost three-dimensional eyes?

I should also say that there are depressingly few mainstream comics with black women as protagonists, so let’s hope that Halloween Eve’s success can help address this inbalance. Finally, at $3.99 this was the value of the year, pick up a few for next year’s All Hallow’s Read.

John Scalzi – Redshirts

Sci-fi author Scalzi probably received more attention for his blog than for his novels in 2012. His piece “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” –which used the form and rhetoric of video games to explain privilege and how it operates without actually using the p-word—generated  thousands of comments, shares, tweets, reblogs, hatEmails, and  academic attention. In July he initiated a minor war with CNN contributor Joe Peacock over an opinion piece about how cosplayers—primarily women—weren’t ‘real’ geeks. Comic book artist Tony Harris made a similar post later in the year, which Scalzi also obliterated. (A brief aside for those unfamiliar with one of 2012’s most irritating trends, the best response to the ‘fake geek girl’ manplaint is still albinwonderland’s video, also a response to Harris).

So, Redshirts. Scalzi’s latest novel is a loving satire of Star Trek, in which three new junior crewmembers of the U.U. Intrepid discover that lower-ranked officers are dying off with alarming frequency: disintegrated by weapons fire, mauled by killer robots, eaten by space oozes, etc. Meanwhile, the bridge crew seem to live charmed lives, healing from devastating injuries overnight and surviving attacks that would emulsify ensigns and liquefy second lieutenants. Naturally, there is a conspiracy afoot, but not the kind that the characters and most readers expect. There is a highly metafictional plot twist about halfway through, after which much of the gallows humor fades and the book becomes something else entirely. Some readers will likely not follow the leap that Scalzi makes here, his attempt to go for bigger emotions in the book’s “three codas.” I’m of course a super sappy emo kid, but a couple of the endings made me cry. If Frankenstein asked us what responsibility the creator has for their created; Redshirts raises (or perhaps lowers) the stakes by suggesting that even fictional creations deserve our respect and care: these literary lives, too, are worthwhile, and we should not be so quick to discard them (or subject them to lazily-written transporter accidents).

Brian Psiropoulos is a dad and PhD candidate in English literature. He likes stuff, especially gothic Victorian novels, superhero comics, and video games. Also tennis.

Catwoman has Boneitis: Comics, Bodies, and Form

In body politics, gender on July 17, 2012 at 8:49 am

brian psi

Last year, DC Comics relaunched its entire line of superheroes in an event they titled The New 52. Aimed at luring new readers, the initiative sought to wipe away decades of confusing and conflicting continuity and to present the most authentic, essential versions of their popular characters (including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and others). Costumes were redesigned, creative teams shifted, and backstories simplified or altered. 52 was by most accounts a commercial and artistic success. But despite the lip service that DC editorial has paid to bringing in new creators and readers, especially more women, they somehow still allowed a lot of crap to happen.

I do not want to rehash Red Hood and the Outlaws, Wonder Woman, or Catwoman here; even though last month’s Catwoman #0 is obviously the principle motivator of this post. Others have already written on these, and I encourage anyone interested enough to have gotten thus far to click on the links embedded in the titles above for some excellent commentary on the issues with those specific works.

Catwoman #0, cover by Guillem March

Instead, I want to tackle a very specific argument that some creators and fans have raised in defense of the sexualization of women within the pages and on the covers of these comics. Let’s call it the ‘other mediums do it too!’ defense (AKA the ‘books/films/games/etc., are just as bad!’ defense). Put aside the fact that this defense, more of an excuse, is incredibly juvenile: if a novel jumped off a bridge, would you? It also conveniently elides the greatest formal difference between comics and other media: comic book characters are drawn, inked, and colored—wholly produced—by people. This seems rather obvious, I know. But it has enormous ramifications for the ways that the human form is represented, and how that representation is understood, consumed, and/or identified with by the comic’s audience. So, when I argue that representations of women in comics generally are worse than those in other media, it is not because I am a snob or self-hating comics fan (well, maybe sometimes), nor is it because there are some objective criteria by which we can measure this phenomenon. Nor do I believe that comics artists and writers and editorial boards are evil or are actively trying to ‘keep women down’ somehow–although at times (see examples above) one has to wonder. Rather, it is because in comics, unlike in prose or film, the creator or creative team exercises absolute control over the bodies it aims to represent. Read the rest of this entry »