Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jean Grey on Trial

Did you like Guardians of the Galaxy? I certainly did! I thought it was a fun and energetic entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Did you like X-Men: Days of Future Past? Well, I didn’t see that one for reasons I’m not going to get into here, but I hear it wasn’t as bad as X III: The Last Stand, so there’s that. Unable to (as of yet) have a team up between them on the big screen, Marvel has brought you the second best thing: a comic crossover! Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy meet All-New X-Men in a newly released collected trade, TheTrial of Jean Grey.

Now, I know what you’re going to ask: “Meredith! Who is this Jean Grey you speak of and why is she on trial?” And to that I say, “Wait, if you don’t even know who Jean Grey is, then why are we having this conversation?” Just kidding! But to really get at an answer, we have to go all the way back to the heady days of 1980. A simpler time – Chris Claremont was the longtime writer of Uncanny X-Men and the newest mutant to make their debut was disco singing sensation, Dazzler. Claremont’s writing has since gained the reputation of being overwrought and melodramatic, but you can’t argue that the man has written some of the most well-known comic arcs (the aforementioned Days of Future Past, my personal favorite God Loves, Man Kills, and the one that’s relevant to this conversation The Dark Phoenix Saga). 

Prior to the beginning of The Dark Phoenix Saga Jean Grey, a telepathic member of the X-Men, bonded with the mysterious cosmic specter known as the Phoenix Force. She was able to control the force and it allowed her to tap into the full depths of her psychic powers. However, a rival mutant started loosening Jean’s mental bond with the force and it eventually took her over completely, thus creating the villain Dark Phoenix. Now, Dark Phoenix is not one to be trifled with, in fact, she immediately started soaring through the galaxy, absorbing nuclear star energy and destroying planets inhabited by peaceful alien beings for really no reason at all. It’s awesome actually. Anyway, the series ends when Jean self-sacrifices herself to keep the Phoenix Force from destroying anything else. Seems pretty cut and dried, right? Well, these are comic books so, no, it gets way more confusing.

In All-New X-Men the original X-Men (made up of a young Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, and of course - Jean Grey) were brought forward in time to help remind the current iteration of the team of Professor Xavier’s vision for mutants. However, the Shi’ar galactic council (no, don’t even ask) caught wind of a Jean Grey in their timeline (the Jean Grey that actually belongs in this world has been dead for some time) and they feel she should stand trial for the crimes she will eventually commit as Dark Phoenix. So the Guardians of the Galaxy team up with the X-Men to rescue Jean Grey.

Phew! Y’all still with me? You are? Great! So, let’s talk about The Trial of Jean Grey. First of all, it finally answers the persistent question I’ve had regarding the relationship between Guardian Peter Quill (Star Lord) and X-Man Kitty Pryde.  Peter Quill has his own solo series Legendary Star-Lord where he’s traveling the galaxy and also somehow dating the very much earthbound Kitty. I could never figure out how they met. Well, Kitty is in charge of the young, time-displaced mutants so is also a part of this crossover. Mystery solved!

The artwork done by Sara Pichelli and Stuart Immonen is really top-notch.  They’ve managed to capture the innocence of the younger X-Men without making them look like totally out of place children. Brian Michael Bendis’ script work is coherent, which is impressive seeing as how he’s juggling four different casts while also being respectful of the source material. He even manages to inject a little bit of well needed humor. Overall, The Trial of Jean Grey makes for a thoughtful companion to The Dark Phoenix Saga. Jean Grey is a character who is perpetually dead, so it’s nice to see at least a version of her back in action. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t have a passing familiarity with The Dark Phoenix Saga or X-Men in general.  There are a few cameos that would make for a confusing read, for example: a pre-Asgard assassin Angela (Girl! What are you even doing here?), Cyclops’ flamboyant space pirate father (who looks like he was plucked directly from the pages of a 1977 issue of Uncanny X-Men), and X-23 (who seems to want nothing to do with anything happening around her). 

If you are interested in getting started with X-Men, the first trade of the All-New X-Men series, Yesterday’s X-Men is not a bad place to jump off from, especially if you want to get up to speed with the current timeline.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Revisiting Harold Fry

My love for Harold Fry has been well-documented. So, when I discovered there was a companion novel coming out, I was understandably excited by the prospect. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I loved Harold so much, but I expected the same kind of magic of Queenie. Yes, I realize that is quite presumptuous of me, and I really put a lot of pressure on this book from the get-go.

