Author Archive

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The last Stephanie Batgirl: Issue #24 Play-by-Play

August 10th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Ah, it’s been a tumultuous two years.  Lets have a look at how it all turned out.

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A DC Comics Dramatic Event That Makes Me Like Everyone Involved

August 1st, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

So DC comics announced a reboot that, it turned out, cut down on female characters headlining books and female creators making them.  Some fans complained about it in a public way.

Now DC is making an announcement that they’re going to hire more female creators.

To be honest, my first response is, “Nice!”

And that is likely to be my only response.  I’ve read quite a lot of posts on this subject now (Thanks, When Fangirls Attack.  You continue to be a fantastic linkblog.)  The responses range from people who believe that DC will not make the changes they promise in their announcement, to people who believe that DC was already making those changes and now will lose some of the credit they deserve.  The assessments of the incident at the San Diego Con range from people who believe that when Dan Didio asked for names of female creators he was sincerely rallying the crowd and trying to elicit suggestions from the people in the room, to people who believe he was brow-beating them into shutting up.

Sometimes I fear the crank is going out of me.  I’ve been writing for 4thletter and io9 for years, and editing Fantasy Magazine and Lightspeed Magazine (Nominated for a Hugo, Worldcon Attendees!  Vote for us!) for nearly a year.  Writing and editing are wonderful ways to have varied experiences, learn new things for a living, and make it so the universe you picture in your head actually exists in reality, if only on paper.  This is, I think, what the DC editors are doing in the reboot – on a much larger scale.

The work is also very difficult.  Constant deadlines, clashing schedules, tons of details to work out, and hours spent in ‘thought’ which sometimes produces nothing but a headache and growing anxiety.  Sometimes you have to roll out the very best thing you can at the moment, and work on improving it.

And sometimes that’s not good enough for the people who get what you have.  I’ve been kicked by commenters for everything from bias to proofreading to content to outright stupidity.  Sometimes the commenters were just being jerks.  Sometimes they were right on the money.  Neither time was a lot of fun for me.  But sometimes you can take a kick like that and use it to make things better.  Which is what DC seems to be doing.

It’s rare that I finish any internet drama hopeful, and sympathetic to all sides.  The women and men who asked the difficult questions at San Diego have my respect.  It’s hard to get up in front of people whose work you clearly adore and ask aggressive, awkward questions in a room full of people who can shout at you.  And then there’s that announcement.  I love feminism.  I love DC comics.  An explicit statement making a commitment to feminism on the part of DC Comics makes me happy.

Hurray for Cons.

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Batgirl #23 Play-by-Play

July 24th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

The penultimate chapter of Stephanie-as-Batgirl.

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The long, difficult road to liking the Punisher

July 16th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

 

 

For a few weeks, I house-sat for a friend of mine who has a floor-to-ceiling shelf of comic trades.  While patiently waiting for his cat to come out from under the bed so I could make sure she was still alive, I picked up a few of those trades and started reading.  I started with a massive Marvel hardcover of Garth Ennis’ original run on the Punisher, before he got the Max title, in part because I remembered David mentioning that a character named Joan returned in the run.

After that, I moved on to the ten Garth Ennis Punisher Max trades that comprise the most celebrated run anyone ever had on Punisher.  (What can I say?  It was a long trip and a shy cat.)  I’ve often repeated a saying about the Punisher that I’ve read online, “The more I read about the Punisher, the less I like him.”  After having read all the most loved Punisher stories, I have to say I finally changed my mind.  I do like the Punisher.  I even kind of like his world, although I expect I’ll have to be sparing with my Punisher reading since there are plenty of things that happen in that world that I don’t want to read about.

When I look at my ongoing reaction to the Punisher, and Punisher stories, I think what bothered me most all along was not the Punisher or his world – which I can read or hear about without having too much of an emotional reaction – but the way he’s sold to me.

