Post-Summer Upload 09/10/22

The paradox of the summer months is that they always hold so much promise and potential for doing the things that you’ve been putting off because you had become so flattened by the stress of work but when you actually reach them, you find yourself with so much time on your hands that it becomes easy to snap back in the opposite direction and declare things you’ve been meaning to do as something you can get to after you take a little time for yourself. Now, while this summer was one where I got a lot of things done that absolutely did need to be done, one thing that fell off pretty early on what keeping up with weekly updates. It’s hard to talk about the events going on in my life when the point of summer is that I’m trying to have significantly fewer events in general. I’m taking time to become fully human again in the wake of the exhausting last few months of the school year, and that means that most of the time I’m a much less interesting person, even to myself. Also, summer is the time of year when we pack in most of our travel for the year, and I just wasn’t in the right headspace to write about all of that while I was in the middle of it.

Because of all of that general mess, this post is my relatively brief nod towards acknowledging that stuff happened in June, July, and August, and it was mostly good. We flew to Los Angeles, did a bunch of stuff there, and then took the train back home to Portland. I very much recommending taking the train if you have the time and means to get a sleeper cabin. Rachael and I reserved a roommette, which was a cozy little compartment that turned into a couple of bunk beds for the overnight portion of the trip. In July we flew to Iowa to visit Rachael’s parents in their new house. It was a really fun long weekend where we got to enjoy my mother-in-law’s excellent hospitality skills and make fun of the bad television we all agreed to watch together. In August we rented a beach house with some of our close friends and enjoyed the general vibes on the Oregon coast. It was a good summer.

The end of break was a little stressful as I learned just before the beach house trip that a job in the English department had opened up at the high school where I’ve been working, and because I’d been playing with the idea of casually looking for chances to make a move out of special education, I let my principal know that I was interested in the job and applied for it. Because of the quirks of how our district does its hiring practices and a couple of other unrelated things, I spent the last two weeks of summer stressing about whether I was going to get this job. I felt like I had a good chance as someone who’d been working in the school for several years by this point who had demonstrated that I knew what I was doing in a classroom. I interviewed on the Thursday before I was due back for pre-planning, and because I didn’t hear anything on Friday, I spent that last weekend of summer feeling more than a little anxious about what I job I was reporting for on Monday.

Ultimately, I didn’t get the job, although I’ve been told that I was passed over primarily because they had another candidate from in district who already had experience with one of the courses that needed to be covered. My principal was extremely supportive when she broke the news to me, and then she said that there was an opening at our feeder middle school that I might be interested in applying for if I was really eager to switch to general education. I spent a couple hours thinking on it (while sitting through our back-to-school all hands meeting that always lasts the whole morning on the first day of pre-planning) and decided that after coming so close that I wasn’t willing to pass up another opportunity. I applied Monday afternoon, and Friday morning the principal of the middle school called to ask if I could interview that afternoon. I agreed, I interviewed, and less than ten minutes after we wrapped up, he called to offering me the job. I accepted, and so after Labor Day weekend I packed up everything at my high school and drove down the street to start setting up my classroom at the middle school.

As you might expect, the one problem with this plan was that students started the day after Labor Day, so I couldn’t actually move much in while my classroom was being occupied by my new students and the sub they had gotten to fill in for me until I could get settled. It’s now Saturday, and I’m still furiously scrambling with all my free time to make up for the fact that I spent pre-planning preparing for my old job. It’s a weird quirk of late summer shuffling in education that this time loss happens, and while I’m really physically tired, I’ve been incredibly happy this week because I get to teach general education classes. There are definitely quirks to the job (I’m teaching both ELA and Social Studies, which is a content area I’ve never taught before; also, it’s middle school), but overall I’m pleased with the change.

Art

I’ve done a lot of art this summer that I haven’t spent any time writing about in this space, and altogether it’s probably not worth spending too much time rehashing what I’ve been learning over the summer. The big thing that I’m preoccupied with right now is the fact that I just don’t have as much energy to draw with my new job starting up. I hope that will change as I get settled into a more normal work rhythm, but for the moment it’s meant that my art has been progressing slowly. Besides the progress problem, I’m working on a very ambitious project that’s going to involve compositing multiple individual characters onto the same large background that I painted a couple weeks ago. I think it’s going to be cool, but the amount of time it takes is going to be much more than I anticipated two weeks ago when I first decided to try it. At this point, I’m trying to think forward to Drawtober, and I’m feeling like I may end up taking another pass this year what with the new job and all.

Comics

I wish I had brain space to write coherent thoughts about comics right now. I haven’t given up on my ambitions to do a critical read-through of the rest of Vita Ayala’s New Mutants run at least through the “Labors of Magik” arc, but that’s a type of brain work that is also very difficult to manage in the current state of things. I’ll say that Marvel’s Judgment Day event has been a really fun crossover so far, even as I haven’t looked at anything that’s come out in the last week for the usual I-have-no-energy-because-new-job reasons. Maybe this weekend I’ll cozy up with my iPad. After I finish my weekend chores.

Gaming

I’m slowly playing through Nier Replicant, and it’s a fun game in general. I expect the gut punches to come faster and furiouser as I get to the end of the first playthrough before I work on the subsequent endings. Nier Automata was a compelling game, and I’m just hoping that Replicant is half as good.

Last weekend Rachael and I played Immortality, the new Sam Barlow FMV horror game. It’s really good, and a pleasant way to pass a weekend. It’s largely a meditation on the nature of creativity and art along with a gentle critique of misogyny in the film industry. I think you get out a lot of what you bring to the game.

Media

We watched Licorice Pizza last night. It’s a beautiful movie about 1973 anchored by some really fascinating performances by the two leads. I’m sure there are other things we’ve watched in the last two months that were also worth discussing, but as with everything else right now, it’s all sort of a blur. I might also recommend The Rehearsal if you want to watch a comedy with the most chaotic premise I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure the entire thing is a single massive bit. Pretty sure.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to a coffee shop since the last time I checked in. I did drink a nice cup of tea while I was working on this blog post though.

Weekly Upload 07/17/22

It feels like it’s been a really busy week with a lot of things that needed doing, but sitting here this morning trying to reflect, I’m not entirely sure how the time was spent. I think that we’ve reached the point in the summer where I typically go through a small depressive phase because I’m lacking enough to do that feels meaningful for me. It’s a perennial problem, but nothing that I’m not accustomed to. Being able to identify and name the pattern is certainly helpful. It’s the point where I would look to take a class or something similar, but the question of how to go about looking for something I’d find worthwile is a sticky one. Also, I’ve spent some time reflecting on a lot of things about my life lately, and I had the notion that I default to passivity when it comes to nonroutine decisions. I don’t really know what to do with that idea, to be honest.

Art

I finished two pieces this week that made it onto my weekly art roundup thread and one that didn’t because I worked on it yesterday after I’d already posted to Twitter. I’m happy with the work I’ve been producing lately, and I’ve been experimenting a little bit with different coloring processes. While I’ve been dealing with the midsummer ennui, it’s been nice to feel excited about my artwork again. If I could get over my frustration with not being noticed more, I’d feel pretty content with where I am.

