So I Just Saw Wonder Woman

Let’s skip all the context today regarding Wonder Woman’s history and why it’s absurd that we had to wait until 2017 for her to star in a feature length live action movie, and let’s just get to the movie itself.  Wonder Woman is pretty good (in some ways I’d say it echoes the tone of Captain America: The First Avenger, but those comparisons are inevitable when you have a film that flashes back to one of the World Wars) all around, and it is a far less dour movie than what Warner and DC have been putting out in the last few years.  There’s certainly a heavy amount of pathos (this is, again, a movie about World War I, which traumatized an entire generation), but it feels earned given the subject matter.  The film’s weakest point is probably Gal Gadot herself, which is disappointing since she’s the only woman on screen for two thirds of the movie.  Beyond that, most of the plot is very by the numbers stuff, which is fine; action sequences are entertaining, and the few comic bits hold up well enough.  My general opinion is that if this were another male superhero movie, I’d say just catch it on streaming later, but because this is the first major woman-led, woman-directed superhero movie you should go see it in theaters if you can afford to; the movie business only pays attention to dollar signs, and what will determine whether they begin to realize they can make more woman-driven superhero movies is the box office take, not critical praise.

Wonder Woman Poster

Promotional poster for Wonder Woman. (Image credit: IMDb)

Alright, that’s the quick-and-dirty out of the way.  Moving forward I’ll be discussing spoilers for Wonder Woman, though most of the story beats aren’t surprising if you’re roughly familiar with Diana’s mythos and have seen your share of action and war movies.

Let’s start with Gal Gadot as Diana.  In action sequences, she works perfectly well.  She can do the poses and hit all the marks that communicate her superheroic awesomeness, but there’s just something off about her in any scene that isn’t about stopping bullets and jumping into buildings (seriously, Diana wrecks so many buildings just be crashing into them–intentionally).  Rachael described it as a lack of presence; Gadot carries herself like a woman accustomed to inhabiting a world filled with men, which is the exact opposite of what you want in a character who has never been forced to make herself smaller to accommodate others in her life.  Even after you forgive the fact that Gal Gadot looks like a runway model rather than an Amazonian warrior, you can’t overlook how her body language fails to convey this sense of owning her space when she’s around other people.

On the subject of the other Amazons, things are a little mixed.  Overall, they look the way you expect DC Amazons to look; the women are all big and imposing and have athletes’ bodies (Robin Wright particularly stands out as Diana’s aunt Antiope), and when they get their big battle scene they come across as total badasses.  It is kind of weird that they all have perfect makeup and impeccably coiffed hair (that doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would be high on the priorities list for battle-ready warriors), but I’m going to chalk that up to Hollywood being Hollywood and the massively difficult lift that is completely subverting the male gaze.  Rachael and I agreed that after two more sequels with this continuity we want to see a gritty reboot where the Amazons are basically clones of Furiosa because she and the motorcycle grannies are the true Amazons that this world deserves.

Outside of Themyscira, the supporting cast is overwhelmingly male (like, seriously, besides Diana there are precisely two other major female characters off the island, and both of them are off screen for a vast majority of the film).  It’s a good cast as far as it goes, but it would be really nice if they had included more women in roles that didn’t consist of mother-clutching-her-baby-in-the-midst-of-abject-desolation on the Front.  Still, letting that go, DC’s version of Steve and his ragtag, multi-ethnic commandos is remarkably charming (it probably helps that this group is much smaller, so there’s time to actually develop everyone’s character beyond broad ethnic stereotypes).  The film does a neat trick where it uses the supporting cast to illustrate Diana’s gradual realization of how complex the world outside Themyscira is.  All of Steve’s buddies do morally questionable things, but time is given to explain how their roles in the war have been informed by the limitations imposed on them by outside factors.  Sameer wanted to be an actor, but when the war started he decided to be a soldier instead; because he’s not white the Allies wouldn’t let him.  Charlie is a sniper who prefers to kill his targets at a distance, which Diana thinks is the height of dishonor; we learn that Charlie’s desire for detachment from his victims stems from his PTSD (also, he never fires his rifle, let alone kills anyone in the course of the movie, effectively subverting his role as expert marksman).  The Chief (I really wish he’d been given an actual name) is a war profiteer who sells contraband to both sides, but this is the only way he can make a living after his tribe was cheated and murdered out of their land by the Americans in a previous war.  Even Dr. Maru gets an implied tragic backstory with her facial disfigurement that she hides under a ceramic mask (it’s the emotional climax of the film when Diana chooses not to kill Maru after realizing that she must be reacting to some trauma of her own).

