Master of None Is My Favorite Thing! Master of None is My Favorite Thing!

Okay, not really, but you try to get Dev and Arnold’s stupid jingle out of your head.

Master of None Poster

Promotional poster for season 2. (Image credit: IMDb)

I enjoyed the first season of Master of None.  It had some flaws, and a few episodes were incredibly uncomfortable (Dev is bad at babysitting and Dev becomes a pawn in the power games between a rich white couple come to mind), but overall I thought it was a really engaging examination of the struggles Millennials tend to have in their professional and romantic lives.  I wrote before that the arc that Dev’s story follows isn’t totally relatable to me simply because I made some unusual life choices in my twenties (Rachael and I got married when we were twenty-two, and I’ve known for the better part of a decade what I want my career trajectory to look like).  Also (and this is something I only realized with this season of the show), I’ve never lived in a big city like New York, and so much of Dev’s life appears to be reflective of living in that kind of environment.  Also also, I’m still befuddled by the amount of expendable income he has; dude took three months off from working to fly to Italy and learn how to make pasta, and then when he comes back to America he still spends money like mad.  I suppose it’s part of the fantasy element of the show; Dev has lots of struggles, but because his life is lived in social spaces that usually cost money to inhabit we need to hand wave the logistical questions so we can get to the story (this is a sharp contrast from Aziz Ansari’s character on Parks & Recreation who, while certainly more of a caricature of the materialist Millennial, was undercut by at least occasional references to the crippling debt he must have assumed to maintain his lavish lifestyle).

Setting aside my gripes about the peculiarities of how a show portrays Millennials, I did genuinely enjoy the second season of Master of None.  All ten episodes in the season are highly engaging, and more than a handful of them are sublime bits of storytelling.  The two long arcs of the season revolve around Dev landing a steady job hosting a competitive food show and his pining after Francesca, a woman whom he befriends while staying in Italy and falls in love with despite her having a very long term boyfriend.  The romance plot is clearly the primary focus of the season, but the career stuff gets some major attention, particularly towards the end as Dev prepares to launch a new show with a more established television personality and has to deal with the fallout from revelations that his costar is a sexual predator who’s harassed women working on his shows for years.  This sequence is one of the season’s high points because it’s communicated clearly that Dev never doubts what he hears from one of his coworkers who was victimized by the dude; we know that Dev has a lot riding on the scandal going away, but (aside from one misstep that’s very clearly unintentional on Dev’s part) he never sides with the dude.  It’s nice to see a plot line about a guy who seemed relatively benign suddenly being revealed to be a predator and have another guy react with sympathy for the victims; I like to think this is an extension of the episode from the first season where Dev got 101ed on feminism by his girlfriend at the time.

The Francesca plot line is handled similarly well; Dev has a lot of complicated feelings, and much of his frustration stems from his recognition that Francesca is in a committed relationship and that he has a responsibility to respect that boundary regardless of his own feelings.  There’s a ton of ambiguity throughout most of the season whether Francesca reciprocates, and that ambiguity helps build the tension on Dev’s part.  One complaint I do have about the story is that because Francesca’s feelings have to remain an unknown quantity in order for the audience to feel invested in Dev’s story, there isn’t a whole lot of time given over to exploring how she’s coping with Dev’s affections.  In the third season, whenever they make it, I’d like to see more exploration of how Francesca’s life gets upended by this sudden major decision she has to make.

That’s enough about the main story.  The aspect of Master of None that I liked the best in the first season is carried over here; the show’s structural premise is that we’re seeing stories about Dev and people in his life.  The creators feel a lot of freedom to take this premise and stretch it so that Dev becomes more of a supporting character in other people’s stories, and those episodes are my favorites.  The standouts in this season are easily “New York, I Love You,” an anthology episode where we see three vignettes about people that would usually only play background roles (a doorman at an upscale New York apartment building, a Deaf woman who works the register at a bodega, and a Rwandan cab driver), and “Thanksgiving” which chronicles the Thanksgiving dinners of the family of Dev’s friend Denise (this episode centers around Denise growing into her identity as a lesbian and the gradual changes in her relationship with her family).  Neither episode has anything to do with the main plot of the season, but they’re such rich stories.  These breaks from the plot highlight one of Master of None‘s chief strengths: the creators approach each episode as having the potential to stand alone as a short film.  It helps to know about what else is going on in Dev’s life at any time, but it’s not essential to understand the topics that are being explored in any given episode.

Overall, this season is a far superior offering than the first one, which was still pretty good.  Give the whole thing a watch, or at least hit up those side episodes.