Looking at what I’ve finished this week, I realize that I’ve been doing a lot of work with fire effects.

Comics

It was Hellfire Gala week in the X-books, which means there was lots of drama and questions and other exciting assorted bits. I somehow managed to read the issues of the week directly related to setting up the Judgment Day event that’s starting next week in exactly the reverse order, which honestly wasn’t that big of a deal, although I do mildly resent that I felt the need to power through a stack of comics on Tuesday night once they dropped digitally for fear of people being obnoxious about major developments on Wednesday morning. It’s probably just my general crankiness about the whole thing, but I do really dislike the way that big two comics hype stuff months in advance of release with no concern for people who just want to experience a story as it comes. To talk briefly about the comics themselves instead of the environment in which we encounter them, I’m actually very intrigued by the potential for stories with Firestar joining the X-Men team. I was nonplussed by the prospect that she was going to win the fan vote, but the Hellfire Gala issue does a good job establishing why Firestar would feel at odds joining an X-Team and the tensions that could come up from her history of being ambivalent about the mutant community.

Media

We’re borrowing a friend’s Disney+ login at the moment and watched WandaVision this week. It was great, although I felt like the final episode leaned way too hard into doing the generic MCU special effects extravaganze that you get in the movies. You had this lovely meditative story about grief with some clever use of sitcom conventions to highlight the horror of the situation, and then the villain turns out to be some lady who shoots purple beams from her hands. That’s not to say the resolution wasn’t good; I just could have personally done without half an hour of people flying and yelling at each other while they use color coded energy powers.

I think there have been other things we’ve watched lately, but they all just kind of slide off my brain when I try to remember them. Rachael did introduce me to the genre of cozy vlogs on Youtube, and I’m charmed by them. In my own exploration of Youtube, I’ve discovered Draw With Me videos, which I’m really enjoying as background when I want to do my own drawing. It’s actually really informative to see other artists’ processes in real time, and it inspired me to try a completely different coloring style than I usually do.

Video Games

We went through several video games recently that were fun if not especially deep. I finally played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, the retro beat’em up that’s riffing on the ’80s TMNT cartoon, and it was very good for what it was. The breadth of characters is a nice change up from just the four turtles in the old games that this one’s homaging, and the story mode which allows easy replay of any of the levels that have been reached takes out a lot of the frustration of the original experience. I’m sure it would be even more fun to play with a friend or two.

I picked up a small Metroidvania game for cheap called Wonder Labyrinth, which ties into the Record of Lodoss War series from the ’90s of all things. The story itself is pretty light, serving as a coda for the original anime where Deedlit, the one elf of the original adventuring party, is experiencing grief over having outlived all her friends and her beloved, the human knight Parn. Deedlit has to traverse a dungeon filled with apparitions from her past, and the player gets to fight lots of fun boss battles. The game’s relatively short (I saw the entire map in about fifteen hours of play), but it does have some fun twists on typical Metroidvania conventions. The most notable one is the ability to swap between two elemental modes, which shifts what attacks from enemies that Deedlit can absorb and changes her movement options slightly. Mastering this feature is essential to most of the boss fights as almost all of them have at least one undodgable attack that the player has to avoid by shifting to the proper mode to absorb it instead.

The game that Rachael and I have been playing cooperatively lately is Chicory, a 2D Zelda-like that involves painting the game world in order to solve traversal puzzles across the map. The story’s a gentle meditation on self doubt and how we lean on our friends for support. In terms of gameplay, the co-op mode allows a second player to control another paintbrush to color the world while the first player moves the game’s protagonist around. It was inordinately charming.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to any coffee shops this week. I did spend some time sitting outside on our deck enjoying the pleasant weather though.

Reading New Mutants #18

The event of this issue is a fight between Xi’an and Dani. The substance of it is the question of what to do with people who have a history of harming others when trying to promote the communal value of giving everyone a fresh start and a second chance. I would say there’s some tension between the event and the substance, but I think the reality is more that Xi’an and Dani in the Crucible is the organizing setpiece for the issue’s story rather than its point. There’s a moment close to the end of the fight where Xi’an has her epiphany about why she’s holding back, which is interesting as an echo of Gabby’s conversations in this issue about nonfatal trauma, but it’s a relatively compact sequence in comparison to several pages devoted to just the action of Dani and Xi’an fighting one another.

Cover of New Mutants #18 by Christian Ward. Logo design by Tom Muller.

Dani At the Center, Again

I realize, five issues into this run, that I really like to harp on the fact that Dani serves as the epicenter for all the drama of this story arc, but I think it’s a worthwile thing to point out because this arc is very much not about Dani in any meaningful way. She’s not on a significant character arc through this story, but everyone around her has differing ideas and expectations about what she’s supposed to be to them, and its the other characters reactions to their own expectations of her that drive their stories forward. There are certainly points of criticism that one can lobby towards Dani and her position as the emotional support for everyone that she knows, but by this point in the plot it begins to feel more like a commentary on parasocial relationships than an issue with the character herself.

Dani is determined to do right by the person right in front of her. Unfortunately, a bunch of other people are standing off to the side and feeling ignored at the same time. (Art by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

At any rate, this issue manifests the dynamic that Dani has with other characters by literally placing her in the center of a ring where she’s doing a thing for a very close friend while other people who had hoped they could depend on her look on and have some feelings about that. In terms of character development, most of the stuff with Cosmar and Rahne in this issue feels like stuff you would do to remind readers about the status of everything without actually pushing forward anyone’s arcs. Cosmar especially suffers from some stagnation in this issue, as the majority of her panel time is devoted to her feeling sad and angry that Dani has decided to partner with Xi’an for the Crucible on behalf of Xi’an’s brother as well as recapitulating her previous complaints about being stuck in a mutated body that doesn’t feel like her own. I really wanted to see something fresh in her and the other kids’ conversation with Gabby, but it just kind of goes in circles with everything that Viktor told Gabby in the last issue. At least with Rahne, the reveal that she’s actually taking Gabby to speak with the Shadow King directly demonstrates a small progression. Gabby chooses to trust Rahne with her explicit concerns (something that she doesn’t do with Jimmy despite him being an apparently much more interested adult), and Rahne surprises Gabby with her mediation solution. Rahne has a history of making some poor decisions, but this one’s pretty bad. It also follows on a moment where we see Rahne walking dejectedly away from the Crucible arena, presumably because she feels abandoned by Dani. The whole thing is odd.

