Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dr. Lepore, Meet Prof. Blanch

You've seen it, right? That ridiculous article Dr. Jill Lepore (author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman) wrote in the New Yorker, titled "Looking at Female Superheroes with Ten-Year-Old Boys" is devoid of context. She admitted that she was an academic, not a pop culture nerd, when she wrote her Wonder Woman book, and researching a single character from that angle is an interesting idea -- a fresh perspective, even. For this, she relies on a ten year old boy (and her own biases) for her information about the characters, because everyone knows young boys are right about everything.

Here's where I might have a few strong opinions*. To suggest that "they all look like porn stars" on the cover of A-Force #1 is completely ignorant, literally ignorant. One only had to survive comics in the 90s, in those dark "bad girls" days, to know what "porn stars" look like in a comics context. (See Lady Death, Witchblade, Avengelyne et al. if you want porn stars.)

"Their power is their allure, which, looked at another way, is the absence of power. Even their bodies are not their own. They are without force." There's another utterly stupid thing to say. First of all, technically, none of their bodies are their own, because all of the characters are subject to the whims of the artists and writers currently on the books; that is true of male and female characters. Secondly, she knows nothing about these characters, what their stories are, to be able to say something like that with conviction. She-Hulk, for example, has a helluva lot of agency. She's a character who's had love affairs (often disastrous ones), plus a career, plus be a hero... Jen Walters rocks! She's big and green and has mighty cleavage, but is having boobs a sin now? I have a pretty substantial rack, too. Perhaps I should start binding my chest, since that seems to be a bad thing.

It's true that a lot of the female characters were created as female mirrors to the male, often to lock down the trademarks so no one else could. It's also true that for a lot of their histories, these female characters have been portrayed in a very male-gazey sort of way. But to suggest they have no power, no force, is bullshit. Plus, things are changing. To take these characters and "reclaim" them for a new generation of comics readers is a good thing. If she can't see that, then she's also not paying attention to what the industry is trying to do, even though she admits that's what Marvel is trying to do.

The snide attitude throughout the whole article prompted me to remove the Wonder Woman book from my Amazon wish list. I don't like the stuck-up tone that vibrates off the screen, and if that's how she wrote The Secret History, I'll pass. (And frankly, the clumsy way she stuck that barely-contextual Marston research in the middle of the Marvel/A-Force article, doesn't give me much faith in her abilities, either.)

I suggest that Jill Lepore needs to take a class or three from Christy Blanch at the first opportunity, if (soon to be Dr.) Blanch gets another Super MOOC going. Lepore could learn an awful lot in a Gender and/or Social Issue Through Comic Books class. Assuming her Ivy League tower would let her lower herself that far...

You can be an academic without being a jerk about it. You can be nerdy and geeky and talk about Batman's PTSD and whether or not race-changing affects characters for good or ill. My fellow Super MOOC "graduates" do it every day, in a very civilized and academic way, discussing everything from video game portrayals to gendered toy aisles to mental health in comics. And not one of us has that snarky, superior tone that Lepore does, because she clearly thinks comics are not really worth discussing seriously, and it shows.

I hope she reads the open letter Leia Calderon wrote her. I hope she reads G. Willow Wilson's piece, too. Frankly, I don't care if she reads this or not. She won't like what she reads here, and she wouldn't take me seriously anyway; I'm only a B.S.†, not a Ph.D.

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*I always have strong opinions. Ask anyone.
†Bachelor of Science, Psychology, with minors in Philosophy & Sociology

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Am Elemental! Action Figures Review

This is a review I meant to write some five months ago, and somehow things just slipped away from me. How is it May already??

I backed a Kickstarter campaign for a set of "action figures for girls" that promised to be both feminine and fierce, without having the ridiculous body-toppling proportions that so many of the female action figures have now. When I saw the campaign, I was all over the whole idea. Girls need this stuff, need to have the tools for imaginative play that allows them to be the heroes of their own stories, and innovative products like this would enable exactly that. I didn't hesitate, and pledged at the $65 level that included:
  • All 7 action figures 
  • IAmElemental journal
  • Drawstring bag
  • Bracelet (the figures' shields double as charms for the bracelet) 
  • Trading cards
  • Carry case
The project was fully funded, shipped on time and I received my package in time for Christmas, even. (They really hustled to make that happen -- major kudos to them for that.) I snapped a phone pic of my loot before I got busy with family stuff:

Merry Xmas to me!

Here's a bunch more photos, better than that one. The box is a metal "lunchbox" style, 10x7x4", white with a black handle. The cardboard sleeve in the first two photos shows the action figures, front and back, and a list of the enclosed items. The box itself has the "I Am Elemental™" mask logo and "Play With Power™" slogan on the front and back. The side has the figures' elemental symbols.