On Technology in Education

My friend James is going back to school to learn more about learning, as it were, and he’s decided to blog his way through what he’s learning and just share general anxieties and thoughts about the experience.  Earlier this week he wrote a post discussing general trends in education with regard to technology use in the classroom.  My general opinion of James is that he’s a remarkably thoughtful person, and when he takes the time to write things down they’re worth reading.

James’s observations about educational technology revolve primarily around the problem of poor imagination about application of educational tech.  He describes the uniformity of technology use across multiple classrooms that he’s had access to (James has worked in education in three states across the East Coast); tools like laptops and Chromebooks are used to access traditional forms of educational activity (things like worksheets and such).  I’m not above valuing a good worksheet, but it is sort of an underwhelming application for tools that cost school districts thousands of dollars.  You want to imagine that the monetary investment should be giving teachers the ability to help their students learn in new, more student-centered ways (this phrase, “student-centered,” is a buzzword that I’ve seen on a few evaluations that were looking to recommend better practices for the school where I’ve been working this year), and the realization that most of the application of educational technology still centers on traditional teaching methods just dressed up with a slightly flashier interface, you begin to wonder about the return on investment.  I suppose that it’s fair to acknowledge that student engagement is a valuable ingredient in effective learning, and a little bit of flash can be useful in improving engagement; there are other net positives like improved convenience for the teacher (through indirect benefits like needing to make fewer copies overall and a more centralized system for evaluation that doesn’t require keeping up with tons of paperwork; these benefits are highly situational though), but it still seems like a disappointing return on investment.

The kicker for me is the fact that educational technology is constantly spun as an investment of sorts.  This is an old hat observation, but the thing about technology is that even though it is pretty expensive, it’s a cheaper investment than other avenues to improved educational outcomes like (evidence-based) professional development and just hiring more staff.  You throw a few hundred thousand dollars at buying new computers and then tout them as the route to more immersive learning without being thoughtful in how the resource is deployed, and you get a lot of wasted time, effort, and money.  I suspect that part of this failure to connect the tool with an effective use comes from general technophobia in education.  It’s not universal; I have met and worked with educators who are extremely comfortable integrating technology into their classrooms; however, so many teachers are intimidated by the application of relatively simple tools (by today’s standards) like interactive white boards and document cameras.  These are not magic bullets by any stretch; they’re just the most recent iteration on tools that teachers have been using for decades (I harbor a secret desire to just once make use of an old transparency projector in my classroom even though I know that a document camera could achieve the same effect).  Considering this reality of iterative tools that so many people expect to operate in some miraculous new way, I tend to come down on the educational technology issue with the opinion that it’s all a fig leaf meant to cover for the fact that educators don’t like to consider how they might implement substantial change in their teaching models when they can slap a proverbial coat of paint on the old methods and come off as innovative.

That last bit probably came off as a bit cynical, so it needs a caveat; in the realm of education I am not generally the sort of teacher who looks to do new things in the classroom just because I think that novelty equates with quality; if a strategy is backed up by solid evidence then I don’t see a reason to discard it.  If new technology allows me to implement those strategies in a more streamlined way, then I’m all for it.  I think this is the way that a lot of teachers actually approach technology in their classrooms with greater or lesser animosity towards the tech depending on the individual’s comfort level with learning how to use new tools.

Given all this, I’m inclined to view educational technology as a weird feature of the educator culture.  There’s a real tension between people who badly want it to be that silver bullet (typically administrators who are working with a limited budget and want to be able to point towards something that they’re doing to improve the educational experience) and people who think it’s just a mess that complicates the business of getting students to learn.  Existing between these groups is sort of complicated, because conversations about technology use often end up going nowhere; you can’t convince the technophiles that the benefits have a limited scope without additional supports and reflection on system-level implementation, and you can’t persuade technophobes that the tools really can offer concrete improvements to the classroom if you’re willing to work through the learning curve.  Usually it’s easier to just say, “Hey, white boards are technology.  Let’s talk about something else.”

Reading “No Normal (4 of 5)”

This is a great cover, but there is, unfortunately, no Aamir in this issue to act as surprised as he looks inside the diner. (Image credit: Comic Vine, cover by Jamie McKelvie)

The fourth issue of Ms. Marvel is a little weaker than the previous issues; the main reason for this is that there’s less of the fun stuff surrounding Kamala’s personal life and more straightforward superheroics.  It’s possible this is primarily a personal preference; I enjoy reading about Kamala’s troubles trying to manage the logistics of being a superhero with a personal life more than I do reading about a person being a superhero.