When I’ve read Punisher reviews by people who are fans of the comic, I often run across the phrase, “You may not like him,” or “You’re not supposed to like him,” or even “I’m not sure I like him.”  Having read the books, I have to say that all those phrases are weapons-grade crap.  I don’t believe even one of them.  Of course you’re supposed to like the Punisher.  He’s the best fighter, the best tactician, the best judge of character, and the most purely committed to his cause without prejudice.  Oh, and he’s a war hero.  Also, when it comes to taking care not to have any civilian casualties, he’s more careful than specially-trained army and police forces.  He gets visas for mistreated undocumented immigrants.  He has a soft spot for damsels in distress.  In scenes when people are freaking out, he acts as impromptu counselor to get them back on their feet.  And is there a cute little kid?  You bet there is!  She loves the Punisher and hugs his knees and he stands over her for days making sure that she’s safe.  And finally, just for fun, he gives a cantankerous old man in a bar a bottle of the man’s favorite vodka, and makes the bartender treat him with respect.  Of course you’re supposed to like this guy.  And of course you do like this guy.  Don’t try to tell me different.

I’m not complaining about liking him.  Everything I said up there about the Punisher can be applied to Batman, Superman, and any other superhero.  As written by Garth Ennis, the characters who exposit just how great Frank Castle is at everything become well-rounded characters who are interesting to listen to when they speak.  The victims have voices, opinions, and speaking styles instead of predictable lines.  These are actual characters, not just props who stumble in and say whatever lines are needed to set the story in motion.  (Except the little kid.  There is no little kid in any fictional medium that even approximates what an actual child is like.  Maybe that’s because no kid lends his or herself to a coherent story.  They’re still too much like little space aliens come down to earth to fit into anyone else’s plot line.)

The reason you like him is he’s the only character who actually makes sense.  The thesis of the Punisher is set up in the first few pages of the Max storyline.  He recounts the story of his wife and kids being killed by chance during a mob shooting, and says that that was the day when the world went insane.  He finishes up with a line that goes (roughly), “I go out every night and make the world sane.”  If a guy in the real world were to say that with a massive gun in his hand, it would be time to run.  In this world, it’s correct.  People are in agonizing situations for which there is no effective help.  Official channels are clogged with corruption, technical procedure, and the need for public approval.  Unofficial channels are too weak and unprepared to be protection against the threats that face them.  And, over it all, there’s societal ignorance and indifference.

Set against this backdrop are, usually, two main sets of players.  There are villains who wow us with their sadism and evil, and who engage us with their petty prejudices and meanness.  And then there’s team Punisher.  As much as the Punisher is spoken of as a Force of Nature who Works Alone, he’s usually paired up with someone in these books.  Sometimes they’re reluctant to help him in any way.  Sometimes they’re insisting he join them.  Either way, the team up works because there is someone to bounce different ideas and opinions off the character, and draw out different sides of him.  Through these characters we see the Punisher’s philosophy, his disgust, his sense of duty, his more emotional sides, and the large part of him that’s still a soldier in the traditional sense of the word.  By going through these books, beginning and ending with military plots that show the Punisher as a soldier, we get a complete sense of his character, why he’s necessary to this particular world, and how he fits into it.

These are very good stories, which is why the ‘selling’ of the Punisher doesn’t work.  In most of the issues, especially the issue of Max, characters are mostnly wrong to the degree that they disagree with the Punisher.  The more they differ from the Punisher, in situation assessment, personal philosophy, background, taste, and opinion, the worse they are.  Characters the reader is meant to respect – not necessarily like, but admire and trust the judgment of – talk up the Punisher’s professionalism, fighting technique, and personal character.  There are times when the Punisher is unaccountably contemptuous of certain characters.  They turn out to be bad.  There are times when he strangely decides to trust – although characters are careful to say that he never really trusts anyone completely.  They turn out to be good.  He’s perfect.  And yet, the whole world is against him.  Almost everyone resists giving him information.  Almost everyone is morally repulsed by him and feels the need to say so, despite being knee-deep in the proof that he’s the only one who can help.  In one story, the cops all hate him and several of them try to frame him for a crime he never committed.  In the next, a bunch of slain mobsters’ wives complain that the police all love him and won’t move against him.  Everyone is against poor Frank, despite him being the best guy ever.

When I read these stories, I believe that the Punisher is the only person in that world who could adequately deal with the problems that are presented.  I also believe that he doesn’t kill a single innocent person.  In the real world, a guy like this would.  But if he did in comics, the character’s justification would collapse, and I like the character, so I’m willing to believe that he’s meticulous enough to never hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.  There are plenty of inventive and compassionate characterizations that twist the reader into liking a character they initially hated, or being soured on someone they initially liked.  To have a more crude push towards the Punisher as the be-all and end-all of characters, chopping down other characters or manipulating storylines to get there, feels like a loss of faith in the reader.