Gabby Gets Support

Gabby has a very informed view of trauma and its effects on a person. Too bad her friends aren’t ready to hear her. (Artwork by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

We can’t spend all our time analyzing the complex interpersonal dynamics of Dani and everyone who wants her time and attention, though. Cosmar and Rahne are making poor choices for many more reasons than that they feel abandoned by one person, which is especially significant when we talk about Gabby’s continuing quest to figure out how to make friends and help them. By this point in the story, Gabby’s big sister Laura is back from a prolonged away mission that she has some of her own complex feelings about, and Gabby has moved from “I can’t talk to Laura because she’s not physically here” to “I can’t talk to Laura because she just went through a thing and needs to process it.” Given the ongoing crisis with Cosmar and the other kids, Gabby’s response to missing her stable person is much healthier, though still fraught with anxious moments. This issue highlights her asking Jimmy Proudstar for advice about what to do, and Jimmy does an excellent job of listening to Gabby’s concerns, taking them seriously, and encouraging her to listen to her feelings that something is not right with the situation her friends are in. He’s open in his offer to help, but respects when Gabby declines. It’s a major contrast with all of Gabby’s previous encounters with adults through this story, who have largely been dismissive of her.

The scene with Jimmy is so good that it really underlines the sense that something’s off when she speaks with Rahne. We know from the last issue that Rahne’s been encouraged by Amahl Farouk to try to take a more active role in mentoring the kids who are dealing with unwanted physical mutations, so her intervention in the argument between Gabby and the others at first seems like a positive development, but her delivery of Gabby to Farouk alone at the end signals something much worse is going on. Of course, the nature of the story and its antagonist clue us in that this isn’t a safe resolution.

Tran, Farouk, and Second Chances

In the moments that this issue does focus in on Xi’an’s story, it devotes a large amount of panel time to her meditations on her relationship with her brother and the issue’s central question about what to do with someone who has a history of harming others without remorse. This deep reflection is necessary because Tran is such a minor character in the context of X-Men history, although he looms large as a central figure in Xi’an’s origin story. The character of Karma was introduced in a Spider-Man/Fantastic Four crossover story written by Chris Claremont where Xi’an and Tran are twins with the power to psychically possess other people who are working for their corrupt uncle as he tries to expand his criminal operations in New York City. Because Claremont has an orientalist streak in his writing, the twins symbolize the two halves of yin and yang, with Xi’an representing the good side and her brother representing evil. Xi’an doesn’t like working for her uncle, but she feels it’s her only choice because he’s family and they’re refugees from postwar Vietnam; Tran revels in his power and has no qualms about his criminal activity. In the story’s conclusion, Xi’an works with the heroes to stop her brother by absorbing his soul into her body. She adopts the codename Karma to represent her intention of balancing her brother’s evil acts by becoming a force for good in the world. From there, Tran doesn’t have many appearances that I’m aware of, and most readers could be forgiven for not knowing that Xi’an’s carrying the soul of her literal evil twin around inside her body.

Xi’an has just as many questions about the potential fallout from resurrecting Tran as anyone. She concludes that he deserves the chance to show everyone who he is now. (Artwork by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

Ayala uses this subplot to propose questions about the potential and limits of Krakoan amnesty. On the island, all mutants are welcome and allowed a fresh start assuming that they will abide by the laws of the land that the Quiet Council has established. Tran’s history is relatively short, but demonstrated that he was unrepentant of his criminal actions when he still had a body, and Xi’an has to face her doubts about literally getting herself killed in order to resurrect him. She doesn’t know if Tran has reformed during his time riding along in her body, and she can’t know unless she finishes the Crucible. The issue shows us that Xi’an comes to peace with the uncertainty of her brother’s future and finishes the Crucible to be resurrected in a new body separate from Tran.

While this subplot is resolving, it foreshadows for us the central question of the larger plot arc that Ayala has been building with the Shadow King. Amahl Farouk is a much more prominent character than Tran, and he has a much deeper history of antagonism and outright predation on the people who fall into his orbit. Five issues into this run, he’s obviously the New Mutants’ key antagonist, but he’s been existing mostly in the background of Krakoa, not quite breaking any of the laws while doing predatory things to the mutant children who are looking for someone to mentor them. What to do with a character like him is a much more difficult question to consider, and the book isn’t going to give us an answer yet. In fact, the next issue will get into the 2021 Hellfire Gala, which is a little bit of a derailing from the ongoing plot. Still, at this midpoint in the Shadow King story, it’s clear that we as readers are supposed to be asking questions about what the New Mutants should do with Farouk once they realize what he’s been doing.

Weekly Upload 07/09/22

The first full week of summer break that we’ve spent at home has been remarkably busy. We’ve done all the social things, hanging out with people we don’t normally get to see during the school year because schedules don’t line up and (since that whole pesky pandemic thing) we’re relatively high risk people to hang out with given our day jobs. We did a mini-cookout over Independence Day weekend with some close friends that we haven’t really gotten to see since Christmas, and then there was another friend we haven’t seen in literal years who happened to be visiting Portland for a few weeks, and then tonight we’re going to hang out with yet another couple of friends. I am unsure at this point if the “a few friends at a time over the course of the week” social strategy is more or less exhausting than coordinating a giant party where everyone comes over at once.

That was a joke; giant parties are not a good idea these days, and we’d never host one in the first place.

Besides the burgeoning social calendar, Rachael and I have also gotten to work on our annual summer do-or-die chores. I spent far more time this week than I’d like sitting in waiting rooms for car related business, and we’ve begun the kind of sort-out-your-life chores that take a lot of time and just feel too overwhelming to do when you have a regular 8-to-4 job during the year. Throw in the summer reset with establishing a more consistent exercise schedule and the reality of having access to the TV and video games at any time of the day, and it’s been a very full week.

Art

I did no new art this week, which has me pretty bummed, to be honest. I’m noodling around with an idea for a new piece as of last night, but I haven’t even started sketching yet, so we’ll see if it comes together in the next week.

Comics

I read Saga #60 last night, and I had to explain to Rachael that I was fine when she noticed me tearing up. The issue’s a good gut punch, which I think is pretty much fifty percent of the reason anyone reads Saga. Also, it’s going on hiatus again for the rest of the year, which I won’t begrudge anyone on the creative team, but a six month gap between story arcs is an awfully long time when you’re reading monthly.

I’ve been working on continuing my reading series on Vita Ayala’s run of New Mutants as well in the last couple days, and I think it’s important to take some time to acknowledge how much work goes into critically reading a single issue of a comic book, even in the casual way that I’m going about it, and that it really enriches the experience of the book. I love it, and I should honestly re-read more comics.

Books

My ELA co-teacher of the last four years gave me a book at the end of the school year called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. We’re not going to be working together next year for reasons, and the unspoken message of the gift was “here is a book that might contain a way to express how sad we are that things will be changing.” The book apparently originated as a blog, which I think has very vaguely penetrated my awareness. The volume itself is a beautiful little hardcover that fits comfortably in one’s hands. Because I’ve spent a lot of time in waiting rooms this week, I’ve read through the whole thing, and it has some lovely bits of creative meditation on human nature and our experience of the universe. The whole premise is obviously a bit twee in execution, but I like the general playfulness of the entries, which are all built around taking a few disparate words and cobbling together some kind of portmanteau or pun or simple sight gag that mashes their meanings together in order to evoke a complex feeling. I will undoubtedly try to mine it for lesson planning material in the future.