The best part of Kamala’s conversation with Bruno is her series of expressions while she’s searching for the bullet that fell out of her when she shifted back to her default shape. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue can be broken down into three broad scenes: Kamala telling her secret to Bruno and getting his help protecting her secret identity from the police, Kamala gathering the basics to make her final superhero costume, and Kamala breaking into the hideout of some kids who are working for the as yet unseen Big Bad, the Inventor.  The stuff between Kamala and Bruno is good, as they hash out the complicated feelings that arise from the fact that Bruno was a total snitch about the party, but he did it because he was worried about Kamala’s safety, but also he’s sad that she didn’t tell him right away about her superpowers (keep in mind that we’re still only three days out from the incident, and Kamala has spent most of that time figuring out the implications of her powers, managing her own feelings about what’s happened, and also getting into ever more trouble with her parents).  We also get more romantic drama as it continues to be painfully apparent that Bruno is super into Kamala even though she’s totally unaware.  This will be a long-running subplot of the first twenty or so issues of Ms. Marvel (leading all the way up to the Secret Wars relaunch), and I have to say that I really appreciate Wilson putting a slow burn on it; we won’t even see Kamala begin to deal with this aspect of her relationship with Bruno until well into the third major arc of the series some time from now.

The fanny pack is a delightful throwback, and I regret to inform you all that it does not remain a permanent part of Kamala’s costume. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The middle segment of the issue where Kamala scrounges up materials to make her superhero costume (after the laughable impromptu costume she uses to hide her identity from the police after recovering from her gunshot wound) is cute, and it gives Kamala a chance to interact directly with her mother, who has played a slightly background role during other family scenes.  Kamala’s mom constantly frets over the influence American culture has over her children, and here that comes out when she whinges that Kamala is being sarcastic in a way that isn’t appropriate for talking to her mother.  There’s also a warning that Kamala’s mom is totally going to set her alarm for one in the morning just so she can check to make sure Kamala hasn’t snuck out of the house following her incredibly suspicious, inexplicable interest in her burkini on a school night when she’s still grounded (this exchange is remarkably true to life; teenagers, particularly the ones who usually try to please adults, are terrible at coming up with lies on the spot to cover for doing something they know that adults don’t want them doing).  I like Kamala’s mom a lot, and her suspicions here highlight the regular tension that Kamala will have to deal with balancing doing something that makes her uncomfortable, like lying to her parents, with doing something that’s genuinely helpful to others, like being a newbie superhero.

The final act of the issue sees Kamala staging a rescue of Bruno’s brother, Vick, who through a series of stupid decisions has apparently gotten tangled up working for the Inventor.  After Vick botched the robbery of the Circle Q, he ran away to his gang’s hideout, and now Bruno is worried that his baby brother needs help.  It’s a bit of a rocky transition here (we know that Bruno is worried about Vick, but there’s nothing to indicate that he and Kamala understand that Vick is now being held hostage; still we’re getting to Kamala’s first outing as Ms. Marvel for real, so some things can slide).  Nevertheless, we get to see Kamala owning her superhero identity for the first time; she doesn’t try to hide behind someone else’s face and she takes the opportunity to claim the Ms. Marvel moniker as her own (she did this earlier with the police, but that time it feels more born out of necessity and a need for a silly moment than as serious character development).  Kamala’s interaction with the kids guarding Vick is a lot of fun because it’s so good-natured.  Instead of just whupping the kids, Kamala gives them a gentle toss to let them know she can overpower them, and then she asks them to tie themselves up instead of trying to tangle with her.  The kids, to their credit, go along with this plan, even as they warn Kamala that she’s getting in over her head with the Inventor.  The ending pages, where Kamala fights off a bunch of skittering mechanical spiders with frickin’ laser beams before finding herself trapped by the sudden appearance of the gang’s local leader (sporting a very menacing laser pistol), are good, fun action with lots of emphasis on the way that Kamala is relying more on her brute strength than finesse to deal with the emergency.

The costume still needs some work. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Overall this issue is probably the narratively weakest one out of the first arc, but I think much of that can be attributed to the need to devote a decent amount of space to Kamala’s first real superhero action sequence.  I’m more of an interpersonal drama lover at heart, so the lack of more interactions with the supporting characters disappoints me, but I understand that this is the last bit of setup before the series hits its first big climax in issue #5.