The action sequences are a lot of fun to watch, but they rely heavily on the old Snyderian trick of shifting into slow motion to emphasize the moment just before an impact (it was cool when 300 did it, but you’d think we could get some variation in this visual language more than ten years on).  There’s also a weird sort of uncanny valley thing going on with the CG where anytime they slow-mo a moment that captures a character’s face, the actor’s scanned image just doesn’t mesh with what’s happening in the moment.  Too many times you have an Amazon doing something awesome, and her face is just a serene mask as she’s about to loose a bunch of arrows at once or cut down a swath of enemy soldiers.  It’s slightly unsettling in a “why didn’t they have the actors emote, like, at all for this stuff?” way.  Thankfully, this is really only a minor complaint.  The climax’s battle between Diana and Ares is particularly standout in my mind–before Ares gets mad and does his Ultimate Final Form ™.  I like the nonparallel imagery of Diana facing off against a frumpy English dude with telekinetic powers; something gets lost when he puts on the traditional Ares armor and it turns into more of a standard slugfest (though I am thankful that David Thewlis’s face is mostly obscured during this part of the fight; his head on Ares’s body would probably be too much to bear).  These are small nitpicks though; the action sequences are eminently watchable once you get over the uncanny valley bits.

One last minor observation relates to how DC seems to be developing a pattern of implementing messianic imagery with their superheroes.  Diana’s an effective conduit for this stuff since the movie continuity establishes that she is a literal god who was born specifically to save humanity from its worst impulses, but the Christian overtones feel a little forced to me.  I recall at least two instances towards the movie’s climax where Diana strikes a cruciform pose just before she does something impressive, and given that her character arc revolves around her learning to let love overcome the impulse towards punishing imperfect humans, you can’t help but feel like things are getting a little Jesus-y (I don’t personally have a problem with Christ parallels in pop culture, but given that Zack Snyder explicitly did the same thing with Superman in Man of Steel, I can’t help but wonder if part of it is a cynical grab for those evangelical movie dollars).  I get that Superman and Wonder Woman are very typical of the messianic archetype, and this sort of trope mapping is totally unextraordinary, but it feels like they could have been a little less on the nose about it.

So that’s Wonder Woman.  Go see it in theaters if you have the money, and enjoy it for being a perfectly solid superhero film with mostly the same flaws you’d see in any other typical superhero film of the last decade.

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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.

So I Just Saw Justice League: War

After I watched The Flashpoint Paradox a few weeks ago, I was really looking forward to checking out the other two DC Animated movies that are currently on Netflix.  I watched Son of Batman first, and it was alright, but it didn’t leave a particularly strong impression on me (I kept getting distracted by the absurdity of Talia Al Ghul’s wardrobe, which consists of an unzipped catsuit at all times, even when she’s hanging out with the League of Assassins where everyone else is dressed up like a ninja; it really threw me out of the story).  Then I got to Justice League: War, and I was much more satisfied with this movie.

In light of all the recent discussion about Batman v Superman, I always find it interesting that there’s so much focus on the live action side of DC superhero adaptations when Warner Bros. has had a phenomenal series of animated adaptations for over two decades, first with their various animated series of major properties and then in the last ten years their steady production of self-contained movie adaptations of famous comics stories (I was at my local video store the other day, and on a lark I went to check out their animated section to see if they had any other DC movies; Warner Bros. has produced over twenty animated films in the last ten years).  In the last couple they’ve moved towards adapting recent significant comic arcs, which is where Justice League: War comes in.

Justice League: War is a retelling of the Justice League’s origin story in DC’s recently retired New 52 continuity.  It features Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Shazam, and the Flash at the beginning of their careers when no one yet really knows what to make of superheroes.  Because of an invasion plan being carried out by Darkseid, these heroes, despite not being inclined towards teamwork, are thrown together in order to foil Darkseid’s plans.  Because this is a team-up story, no time is spent on origins for the cast except Cyborg, whose injury and rebuilding occurs as a matter of course in the movie’s first act; everyone else only gives bits of background information in passing.

The visual style of this movie is really engaging on top of everything else. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