Television

Rachael and I watched two pieces of reality television this week, and one of them was very boring, and the other was very good with some necessary qualifiers. The boring series was Pirate Gold of Adak Island, a docuseries on Netflix that follows a team of treasure hunters who are trying to find gold on this remote island in the Alaska archipelago. The elements of this series are all really strong and intriguing: there’s a lot of history with the island because it was used as an American military base during World War II, the guy who hid the gold caches there was part of an illegal seal clubbing ring back in the late nineteenth century, there’s a small town of people still living on the island who would like discovery of the gold to reinvigorate their community, and the treasure hunters use some legitimately interesting techniques to survey areas where they think gold might have been hidden. The problem is that the producers of the show seem to have no talent for crafting narrative. All the scenes where the treasure hunters discuss next steps when they hit a roadblock are obviously staged, and none of them besides the geologist seems to be that interested in spending any time with the weird artifacts they find littering the island that tie back to its history. In one episode they find a human finger bone that must have belonged to a seal clubber who would have had to amputate it because it had gotten infected, and everyone just says, “welp, it’s not gold coins, so whatever!” There’s a really good educational docuseries buried in all this junk, but the producers did not do a good job of bringing it out. The series ends with the treasure hunters finding two whole gold coins and this promise of another season, but I don’t know how likely that is to happen given the quality of the first one.

The other series we watched this week was Season 8 of Alone, which is obviously a much more polished reality TV product. The premise of this show is that a group of people with extensive survival skills are dropped off in a remote location with only a few basic tools and tasked with seeing who can last the longest in the wilderness with no outside resources or social contact. A season of the show is always really fun at the start, because you get to see these folks who know what they’re doing establish systems for finding food, building long term shelters, and just entertaining themselves in the middle of nowhere. The end of the season is always really emotionally grueling because the last few players inevitably end up literally starving as they try to hang on until everyone else either quits or gets pulled because the medical team declares it unsafe for them to continue. It’s a competition show, so there’s always a big cash prize for the winner. I have very mixed feelings about this show in general because I recognize this pattern in the way it plays out, and Rachael and I typically watch an entire season over the course of a couple days because it’s so compelling. A couple summers ago when we first discovered it, we watched one season then went through four earlier seasons in rapid succession, which might not have been the best decision in retrospect. A lot of our reality TV consumption gets driven by the question of which shows are produced ethically, and while we generally agree that Alone‘s premise and presentation makes it one of the more ethical competition shows being produced, it’s still deeply uncomfortable to be confronted with the suffering the players put themselves through for our entertainment on the hope that they might get the big payout at the end. Alone doesn’t romanticize the reality of what it’s asking people to do; they show the effects of long term starvation and constantly remind the audience of how dangerous it is for the players to be on their own like this. Unfortunately it’s still a piece of entertainment, and I always walk away from a season feeling like I just watched something kind of perverse. Most of the folks who audition for this show would see massive benefits from the prize money, and it’s hard not to feel complicit in their exploitation, especially when so many of the players who make it close to the end are desperate to keep going when it’s obvious their health is at risk.

Video Games

I’m still playing around with Street Fighter V, which is a fun, low commitment pastime. I persuaded a friend of mine to play with me online recently despite the fact he knows nothing about Street Fighter, and he’s been a good sport about it. Casual matched with other people are generally rewarding, although they’re a total crapshoot as to whether I’ll pair up with someone who’s way too good for me to have any fun or someone who’s a fair match that I enjoy playing against. I did encounter my first rage quit from another player the other day which was honestly kind of delightful. Like, I hope they’re okay and they don’t take their stats on a fighting game too seriously, but it was a small moral victory: “Yes, I beat you badly enough that you quit instead of just taking the loss.” The irony, of course, was that my first match with this player was absolutely great! We were pretty well paired on skill level, and it was completely up in the air all the way to the end of the third round which of us was going to win.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to any coffee shops this week, although I did have brunch at an outdoor cafe the other day, which was lovely. There’s also been the regular patronage of our preferred boba place.

Mid-Year Upload 07/03/22

I’ve not checked in for the past couple weeks because the school year ended and Rachael and I only had a few days to prepare for a trip down to Los Angeles to see some friends. It’s the first major piece of travel we’ve done since the pandemic started, and we had a lot of nerves going into the trip because we weren’t sure precisely how high risk the entire excursion would end up being. In the end it turned out to be okay (we’re five days from our return date now and neither of us is feeling ill), but we took a lot of precautions that we know won’t always be available to us on future trips to various places.

Even setting travel stress aside, it was such a full trip with things that we did, people that we saw, and of course news that we heard about, there’s not been a lot of time or energy to sit down and process everything. Time both stretches out and bunches up in the summer months for us, and it’s often very easy to let large periods of time go by without doing very much of consequence.

Art

In the last couple weeks I’ve managed to finish two pieces, as usual based on the comics that I’ve been reading. I’m generally pleased with both of them, although my primary thoughts about technique return to my perennial concern that I don’t know how to measure torsos so that they don’t look too long in relation to the other parts of my figures.

Because it’s always good form to take time to acknowledge things I’m enjoying about my work, I think that I’ve leveled up on faces in recent weeks.

Comics

I continue to wish that I were doing a better job of scraping together coherent thoughts about the books I’m reading week to week, but they always seem to just sort of slip off my brain when it comes time to actually write anything down. The general quality of the X-books has been very high of late, and it’s hard to get into specifics about why that is when I’m feeling pulled in some many different directions intellectually. I did finish re-reading the Grant Morrison New X-Men run the other day, and it’s a solid set of books. I still feel like it begins much more strongly than it ends, particularly because Morrison really seems to have been invested in their run’s third act centering on apocalyptic developments that just didn’t get a whole lot of development. The decision to make the final arc of the run a bad future story with almost all new characters while wrapping up the macro arc about Sublime (a villain who feels much more built as a manifestation of some abstract concepts instead of an actual character with coherent motivations) feels off to me, although I acknowledge that part of why that arc fails to appeal to me is because Marc Silvestri is the penciller, and his work on it feels too evocative of early ’90s Marvel when everyone was aping Rob Liefeld. Yes, I know that Silvestri did that style first, and better, in the late ’80s, but it clashes hard with the high gloss coloring of the early ’00s.

There, I had some thoughts about comics.

Books

My travel book for our LA trip as Brave New World, which has always been my favorite of the classic dystopias that they always make kids read in high schools. The vision of a society built on unlimited distraction for the masses has always felt much more prescient to me than the more typical militant oppression of Nineteen Eighty-Four. I mean, we are in the middle of a pretty baldfaced rollback of human rights in America, so Orwell definitely made some valid points, but having become a general pessimist about the internet writ large, I still think Huxley was really on to something. It’s been many years since I last read Brave New World, and it’s certainly flawed as a story, though there are moments of really strong clarity in Huxley’s narrative. Taking the whole thing as more of a tour of this thought experiment with a few repeating characters at the center makes it all seem more sensible than a traditional novel.