ABC’s

  • Asian Wedding Leftovers (Yowza)
  • On th’ Adobo Filipino Takeout
  • Torpedoes: Half Price!
  • “Ooh La La”
  • Roundhouse Cola
  • Orphan Farms OJ
  • Asian River Water
  • Blech
  • Nuclear Clean
  • Birdy Num Nums
  • Coma Chameleon super Comfy Sleepmask: Prolonged use may cause nightmares
  • Tape Worm
  • Fair & Pastey
  • Grin & Bear It
  • “Grin & Bear It toothpaste 2 for 1”
  • Bruce Lee Wataaa
  • Speshal Soda
  • Smushee
  • A bystander jumping out of the way of an empty ambulance speeding away from the scene of a crime
  • “Self Destruct Magazine”
  • “Eating Underwater”
  • “BboyKoi”
  • “The Joy of Cooking Rare Animals”
  • “Say Yes to Lobotomies”
  • “Momjitsu”
  • “Superhero Paparazzi”
  • “Dropkick Enthusiast”
  • “Karachi Chop Jones”
  • Auntie’s Modest Swimwear
  • The Birdman Cometh
  • Property of the Inventor
  • Ima Bad Guy

My Top Three Episodes of the New Mystery Science Theater

Mystery Science Theater 3000 just released a new season on Netflix a few weeks ago, and after making my way through the entire season, I have decided to compile the three episodes I think are absolutely worth watching (if you enjoy that sort of thing).

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return Poster

Promo Poster for Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return. (Image credit: IMDb)

The whole season is worth watching, and the comedy bits in between the movies actually work to form a cohesive narrative, which means that it’s certainly preferable that you watch the episodes in order (some of the better jokes build on familiarity with gags from earlier episodes), but if you just want to see bad movies get riffed in delightful ways then there are better and worse episodes to view.  With all that in mind, here are the three that I think are most worth your time (and one that is only worth watching for bits with Jonah and the robots).

Episode 2: “Cry Wilderness”

I don’t know how to describe the plot of this movie.  There’s a kid at boarding school who befriended Bigfoot one summer when he was staying with his father in a nature preserve, and then Bigfoot shows up to warn the kid that his father’s in some kind of vague danger, and then the kid hitchhikes across the country to find his dad and his dad’s incredibly problematic Native best friend of indeterminate tribe Joe who only laughs when it’s highly inappropriate as they’re trying to hunt down a wild animal that’s been attacking other wild animals.  There’s also a dude who wishes he were John Rambo and really likes cold chicken.  Pad the movie’s run time out with random bits of nature documentary footage that marvels at the beauty of nature and its creatures, and you have Cry Wilderness.  In case you’re wondering, Bigfoot really isn’t that important a part of the story, but he’s… there.

Episode 6: “Starcrash”

David Hasselhoff stars in the third act of this blatant Star Wars ripoff that follows the adventures of Stella Star (I know) and her buddy Akton (he has ill defined space powers that let him be a walking, talking plot device) as she tries to save the galaxy from some evil dude with a funny looking mustache.  It’s very progressive for having a female lead who’s an expert space pilot, but then that all gets undermined by the fact that she’s constantly being saved by her all male crew and inexplicably changes into ever more skimpy outfits as the movie progresses.  The third act goes on a little too long, but there’s so much absolutely bonkers stuff happening in this movie that it’s an easy one to enjoy.

Episode 10: “Wizards of the Lost Kingdom”

This one is actually the first of two movies in this franchise that MST3K tackles in the new season.  For some measure of “better” the first Wizards of the Lost Kingdom is a better movie than its sequel Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, but (let’s be honest) if you have time to watch one you’ll probably make time to watch the other.  Both movies have pretty much the same plot: young boy with magical talent goes on a quest to save the land from an evil sorcerer but is very bad at avoiding the temptations of women.  Also, there’s an older mentor figure who enjoys drinking and chicken.  The details beyond that are mostly irrelevant, but you will definitely want to see MST3K‘s take on this movie because they somehow manage to seamlessly turn the bad guy’s hat into a fully functioning character who has just as much impact on the story as anyone else.

And the one to skip:

Episode 12: “Carnival Magic”

Just don’t.  The conflict is nearly nonexistent, the characters are bland even by bad movie standards, and the music choices are invariably the wrong ones for the mood any given scene is trying to create.  The only redeemable part of the episode is the guest appearance by Mark Hamill singing about how awesome his invisible circus in the dark is.

Free Comic Book Day 2017

My trip to the local comics shop this year took in a considerably smaller haul than last, but that was because I stuck with just going to my local shop instead of driving around town to hit up bigger book stores that were also participating.  After wading through over twenty titles last year to share my thoughts on the ones that I liked best, I figured a smaller pile would be better.  I also picked up the sixth volume of Saga (it is so good!) along with Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s first issue of the new Black Bolt ongoing series (it’s only polite to buy something when you visit a shop for Free Comic Book Day).

Anyway, let’s get to the comics.