Each figure was packaged like this.
There were actually two trading cards with each figure, one to keep and one to trade. Collecting all the cards reveals a message when they're arranged in the right order.

Yes, I did try to pose them like they appear on their cards.

The "secret message" is a quote from Joan of Arc, and when I put them in order and saw it for the first time, I admit, I got chills. The good kind. Then I flipped through the journal that came with everything and wanted to cheer. The outside is grey with the logo design repeating all over it, not all that remarkable, but the stuff inside is dynamite.


There are coloring pages, activity pages, inspirational quote, and guided journal pages. It's a really nifty way for girls to consider and explore their own strengths, or "powers." I love this addition. Yes, these are action figures, but there's no reason why girls can't also do some serious thinking when they're done playing. It's a big world out there; they have a lot to get ready for!

The seven 4-inch action figures, have slender but realistic female bodies (no impossibly tiny waists, no porn star boobs), in bright colors that suggest feminine without being pastel pink and sugary. They are wearing, for the most part, identical pewter-colored uniforms (Fear's is more gunmetal than pewter, just a shade darker), with variations in their boots or shinguards, and gloves or wristguards. Their armor coordinates with an "undershirt" -- Honesty's teal wings coordinate with her boots, bracers and undershirt. They are all wearing black domino masks to hide their true identities. Each heroine has her own unique hairstyle, which is one of the few distinguishing characteristics. Each has accessories that can be swapped interchangeably with the others. They are not "flesh-colored" -- not any race -- instead, they are orange, red, dark pink, and purple. However, their faces do have narrow Caucasian features, with small noses and not-too-generous lips.

Flat feet! These girls can stand on their own!
From left: Persistence, Energy, Enthusiasm, Honesty, Fear, Bravery and Industry
Accessories removed. Heads pop off to remove shoulder pieces.
Two of the accessories make the figures a little back-heavy; Honesty's wings and Persistence's cape tend to make them a little off-balance, but considering the issues I've had trying to balance the massive hair and ...chest... of some of my other figures, a cape is no problem.

Each of the figures also came with a shield that doubles as a charm that can be worn on silicone bracelet. Interestingly, Industry and Enthusiasm have hands molded to hold the shield in their left hands, while the other four have hands molded to hold the shield in their right. Fear alone has a weapon, a hand-held snake-looking thing that matches her spaulders, so she can't use her shield and the weapon simultaneously.

Bravery  
The figures have 9 points of articulation: head (swivels, limited up/down movement), shoulders (rotate and bend), elbows (rotate and bend), hips (somewhat limited rotation), and knees (rotate and bend). I won't criticize the limited hip rotation because the trade-off there is that when she sits, her legs don't splay open. And while it would be nice to have some wrist or ankle articulation, these are only 4-inch figures, intended for children (who are going to play with them), and wrist and ankle joints at that size are going to break. As it is, the arms on these figures feel really slim, not so much proportionally, but in my hands -- but I am not their target play group.

In the photos below, I tried to highlight some of the flexibility of the figures, using Bravery to illustrate. In the first image, she's sitting on a block of sticky notes and you can see that she can sit pretty normally, and almost cross her legs (ankle-to-knee). The second image shows her shoulder and hip flexibility. With her armor off, she can get her arms much higher over her head (almost making the "A" in YMCA). The third image was me trying to get her to do some semblance of yoga.




So reasonably flexible, able to stand up, but not able to stand in a lot of "action" poses -- that's where the ankle articulation would be awesome -- but once again, these are toys, they're meant to be played with, not posed and admired. The girls who receive these are going to have adventures with them (I hope), not stand them up and take a bunch of photos. (That's for weird grownups to do...)

I'd like to see more variation in the faces, more ethnic variation specifically. The bodies are fine. We want to promote health and realistic bodies, and these action figures have healthy-looking bodies, and tooling is expensive! BUT those faces are small, making variant faces would (I think, I don't know) be less costly than making a lot of variant bodies. Faces that have rounder features, wider noses, more generous mouths -- because not every girl has that narrow Western European profile.

A few "cons": When I took Fear out of the package, the top of her helmet was off, and I initially thought this was so her shoulder armor could come off, but I realized that it was because there was a slight flaw in the molding of the helmet piece; the hole is too large for it to fit snugly on the peg on her head. I used a small dot of E6000 glue and it's fixed.


I'd also like the both hands to be able to hold the shield, since typically a shield is held in the non-dominant hand while the dominant hand holds a weapon, and most people are right-handed. As it's molded right now, the hand that isn't intended to hold the shield can't really hold anything, it's basically a relaxed open hand. The last con, and it's nitpicky, is the metallic paint. It's going to scratch. I do like the look of it because it looks like armor, but it's not going to hold up very well to play.