Movies

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a brilliant piece of cinema, and it is best watched cold. Monsters University is a completely unnecessary prequel. I enjoyed Joal Cohen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth for what it is, but it sure does commit to its thing.

Television

There’s a glut of fun TV available to watch right now, and honestly most of it is worth little more commentary than to say that it’s fun. I can’t precisely recommend First Kill on Netflix, but it was certainly a wild time. In contrast, The After Party on Apple TV is really well done cozy murder mystery. Didn’t figure out who the killer was ahead of time, though I feel like it was technically possible. It’s worth your time if you enjoy that kind of entertainment. Upload Season 2 on Amazon Prime is perfectly fine.

*Motions Vaguely* All of This

As we’re officially halfway through the year, and June is apparently sweeps week on the national news circuit, it seems worth taking a moment to just acknowledge the awfulness of the present moment. For my own mental health I typically try not to pay much attention to national news beyond getting the headlines. Even so, I’ve heard a lot about the January 6 commission’s findings, and I gotta say that it looks pretty bad! I hope that all the revelations will move the needle on popular opinion in a direction that brings lasting consequences to the fascists, but I’m not going to sit around waiting for something that may or may not happen; I’d rather focus on trying to live my life. Even so, indictments and convictions won’t actually change the national mood when the super rich are pushing incessantly to make everyone else miserable and angry with each other so they can get a few more tax breaks on the back end.

As for the whole thing with Roe being struck down, there’s not much I can honestly say about it. It’s awful. It’s going to hurt a lot of people, many of whom won’t register as worth caring about in the popular imagination. It’s probably the beginning of an aggressively reactionary activist Supreme Court with no care for the appearance of impartiality. The only effective remedy that I think we have at this point, if we’d like to continue functioning as a democracy, is to build a bulwark against reactionary politicians taking office at all levels of government while simultaneously pushing elected officials to make reforms to the system that minimize the impact of bad actors. It’s not flashy, and it probably won’t feel like real progress for a long time, but the alternative at this present moment seems to be despairing over an impending fascist state or calling for progressive versions of fascist tactics which are also effectively antidemocratic. It all sucks lemons, but it’s what we have to deal with.

Reading New Mutants #17

If there’s an underlying tension to all the subplots in this issue, it’s related to questions around passing privilege and bodily presentation norms. In the two main threads of this issue, Ayala makes explicit the sense of dysphoria many of their young characters are experiencing with their mutant bodies, both as internal and external pressures. Gabby’s conversation with Victor about why he and the other kids are experimenting with body swapping underscores how these kids are personally unhappy with their non-human looking bodies, and Dani’s conversation with Josh the Jersey Devil in Otherworld looks at dysphoria that’s being induced by social pressures. Besides those questions, the issue also spends some time moving Rahne’s plot along to its next natural step: looking for support from any corner when her closest friends have failed to make time for her.

Cover of New Mutants #17 by Christian Ward, title design by Tom Muller

When The Shadow King Starts To Make Sense

The issue begins with a two page sequence of a conversation Rahne has with Amahl Farouk when after she’s learned Dani has apparently abandoned her again. The conversation centers on Rahne’s anguish about her son and Farouk proposing that she might be able to offer some specific comfort to the kids who are gravitating towards him because of her own experiences. Farouk notes that he’s only experienced trauma in a parent-child relationship as a child, but Rahne knows both sides of that particular experience.

I am convinced this is Farouk being genuinely vulnerable with Rahne. Doesn’t change the fact he’s manipulating her as well. (Artwork by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

Given what we know about the Shadow King at this point in the story, it’s easy to see that this is likely a play to pull Rahne into the fold and use her to expand his influence among the children on Krakoa. The fact that Rahne has historically been a catastrophic mentor/parent figure would probably give the reader pause with this particular plan, but it’s the Shadow King, and we can assume he’s not exactly looking out for the best interests of his charges. What’s confounding here is that Farouk uses his experiences as a child missing his father to persuade Rahne to give him a chance, and Reis’s art generally avoids presenting Farouk as sinister in this sequence compared with previous issues where there was always at least one moment that made it clear he has ill intent. Certainly, there are moments where he looms over Rahne, but part of that is unavoidable because of his design as a large, fat man; what’s different here is that Farouk’s facial expressions are purely sympathetic. He doesn’t sneer or smirk, and we know from what we’ve seen of his backstory that his feelings about his father are genuine. It’s easy to dismiss this as simple manipulation since that’s what the Shadow King does, but I think that textually speaking, we’re supposed to read this as a moment of vulnerability from Farouk. Given how this whole plot will resolve, I think it’s essential to take this moment as a point of genuine connection between Rahne and Farouk. Yeah, he’s working toward nefarious purposes, but the empathy on display here is real.

When You Don’t Like Your Body

Yeah, that’s pretty real. (Artwork by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

Moving on to the children, this issue furthers their subplot with the body swapping by establishing that they’d like to try doing it with a dead body to see if their minds can animate something that developed to have human motion. It’s not explicitly said here, but the core appeal of the body swapping practice seems to be for the kids to find alternative bodies for themselves to use without having to take a body from its current owner. What is explicit though is that Anole, Cosmar, Rain Boy, and No-Girl, who all have highly visible mutations (or in No-Girl’s case, a complete lack of a body) want to have some way to make themselves appear more human. Anole, while visiting with Gabby to ask her to help them get access to the decomposition farm at the Boneyard so they can experiment with some corpses, rages at her for not caring enough about the pain they’re all experiencing with their bodies because she can pass for human by hiding her claws. It’s a good moment because Anole, in his genuine angst, completely misses the clues that even though Gabby isn’t on board with the body swapping thing, she’s also dealing with her own feelings of abandonment. I think this is an under-appreciated part of Ayala’s writing that these heated moments between characters are almost always designed to present nuanced perspectives on the issues that they’re discussing. Gabby’s response to Anole’s pain is genuine sympathy and an attempt to affirm the value of his body as it is, but she’s not really in the right position to be supportive in the way that he and the other kids need, just like they’re not in a position to effectively support Gabby’s apparent depression while she deals with Laura’s absence and Akihiro’s neglect. Farouk’s earlier observation that these kids need a parent figure who can empathize with what they’re going through resonates. Rahne would absolutely get these kids if she had the supports in place to deal with her own stuff effectively.