What I find most interesting about this story is the way the heroes are characterized.  Going back to Batman v Superman, I’ve seen a lot of discussion of the way the two central characters are represented in ways that are so inconsistent with their previous popular depictions.  Batman’s supposed to be so steeped in paranoia that he resorts to using tactics that are far more brutal than what’s seen in other versions of the character; Superman’s apparently a rather selfish figure who’s spectacularly failing to connect on a human level with the people he’s supposed to be protecting.  I don’t particularly care for cynical representations of these characters (even Batman at his most fascistic is still supposed to be a principled hero), but I can see why someone might want to explore them in a scenario where they have real failings connected to the circumstances surrounding their extraordinary power.  In Justice League: War, you don’t get any of that.  Batman comes off as a little insular when he first encounters Green Lantern, but it quickly becomes apparent that Batman’s the only member of the nascent Justice League who understands that they need to cooperate in order to stop Darkseid (late in the movie he gives Green Lantern a pep talk explaining that they’re just a couple of regular guys who have gotten caught up with actual superhumans, and working together is going to be imperative to saving the world, then he hops a ride to Darkseid’s homeworld in order to rescue Superman by himself; Batman is a ball of contradictions, but he’s a likable one here).  Superman, in contrast, is kind of a jerk.  He’s arrogant when Batman and Green Lantern first meet him (perhaps justifiable since Green Lantern immediately attacks him instead of trying to talk, like Batman suggests, and they’re clearly not a match for him), and he continues to be a showoff throughout the rest of the movie (he and Wonder Woman have a clear mutual admiration society going on in a nod to their eventual romance in the New 52).  Superman’s characterization here doesn’t have any concern with his usual significance as a symbolic figure; he’s the team’s big gun, and that’s the extent of his value here.

The rest of the team’s characterizations are interesting, though I’m not nearly as well versed in their histories to be able to comment extensively.  Hal Jordan and Barry Allen’s depictions are pretty consistent with what’s seen elsewhere; Hal has a level of confidence that’s not fully backed by his proficiency with his power ring, and Barry’s just a nice guy who thinks it’s cool that he gets to hang out with superheroes.  Diana is written in that mode that’s common to her origin stories where it’s assumed that she’s completely unfamiliar with modern Western society; I find this a little irksome, because some naivete is okay (a scene where she tries ice cream for the first time is charming), but when it translates into her not having a basic understanding of diplomacy (she bails on a meeting with the US president because she gets tired of waiting even though she’s explicitly in America to meet with the president) it feels like the writers are equating coming from a culture with a substantially different technological level and social structure with being an idiot.  Shazam acts just like most of the teenagers I know; he’s exactly as annoying as he should be (my complaint about him stems mostly from the fact that he’s not treated as being on the same level as Superman; I’ve always understood that DC’s Captain Marvel was supposed to be a peer of Superman, but with a magical bent to his powers rather than a sci-fi one; perhaps there was some readjustment in the New 52 and the character’s renaming that puts him on a lower tier that I don’t know about).  Cyborg has the most fleshed out character arc, since this is also his origin story, and it hits those beats perfectly well.  The whole time I was watching though, I kept thinking back to this essay about the problematic nature of Cyborg’s character in context of the DC universe and how this retelling of his origin fails to correct any of those issues.

Setting aside characterization, both the good and the bad, this movie’s remarkably satisfying in other ways.  The animation’s excellent, and the battle scenes are choreographed in a way that keeps them engaging (and unlike certain live action adaptations, the writers don’t forget that regular people are endangered by all the chaos the supers are causing).  If you’re interested in seeing a Justice League origin movie, you really could do a lot worse than this one.

“Erhmagerd, Comics Becoming More Lady Friendly” -Fox News

Let’s start with this:

For anyone who doesn’t want to bother listening to the stupid, you can get a breakdown with some of the more absurd lines transcribed here for your cringing pleasure.

So, this segment, which somehow manages to make my head want to explode I don’t know how many times in less than four minutes, covers three primary topics for conversation:

  • New test footage of Popeye from an upcoming CG animated film
  • New Thor (as opposed to Old Thor, who will probably stick around and be referred to by his rather nifty surname Odinson)
  • Wonder Woman’s pants

No, I don’t honestly know how a segment that started talking about Popeye’s lack of tattoos and corncob pipe in stills of test footage somehow made the transition to why Wonder Woman now wears pants (except just ignore the fact that she’s been back to not wearing pants for several years now) by way of discussing New Thor’s boobs.

Now, ostensibly there’s an intelligent way to discuss these three topics, and even to disagree with the perceived intent behind them without sounding like someone pining for the halcyon days of Sterling Cooper (seriously, I think the two guys are actually fantasizing about living out Mad Men for reals).  So let’s see how we can do that.

First, look at Popeye.  The two things he’s missing in the stills are his pipe and his anchor tattoos.  We’ll deal with the tattoos first, because those are easy.  Tattoos are value-neutral.  The presence or absence of tattoos doesn’t intrinsically communicate anything about a person’s character other than the fact that the person may or may not like to have body art.  Saying that, I don’t see anything problematic with Popeye having tattoos; considering that his iconic tattoos are anchors on his monstrous forearms, they actually help in communicating that he is a sailor and he loves the sea.  Besides all of that, given that this is test footage, the anchor detailing may simply be absent at this point in development, or the narrative of the story may call for Popeye to get his tattoos during the events of the movie.  It’s not a big deal that there are no tattoos.

