Thursday, July 30, 2009

superheroes!

Over the past couple of days, i've been catching up with DC Comics - Wonder Woman and The Flash specifically - as well as reading a few older series: Static and Birds of Prey. It is very hard to get into a comic universe, like DC, these days. The stories all cross-reference each other so that you have to know the history of character x before you can read about character y. Wikipedia is about the only cure for this.

Static is different; he doesn't really belong to the DCU (at least in the original issues i'm reading - DC made a cartoon, Static Shock, where he teams up with Batman, Green Lantern, etc.). He is a part of the Milestone universe, a wonderfully diverse place that resembles a modern city. Static, when he's not a hero, is a high schooler. He, and his friends, deal with issues that are refreshingly real: gang violence, gay slurs, racism, etc. This is no Spiderman-style angst over not getting the girl (though there is some of that too). What i like most is that it doesn't feel like tokenism; there are black characters, latino/a characters, white characters, gay characters, straight characters because those are the people, not because someone decided to introduce a demographic for the express purpose of representing that demographic.

i'm enjoying Birds of Prey so much i've bought a bunch more of the compendiums. Yes, i get annoyed that the women all have the same rail-thin waists and giant round boobs, and that they are soft and curvy while the male superheroes are over-muscled. And the fan service pictures of tna are ridiculous. But at least here the females aren't working as sidekicks to a central male hero. And Oracle - wheelchair bound genius former Batgirl Barbara Gorden - is awesome. So awesome that i'm resisting reading Batman's Battle for the Cowl and Oracle: The Cure because i'm afraid they're going to do exactly that - "fix" Barbara. Who is more interesting as Oracle than she ever was as Batgirl, honestly. i especially enjoy Birds of Prey for what it is not: a Sex and the City of comics (as Marvel has advertised their new female superhero comic; fuck "bubbly fun").

The "Who is Wonder Woman?" stuff was pretty good (some of it written by novelist Jodi Picoult, some written by Gail Simone, who also wrote Birds of Prey for a while). Unfortunately she still has that dumbass costume, but the references to her influence in pop culture are pretty cool. Wonder Woman is more kickass than ever.

What i'm really waiting for, though, is a comic where superheroes - both male and female - have real bodies of different shapes and sizes. Because a gymnist like Nighthawk should look like a gymnist, not a weightlifter. And a fighter like Black Canary should have a different build than the more acrobatic and weapon inclined Huntress.

And not all superheroines need manicures, thank-you-very-much.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

fantasy and me

First thing, a comment on the new Harry Potter film. i'm beginning to believe that the time between films is a good thing - i remembered the plot only in a vague way, and appreciated the movie more for it. One thing i miss, however, is the ambient magic; there were no moving staircases and fewer background enchantments (such as moving pictures) in this film. Although when i think of it, the last film might have also had less of that as well. Which is too bad, because that's part of what made me really appreciate these movies; they provide a continual detail that the books lack, simply because after the first few books the focus becomes more on Potter and plot, and less on the amazing Hogwarts environment.

Secondly, upon finishing Butler's Kindred I felt a great deal of satisfaction with the book. i liked that it was very clear that the Rufus, the white boy who grows into a slaveowner, is not miraculously turned into an empathetic abolitionist becuase of Dana's influence; he is kinder than his father, but still intensely selfish. The book didn't have a happy ending, and that was appropriate. History never has a neat, happy ending. And Dana was such a strong, admirable woman; she is the heroine that Margarat Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale lacks. The type of female character, the type of black woman, that we need in literature.

The Canadian school system currently teaches a number of fictional slave narratives, some focusing on a young girl, others on a young boy. i fail to remember specific titles, unfortunately. These novels typically feature a child making their way to freedom; and usually end with that objective achieved--and they live happily ever after in the North. It is a very different thing to read about slavery from the perspective of a modern, adult woman, because adults are much more cognisant of danger and of mortality, and because a modern person is unable to see slavery through the lense of normalcy (at least at first; one of the points of the novel is that one can become accustomed to almost anything). Kindred was a very worthwhile read, and i will be finding more Octavia E. Butler novels in future.