When Society Runs On Paternalism

When this issue first came out last year, I noted that I thought the conversation Dani has with Josh the Jersey Devil was a really interesting examination of the aggressive communalism of Krakoan life as it pertains to the background characters who are just getting swept up in the soap opera that the big players are carrying out in the X-Books during this period. Given the limitations of commercial comics publishing, you have to give resources to stories that you think people will want to read, but it does leave this massive gap in information about the more nitty gritty details of Krakoa’s social fabric. Xavier’s assertion that mutants will no longer be lost at the midpoint of House of X just before the revelation about Krakoan resurrection comes from a place of deep angst about the repeated genocides mutants have suffered in the history of the X-Men books, and the resurrection reveal is a genuine celebratory moment (setting aside epistemological questions about the soul and identity), but there’s a weird turn that happens after X of Swords when the mutants learn that Otherworld’s magic messes with the resurrection protocols. The powers that be are alarmed by the existence of a way for unique mutant identities to be permanently altered, if not lost outright, and they institute this policy of not allowing mutants to go to Otherworld if they don’t have official business there. This all plays out mostly in the background because we’re focusing on heroes and outside of the Excalibur team most mutants don’t even have a reason to go to Otherworld. The existence of Josh, an underage mutant who wants to hang out in Otherworld because he isn’t treated as strange there, creates an interesting kink in this bit of narrative fabric.

Josh goes in the opposite direction of Anole and the others; he wants to live someplace where everyone is weird so no one is weird. (Artwork by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

One of the delightful tensions that arises when you’re an adult working with teenagers is finding the appropriate balance of giving support and allowing them space to figure things out on their own. Josh’s adventure running off to Otherworld presents a special challenge because he’s asserting his right to live where he likes, especially after his biological family rejected him, but he’s also still a child who’s prone to making ill -considered decisions. Dani’s experience as a school teacher helps her negotiate this specific situation pretty well, settling on a compromise of monitored independence. It’s a solid recognition of some weird factors in this question, particularly as it relates to Krakoan society. With the resurrection protocols in place, all mutants are effectively immortal, give or take the processing time that has been kept deliberately vague to allow characters important to the story to get back into the action as quickly as needed. This is a massive sociological shift that Si Spurrier touches on in his Way of X miniseries, although that book assumes basically instant turnaround on resurrection for everyone. It exacerbates the youthful recklessness that’s typical of teens, but it’s all done in the context of what’s essentially a very, very big walled garden where life and death consequences are now moot.

Except in Otherworld.

The irony that I see in this plot thread, and which I think Ayala is aware of when writing this scene between Dani and Josh, is that the freedom afforded to the children is incredibly expansive, but it’s only predicated on their inability to experience permanent bodily harm. Xavier wants no more dead mutants, but he and the rest of the Council are more or less blind to the realities of children left to languish in directionless boredom. Dani and the other New Mutants are trying to deal with that exact problem, and they’re finding just how challenging it is to approach after even a short time of kids being left exclusively to their own immature devices. They’re being damaged by neglect, but that’s irrelevant to the Council’s concern about maintaining population numbers. Dani, operating as the intermediary, recognizes that Josh’s bid to live in Otherworld is more about his need to feel like he belongs in a place than his need to be one of the deathless Krakoans. She compromises with him because it’s the best workable option for him that doesn’t undermine the larger Krakoan project. That seems to be Dani’s primary role in this book at the moment: to find the workable solutions to larger abstract principles that don’t mesh with the realities mutant children are facing.

When Crucible Is Needed

Of course, then we get the issue’s resolution where Dani and Xi’an, having finally confirmed that the white rabbit is a psychic manifestation of Xi’an’s twin brother Tran, discuss the possibility of Xi’an doing Crucible so she and her brother can be separated into their own individual bodies. It’s a sweet moment, and once again it plays like Dani is romantically entwined with all of her female friends, but the thing that I find myself perseverating on with this re-read is that Dani just said no to using the Crucible for making body adjustments to a fully powered mutant a couple issues ago citing reasons of body positivity and the cultural importance of the ritual. Yes, there are obvious major differences between Cosmar’s petition and Xi’an’s request, not the least of which is the fact that if Tran is conscious within Xi’an’s body, then he’s alive and should be restored to a body of his own. It’s not a re-empowerment specifically that Xi’an’s proposing, but it is a form of restoration, which is what Crucible’s meant to do for mutants who go through it.

Weekly Upload 06/13/22

I didn’t write my usual update over the weekend because I worked graduation on Friday night, and it apparently wiped me out for two days. It was a lot of fun, but the ceremony happened outside and it rained the whole time, which you can imagine was less than pleasant for everyone who had to sit on the field the whole time (guess where I was assigned). After all that, I decided that I was going to give myself some grace on the blog, as I’ve learned over time that if I find myself doing a thing out of a sense of obligation when it was supposed to be fun or creatively satisfying, then that means I need to let myself not do the thing until I feel like it. None of my creative pursuits make me any money, and they don’t need to make me money, so I have to remember that the point is of doing them is pleasure.

Anyway, I had a very restful weekend, and the last week of the school year starts today, so I have a bit of time to get this quick update together before I start my workday.

Art

I did one piece this week, as is my recent “oh God, when will the school year just end already?” pattern. Like with my last few pieces it ties into a scene from the New Mutants run that I’m re-reading. Because this scene involves both a horse and a rabbit, I looked up some photo reference for those animals and did worked from there. All told, it was pretty fun to incorporate the reference, especially since there was so much transformative work going into the composition separate from what I got from the photos. If I ever get into attempting more photorealistic figures, I’ll definitely keep this experience in mind.

Besides reference, I also determined that I wanted to desaturate this piece significantly in comparison to the usual palettes that I use for my work. I think it works pretty well overall, especially in contrast with the extremely saturated highlights I used on the finishes.

Comics

At this point this is mostly just a placeholder while I scrape some brain cells together to write intelligently about anything. I’m enjoying Legion of X still!

Video Games

I’ve hit my five year cycle of wanting to play a fighting game, which means I am now about a week into the project of playing Street Fighter V. I’ve done most of the characters’ story modes, and now I’m noodling around with the various arcade and survival modes. It is a wild fictional universe that is incredibly earnest and embarrassingly cheesy at times, but I enjoy it. I’m grateful that there are a wide variety of costumes for all the characters, including two whole outfits where Cammy gets to wear pants. It’s awkward as a man in my late 30s to use the woman who wears a one piece swimsuit to all occasions as my main fighter. Like, all the character designs are kind of absurd after a point, but it’s nice to see Capcom have finally considered the players who don’t want to look like horndogs because of their fighter choices. I’m sure I’ll be back in another five years to meditate on the final form of Street Fighter VI.

Media

We’ve been watching a series of survival TV shows about British people being abandoned on a desert island to try to last for six weeks, and that’s fun. It’s sometimes harrowing, but I think the fact that it’s always a group who have to figure out community while they’re doing all this other hard stuff makes it more compelling and less emotionally fraught than other shows like Alone.

Rachael and I also watched The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and it was good. It’s actually a very sincere buddy movie that also happens to be a meta-joke about Nicolas Cage’s acting career. I feel like it lifts some beats from Adaptation, but Rachael insists that the two movies are significantly different. It’s been a minute since I watched Adaptation, so I could be forgetting some stuff.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to any coffee shops this week.