Now, let’s talk about the pipe.  Popeye was a character developed first for the long-running comic strip Thimble Theatre, and then adapted for cartoon shorts in the 1930s.  Considering that comic strips and cartoons, while certainly popular with children at the time, were not exclusively written for children (and that we didn’t yet have all of the research that correlates tobacco use with higher incidence of certain kinds of cancer), it’s not incongruous that he would have a pipe given his characterization as a rough-and-tumble, indestructible sailor.  Tobacco use in various forms is still a very common signifier that a character is supposed to be particularly tough or cool.  It’s kind of an overused trope in my opinion, but it’s not specifically offensive in the context of stories meant for adult consumption.  The rub here is that the new Popeye movie looks like it’s going to be targeted towards kids with the bright colors, cartoon-stylized characters, and CG animation.  It is not cool to promote tobacco use as something positive to children.  Regardless of whether the pipe is an iconic part of Popeye’s design, it’s not appropriate in this context.

New Thor looks pretty badass. If only she’d lose the boobplate. (Image credit: Marvel.com)

Next, let’s deal with New Thor.  This is a pretty brief bit in the whole segment, and I don’t have much to say here other than I think making Thor female is a wonderful idea, but I have doubts that it will be a long-term change.  I’m guessing that maybe for a year or two we’ll have New Thor, and then Odinson (seriously, all I want is for this to become Old Thor’s official superhero name) will get brought back as Thor Classic.  Marvel’s been announcing some really nifty diversity initiatives in their A-list hero line-ups, but I have a lot of difficulty imagining them making a permanent change like this to a legacy character like Thor (he is, after all, the archetypal Aryan Superman).

Don’t panic, Fox! Diana’s current look still lacks pants. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

Finally, Wonder Woman.  To the blowhard who actually recognizes that her original look was intended to be highly patriotic with a lot of American iconography incorporated into the design, congratulations!  You know a smidgeon of comics history and how meta-narratives work.  What you’re forgetting is that in 2014, regular comics readers are over the absurdity of someone from a secluded island nation modeled on mythological Greece being an emblem of American awesomeness; most of us prefer that Diana’s look, if it’s going to call back to anything, be reminiscent of the culture that inspired her; this is why you find so many redesigns of Wonder Woman that incorporate elements of ancient Greek and Roman armor in place of the typical swimsuit she’s worn for way too many years.  As for the jacket and pants design that the clip derides (I actually think it’s not that bad if you’re going for a more urban feel in Wonder Woman stories over the mythological influences that have actually been prevalent in recent years), check your facts to see if it’s even a current design, and don’t base your distaste for it simply on the fact that Diana isn’t showing as much skin as you’d like.  Discussion of character design in comics definitely has its seedier elements, but it is possible to critique a design’s aesthetics without reducing your argument to “She’s not showing enough thigh.”

See, Fox News, it wasn’t that hard to discuss these same points without reveling in sexism, Islamophobia, transphobia, and any other kind of bigotry that I might have missed.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (5/18/14)

Sorry for no link round up last week; we had friends in town and I didn’t spend my usual lazy Saturday morning poring over the internet for cool stuff.  No fear though!  That just means I have two weeks’ worth of links to share today.

Comics

1. Life in Aggro is a regularly featured webcomic on Kotaku‘s weekly webcomic, and for the past month it’s been running a story recounting what I’m assuming is one of the authors’ experiences playing through the game.  It’s a beautifully drawn comic, and this series has been particularly good.  The final part of the four part story just went up yesterday, so you can see the whole thing on their website.  Here’s the link to the first part of the story.

These Watercolors Distill Superheroes to Their Very Essence

Black Widow in Watercolor. By Blule. (Image credit: i09)

2. I don’t use ComiXology to buy comics.  When I do buy comics, I prefer to purchase physical copies (the one area where I feel like a luddite is digital purchasing; I just struggle to get over the hump of not having a copy of the content that I can store and maintain how I like).  Even so, this article is a fascinating look at ComiXology’s business model and how their recent decision to remove in-app purchasing from their iOS app impacts both their business and the consumers who use their service.

3. Because it needs to be said again (it always needs to be said again), there needs to be more to female superhero design than sex appeal.  Here’s a wonderful article from Lauren Davis explaining why (if for no other reason, read it for the plug that the new Ms. Marvel series gets; that book is fantastic and I want to read more of it like now).

4. Though I have a passing interest in comics history, I’m not really into comics from the Golden and Silver Ages.  Apparently that’s a mistake, at least for Golden Age stuff, because it was a diversity wonderland before the Comics Code came along and whitewashed everything.

5. I generally think of myself as more of a Marvel fan when it comes to superheroes, but I have to admit that I do agree with pretty much everyone on this list of in-universe jerks.  And yeah, Professor X just keeps getting worse and worse.  Cyclops, on the other hand, has always seemed like a justified jerk, and I love him for it.  Namor’s debatable, because I’m not sure you can classify the level of egotism he displays as necessarily jerkish so much as “I’m the King of the Ocean.”