Truly, my complaints, such as they are, are miniscule. I think these action figures are tremendous. I wish I had had them when I was a girl. I wish my daughter had had them when she was small. I wish every parent of a young daughter sees these and gets them for her to play and dream and imagine... One of the slogans of IAmElemental is, "If you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story.™" That's an exciting idea, isn't it?

There was one other thing in with the figures, a flyer marked Series #1/Courage that promises "Coming soon, Series #2/Wisdom." I can't wait.


For more info or to order, visit IAmElemental.com.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nope: Why I Refuse to Buy the Supergirl Abomination

Look, I know that I have plenty of action figures that are problematic. Some are just plain ugly, others are so over-the-top sexualized it's ridiculous. I have a small Supergirl figure from the animated series. She's cute. Small, but cute. Adorable, even.


I would like to have a larger figure more on the same scale as the other figures, but this New 52 Supergirl... ugh.


I hate it. I hate everything about it. Others have commented that the cape is ok, but honestly... that red bit over her crotch... it's like a sign: Hey! Look at my pubes! Who thought that was a good idea?? The boots are asinine too. Why are there cutouts at the knee? You can see them better in the product shot:


Duuuuummmmmb.

So, nope. Won't be buying it, DC. I hate the redesign, think the red pubic triangle looks idiotic; you can keep your plastic and I'll keep my $25. Give me something that doesn't look so freakin' stupid, and we'll talk.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Book Review

Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics
©2013 by Mike Madrid
Forward by Maria Elena Buszek, Ph.D.
ISBN: 978-1-935259-23-7 (print)
978-1-935259-24-4 (ebook)
Exterminating Angel Press

Madrid's first book, The Supergirls (reviewed here) is a wonderful overview of the women of comics. This book takes a closer look at some of the heroines time has mostly forgotten from the Golden Age*, and includes complete black and white† reprinted stories from some of them.

In the introduction, Madrid confesses his own geeky and nostalgic love of Golden Age comics, and how reader response to The Supergirls made him feel like he'd inspired readers of his book the way some of the '70s nostalgia writers had inspired him as a kid. I know it inspired me to want to learn more about those lesser-known heroines! 

He also gives a brief history of Golden Age comics, but here's a bit that nearly jumped off the page for me:
In these very early days of comic books, there weren't as many established rules about how women characters should or shouldn't act. As a result, many of these Golden Age heroines feel bold and modern as we read them today. They are presented as fearless and unapologetic about their strength. 
(If that doesn't fill your heart with excitement about Golden Age heroines, I don't understand why you're even here, because this is the wrong blog for you...) When comics were young, the art and stories were simpler, but they weren't strictly for kids. This was inexpensive entertainment in a troubled world, and "a time when comics were fun."
  • In the section Women at War, Madrid paints a vivid picture of how American comic book heroes and heroines entered WWII before Pearl Harbor; they backed the war effort before the U.S. entered the war! 
  • In Mystery Women, he talks about the concept of the masked vigilante, something we're quite used to today, but cautions "these women are tough."
  • Daring Dames introduces us a different kind of heroine, ones who didn't wear masks but fought bad guys just the same. 
  • The section 20th Century Goddesses contains superheroines more like we're accustomed to now, super-powered humans who can do extraordinary things.
  • The final section is Warriors & Queens, and according to Madrid, "[t]he heroes of comic book fantasy tales were often women." It's probably just as well this is the last section, because it's just getting depressing to consider all these awesome heroines that just... slipped away, vanishing into history.
I have encountered few people who write with the passion and enthusiasm for these characters as Mike Madrid does. His notes and commentary on the characters he's selected (some of them had 5 or fewer appearance in comics), the history, and the artists are pure gold. The brief biographies he provides for each of the heroines just whets the appetite for more, encouraging his readers once more to seek them out. Plus, of course you should buy this book for the amazing comics inside. But if you're expecting camp, you're in for a surprise. These Divas, Dames & Daredevils don't mess around!

This is more than just an homage to "lost heroines," it's a time capsule§. Crack it open and look inside at what heroines used to be like. Then go look at what they're doing today and tell me he's wrong when he says "how far comics of today still need to go."

I'm really excited and pleased to note that there's a companion book to this one due out very soon. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of the Golden Age is due out in October 2014! Since I love bad girls more than anything, I can't wait! Edited: I didn't have to; I received an ARC and reviewed it for the Geek Girl Con blog - find my review here.

