Sunday, March 13, 2011

Superman Family Vol. 1

The Betrayal of Superman (no credits found)

There's something endearing about Jimmy Olsen. He can be so arrogant and naive, at the same time. He's so smug about his endless queues of mad scientists clamoring for his attention and his face fills with childlike wonder as soon as the kooky inventions work!

In The Betrayal of Superman, through the most absurd and complicated events we see just what a real pal, Jimmy Olsen is. This is the theme of almost every single Jimmy Olsen story ever. This one is special because Jimmy pretends to be Scotland Yard with fake British accent and mannerisms.

Jimmy needs to help his other pal, an private PI who needs an operation and in order to get the money, he needs to solve the case of Superman's identity. Jimmy goes diligently to work. Getting a set of fingerprints off a cornerstone (Why Superman touches the cornerstone is not explained), a set of footprints in mud, figuring out his weight because Superman stood on a scale with a bunch of stones (for charity!) and then Jimmy subtracted the weight of each stone from the total, and measuring his height because Superman leaves cartoon cutouts of himself each time he breaks through a wall!

Here's the complicated part.

Jimmy calls Mr. X (the client) and arranges a meeting with Superman disguised in his secret identity. We are led to believe that Jimmy found out it was Clark, because Clark is at the house where the meeting will take place. Clark has his back turned to Mr. X so that his face is hidden. Mr. X shoots Clark because that is how you check to see if random people aren't Superman. I mean don't you check if bullets bounce off your neighbor? Mr. X leaves frustrated though because Superman never turns around and so never shows his face!

It turns out Superman was in on the case all along! Jimmy and his best pal Superman have a great time mocking Mr. X and taking the $1000 from this case to the Private Investigator in need of an operation! Everything is super duper!

Or is it? As Jimmy cleans his desk, he finds the photo proofs of Superman in different disguises and in one of them he has glasses! Superman sweats bullets until Jimmy rips the picture saying the glasses were drawn crooked. JA JA JA wink towards the reader and Superman is safe once again.

Queen and Country: Operation Broken Ground: Report of Proceedings 1

Greg Rucka
Steve Rolston

I feel kind of lukewarm with this comic. On the one hand I like government intrigue and officials playing off each other with hidden agendas, but on the other hand I know very little of British Intelligence to make heads or tales of what's going on.

The story follows Tara Chase who is Minder 2 in this agency, which looks like the CIA. They communicate with the CIA throughout the story, each agency owing the other favors. Tara was sent to Kosovo to kill a "General" dealing in arms and who knows what. She completes the mission, and gets home safely through the skin of her teeth. The guys who really liked this "General" retaliate in British soil and it all becomes a dialogue heavy discussion about whether to capture them alive or to kill them. Paul Crocker, the Director of Operations, wants them dead and he deals with the CIA and tries to keep Tara from becoming bait in the operation to capture them.

It's not as confusing as it sounds, but it's also not as exciting. I never thought Tara was in real danger, and all the different directors and rules left me confused. There was no personal interaction between characters, at one point I thought Tara might be pregnant or having an affair with Paul (it would explain why he is so protective) but nothing came of it.

The art was too cartoony for the story, and it was funny to read that many critics thought so at the time. It wasn't distracting but it did made me wonder why it wasn't as gritty as it could be. It could have been the sharp contrast between the Tim Sale covers and the interior art. Tim Sale's heavy inks would've helped the mood Rucka was going for. Shady dealings under the cover of daily life.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On the subject of Race in The Hunger Games

Back in December I read The Hunger Games. Now as casting for the movie is well under way it seems Jennifer Lawrence is the top choice to play Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence was the lead in Winter's Bone which I thought had a LOT of similarities to Hunger Games. Both book and movie deal with the poverty predominantly white people suffer in the Appalachia.

This has stricken a cord with people who didn't place a specific race on Katniss (the main character in the books). She's described as having dark hair and grey eyes, but there's no mention of her skin "creamy, rich, or luminescent" adjectives anywhere. So in theory you can place yourself in Katniss no matter the race which is a good way to play it. Kudos, Suzanne Collins!