Bad Machinery: This FCBD issue is the first chapter in the latest arc of a series about a group of middle school aged children who solve mysteries.  It’s very English in all the ways that you want a series about a grammar school to be.  Of the six main characters, the three girls have delightfully distinct personalities (the boys don’t really stand out too much in comparison, but it’s possible their blandness is just a byproduct of not being the focus for this issue), and I would love to read more about their adventures.  This one was a random pickup, and I’m really glad I got it, since I love discovering entertaining all-ages books (they’re so refreshing in comparison to the gloom that typically accompanies more adult-oriented stories).

Buffy: The High School Years: Sometimes it’s a nifty cover that draws you to pick up a book.  I went with this one both because it’s a Buffy story (Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot of fun in the right context) and because I thought the cover, where Buffy is reading the comic that she’s featured on, charmed me.  The story inside does take place inside a comic shop, and it’s cute enough, but this one’s largely forgettable.  I didn’t even bother to read the backup Plants vs. Zombies story because I was so underwhelmed with the one that I picked up last year.

Catalyst Prime: The Event: I follow Joseph Illidge on Twitter because he used to write editorials discussing the comic book industry’s need for more diversity among its creators at the big publishers and highlighting instances of better representation among currently running books.  The project he’s been working on for a while now is the launch of a new shared universe from Lionforge Books called the Catalyst Prime universe.  The main selling point of Catalyst Prime is that it’s going to be a shared universe that takes representation and diversity seriously with a lineup of heroes that come from a large variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds (they seem to be trying to follow in the footsteps of Dwayne McDuffie’s Milestone Comics of the early ’90s).  The FCBD offering for Catalyst Prime’s launch is a prequel issue that recounts events in the lives of key people in the lead up to The Event, the moment that jump starts all the stories of the universe.  It’s a solid story by itself, but there’s a lot that’s just teasing readers with glimpses of major characters from the universe.  I’m not a floppy buyer, so I doubt I’ll read more for now, but there’s some promise here if Lionforge puts out some trades here once they wrap up the first arcs of their various titles.

Drawn & Quarterly Presents: Hostage: I like to pick up the Drawn & Quarterly issue because they put out stuff that’s less superheroes and more just about exploring interesting subjects through the comics medium.  This year’s issue has excerpts from Hostage by Guy Delisle, a nonfiction account of Christophe Andre’s time as a hostage in Chechnya, and Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim, a memoir of Findakly’s life growing up in Iraq.  The Hostage excerpt conveys the tension surrounding an instance where Andre, while attempting to break his restraints, accidentally tightened them to the point where they cut off circulation to his hand and had to spend the better part of a day trying to manage the pain while he waited for his captors to unbind him so he could eat.  Poppies of Iraq employs a simple, six panel layout with childlike illustrations to convey the social upheaval and uncertainty that followed the coup in Iraq in 1958.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Like a few of the other books that I picked up this year, this one was taken mostly on a whim.  It has the first chapter of Akira Himekawa’s manga adaptation of Twilight Princess, recounting Link’s history prior to the beginning of the game.  It’s perfectly serviceable manga, and Himekawa’s illustrations are beautiful, but there’s not much here that’s super enticing if you aren’t already a mangaphile of Zelda fan.

Malika: Warrior Queen: This book caught my eye because it features an all-Black creative team from a small Black comic publisher, Youneek Studios.  The story follows the eponymous Malika, an African queen who rules the empire of Azzaz as she leads her army to quell a rebellion in one of her empire’s outer provinces.  The action is straightforward, and the art serves the story well, though something about it lacks the polish that you see in a book from a bigger publisher.  My biggest complaint is that the story beats feel pretty rote, but I’m not going to be too hard on a series from a small publisher.

Riverdale: I’ve not watched any of the new Archie television show; I took the year off from almost all my regular television, so the thought of picking up something new to watch on a weekly basis did not sound appealing to me, even though I hear that Riverdale is a delightfully soapy take on the Archie universe.  The FCBD issue that is set in that universe is meant as a prequel of sorts for Riverdale‘s first season, setting up the events that happened prior to the start of the show and giving some background on the key characters.  It’s perfectly cromulent, though I’m a little weirded out by Archie’s casual hooking up with a high school teacher (this trope just sets my teeth on edge; perpetuating inappropriate sexualization of teenagers much?).