Weekly Upload 06/13/22

I didn’t write my usual update over the weekend because I worked graduation on Friday night, and it apparently wiped me out for two days. It was a lot of fun, but the ceremony happened outside and it rained the whole time, which you can imagine was less than pleasant for everyone who had to sit on the field the whole time (guess where I was assigned). After all that, I decided that I was going to give myself some grace on the blog, as I’ve learned over time that if I find myself doing a thing out of a sense of obligation when it was supposed to be fun or creatively satisfying, then that means I need to let myself not do the thing until I feel like it. None of my creative pursuits make me any money, and they don’t need to make me money, so I have to remember that the point is of doing them is pleasure.

Anyway, I had a very restful weekend, and the last week of the school year starts today, so I have a bit of time to get this quick update together before I start my workday.

Art

I did one piece this week, as is my recent “oh God, when will the school year just end already?” pattern. Like with my last few pieces it ties into a scene from the New Mutants run that I’m re-reading. Because this scene involves both a horse and a rabbit, I looked up some photo reference for those animals and did worked from there. All told, it was pretty fun to incorporate the reference, especially since there was so much transformative work going into the composition separate from what I got from the photos. If I ever get into attempting more photorealistic figures, I’ll definitely keep this experience in mind.

Besides reference, I also determined that I wanted to desaturate this piece significantly in comparison to the usual palettes that I use for my work. I think it works pretty well overall, especially in contrast with the extremely saturated highlights I used on the finishes.

Comics

At this point this is mostly just a placeholder while I scrape some brain cells together to write intelligently about anything. I’m enjoying Legion of X still!

Video Games

I’ve hit my five year cycle of wanting to play a fighting game, which means I am now about a week into the project of playing Street Fighter V. I’ve done most of the characters’ story modes, and now I’m noodling around with the various arcade and survival modes. It is a wild fictional universe that is incredibly earnest and embarrassingly cheesy at times, but I enjoy it. I’m grateful that there are a wide variety of costumes for all the characters, including two whole outfits where Cammy gets to wear pants. It’s awkward as a man in my late 30s to use the woman who wears a one piece swimsuit to all occasions as my main fighter. Like, all the character designs are kind of absurd after a point, but it’s nice to see Capcom have finally considered the players who don’t want to look like horndogs because of their fighter choices. I’m sure I’ll be back in another five years to meditate on the final form of Street Fighter VI.

Media

We’ve been watching a series of survival TV shows about British people being abandoned on a desert island to try to last for six weeks, and that’s fun. It’s sometimes harrowing, but I think the fact that it’s always a group who have to figure out community while they’re doing all this other hard stuff makes it more compelling and less emotionally fraught than other shows like Alone.

Rachael and I also watched The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and it was good. It’s actually a very sincere buddy movie that also happens to be a meta-joke about Nicolas Cage’s acting career. I feel like it lifts some beats from Adaptation, but Rachael insists that the two movies are significantly different. It’s been a minute since I watched Adaptation, so I could be forgetting some stuff.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to any coffee shops this week.

Reading New Mutants #16

The relatively breezy pace of the first two issues of Ayala’s run has to go by the wayside in this issue as we get a ton of very rapid setup for the plot that, if I remember right, is going to take precedence for the next few issues: Dani and Xi’an’s adventures in Otherworld trying to track down a lost mutant. Ayala did some work in New Mutants #14 to establish where Dani and Xi’an are as friends ahead of the actual start of this plot since it will have some major ramifications for Xi’an’s character going forward.

Cover of New Mutants #16 by Christian Ward, title design by Tom Muller.

Back in that inaugural issue, Xi’an explains to Dani that their last visit to Otherworld during the climax of the X of Swords event left her feeling a little out of sorts and that she’s been having some recurring nightmares whose origins she can’t quite place. We’ll eventually learn that it’s because Xi’an’s twin brother Tran, whose soul she absorbed back in her first appearance in a Spider-Man/Fantastic Four crossover, has been stirred up by Otherworld’s magic. There’s also a bit of a nod here to the pre-Krakoa miniseries New Mutants: Dead Souls where Xi’an was actually being directly manipulated by her brother to do some evil stuff from inside her body. That plot got dropped for a bit because of the House of X reboot, but Ayala continues to show they are a writer who loves to dig into character history to inform current plot lines.

Bullies, Emergencies, And Manipulations

Besides the Dani/Xi’an plot, this issue carries on with several other subplots that have been set in motion earlier. Cosmar, feeling pretty raw from the very public rejection of her request for Dani to partner with her in the Crucible, retreats to the Shadow King’s lair where he invites her and the other kids to experiment with some body swapping as a condolence. She can’t get a new body of her own, but by forming a mutant circuit with No-Girl, the Shadow King thinks he can let her and the others experience what it’s like to inhabit someone else’s body. The experiment works well enough until things grow unstable and the alien consciousnesses start to burn the kids’ bodies out, and Gabby decides she’s not down with this kind of thing, especially since it could get them all killed. Gabby’s insecurities about whether she would qualify for resurrection given her clone status definitely drive her decision here, but she also makes it clear that she thinks it’s irresponsible to be so reckless with potential harm even if death can be mitigated.

Really wish someone else had caught up with Cosmar, but at least her friends are checking in with her. (Artwork by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

Rahne, meanwhile, learns from X-Factor that her son Tier can’t be resurrected because he’s apparently not dead. Additionally, something about his Cerebro backups is off, and they don’t know the cause. For Rahne, knowing that Tier is alive but that she can’t find him is awful, to say the least. There’s a lot of history bound up in Rahne’s feelings here because she initially abandoned her son before deciding to take care of him after all, just in time to see him murdered by one of her friends. Finding out Tier is technically alive but knowing nothing else about his status is really not good news for Rahne.

In the book’s lighter segments, a subplot carried over from #15 sees Illyana deal with some teenage mutants who have been bullying the youngest kids living on the island by trashing their habitat. I didn’t touch on this plot in my write up for #15 primarily because it’s a very minor scene within the larger context of the issue. Here, with Illyana’s aggressive intervention, the bullies are made to do repairs on the kids’ habitat manually as a way of learning about societal responsibility. It’s all quickly resolved, but it illustrates some key character beats for Illyana as well as the recurring motifs around trauma: kids should be protected, and people have an obligation to try to be better than the people who hurt them. These ideas both entwine deeply with Illyana’s personal history as a victim of abuse when she was a young child, and they underline the mission statement for the elder New Mutants. It’s a lovely character moment for Illyana, who I’ve felt since the beginning of the Krakoan era had up to this point been characterized primarily as a shallow jock.

I mean, when she’s right, she’s right. (Artwork by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

Also worth noting, because it proceeds primarily in the data pages, is the ongoing subplot where Jimmy is busy figuring out how to do effective self reflection so he can be a better mentor to the kids. Although he hasn’t really reappeared since #14, Jimmy’s arc is consistent and delightful. I really enjoy it as a professional educator, because this kind of internalization of why you do what you do for the children is a major part of teacher education and development. It’s a hard job with relatively few tangible rewards, and seeing Jimmy go through the very familiar work of figuring out why he’s sticking with it makes me feel seen as a reader.