Queenie Hennessy wrote to her unrequited love, Harold Fry, to tell him she was dying of cancer. She never expected him to write back, much less set off, on foot, to visit her from the other end of the country. It panics her, because there is so much she never told Harold, and now feels like she must tell him before she dies. Queenie cannot speak any more, but she can write. Queenie takes her own journey, by writing this letter to Harold (the book) in order to tell him everything, even the hard parts.

*Spoiler alert if you didn’t read Harold Fry* Harold’s son David takes up much of his concerns while walking. Similarly, David is on Queenie’s mind the whole time she is writing. David was a troubled young man who committed suicide in his early twenties, and Queenie sees herself as holding some responsibility in that. Slowly, her part in David’s life is revealed.

As the letter progresses, so does Harold’s walk, and it becomes something she and her friends are very much looking forward to. Living in a hospice, Queenie tells of the daily life around her, and the excitement Harold’s impending visit brings to her fellow hospice patients. Some of these patients add a lot of color to her life. It reminded me of the media-frenzy of the first book.

I enjoyed the book, but not nearly as much as the first. The books takes place simultaneously with Harold Fry, but it also jumps to the past quite a bit. That made a lot of sense, and I liked learning more about Queenie, and where she went. In fact, I felt like she could have shared more of her past outside of the Harold years, and I would have enjoyed that. I really wanted to know how she got to Kingsbridge with Harold, but sadly, that part of her life wasn’t mentioned too frequently.

What really bothered me about this book was the fact that Queenie was in love with Harold. I know it probably shouldn’t have bugged me so much, but I felt it kind of tainted what I liked about the first book. I liked the fact that Harold was walking to a woman who had been a very good friend to him, and he felt he let her down. I liked that Harold and Queenie had never had any sort of illicit affair. I just liked the fact that it wasn’t about love, at least not romantic love. Also, Queenie was just so gushy about her attraction to him that it got to be a bit much over the course of the book. So I will never get over that.

I liked the parallel story, and the fact that Queenie goes on her own pilgrimage, not so different from Harold’s. She recalls a lot about her past that is painful, but necessary, the same way Harold does throughout his journey. I don’t think that someone could really read this book first, though. It is a companion novel, but I don’t think it stands alone. The book seems to rely on the reader having knowledge of the first book. Not a bad thing, but nonetheless, something to consider.

~Cailey W.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Modern Tar and Feathering

I hate Twitter. The majority of us aren’t eloquent enough to articulate our thoughts in 140 characters or less, so what we’re left with is an echo chamber of the most racist, sexist, and incoherently spewed vitriol streaming constantly 24 hours a day. Its anonymity gives users the freedom to spout their worst, knee-jerk responses and its public platform encourages the hive mind to viciously pile onto unsuspecting people.

The recent Gamergate controversy represented everything terrible about Twitter and social media. It was a series of misogynistic and violently worded threats directed toward a few women in the video game industry thinly veiled as a fight for “journalistic integrity.” For months, three women in particular (game programmers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu and feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian) faced a constant barrage of disparaging tweets insulting their gender, thousands of rape and death threats, and the exposure of their private information (all were forced to leave their homes for a period of time in order to protect their safety). So, yeah, I hate Twitter.

Recently, Jon Ronson wrote a book examining this modern resurgence of public shaming, appropriately titled, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Gamergate is an extreme (but telling) example of “social media justice,” but these sorts of controversies seem to happen every week. A company sends out a poorly-worded Facebook post or someone’s Instagram photo of their racist Halloween costume goes viral and everyone who sees it gets to, in a manner of speaking, have their turn cracking the whip at a virtual public flogging. But what do we really get out of shaming someone?

In his book, Ronson interviews those who have been the on the receiving end of the internet’s fury and it’s clear that the online mob can destroy lives. Ronson describes it this way, “I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.” All of Ronson’s subjects have lost their jobs whether or not their online malfeasance actually warranted being let go. These days, the court of Twitter plays judge, jury, and executioner. Users can create a cacophony of outrage so pervasive that companies feel like they have no other course of action but to fire those being targeted.

Ronson also attempts to pinpoint what it is about shame that is so powerful – examining the lengths people will go to avoid public shame and the physical and emotional toll a public shaming has on a person long after their infamy has faded. But as we know, the internet never forgets. And, in one of the most interesting parts of his book, Ronson spends time with Michael Fertik, a man who has made a business of wiping away people’s online shame through of system of spamming Google’s search algorithms with mundane, safe posts associated with the shamee’s name.