But the book does hint at problematic race relations in the Districts. They are separated by race, because Rue is clearly described as African-American(/Panem?).
"And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she's very like Prim in size and demeanor."
[On a side note, the Hunger Games Wiki has a picture of Rue and she's shown as white. Whitewashing Wikis-- Good Lord!] Anyway...

So Rue has dark brown skin and District 11 (where she's from) deals with agriculture. She's kind of living in a "slave" like environment where they pick crops, get very little food, and have their lives dictated upon by higher ups. Oh yeah and Rue sings to signal the end of the day-- which I hope is a play on stories where slaves are so happy to be slaves that they sing-- or I also hope it's a small tribute to how slaves communicated escape planes through song so the higher ups wouldn't get it.

In this case, Katniss' life sounds more like the poverty stricken white people working in coal mines. Her District is more lenient, and Katniss enjoys a great deal of liberty compared to Rue. Katniss hunts and is respected for her ability and skill. But Rue is just another cog in the agriculture machine. Race plays a subtle but important part in The Hunger games and it would be a shame to lose it in the movie where in can play a more prominent role.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Brain Camp

Susan Kim
Laurence Klavan
Faith Erin Hicks

We bought this book for Faith Erin Hick's art and nothing more. That the story is actually good is a bonus.

This is one of the creepiest body snatcher type stories that I have read in a while. Parents are shipping off their lackluster kids to Camp Fielding where they become prodigies in music and sciences. Our main characters, Jenna (a fantasy geek) and Lucas (hoodlum with an abusive mom) are forced to stay at Camp Fielding and eventually find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy. It reads like a modern Twilight Zone episode including the ambiguous ending.

This could have been a cliche story but there's enough original twists that keep it interesting coupled with Faith Erin Hick's art and you get something that makes you nauseous, then makes you appreciate the simple lines and expressive gestures, and then makes you nauseous again.

It would make a killer animated series.


Marjane Satrapi

Marjane describes an afternoon chatting with her relatives and their friends, while drinking Samovar. The men are doing their thing, so the ladies are free to talk and gossip.

Much of this gossip is dedicated sexual and gender matters and how the Iranian society sees them and deals with them. The title of the story, Embroideries, refers to a surgery to renew your virginity. They speak of it like a commonplace thing although some of the women think it's a horrid procedure. The other conversations are mostly about how hard it is too keep your husband from cheating or about conned weddings.

The standout of the ladies is Parvine, she's an artist and very liberated. She's the most outspoken one, and it made me curious to see her life beyond the sanctuary of this circle. One of Marjane's themes is how the outspoken women change outside the house and underneath the vale.

The saddest (but kind of funny) one, who is not mentioned by name though, says she's never seen her husband's penis, testicles or semen. He turns off the light and jackhammers away. Since she had four baby girls she has no clue what the other's are talking about.

The book could have been a thousand pages longer, you really don't want to stop reading about them. You feel or wish that you had family that was half as interesting or as open in their conversations about sex and gender.

Marvel's Strange Tales

Various artists and writers

Since this is an anthology of different artists and writers doing their favorite Marvel characters, I'll focus on the standouts. The art in all of the stories ranges from fantastic to pretty good, but some of the stories fall flat and are downright "dark for the sake of dark" and I'm really not into that right now.

Junko Mizuno's Spiderman deals with moving to a city where everyone is a spider, and he's not so special. But instead of moving somewhere else, he stays put because Mary jane is enjoying living there. Cute as usual.

James Kolchalka's Hulk is very very cute and a bit like Charlie Brown which is great.

Jhonen Vazquez's M.O.D.O.K. was more of the same very morbid and funny, but it missed the poignant train. If you want a truly depressing M.O.D.O.K. tale read Nick Bertozzi's story. It will wipe the smile of your face.

All in all though the stories are not ground breaking and some are downright bland. It's a great art book though.