The Dani Of It All

Returning to the central plot of the issue, Dani and Xi’an spend a couple of beautifully rendered pages questing through Otherworld to try to find the lost mutant kid. They have some deep conversations about how Xi’an has been feeling, and she notes that in Otherworld she feels much less weighed down than she had back on Krakoa. Coincidentally, the pair have around this time spotted and begun following a white rabit that seems very intent on getting their attention. There’s a lot of nice, gentle banter here that highlights Dani and Xi’an’s longstanding friendship, and it all has a slightly romantic edge to it. Of course, Ayala writes Dani as so caring and engaged with whomever she’s speaking to that I think she honestly gives off romantic vibes in every conversation she has in this run. Danielle Moonstar: in love with everyone, unable to commit to anyone.

Dani writes a very thoughtful apology note and then doesn’t make any arrangements for Rahne’s care while she’s gone. (Artwork by Rod Reis, letters by Travis Lanham)

That’s a joke, obviously, but it does underline an aspect of Dani’s characterization in this run that I think warrants some deeper consideration, particularly since it will take a fair bit of time before anything that’s set up in these first few issues gets resolved. Ayala’s version of Dani leans heavily into her role as the surrogate mother figure of the group, which is a relatively soft take on the character. In the original New Mutants Dani was one of the team’s co-leaders, but she was much more about taking charge when everyone was in trouble and less the person people confided in about their problems (Rahne and Illyana, whom Dani had seen at their worst pretty early on, are longstanding exceptions). Because Dani’s powers allow her to immediately conjure images of a person’s deepest wants and fears, she spent a long time in her teen years figuring out how not to get overwhelmed by such raw exposure to people’s feelings. She felt things deeply, but she wasn’t really at a level of emotional maturity that made her excited about diving into everyone’s emotional baggage. Ayala’s Dani is clearly someone who’s spent some time getting accustomed to this aspect of her powers and has decided to turn them towards a therapeutic application when she isn’t on dangerous missions. It’s totally logical, but I can’t help feeling like this version of Dani is at a point where she’s really excited to be able to take on this new empathetic role with people, but she hasn’t quite figured out how to balance all the demands that are coming from offering this new level of emotional support. She clearly understands the importance of managing expectations, but through to this issue, Ayala seems to be portraying her as failing to recognize when she’s stretched too thin.

The big indicator for this flaw in Dani is Rahne’s ongoing plot line with the mystery of what happened to Tier. Dani and Rahne have a close bond because of Dani’s animal empathy powers (something that gets de-emphasized in most modern comics because it’s painfully stereotypical as a power for an indigenous superhero), so it makes sense that Dani would be the person Rahne would most want to help her through this crisis. However, two issues in a row now Dani has realized that she has other responsibilities that have to take precedence, so she leaves Rahne hanging. It’s a bad look for Dani, and while it might be mitigating to show that she knows she’s not giving Rahne the attention she needs, Dani fails to call in literally anyone else to make sure Rahne is okay while she’s busy. Of course, I think this character beat is actually really interesting because it establishes some interpersonal conflict in a way that’s more nuanced than one person being totally right while the other is totally wrong. Dani’s making mistakes, but she’s not being malicious, which I think is something Ayala wants to avoid in any of these characters outside the Shadow King, who’s obviously the central bad actor of the book at the moment.

Weekly Upload 06/04/22

I learned yesterday that my language arts co-teacher of four years is getting reassigned to a new class next year, so I’ll be starting with a new co-teacher in the fall. It’s still pretty fresh news, and I’m honestly really upset about it, but I’m trying to take the weekend to process things and end the last two weeks of the school year with some sense of personal pride in my work. I’m mostly angry that this decision was made without even consulting me; if I’d been included in the conversation I think I’d have been pretty understanding about the scheduling needs next year, but because I’m not a member of the ELA department, I found out about all this after the fact only because my co-teacher felt the need to tell me about what was happening. I’ve tried to cultivate an attitude of acceptance about being in special education because these sorts of things happened to me all the time in the first few years of my career, but I’m feeling particularly overlooked in this case. It’s pretty normal for special education to be an afterthought in decision making, and I gripe about that a lot with my colleagues in the department, but this time hurts because it affects me specifically rather than everyone in my department. Anyway, onward to other stuff.

Art

I only did one piece this work, and I freely admit there’s a lot about it that I don’t love. Between the two figures, one is supposed to have realistic proportions while the other’s are deliberately exaggerated, but this difference in physiology created some awkwardness with the posing. It’s hidden behind the giant head, but the arm on Cosmar’s shoulder feels far too long, and the faces feel a little off to me. Crying’s a hard expression that I don’t go to very often, so I think it’s likely just a lack of experience on my part with how to draw it. I guess I need to draw more sad people (eyeroll). For the sake of not just criticizing my own work, I do think I got some nice texture in Rahne’s hair when I was painting. I also tried some new things to make the texture on her arm fur feel more integrated with her skin. I don’t think it totally works, but experimentation is always fun.

Comics

The last issue of Step By Bloody Step came out this week, and it was a very solid ending to a very solid silent miniseries. I think it might be one of those series that I’d like to own in trade. I also enjoyed the second issue of Knights of X quite a bit. It’s been fun to work on re-reading Vita Ayala’s run on New Mutants and remember that the whole war with Merlin thing was being telegraphed a while before Excalibur concluded.

Video Games

I finished both BugSnax and Spider-Man: Miles Morales last weekend, so I’ve moved on to take a very thorough brain break with some fighting games. I have never been good at fighting games, but I have a soft spot for the Street Fighter series, so I picked up a couple titles for cheap when they were on sale recently. My current distraction is Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite, which I can honestly say is not a great game, but it does offer some fun button mashing. If I’m still itching to punch things, I picked up some version of Street Fighter V, which should be fun for a few days. Summer’s coming, and it’s about time for me to start thinking about what big games I’d like to focus on. Maybe I’ll go back to finish Persona 5 Royal.

Media

We haven’t finished watching the new episodes of Stranger Things yet, but Rachael and I are generally enjoying the vibe of this season. There are some jarring things, like being asked to believe that there’s only been a six month gap since the last season when the actors clearly all look much more like high school seniors than 9th graders, but it’s forgiveable what with the pandemic and all.

The movie of the week was Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, which is remarkably progressive for a 2004 stoner comedy in some ways and extremely of its time in many others. Neal Patrick Harris plays a straight parody of himself that’s pretty fun in hindsight, although it only serves to highlight the extreme, pervasive, and casual homophobia of the movie.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to a coffe shop this week. I did, however, buy a milkshake from the Starbucks stand at the grocery store next to my workplace one day when I was on my prep period. I’d just spent an hour standing outside with kids doing a lab on solar power, and I really, really wanted a cold drink.