Ronson’s book is a timely investigation into this phenomenon of modern technology and, as a person who spends a lot of time on the internet, taps into something I’ve had to consider before. What are we gaining as a society from tearing people apart? Ronson’s book doesn’t have any hard conclusions, but it’s definitely worth reading to get a sense of how former internet shamees have managed to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. You start to get a sense that people believe shaming works for the greater good, but to me, they’re just cogs in a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan.

~Meredith T.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Inspiring Quotes from Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

These are quotes and lines that just jumped out at made and made me say, “Hey, that’s right.” These quotes challenged me, inspired me, and make me stop and think, and maybe some of them will do the same for you.

“Sometimes, a fight you cannot win is still worth fighting.” 
–Gene Luen Yang, The Shadow Hero

You can’t win them all, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stand your ground on what matters to you. You can’t change everyone’s mind, and there will always be people stronger and tougher than you, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the effort to try and fight for what you believe in.

“It’s amazing how much one person can change the world, 
even if they don’t know they’re doing it.”
 –Jenn Marie Thorne, The Wrong Side of Right

This is why I think it’s important to encourage everyone to do their best and do what they love. The outcome can be incredible; we just might now know it yet.

“So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”
 –Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

It’s easy to tell someone that they can’t do something, or that they may face difficult obstacles along the way. I believe it is important to be honest to others. Yet by telling people that they can’t do something, we prevent them from going into it wholeheartedly. I think it’s important to know that the only limit is your imagination.

“I step through the door anyway, knowing that the hard thing and 
the right thing are usually the same thing.”
 –Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

Doing the right thing isn't always easy. It can involve having tough conversations and doing things that make you uncomfortable. But you will feel so much better for having done it. You just have to take the first step.

“Saying ‘yes’ doesn't mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying ‘please’ 
doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission.”
 –Amy Poehler, Yes Please

I’ll admit it, I have a very difficult time saying no to people because I don’t want to disappoint anyone. And I could really stand to listen to Amy’s advice more often.

“Disappointment in others is tough. Disappointment in yourself is far worse.”
 –Alessandra Torre, The Girl in 6E

Speaking of disappointing people…it’s rough. But it’s even more difficult to let yourself down. You only have control over yourself and knowing that you tried so hard and feeling like you didn’t do enough can be rough. But to me, it means never allowing that to happen again, and doing better the next time around.

“Meaning to send a thank-you note but then not doing it is exactly the same as never thinking to send one – that person is still receiving zero thank you notes.”

Sometimes, it’s the thought that counts. Sometimes. But in my experience, you can never say “thank you" too often. Everyone likes to hear it, and they will remember when you don’t send a note.

“There’s really not honor in proving that you can carry the 
entire load on your own shoulders. And…it’s lonely.”

This one hit me hard. Sometimes it’s really hard to ask for help, lest we risk looking weak or vulnerable. And oftentimes that’s when we need it the most. You aren't helping yourself by making it harder when there are plenty of people who are more than willing to help, and who won’t think any less of you for it.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” 

Malala is an incredible young lady, and so I had to put her somewhere on this list. I often take for granted a lot of the advantages I have. It’s important that I use the voice I've been given,often and responsibly.

“I shiver, thinking how easy it is to be totally wrong about people – to see one tiny part of them and confuse it for the whole, to see the cause and think it’s the effect of vice versa.” 
– Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall

Everyone is fighting their own personal battles, and you will never know about most of them. You could be seeing someone on the worst day of their life, and you might never know it. That’s why it is important to treat others with respect, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully they would do the same for you.

Okay, now which quotes do you find inspirational?


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Batman Returns Again

Batman: Earth One Written by Geoff Johns, Penciled by Gary Frank

I’m going to just come clean hear and say that I have a strong prejudice toward Marvel Comics and, more importantly for my purposes here, against DC. This comes from my younger days (in the early 1980s) when Marvel’s storylines were really very much superior to those produced by DC. The first major story arc that I ever followed was Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix saga beginning in The X-Men #129 and reaching its stunning and tragic crescendo in #138 with Jean Grey’s comrades fighting a desperate and ultimately futile battle on the Moon trying to save her from the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. That was, for me, the high point of comic book storytelling.