Secret Empire: Y’all, Steve Rogers is a Nazi now.  I know that by the time Secret Empire is over he won’t be anymore, but the fact still remains: he’s a Nazi.  The purpose of this issue is to give some background on the big fight that the Avengers lost to Hydra after Cap went public with his Nazism.  It’s beautifully illustrated, and as a simple depiction of a hopeless fight, it works well enough.  Still, it does end with Cap lifting Thor’s hammer (a thing that Marvel’s version of Mjollnir only lets you do if it likes you) to declare a Nazi victory over the globe.  Given the history of Nazi iconography and their appropriation of Norse mythology, this is more than a little problematic.  You have Cap, heading up a fictional organization that is a stand in for actual Nazis, lifting an icon of actual Nazi ideology.  That’s a bad move; I’d highly recommend that you just skip Secret Empire completely, because apparently Marvel needs their wallet to hurt to understand that you don’t do this kind of stuff.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken: The premise of this upcoming miniseries is that it’s a story set in the Mirror Universe of Star Trek, but while following Picard’s crew rather than Kirk’s.  It’s a lot of fun, with more than its fair share of backstabbing and creepiness (Data has Borg implants!).  I’m not a massive Trekker, but if I came across a trade of this series once it’s done running, I’d look at it.

Wonder Woman: The Wonder Woman movie is coming out in a few weeks, so I guess DC figured they should do a promotional tie-in for Free Comic Book Day.  The issue they decided to put out is a reprint of the #1 for Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Wonder Woman Rebirth series.  Rucka’s a perfectly good writer, and he does a nice job in this issue of alternating back and forth between scenes from Diana and Steve Trevor’s lives leading up to the fateful plane crash where they first meet.  It’s nice to see Rucka thinking about things like the fact that a society of only women probably wouldn’t be asexual (Diana is apparently a ladies’ woman among her peers).  Scott’s art is gorgeous; there’s enough good stuff in this issue that I want to look up what else she’s done.

Black Bolt #1: I bought this issue (again, because Saladin Ahmed), and it is definitely money well spent.  My biggest regret after reading it and seeing the cliffhanger that it ends on is that I know I won’t be reading the series on a month-to-month basis, but it’s definitely a strong contender for me to pick up the first trade when it all gets collected probably early next year.

Saga Volume 6: I really need to spend a whole post on this one, but my initial thoughts after the first read through are essentially this: Saga is good.  You should be reading it, either in floppies or in trades.

Reading “No Normal (3 of 5)”

The big development of issue three of Ms. Marvel is that Kamala, after having now done the superhero thing on impulse, reaches the point in her growth into Ms. Marvel where she deliberates and chooses to be a superhero.  We get to see more of her exploring how her powers work (this time through internet research!) and, always delightful, some details about her normal life.

This cover’s the first good look at Kamala’s finished costume; we’ll be getting its origin story in the next issue. (Image credit: Comic Vine; cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson)

We begin the issue the morning after Kamala’s adventures at the party.  Zoe has taken her rescue as an opportunity to become a local celebrity, giving an interview to the news about how she’s learned “so much from [Ms. Marvel] about being responsible and helping people and stuff.”  Apparently Kamala was teaching by example, since she panicked and bolted from the scene once a crowd showed up to question her.  Zoe pops up again later in the issue when Kamala is at school where it becomes clear that she’s been gradually embellishing her account of her rescue all weekend (she’s added a conversation that Kamala definitely didn’t have with Zoe about her potential to do better than getting drunk and falling off a pier).  The key thing to note about Zoe here is that she demonstrates a pattern of centering herself in the narrative.  The difference in demeanor between the television interview, where Zoe appears to be at least mildly aware of her own good fortune, and her telling the story to her high school hangers-on is pretty marked; Zoe would rather elevate her own part in the incident rather than admit that it was all just a bunch of awkward bad luck on the part of pretty much everyone.  I know that Zoe’s arc goes in a generally positive direction, so it’s interesting to track in the early issues how she makes tiny bits of progress before falling backwards into her established patterns.

Kamala reacts to the news that she’s on the news (though no one knows that it’s her) with some understandable trepidation.  She did just do the superheroing, and in the harsh light of the day after that probably seems like a relatively rash decision.

I know that Kamala’s distressed about the news, but that’s not nearly as important as taking a moment to appreciate that Adrian Alphona totally nails bed hair. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Fortunately for us, instead of dwelling on her dismay that her alias is now the talk of Jersey, Kamala bounces back and gets ready to go to mosque (“Yes!  Ready!  Ready for life!“).  This is a really charming section because we get to see more of Kamala and Nakia’s relationship in action, particularly in a setting that’s really only available to them.  The argument that Kamala has with Sheikh Abdullah (and Nakia’s observation that she shouldn’t bother) is especially interesting because it highlights how Muslim religious communities can have the same sorts of disagreements and debates that are common in any other faith (the fact that Abdullah entertains Kamala’s arguments even though he clearly disagrees and finds them a little annoying speaks really well to the atmosphere of the mosque; even though it’s a relatively conservative community, they’re still willing to allow members to question and explore their faith).  With every passing issue it becomes clearer and clearer that Wilson did a lot of work to incorporate elements of everyday life for the Muslim community that Kamala belongs to.