__________
* The Golden Age is generally considered to have been from the late 1930s through the mid 1950s. The debut of Superman in Action Comic #1 is what most enthusiasts and historians see as the catalyst that started this "golden age" of comics.
† Yes, black and white, no whining. The book would have been at least twice the cost if it had been printed in full color. Seek out color Golden Age comics at the Digital Comics Museum.
§ A note on the comics themselves: they do contain some pretty bad ethnic stereotypes. The comics of the 1940s were not known for their kindness to Asian people especially, so keep that in mind while you’re reading. It was a different time and place. The world was at war, and xenophobia was rampant. (Not that it has entirely vanished today…)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Brilliant Idea (Or, "Why I Hate My Brain")

A while back, I read about someone who had artwork of a superheroine that she loved that she took and asked for various creators to autograph not because they created the work but because their work had meaning to her, too. *wince* I'm recalling this poorly, I know, and I wish I could remember where I'd seen it, so I could link to it properly. (If you have any idea what I'm talking about, please let me know in the comments so I can have that properly referenced -- thanks!)

In any event, I had a similar idea, but naturally one that makes me hate my brain that much more, because it means more work. Way more work. But it's so perfect (for me) that I don't think there's any way I can't follow through with it. What I'd love to do is create an altered book, one that includes quotes and biographies and images of amazing women. And then I'd like to leave it up to the various creators where they'd like to sign their names inside. It will be loud and colorful and full of the most amazing women... and then it will be even more full. Bursting with inspiration and touched by genius, quite literally.

At least, that's what I see in my head, the reality is something else. Great ideas require the right materials. The base book will be something that I'll "know it when I see it." The other things will have to be gathered over time, and won't be completed quickly, even though I'd like to have it done in time for the next convention I attend. Especially considering I still have a costume to fabricate...

...And that is why I hate my brain, because I needed another project like I need a hole in my head.


Monday, June 23, 2014

My Love/Hate Relationship with Collecting

Collections require some care and maintenance or else they're just hoards. If they aren't organized in such a way that they can be enjoyed or pieces found easily, you're in danger of being one of Those People they turn into zoo attractions on reality television. In our old house, we were pretty cramped but still had stuff, so it was pretty borderline there for a while. Now that we have the space to organize and display the things we love, there's the responsibility to maintain it. Since I'm the one who's home all day, and I'm the one who's a little obsessively completist, that task falls to me.

For the action figures, I maintain an inventory at DASH, which is more than just a database, there's also the ability to buy/sell/trade (I haven't done any of that myself, however). Sometimes I have to add a figure myself if no one else has yet, like the Justice League War Wonder Woman I got yesterday, so there are a few figures in my collection that aren't in the inventory database because I haven't added them yet. It's imperfect, but it's the best thing I've found so far.

For the libraries (main and children's*), I keep track of our collection with LibraryThing, which is an online database. It took a few months for me to get all the books put in (over three thousand), so now a trip to the bookstore means books go to my desk for entry first.

For the comic books, I purchased Comic Collector, from Collectorz.com, which also has an app (not a stand-alone app, you have to have purchased the program first!) that runs on my phone so I can double-check the collection when I'm rummaging in the old comics bins. They have various versions to suit your needs, it runs on Macs or Windows computers, and I love it. The same company also has inventory software for games, music, movies and books. They run sales every once in a while, and it's tempting to get some of the others, but I have covered, our movie collection that extensive, and our music is just weird... Anyway, new comics are dealt with the same way new books are dealt with: they go to my desk first and are entered into the database, and then they are read.

Once all this reading material has been dutifully entered into the computer, it gets read, or goes into a pile to-be-read. Read books often end up in piles in the library, to-be-shelved. Read comics go into a box to be bagged, then once bagged into a box to be taken downstairs to be filed with the others. Since I am the one who's home, once again I am the sensible choice for being the one to shelve and file, put away and straighten... and I hate that part.

Right now, I am procrastinating from doing the laundry. I don't actually mind the sorting/washing/drying part. I loathe the folding/putting away part. And socks. I bloody well hate socks. So laundry goes upstairs to be folded on the guest bed, where it usually sits in a wrinkled heap until I guilt myself into dealing with it... usually about the time I have to do laundry again.

Months ago, I organized our comics. I got all of them entered into the database, put them all in order, put out a few accidental duplicates that I found, left room in the boxes for new comics to be filed... and since then, have taken down new comic, laid them on top of the lids of those boxes, or taken them down in other boxes and just left them there, waiting to be filed. *sigh* I hate filing. I don't mind data-entry, but filing is awful.

Part of the issue (ha!) is that when I take the boxes off the bottom shelves, I'm going to cause an action figure avalanche. Then I'm going to cause another one when I put them back. Every. Time. Having the boxes on the bottom shelves of the figure display is awesome, because the bottom shelf is no good for display (plus dog temptation risk), but I suspect that once I take all the comics we have right now and file them, we're going to have full boxes, with no room for more. That means a new home is needed, and soon. But that's a task to procrastinate another day...


_________________

* We turned the formal living room into a library, but there was no room for children's books. We bought a bunch of bookcases for the guest room, adjacent to our daughter's room, and put the kids books there.