It was only a few years later that DC seriously upped their collective game by releasing Frank Miller’s gloomy, yet gripping, The Dark Knight Returns (1986). This was a real step forward in terms of the application of literary naturalism to major label comic books. It featured (among other things) the Joker as a stone cold mass murderer, Green Arrow as a one-armed communist, and a main character whose main approach to information gathering was bone shattering torture. Yet, while I found this pretty compelling when I read it back in the day, I still retained by preference for Marvel standbys, such as the Avengers, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk (and of course the X-Men).

Gordon going "Bad Cop"
in Earth One
Of course, times change. Marvel has certainly done a great deal to expand its brand through movies and television. The movie renditions of The Avengers have moved from strength to strength, last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie was truly excellent, and after a bit of a shaky start, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has really found its footing. Still, many of my friends who are more (so to speak) comics purists have grown tired of Marvel’s improbable plot lines and returning dead characters back to life and have moved off into other, less mainstream imprints like Dark Horse and Image.

DC too has made forays into other media. The Dark Knight movies have been notably successful, and have shown that DC is committed to creating its own noir-ish niche. Their television offerings include Arrow, which has grown into an excellent, character-rich narrative, and The Flash, which hasn’t (at least not yet). They’ve also revamped their comics lines with The New 52, which has provided some different (and very interesting takes) on some traditional characters, particularly Batgirl. They’ve got a series of new releases coming up which I’ll talk about in a subsequent post, but for now I want to talk about yet another step in the emerging Batman narrative.

Alfred in Earth One
In 2012, DC released Batman: Earth One, a new take on the Batman origin story written into their Earth One story environment. Written by DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and penciled by Gary Frank (who has also worked for both Marvel and Image), Earth One continues DC’s comic noir approach, telling the story of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in a dark, crime-ridden Gotham ruled by a corrupt administration led by Mayor Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin). Some other major differences include James Gordon as a detective beaten down by corruption, and Batman’s companion Alfred, not so much a butler as a former British commando and grey eminence. The art is darkly beautiful, often recalling Miller’s work (although showing more similarities to Martha Washington Goes to War than to The Dark Knight Returns) and the story has the kind of gritty, bordering on horror elements that one has come to associate with DC modern output.

Frank Miller's Batman
Batman: Earth One represents yet another transformation in the way that the Batman character is framed, one at once more profound and more subtle than that executed by Miller in The Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s Batman is a product of the 1980s: cities decaying after the end of the postwar boom in the 1970s, spineless liberals and their coddling of criminals, and a federal government more concerned with international politics than with domestic collapse. The villains are horrific. Two Face threatens to blow up an entire building. The Joker slaughters the entire audience of the David Letterman Show and then poisons a pack of cub scouts for good measure. Gotham City is plagued by a street gang more intent on simple slaughter than with any economic motive. The solutions proposed are simple: savage beatings and some light torture. Eventually the federal government decides that Batman’s methods are unsound and Superman is sent to sort him out. He is ultimately forced underground, to continue his campaign to beat evil into (physical) submission with the help an army of former street gang members.

More of Miller's version
Batman and the Joker
The Batman of Earth One is more measured. Like Miller’s Dark Knight, this Batman is fallible and vulnerable, although for reasons of inexperience rather than (as in The Dark Knight Returns) age. At times he lacks self-assurance, and a lot of the plot line of Johns and Frank’s book is dedicated to exploring the difficulties faced by Bruce Wayne as he becomes Batman. Will he use weapons or gadgets or just his hands? What tactics is he willing to use, and what tactics will his opponents use against him? At the same time we find James Gordon, a police detective cowed by threats against his daughter’s life (this story arc predates her transformation into something more formidable), but spurred to action by being paired with a new and unscrupulous partner. Johns and Frank build up a great deal of narrative tension, between the former’s taught storytelling and the latter’s earth-tone color pallet.

Batman kicking butt in Earth One
Ultimately there is an important parallel with the Miller Batman in the sense that catastrophic, extrajudicial violence is shown to be necessary to right the ship of state. There is an element of this in most superhero comics, but there is a difference between Apocalypse trying to rejig the time line and Penguin siphoning off funds (although he does use a serial killer as an enforcer). For Johns, as for Miller before him, the important point is that the forces of evil are malignant and merciless and that good people need to be willing to use whatever means are shown to be necessary (like breaking bones or blowing someone away with a 12 gauge) to defend what remains of human goodness. Suffice to say, this is a debatable assertion, and long term readers books like The Avengers or Spiderman will now certainly have gotten the message that there are more clever ways to address even very malign problems than a simply (if satisfying) savage beating.