Faith

1. Candida Moss explains what professions were not recommended for Christians in the third century by St. Hippolytus of Rome.  The list is, unsurprisingly, filled with jobs that Christians nowadays not only do, but often aspire towards.

2. Fred Clark is a straight white male.  I am also a straight white male.  If you want to read something not written by straight white males, then check out Fred Clark’s recent list of blogs that are written by people other than straight white males.

3. Richard Beck answers reader questions about his book The Slavery of Death.  There’s some really interesting thoughts going on here.

4. Zach Hoag: “The Christian faith, rightly understood and practiced, is both syncretist and separatist all at once, and in different ways. In fact, syncretism is at the core of Christian identity, as the very definition of the faith is the expansion of first century Judaism to include Gentiles without requiring total change to their religious practice! It was an honest to goodness combining of Greco-Roman religious practice with Israelite religious practice, seen through the lens of a new Messianic identity. Christianity IS syncretism!”

5. A breakup letter to John Calvin (I’m not sure I was ever in a relationship with him, but I think it still sums up my feelings about his theology rather nicely).

6. I don’t typically post articles from i09 in my faith section (mostly because their articles that touch on religious subjects tend to have a bit of an anti-faith bent), but this article from Mark Strauss is thoughtful and nuanced in how it approaches the problem of creationism.

7. More from Fred Clark (remember, I have two weeks of material to sift through), this time about the phenomenon of mondegreens and their relationship to interpretive differences between Christians who disagree about the Bible.  Don’t know what a mondegreen is?  Then go find out.

8. Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Matthew Vines, and Jay Bakker had a talk this week discussing Vines’s new book God and the Gay Christian.  It’s an hour and fifteen minutes of good dialogue about the issue (complete with lots of technical difficulties!), and I’d definitely recommend watching the video of it.  Fortunately, Tony Jones has posted the talk on his blog.

9. Samantha Field at Defeating the Dragons wrote a post this week coming out as bisexual.  I’m really happy for her.

Fiction

1. I’m not the most educated person when it comes to speculative fiction.  Most of my knowledge has been acquired by proxy of Rachael, so this essay, which seems pretty impressive and persuasive to me, may be a bunch of hot air.  Nonetheless, I think it does raise some interesting questions about the relation between contemporary speculative fiction and literary fiction.

2. The Star Wars Expanded Universe is dead.  Nonetheless, it did give some good stories.  Here’s a list of 10 particularly notable ones (as an aside, I’ve begun watching the Clone Wars cartoon now that the whole thing is on Netflix, and being only halfway into season 1, I think it’s great; it’s a wonder what can be done with the prequel-era setting when George Lucas isn’t pulling all the strings).

Film

1. For all my criticisms of various movies that I see, I like to think that generally I’m a pretty easy to please viewer.  I have an overly developed fondness for superhero movies (even the ones that don’t deserve it), so I’m really a poor judge of which big movies are not so great (case in point: I really liked Man of Steel except for the ending, but everyone else I talk to thinks it was the worst Superman adaptation ever conceived).  This article and subsequent conversation in the comments does a pretty good job of elaborating on why certain superhero movies get really positive reactions from viewers while others don’t.  It’s all speculation and opining, but it’s interesting speculation and opining if you like to think about superheroes and the movies we make about them.

2. For your enjoyment, a comic explaining why DC hasn’t started production on a Wonder Woman movie yet (as an aside, I first came across this comic through Kotaku where a conversation in the comments erupted where one very obtuse fellow began complaining about how everyone’s constantly calling for movies featuring female and minority superheroes just irritates him, and we should all shut up because it’s going to happen anyway; except, y’know, it’s not going to happen if no one says that’s what they want to see).

3. I like animation.  I also like live-action.  I get a little wary when animated franchises get live-action adaptations.  Apparently so does Jason Krell.

Fun

If Disney Characters Were College Students

Of course Quasimodo would go to art school to be a sculptor. By Hyung86. (Image credit: Kotaku)

1. I wish I had space to display a four-foot wide drawing of an imaginary megacity that features iconic buildings from all the most famous cities in the world (and throughout history).

2. Did you know that the number of Nicolas Cage movies in a given year correlates with the number of people who drown in swimming pools?  Neither did I, but here you go.  Have fun.

3. What about Zoidberg?

4. And just in case you prefer real cephalopods to imaginary ones, here’s an octopus unscrewing a jar from the inside.

5. Someone invented retractable metal claws.  It’s pretty adorable to see how excited he is to be able to tear stuff up with them.