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Batgirl #22 Play-by-Play

June 26th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Ah, it looks like we won’t get too many more of these.  It is a bittersweet play-by-play indeed.

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So what are you looking for post-Flashpoint?

June 6th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I was initially very unimpressed with Flashpoint.  Not the many different worlds; I liked that.  The Azzarello Batman: Knight of Vengeance hit the Miller imagery harder than Miller has in the last twenty years, and that’s okay, because it makes for a fun few issues.  I like sampling the various variations.  The main story isn’t splashing over into the books I regularly read.  For a big summer event, I liked it.

No, the thing that left me initially unimpressed was the idea that the entire DC universe gets rebooted at the end of it.  Yes, when I hit the ground in comics, I hit the ground running.  And yes, I have thirteen boxes full of comics to prove that.  And yes, I just gave away an entire shortbox full of kids comics to my mom to cut it down to thirteen boxes.  But – I haven’t been reading that long in the grand scheme of things.  And in that time, the entire DCU has been rebooted at least twice.  The idea of another reboot just left me feeling tired.

But, true to form, just when I thought I was out, comics pulled me back in.  This re-boot is going to be a little re-bootier than usual.  It seems that DC, conscious of new readers being too intimidated by the mountains of continuity to pick up a single title, is going back to issue one, and trying for an iconic version of DC.

This means one of two things.  Either this one will stick a little more than usual, or it will be gone in a blink, leaving only even more confusing continuity in its wake. 

I hope for the former.  The last few decades of ultra-grim continuity have left me feeling a little poorly towards comics in general.  A clean slate, free of tragedy and its attendant moping, might be nice.  I feel like it would be good to step into a DC universe where not every single character has violently lost a child.  (Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Arsenal, Wonder Girl . . . I’m sure there are more, but I can’t take thinking about it.)

So here’s what I am scanning the headlines for:

1.  What happens to the Batfamily in general?

Well, of course I am.  I’m still me, aren’t I?  And I like most of the Batfamily the way it is.  I like Jason Todd (shut up) and Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, and Damian (as a side character), so I’m hoping DC won’t lose them completely.  And yes, I saw that Barbara is Batgirl and written by Gail Simone.  I’ve gone on record with my opinions on Babs returning to Batgirl before – but I’ll do it again.  It’s a terrible idea, a regression for the character, and eliminating one of the most original characters in the DCU.  And I love it.  It’s Babs, and Babs is my favorite character, and I love Batgirl too, and I don’t care about anything else.

2.  What about the Blue Beetle?

It hadn’t occurred to me that anything would happen with either Blue Beetle – neither right now seems like a big enough character to be messed with.  I’d love it if they were both back, but I’m the ‘more is more’ persuasion of fan.  Which is why I have thirteen boxes of comics in my house.

3.  Lian Harper must live!

It was a creepy story and depressingly generic turn for the Arsenal character to kill off his kid and have him turn ‘dark’.  The overall story was so distasteful that it put me off reading comics in general for weeks.  A big re-set for the universe would be a good way to erase that.

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A qualifying sentence is a dead giveaway

May 17th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

If David can post about music every week, and Gavin can talk about wrestling, then I figure I can bring up my own little causes from time to time.  This one is getting posted here so I don’t bother my friends with it for weeks.  Plus, it involves the news, and since the news is pretty much entertainment these days, we might as well include it.

The head of the International Monetary Fund, a man named Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a maid at the hotel where he was staying.  Naturally, everyone in the world braced themselves for a wash of idiocy, and not a moment too soon.  One infuriatingly stupid contributor to the flood was Ben Stein, with a post that there is no way in frozen hell I’m going to link to.  He publishes several defenses of Strauss-Kahn, some valid, some utterly moronic.  Many of them are based on classism and add up to tautologies - people in high positions shouldn’t be seriously suspected of sex crimes because if they were suspected of sex crimes they would never manage to be in high positions.  And around we go.

But here’s where we get to the most off-putting part of the argument.

What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail? Putting a man in Riker’s is serious business. Maybe more than a few minutes of investigation is merited before it’s done.

This is why I love the age of the internet.  It’s possible that, back in the day, this paragraph might have passed under the radar.  Now, we’ve all seen pages and pages of internet commenters using just this form. 