There is a lot more that could be said about Kindred, and i'm sure there's a great deal of literature out there about the novel. It blends fantasy and fiction, it brings together that which is impossible and that which should have been impossible. In the way that the best science fiction does, it makes the reader question what it means to be human, and what it means to have a connection to a violent and tragic history. In the most literal way, Dana is damaged by her time travel; she looses an arm on her final trip home to the present. The absense of her arm will assert the presence of the past for the rest of her life. The scars of history are indelible.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Currently reading Octavia E. Butler's book Kindred, which was first published in 1979. It reminds me a lot of The Time Traveler's Wife - same kind of being uncontrollably pulled through time, same kind of danger inherent to time travel - the traveler might appear anywhere, might get trapped in walls, might get hurt, etc. Except here the time traveler is an African American woman being drawn back to antebellum Maryland. And her husband even manages to hitch a ride with her, creating a situation where she needs to pretend to be his slave. It's a good read so far; exciting and slightly suspenseful. I've read a few of Butler's short stories in the past (which was why i picked up this novel), and find her writing very engaging. Maybe i'll post a more thorough examination of the book when i'm done. It is a great change of pace from The Tombs of Atuan, that's for sure.

Things might be more focused on fiction here for a while, because i'm trying to get into my prose-head for school. Although i do have my lovely bookthug editions of Tender Buttons and Every Way Oakley to read, so those might be some upcoming poetry-centered posts to look forward to.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

the females of fantasy

i was away longer than i thought i would be. my books got mispacked during my move, so i only just got them back.

a few words on Ursula K. LeGuin's Tombs of Atuan. i love LeGuin's writing; it's imaginative and immersive. This, the second in her Earthsea Cycle series, left me wondering why exactly i needed to read another fantasy book where a girl is rescued from her evil destiny by a man, with only the barest nod to her participation through a choice--between her current life as an instrument of darkness, or a difficult future of freedom. For some reason, in books like this, it is always because a girl is good at heart or has the right nature that she is worthy of attention. Why does the hero of the first book of the series, a boy named Sparrowhawk, get to adventure, cause his own downfall, and redeem himself, when here, Tenar gets no say in her initial destany, complies with her training, feels some moral compunction about her duties involving human sacrifice, and then is rescued and depandant on Sparrowhawk for her future plans.

i don't like the "girl as passive instrument" trope, i don't like that the herione needs rescuing when she never really wanted a new life until meeting Sparrowhawk. i don't like that her positive attributes are inate traits rather than the result of personal development. i did enjoy the book, i will admit. but it raises my hackles a little bit. i really hope that in one of the sequals, Tenar gets to be a more active participant. The Tombs of Atuan was like going over all the gender stereotypes that i hated about a lot of children's novels.

Someone doing it right? Tamara Pierce. i loved her books as a girl. i loved Alanna, a girl who disguised herself as a boy to be a knight, and grew up to be the king's champion; a person who didn't let the world dictate who she could be. i loved Dianne, a wildmage who could talk to animals, learning to use her powers. These women had the support of men, but had their own adventures and did most of the rescuing themselves. The books also had really awesome male characters - George, the king of theives, for instance - but were so valuable for their levelling influence. This wasn't Narnia, where the boys got swords and the girls got weapons to use in emergencies (or distance weapons so their hands wouldn't be diritied).

i believe that until assertive literary women become unremarkable, it is imporatant to remain critical of characters, of books, of conventions. Until there are more Alannas, the Tenars cannot be left alone. Because it is easy to say that authors need freedom to write. It is not easy to find females who openly defy gender expectations and succeed. Particularly in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, worlds that are supposed to be representative of ideals. Worlds that might reflect on this one, but are not bound by the same prejudices that this one is.

Give me more heroes that i can look up to; give me something that i would love to see but don't really expect anymore. Give me more Alannas.