6. It’s not often that I see discussion of Breaking Bad where someone reads Walter White as so adamantly sympathetic.  For my part, I gravitated more towards Jesse as the emotional center of the show after the end of Season 3, but to each her own.  Here’s a post from Scribalishess where Susan Pigott discusses her experience of watching Breaking Bad for the first time.

Gaming

1. For what it’s worth, I’m still not tired of jumping and punching in video games.  I spent the last week of school this year playing Street Fighter II and Super Mario Bros. 3 with my students as a way of passing the time after we turned in our final grades.  Nevertheless, this is a good article wondering about the seemingly interminable popularity of first person shooters and whether gaming is due for a new golden genre like the platformers and fighters of the ’90s.

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past 3D Papercraft Map

The overworld map of Legend of Zeld: A Link to the Past as papercraft. By Wuppes. (Image credit: Kotaku)

2. Gilbert Gottfried is famous as the voice of Iago from Disney’s Aladdin and as the guy who did that video for the internet where he reads excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey.  We can now add to his impressive resume the fact that he made a video where he reads some of the most famous lines from video gaming.  “Holy hell is it erotic!” indeed.

3. Nobody likes trolls.  I’m not sure anyone really understands why they do what they do either; not even the trolls themselves.

4. Minecraft‘s pretty much the best thing ever when it comes to creating interactive online learning experiences.  The world’s fully customizable, and it’s a lot of fun to build stuff with friends.  So using the game as a lab for teaching Japanese sounds like a wonderful idea.

5. Jason Schreier has crowdsourced from the Kotaku commenters a compilation of good entry-level games in the JRPG genre.  I agree with much of the list (I’ve played a lot of them myself), so if you have any interest in that most quirky of story-driven game genres but don’t know where to start, this is a good thing to look at for ideas.

6. People like to play as characters who are not themselves when they’re gaming.  This article talks about what it’s like to play a character who also happens to not be the same sex as the player.

Science

1. Cartwheeling spider.  That is all.

2. Kidney disease runs in my family.  Just last year my mom received a transplant that she had been waiting on for three years, and the donor was, unfortunately, someone who had died.  We don’t know who the donor was, but it’s weird to think that my mom had to wait for someone else’s misfortune just so that she could get the kidney she needed.  It’s an objective fact that a live donor would have been better all around; kidneys from live donors last much longer than kidneys from deceased donors, and the donor’s still alive when the procedure’s over.  Of course, it’s a scary thing to donate a kidney; you’re voluntarily giving up one of your organs.  This article explores this topic more in-depth and considers some potential solutions to help incentivize the donation of kidneys, since there’s a constant need.

3. Scientists have engineered a strain of e.coli that contains six base pairs instead of four in its DNA.  This is kind of a big deal.

4. I donate blood on a regular basis because I think it’s an important thing to do if you meet the guidelines for eligibility.  One weird quirk of the experience that I’ve always wondered about was the fact that I’m always asked multiple questions about whether I’ve ever had sex with a man.  Seeing as I’ve not had that particular experience, I always answer no and move on with life.  It never occurred to me before that answering yes would prevent me from being able to donate.  What the heck, FDA?

5. So how would people react if we were to discover extraterrestrial life?  For my part, I’m pretty psyched about the possibility, but this article from i09 suggests that in general, people of faith tend to be poorly psychologically equipped to deal with aliens.  I’d like to counter that if you have religious beliefs, especially of a Christian variety (I’m not going to speak to any other traditions because I just don’t know well enough to say), and you’re still engaging in anthropocentrism as part of your faith practice, then you’ve probably missed the point Jesus was making about dying to the self; that’s not just a personal exhortation, but a fact of communal living that you have to accept things are bigger than what you see around you.

6. Neil deGrasse Tyson said that philosophy was a useless field to study.  Many people on the internet disagreed.

7. Hurray for advancements in prosthetics!

Miscellaneous

1. “How Misunderstanding Disability Leads to Police Violence”

2. I think this one’s already been all over the internet, but here, for anyone who hasn’t read that awesome Slate article about Phineas Gage.

3. We interred over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II.  That’s an important thing to remember.  Fortunately, Ansel Adams helps us out with that through these photos (here’s a link to the full online collection at the Library of Congress) that he took of the internment camps during the war.

4. I find it doubtful that China’s actually collaborating with Russia, Canada, and America to build an intercontinental rail line.  Still, it would be really cool if this does happen for reals in a few decades.

5. My students have an unhealthy fascination with Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.  You can imagine my childlike glee when I read this, because it means that I’m now justified in telling them that their taste in headgear is not only ridiculous, but also appallingly bad from an audiophile’s perspective.

6. H.R. Giger passed away this week, and i09 saw fit to post a collection of some of his assorted works in commemoration.  Giger’s work is extremely fascinating, and highly creepy (he did design the look of the original xenomorph in Alien).  Go check the gallery out if you’re interested, though keep in mind that one of Giger’s favorite subjects was the interplay between humanity and technology, and he tended to use lots of sexually evocative imagery.