“I like black people.  I think they’re great.  On the other hand . . . ”

“I’m not sexist, but . . . ”

“Some of my best friends are Jewish!  But I’ve had some terrible experiences with . . . ”

If you have to state that you don’t have a problem with a certain person, or group of people, you are moments away from behaving in a way that indicates exactly the opposite.  No one has to add a disclaimer when they’re making a statement that is honorable and accurate.  No one has to tell their audience that they don’t hate someone unless they’re about to do everything in their power to show that they do hate someone. 

Stein could have simply said that the woman’s statements should have been more thoroughly investigated before any action was taken.  Depending on the facts of the case that could be debated.  He didn’t say that.  He pointed out that the woman was a maid.  Then he made the disclaimer, lest anyone think he had a problem with the fact that she was a maid.  Then he listed several terrible things that maids did to him over the years, mentioned that some maids were “complete lunatics” and thieves.  He finished off by implying that the police should doubt the maid’s word.  Can anyone name a group of people who they ‘love and admire,’ but who they would talk about that way?

So I’m going to take away the disclaimers, and re-write the first half of the paragraph the way Ben Stein actually meant it.  “The woman was a maid.  I don’t like maids.  I don’t respect them or trust them.  I’m sure this woman isn’t any better than the rest.  I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me.”

The ‘few minutes of investigation’ is clear hyperbole, so we’ll leave that behind.  The Riker’s Island reference leads back to an earlier point  in which Stein said that Strauss-Kahn’s ‘lifetime of service’ to the IMF merited better than putting him in a common prison with other common prisoners who were suspected of awful things like . . . sexual assault. 

I don’t know who’s guilty or who’s innocent.  What I do know is that Stein’s piece is the most lightly-coded way of saying, “the rich, powerful, and connected deserve better justice than the poor and obscure,” that I’ve ever seen.

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Batgirl #21 Play-by-Play

May 13th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Spoiiiiiiiiiiilers.

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Wolverine Can’t Keep Up With the Fans

April 29th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

So apparently there was some Wolverine storyline in which evil demons got into Wolverine’s brain and members of his team had to get transported into a physical representation of his mind in order to kill the demons and free him.  Hilarity ensues, including the following scene:

This scene made it over to scans_daily, where people reacted thusly:

…That’s it? Those are his deepest, most secret, rawest sexual fantasies?

Jeez. 13-year-old fangirls publicly come up with far dirtier stuff than that all the time.

Well, I’m not sure about the exact age, but it’s true.  I don’t even read Marvel, but I know that doesn’t scratch the surface of what is out there written by women.  Reading it I have to say I rolled my eyes a little, but then I had to look at my reaction.

One major thing about this scene is, it’s a woman looking at it.  And the woman’s response is, “I must die this instant.” 

That moment brought me back to, I kid you not, The Devil Wears Prada.  Yes, I saw that movie.  In the movie, Anne Hathaway (the soon-to-be Catwoman), plays a serious journalism student who goes and gets a job at a fashion magazine, and is roundly mocked by Fashion People.  The running gag is this: She’s fat.  Any of you can google a picture of Anne Hathaway right now.  Even for an actress, she’s very slender.  And the people making the various fat jabs were fatter than her.  They weren’t objectively fat.  They were also slender.  But they were fatter than Anne Hathaway. 

There had to be someone who noticed this somewhere between script and screen, and you think these lines would have been re-written, just the same way a movie filled with jokes about a character’s blue eyes would change the line if the actor playing the character had brown eyes.  But no one changed the lines.  So a theater full of people, presumably none of them blind, saw several actresses look at a visibly skinnier actress and call her fat.  The jokes made no sense, and yet they stayed in the movie.  Why?  Because they were Fashion People and she was Regular Jane, and so she had to be fatter than they were – even if the entire audience’s eyes were telling them that she wasn’t. 

This is what that scene feels like.  It’s pretty much beyond dispute that the ladies like the weird, or know the weird, or at the very least expect weirder than that from Wolverine.  I don’t read Marvel so this lady might be particularly restrained.  (Although, if she is, why is she looking in a door marked ‘sexual fantasies’?)  It just seems like that has to be her reaction.  Wolverine is the hard-bitten hero who’s been everywhere, done everything, no-nonsense, man of the world.  He’s the guy with the Dark Side.  The animalistic member of the X-Men.  He has to have fantasies that shock people, no matter what.  So she’s shocked.  Otherwise Wolverine’s identity doesn’t work.

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Batgirl #20 Play-by-Play

April 13th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Spoiled, spoiled, all is spoiled.

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