The bulk of the issue follows Kamala muddling through the Monday after the party.  She fastidiously avoids Bruno during her free period (she’s still angry with him for snitching on her about the party, and she’s also too busy doing internet research to see if anyone else has ever had sudden shape shifting powers and the wherewithal to document such strangeness; they apparently haven’t, which is a little weird given it’s the Marvel Universe).  She also has a sudden power spasm that leaves her hand giant sized, forcing her to seek out a hiding place while she tries to get it under control.  Desperation not to be caught turns into elation at the realization that she can apply her understanding of Newtonian physics to her powers and simulate super strength by increasing her size.  The fact that she learns all this while trashing a gym locker room is alternately hilarious and dismaying, but totally believable (teenagers make bad choices, y’all).  When she gets caught (the coach is suitably incurious as to how Kamala could have destroyed a locker room), Kamala gets assigned afternoon detention, which of course compounds her travails with her parents, who are expecting her to come home immediately after school.

I love Kamala’s smile here; Alphona nails the look of “I know there’s no way I’m going to get away with this, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying.” (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Well, technically you’re a first responder, but we get what you’re saying. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Before rushing home though, Kamala decides that she needs to try to hash things out with Bruno.  This is the big turn of the issue, because when Kamala sees that Bruno is apparently being held up at gunpoint by a masked robber, she decides that she’s going to jump into the fray and be the hero she’s been pretending to be all weekend.  This moment is different from the one that Kamala had in the last issue because this is less of a spur of the moment decision.  Where she reacted to the emergency with Zoe because she felt like there was no one else around who was in a position to help, here we see her try to call in the authorities first.  Of course, her phone is dead, so that cuts off 911 as an option, but we’re still seeing a progression in Kamala’s decision-making about when to take these sorts of risks (it’s important to note that this is the first time she deliberately puts herself in danger; with Zoe there wasn’t really any risk to Kamala).

The attempt to stop the robbery goes well enough, though Kamala still breaks a bunch of stuff in the store as she’s pummeling the robber (she’s not yet thinking too much about how to employ her powers in ways that aren’t excessively destructive).  More importantly, the robber, in a panic from being attacked by a giant-fisted Captain Marvel, fires the gun that he thought he didn’t have loaded, shooting Kamala in the stomach.

Alphona Background Coolness (ABC’s)

  • Ye Olde Local News Station
  • “GM-O’s Tasty Cereal: Listen to your gut, not the lawsuits”
  • J.C. Electronics
  • Somewhere on West Side Ave.
  • “Fear the mist”
  • Fluffington Post
  • “Dr. Shnoz: Manhattan Mist Poses Medical Risk”
  • “Manhattan Mist 2014: Public Seeks Answers”
  • “Mist Takes Manhattan”
  • “High School Cannibalism Experiment Proves Disasterous [sic]”
  • Islamic Masjid of Jersey City
  • “Welcome Sisters”
  • Radoslav’s Vietnamese Grocery
  • “Homemade meat”
  • “New! Hot Pepper Bubble Tea”
  • A meat cleaver stuck in a parking meter
  • “Rado’s Glorious Banh Mi”
  • “Roundhouse Cola! Beat down your thirst”
  • Asian River Water Classic
  • “Aunties and Androids”
  • “1001 Weddings”
  • “Fair & Pastey”
  • Smushee
  • “Start a fight! Save our prisons”
  • Coles Acedemic [sic] High School
  • “1. Get the stuff 2. mix the stuff”
  • Bloogle!
  • “So you’ve searched for POLYMORPH”
  • “Did you mean… pocket mouth?”
  • NO TALKING!
  • “MOCK ME I cheated on Mr. De Luca’s math exam”
  • Books an’ Ting Ting an’ Books
  • Coconut Drops
  • “The Ur-Do’s and Ur-Don’ts of Chillin in Pakistan”
  • Jersey Toads

“Alexander Hamilton” Literary Devices

For whatever reason, the internet gods have decided to bless me with a bunch of traffic for my post from last August, Hamilton and Literary Terms.  I’m kind of dumbfounded over this sudden uptick in interest for a post that was kind of a throwaway exercise that I did because I was having fun with something I was really into at the time and what I was working on for my classes.  When I reflected on the post, I figured it was rather incomplete, since it only offered a few examples of a handful of literary devices in the musical Hamilton.  I knew there were more devices that could have been addressed, but I limited myself just to the ones that the curriculum at my school focused on for tenth grade.