7. Deaf culture is a complicated thing.  The introduction of cochlear implants into the deaf community a little over a decade ago was pretty big news; not everyone received the new technology with enthusiasm, because it was seen as a threat to Deaf identity (for a really good documentary exploring this issue, look up Sound and Fury; it’s available to stream on Netflix, or if that’s not your style, you can find the whole thing freely available on Youtube, along with its follow-up from 2006).  This article from The Atlantic discusses some of the issues surrounding a new type of cochlear implant that has no external component.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (4/13/14)

Faith

1. One thing in my series on the train wreck that was my conversation with Damon, a fundamentalist evangelical Christian, that I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on explicitly was the fact that I went back to the Nicene Creed of 381 as the foundation of my system of dogma.  Most Christians today, regardless of their location within the Church’s various branches, affirm that version of Creed, and so it is a cornerstone of orthodox faith within Christianity.  It’s pretty barebones in its assertions (you don’t get a whole lot besides the establishment of the Trinity, Jesus as wholly divine and wholly human, and belief in the Crucifixion and Resurrection; the technical details of any of those points are still pretty vague and open to interpretation), but it defines what the core of Christianity is for most of the world’s Christians.  This article does a pretty nice job of articulating the frustration I ran into with Damon when his response to my bringing up the Nicene Creed was that it was “valid, but incomplete.”  I suspect this is probably an outpouring of thought from the diminished importance of Church tradition over biblical interpretation that’s common in Protestantism in general and evangelicalism in particular.

2. Following on that, here’s an article from David Hayward discussing one particularly nasty response to Rachel Held Evans’s very honest meditations on how to proceed in relation to evangelicalism after the World Vision incident from several weeks ago.

3. I recently discovered a new blog.  It’s called Scribalishess, and it’s a fantastic combination of fancy pen reviews and explanations of Hebrew scriptures.  Being a lefty, I can’t really do a whole lot with fancy pens other than admire the aesthetics of them (someone, please tell me if a fountain pen has been invented that can be comfortably used by a southpaw with the signature curled claw writing position), but the writer is a professor of the Hebrew Bible, and she’s written some fantastic explanations of the problems with how contemporary Christians tend to approach the Old Testament.  For a sampling of her work that I’ve really enjoyed so far, follow these links: “The Day My Son Was Taught ‘Bible’ in Public School”, “Leviticus Defiled: The Perversion of Two Verses”, “Reading Genesis 1 ‘Literally'”

Science

1. I get a lot of my science news via io9.  Recently, I was really excited to see that they hired a correspondent for news in Washington, D.C. related to science policy.  I think this event is not unrelated to an updated manifesto that was published by io9‘s chief editor, Annalee Newitz, this week where she writes that, whether you like it or not, science is a political issue, and policies that affect scientific research and education need to be addressed.  Wholeheartedly agreed.

2. Following that, here’s an article about the brouhaha stirring at a technical university where a couple who are creationists have been invited to speak at a commencement ceremony.  This is an interesting case mostly because the couple in question are also engineers, and they plan on speaking only about their engineering backgrounds at the ceremony.  Nonetheless, opponents of the decision are arguing that the university shouldn’t even recognize people who take part in political efforts that directly seek to undermine science education, even if it’s an unrelated field.

Gaming

1. There’s still a long way to go to get to equal representation of all demographics in fiction.  This talk given at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference by Manveer Heir, a game designer for BioWare, gives a pretty good overview of the excuses that lots of folks within the games industry are making, and points towards some goals that developers should keep in mind.

2. I’m only a little surprised I’ve not seen this before, but this is a very thorough exploration of all the problems with the user interface in the first Mass Effect game.  Anyone who’s played the series knows that the first game had some major drawbacks, especially in relation to its inventory system.  It’s also a good write up on how a player interacts with a game and what good visual design does to facilitate the experience and immersion of a title.  Also, in the follow-up that looks at Mass Effect 2‘s user interface, the writer validates everything I was thinking about the simplification of pretty much every system between the two games.

Comics

1. So Carol Danvers has been Captain Marvel (in the Marvel comics universe) for a couple years now, and all accounts say she’s been a success in her new role.  Now I’m hearing that Marvel’s launching a new Ms. Marvel, and she’s a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey.  Why am I not reading this series?!

Movies

1. Last summer I watched a really good movie called Another Earth.  Now the director of that film is about to release a new movie that explores the tension between a materialist outlook and confrontation with scientifically inexplicable phenomena.  Personally, I think a lot of people make too much of the perceived conflict between science and faith (it’s one of my pet peeves about Rob Bricken’s reporting at io9 that he always seems to take this angle in writing about things that examine the relationship between science and faith), but this new film might still be worth seeing.  Here’s the trailer, if you’re curious.