Still, Batman: Earth One presents a more complicated take on the world than its predecessor, and in a larger sense the program of change at DC seems to be well on its way. Trying to retell the story of a character as classic as the Batman is an ambitious enterprise, but they are clearly committed to it, as shown by the recent announcement of an upcoming second volume of Batman: Earth One to be released this summer. We’ll have to wait a few months to see where they go with this.

~John F.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Added to my To Be Read List Recently

For me, the "to be read list" never ends. The problem is, there are always more books I'd like to read. As a librarian, I read about books all the time, and I am constantly adding books to the TBR list. Here are the top ten most recent adds to my list.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
I just recently read Trigger Warning, his newest short story collection, and I just love his writing. I'm actually surprised I haven't picked this one up before.

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan
This is a novel about the last few years (the Hollywood years) of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life. I find Fitzgerald's life story as interesting as one of his books, so I think I'd enjoy this fictionalized take.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
I see this book all the time on the shelves, and its title intrigues me. He relives his life over and over, and I'm kind of a sucker for that type of story.

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a few flat tires along the way) by Sue Macy
My friends and I would categorize this book as "women be doing things." As in, it's a book about women doing Things (with a capital T to show the importance). It shows through vintage photos and stories how
women were able to become more independent with the advent of the bicycle. This was also a big award winner for children and teens.

The Fill-in Boyfriend by Kasie West
This YA novel is a zany rom-com that will be a perfect summer read. It's all about fake identities and falling for the wrong person.

The Last Good Day of the Year by Jessica Warman
This is one of those gritty books that I have to mentally prepare myself to read, since I know it will upset me. It revolves around the misidentification of a kidnapper, and the repercussions to those who did the identifying.

The Awesome by Eva Darrows
This book is kind of like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer story, but revitalized. That's all I'm going to say. Look it up.

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher
An unusual romance story told in a he said/she said sort of way. It is also science-y, which I think should be fun.

Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner
I have a soft spot for books about TV, and this one just sounds so juicy!

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
I believe I read about this book on a list of books that you should read in your twenties. It resonates with me since I have the problem of taking on too much myself, so I want to read how I can help this. Also, it has such good reviews that I just really need to see what the buzz is about.

What have you added to your TBR list lately?

~Cailey W.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books from my Childhood I’d Like to Revisit

It's Top Ten Tuesday again! This week's topic is "books from my childhood I'd like to revisit."

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

1) The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Ferdinand was one of my favorite books growing up. I had my father and read it to me over and over again. I think part of what made it so mesmerizing was the illustrations, and I would love to go back and take a look at them now.

2) Joe Camp’s Benji and the Tornado by Gina Ingoglia

I actually had to look up this book to make sure I hadn’t completely made it up. It is probably the least well-known on this list, but it’s one that was important to my family, mainly because we found many of the illustrations in the book incredibly hilarious.

3) The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka

I feel like I need to revisit this book because of Jon Scieszka’s unqiute sense of humor. I can only imagine how many jokes I missed out on as a child.

4) Mama, Do You Love Me? By Barbara Joosse

Parents demonstrate their love for their children in so many different ways, and this book is a friendly reminder of the endless reaches of their love. It’s more of a sentimental read for me. Get them tears flowing.

5) If the Dinosaurs Came Back by Bernard Most

Who hasn’t thought about what they would do if the dinosaurs suddenly reappeared. I know I have. And if I’m remembering this book correctly, they are a plenty of creative ways to use dinosaurs.

6) Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

For those of you unfamiliar with Amelia Bedelia, she takes everything literally and doesn’t understand figures of speech. I know a couple of books featuring Amelia have come out since I stopped reading them as child, and I’d like to see what wacky thing happen in those stories.

7) Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Frog and Toad are two of my favorite characters from children’s literature. The two go off on many wonderful adventures together throughout their series, and I’d like to relive that magic. 

8) Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale by Verna Aardema

One of these days I should really just sit down and go back through all of the Caldecott winners. But Mosquitos has always been my favorite, so I would say that is the one I would revisit first. I’d like to read it along with James Earl Jones’ narration over the animated version as well.

9) The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

Oh, Babar. You have so many adventures. And I’d like to go back to your first. I could use a little reminder of how the story goes.

10) Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard

When I was younger I remember thinking that Miss Nelson was incredibly clever for tricking her students with a clever disguise.

And what are your favorites?

~Marilyn W.