Anyway, I’ve been playing around with that idea and am thinking it might be possible to catalog the literary devices used in various songs in Hamilton.  I’m assuming that most of the traffic I’m seeing is from people looking for examples of literary devices in Hamilton lyrics for their lesson plans, so why not offer up some more resources.  I can’t make any guarantee of quality beyond the fact that I am an English teacher and I have more than passing familiarity with the Hamilton soundtrack.  Still, I’m not paid to do any of this stuff, so remember it’s a labor of love.

The major challenge I’m considering with this project is how to annotate the lyrics themselves.  I think that because the text’s primary format is as a stage musical and a soundtrack, reprinting the lyrics in full shouldn’t be a significant problem, but figuring out a readable system for noting different examples of literary devices will be… a challenge.

Still, we’ll see how it goes.

“Alexander Hamilton”

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished,
In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

5 The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter.

And every day while slaves were being slaughtered and carted away
10 Across the waves, he struggled and kept his guard up.
Inside, he was longing for something to be a part of.
The brother was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter.

Then a hurricane came, and devastation reigned.
Our man saw his future drip, dripping down the drain.
15 Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain,
And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain.

Well, the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man!”
Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland.
Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came,
20 And the world is gonna know your name.
What’s your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton,
My name is Alexander Hamilton,
And there’s a million things I haven’t done,
25 But just you wait, just you wait.

When he was ten his father split, full of it, debt-ridden
Two years later, see Alex and his mother bed-ridden
Half-dead sittin’ in their own sick, the scent thick.

And Alex got better, but his mother went quick.

30 Moved in with a cousin, the cousin committed suicide,
Left him with nothin’ but ruined pride, something new inside,
A voice saying, “Alex, you gotta fend for yourself.”

He started retreatin’ and readin’ every treatise on the shelf.

There would have been nothin’ left to do for someone less astute.
35 He woulda been dead or destitute without a cent of restitution.
Started workin’, clerkin’ for his late mother’s landlord,
Tradin’ sugar cane and rum and all the things he can’t afford.
Scammin’ for every book he can get his hands on,
Plannin’ for the future see him now as he stands on
40 The bow of a ship headed for a new land.
In New York you can be a new man!

In New York you can be a new man. (Just you wait)
In New York you can be a new man. (Just you wait)
In New York you can be a new man.
45 In New York (New York)
Just you wait!

Alexander Hamilton,

We are waiting in the wings for you.

You could never back down.
50 You never learned to take your time.

Oh, Alexander Hamilton,

When America sings for you,
Will they know what you overcame?
Will they know you rewrote your game?
55 The world will never be the same. Oh,

The ship is in the harbor now!
See if you can spot him.

Another immigrant comin’ up from the bottom.

His enemies destroyed his rep; America forgot him.

60 We fought with him.

Me, I died for him.

Me, I trusted him.

Me, I loved him.

And me, I’m the damn fool that shot him.

65 There’s a million things I haven’t done,
But just you wait.

What’s your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton!

Literary Devices

The format for this section will begin with a line reference followed by a listing of examples from the line with any potentially necessary explanation of the devices themselves.

5. allusion – “ten dollar,” reference to Hamilton’s place on contemporary American currency
13. personification – “devastation reigned”
14. metaphor – “future drip, dripping down the drain”
15. metaphor – “connected it to his brain”
19. apostrophe? – Burr switches the subject of his address from the audience to Hamilton himself
20. synecdoche – “the world is gonna know your name,” world representing its human inhabitants
24-5. hyperbole – “there’s a million things I haven’t done / But just you wait, just you wait,” Hamilton does a lot, but he won’t do “a million things”
26. epithet – “debt-ridden” the construction of this line feels similar to epithets found in Anglo-Saxon poems like “Beowulf” (cf. 15, “the Lord, in requital, / Wielder of Glory”)
28. metonymy – “sittin’ in their own sick,” Sick stands in for filth associated with illness like vomit
52. personification – “America sings”
59. personification – “America forgot”

Sound Devices

The tightness of the internal rhymes and other sound devices present a unique challenge in annotation.  What I’ve done here is color coded examples of rhyme, assonance, and consonance to give a visual representation of how the sounds interlock in the lyrics in the first verse of the song.  You can see that assonance is the most common element here, since so much of the straight and slant rhymes of the lyrics depend on coupling similar syllable sounds in much longer words.

Rhyme

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished,
In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Assonance

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished,
In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Consonance

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished,
In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

I’m a little rusty on the more advanced literary devices, so I’m reiterating that this may be an imperfect analysis.  If you see anything that you think I missed, feel free to let me know and I’ll see about getting this updated.  Depending on the response, I may continue this project to look at more of the songs from Hamilton, especially since there are a lot of interesting bits strewn about that don’t appear in the introduction.