Fun

Art by Lauren Dawson. (Image credit: http://iguanamouth.tumblr.com)

1. There have been a lot of live action adaptations of Superman and Batman over the years.  Also there have been a few of Wonder Woman.  That doesn’t change the fact that Wonder Woman as a character has not seen a notable live action adaptation since the 1970s.  Here’s a compilation of the looks of various adaptations of DC’s Trinity over the years with a rather wry jab at Wonder Woman’s poor representation.

2. I have not read every Shakespeare play (honestly, I’m more of a Marlowe fan), but based on what I know about the ones that I have read, these 3-panel plot summaries are pretty spot on.

3. Time travel is a lot of fun in stories, but looking at visualizations of how it actually plays out are probably even more of a blast.  Here’s a quiz where the time travel in various movies are illustrated on timelines and you get to guess if you can recognize the film based on its pathway.  Like all things from BuzzFeed, it’s kind of stupid, but still entertaining.

4. First, there was Sharknado.  Now, there’s Poseidon Rex.

5. The Muppets instantly make things better.  So here’s a collection of fan art mashing up the Muppets with various characters across the Marvel and DC universes.  My favorite might be the first one that features Dazzler singing with the Electric Mayhem.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/16/13

Y’all ready for this?

Gaming

1. What the starter Pokemon are really doing while you try to pick one out.

2. You have to pay attention to what the answer’s asking for, Jeopardy contestants.  Such a shame, except for that one guy who got it right.  Still, with such a softball question, I wonder why none of them bet all their winnings.

3. Someone finally picked up on my idea that minifigs make for good tabletop miniatures.  It’s not a LEGO product, and there’s hardly any information yet, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

Comics

1. This version of Wonder Woman seems to be, objectively, the best version of Wonder Woman.

Batman (album)

This is not the Batman album you’re looking for. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. I’ve never heard the Prince soundtrack to the original Batman movie.  This plot synopsis of what that movie might be like makes me curious.

3. Maybe the Batman Prince movie could include some of these props that Batman kept over the years of his adventures.  I can totally see hoarding as part of Batman’s psychosis, by the way.  After all, he has an entire cave to fill up.

4. If you liked the Wonder Woman spot above, Cartoon Network has uploaded to Youtube a bunch of their animated shorts that run between shows on their DC Nation cartoon block.  I’ve not had a chance to look at all of these myself yet, but they look like a lot of fun.  Update (7/17/13): I’ve watched through most of the shorts, and they are generally very fun animation with some good comedy bits thrown in.  I didn’t watch all the Aardman shorts, but they seem to be primarily dialogue driven based on what kids say about superheroes.  Enjoy at your leisure.

5. Here’s a review of a new book that explores from a psychological perspective the appeal of superheroes.  It sounds like the book that’s being reviewed isn’t that great, but the article makes mention of another recent book about superheroes and religion that contains a comparison of the superhero myth to people’s desire for control in their lives through the lens of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I think I’m more interested in that book.

Religion

1. An excellent meditation on the ultimate foundation of Christian faith.

Weird Science

1. A dancing spider robot, for all my arachnophobic friends.

2. An article about how we might have difficulty communicating with space aliens because of differences in how our various senses operate.  I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords and hope that they will treat my bacteria very well.

3. Sorry, arachnophobes.  Here’s another creepy crawly thing that also happens to be the tail of a snake.  So, bonus creeps?

Science

1. An article highlighting all the ways that a lot of evolutionary psychologists are jerks and just kind of wrong about their approach to human nature.

Movies

1. Jon Negroni has constructed a General Theory of Pixar over at his blog.  It seems kind of crazy for my tastes, but I have to admit that the attention to finding minute connections is impressive.

2. There’s rumor that an X-Force movie is in the planning stages, and it’s going to feature the team that was led by Cable during the ’90s.  As I mentioned before, I hate Cable’s X-Force team, mostly because it was an abominable mutilation of the New Mutants (probably my favorite single series in the X-Men canon).

3. I made a pretty big deal about how much I liked Man of Steel, but as with any movie, there are always going to be things you can pick at through more in depth analysis.  This video points out some of the bigger plot holes that I didn’t catch on my own viewing (of course, these are mostly plot holes because if they’d been solved the way the video suggests, the movie would have been about an hour shorter.  It’s a fair point.  I still like the movie.

Music

1. I became a fan of Johnny Cash just shortly after his death back in 2003.  His music’s fantastic.  Here’s a crowd sourced art project depicting sketches of Cash from stills of the video for his final studio recording, “There Ain’t No Grave.”  It’s haunting.

And that’s everything from my little corner of the internet.