Archive for the ‘ Books & Comics ’ Category

52’s first suit


I’m a week behind with the wonderful world of 52, the weekly ‘real-time’ comic I enthused about some time ago.  The rest of the community of crazy comics fans camped outside their local shops last week and picked up Week 14, but the last issue I read was Week 13, meaning that I am exactly one quarter of the way through the series, and at an appropriate point to pause and reflect.  The creative team involved with the series have mentioned that the title has some meaning other than the number of weeks in a year, and the first thing that springs to mind for many people is a deck of cards.  Now, there’s been no sign of the poker-themed villains the Royal Flush Gang thus far, but I did wonder whether one could divide the series into four suits, and if so, which suit the first 13 issues represent.

For me, I think it’s hearts, as quite a number of hearts are broken, in one way or another, in this first ‘suit’.  Continue reading

Superman Begins


No, I haven’t got my super-hero films muddled up, although I have seen Superman Returns, and rather enjoyed it.  Not a fantastic film, but good fun and with good performances all round.  I also have Batman Begins on DVD, and think it’s a rather smashing film with an odd, but very effective, soundtrack.  Anyway…  What I actually intend to ramble about are Superman’s beginnings.  Not his fictional back-story (rocketed from a dying world and all that stuff), but his first adventures in print, way back in the late 1930s. Continue reading

Pilgermann


My most recent read was suggested by friends from the wonderful h2g2 site and is Pilgermann by Russell Hoban, author of my favourite book, Riddley Walker.  My brain is still whirling around trying to absorb this absolutely fascinating tale – Hoban certainly doesn’t write beach reads or airport novels!

The book concerns a wandering Jew, who finds himself in Antioch during the Crusades, and is about all sorts of things.  The search for order and meaning, the nature of God, the pattern of history, the dance of death, the weaving of fate.  The title character does little of his own volition, moving through life as fate, or God, or whatever, directs.  As he does so, he gains a strange circle of friends, most of them dead, who challenge his view of himself, the world and his place in things.  In some ways nothing happens, and in some ways everything happens.  There is love, sex, war and death, but the two main characters also spend a lot of time making a large pattern of tiles.  Oddly, this tile pattern is one of the most compelling things in the book, setting the mind spinning just as it causes a change in the culture of Antioch.  Movement and stillness in one thing, an infinity captured in one place.  Be still, my shooting neurons. Continue reading

52: Real-time comics


What do a drunken ex-cop, a social crusader with no face, the ruler of a Middle Eastern nation, a grieving detective, a man from the future and a moral scientist have in common?  52, that’s what.  Read on…  Continue reading

Caesar, beware the monotheistic religions of March…


I recently finished reading Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg.  This is an alternate history, asking the question ‘what if Rome never fell?’  Or it purports to ask that question.  The real ‘what if?’ is ‘what if the Exodus never happened?’ – the main effect is that Rome doesn’t fall, and at various points during this alternate history, the theme that a monotheistic religion would be dangerous to the Roman Empire is hammered home with all the subtlety of a herd of elephants walking across bubble wrap.

It’s an absolutely fascinating concept for a book, and it contains oodles of intriguing ideas and situations, but it completely failed to grab hold of my imagination or to excite me, and I’m not entirely sure why.  In the end, the whole thing is just rather dull, falling far short of my expectations.  History is often cyclical, but the repetition of situations and stock characters throughout the ten snapshots from 1500 years of Rome’s history soon becomes tedious.  Ooh, look, here’s another supposedly idle prince who reveals greater depth to his character.  And heavens, is there an old retainer who thinks that Rome is slipping into decadence?  Why, yes, there is!  Yawn.  Civil war, assassination, conquest and romance all blend into an insipid, unsatisfying soup of unfulfilled potential.

I like alternate histories.  Fatherland is a particularly fine example.  And I often like stories based in Rome.  But this just bored me.  Too many ideas and too little execution.  I think the problem is that the author got ever so excited thinking ‘ooh, ooh, ooh, wouldn’t it be exciting if the Romans had trouble conquering the New World’ and forgot to put any excitement in.  Ah, well, never mind.  Hopefully, my next read will redress the balance and exceed expectations.  Fingers crossed…

Batwoman returns…


My earlier blog on the reaction to Batwoman ‘coming out’ was quoted on CBS News’ Blogophile column.  I followed the link to the column and had two reactions, one of amusement and one of sadness.

Amusement first.  I was quoted thusly: ‘ “Blah blah blah,” she writes. “Blah blah.” ‘ Unfortunately, I’m a he rather than a she.  This has now been corrected, but it did make me chuckle and reminded me just how anonymous the net can be!

Then the sadness.  I had a look at some of the other reactions to the news, and was appalled by the ill-informed venom and hatred poured out in some cases.  People saying that lesbianism is abhorrent.  People saying it’s terrible to have such a thing where kids can read it (attention people, this particular series isn’t aimed at kids, who don’t read that many comics these days anyway).  And further, much more extreme instances of homophobia and general unpleasantness.  This surprises and upsets me.

There’s now a part of me that hopes the character catches on sufficiently to gain her own series, and a smash-hit one at that.  Hey, if Will and Grace or Brokeback Mountain can be mainstream successes, why not a superhero who happens to be a lesbian?  Go, Batwoman, go!  Make the bigots look stupid.  Please?

Batwoman, or a bat-storm in a teacup


Last weekend, DC Comics released a press release regarding a character who is going to pop up in their series ’52’ (more on this series in a later post, I expect).  This character is a reinvention of Batwoman, a crimefighter who notched up around 50 appearances from her debut in 1956 to her last significant appearance in 1979.  So hardly a major player in the comics world, although some remember her fondly.

However, the story has been picked up by most major news outlets, with varying degrees of outrage, due to one word.  Lesbian.  Shock, horror, Batwoman is going to be Kate Kane, a wealthy lesbian from Gotham City who had a previous relationship with Renee Montoya, a female cop who’s been floating around in comics and cartoons since 1992.  ‘Batwoman reinvented as a lesbian!’ they cry.  ‘Whatever happened to the heroes of old?‘ asks the BBC website.  It’s all too bizarre for words.  Why do they care?  Comics rarely make the news.  Gay and lesbian characters, and indeed heroes, have been around for years.  Very few people have even heard of Batwoman (I suppose some might assume she’s the same character as Batgirl).  And yet, you combine the Bat-prefix and homosexuality, and suddenly it’s a story!  And yet my initial reaction was ‘so what?’

I like comics.  I like DC comics.  I may like this Batwoman, I don’t know, I haven’t read any of her appearances yet (as she won’t appear until July).  Whether she is gay or straight, black or white, wealthy or poor, young or old really doesn’t matter.  They only thing that will matter is this – is she a compelling character?  Do I care about her?  Do I want to read more about her?  I don’t know yet, but I suspect many comics fans have already made up their minds.  ‘Batwoman as a lesbian is an awful idea’ or ‘Batwoman as a lesbian is a fantastic idea’.  Comics fans can be a bit scary, refusing to read things for very bizarre reasons.  I hope they give the character a chance.  I hope the writers have come up with a decent character.  And  hope the media don’t forget what they seem to have stumbled across – comics are a diverse medium, with a range of styles and characters.  Sometimes they could even be mistaken for ‘real’ literature. 

As far as I’m concerned, a greater number of heroes who are not straight white males has to be a good thing, as long as they are characters rather than walking labels.  We shall see.

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