Bookworms: Astro City v. 1

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Many superheroes have a fictional city they call home. Superman has Metropolis. Green Lantern has Coast City. Batman has Gotham City. Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be an ordinary person living in these cities? Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Astro City can give you an idea.

The series was launched in the mid-90’s as part of Image Comics’ short-lived Homage imprint, before Wildstorm Studios folded and was bought out by DC. I’ve decided to review as many of the collections as I can, because I think the series needs more love.

First, let’s talk about the creative team. Kurt Busiek really is one of the best writers in comics. His favorite technique is not using superheroes, but ordinary people to tell his stories. His Marvels novel, for instance, was told from the POV of a reporter who witnessed the first adventures of many of Marvel Comics’ legendary heroes.  This series uses that same approach. Of the six stories in this volume, only two are told by superheroes.

Alex Ross is the cover artist, and his work is museum quality.  His covers are included in a gallery at the end and all look great.

Brent Anderson is the main artist. He has a style that can capture motion well. It’s unique and complements Ross’s concepts well, without emulating it.

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Image: The Samaritan

Now I’ll talk about the stories. First is “In Dreams”, spotlighting the Samaritan. The Samaritan can fly and has superhuman strength, speed, and endurance. He also has a barrier that can repel energy.  In a way, he’s a tribute to Superman. He laments that he spends so much time flying around and saving people, he can’t just fly around and enjoy himself.  We also meet the Honor Guard, the Astro City version of DC’s Justice League. The roster consists of Beauty, Samaritan, The Black Rapier, Cleopatra, MPH, Quarrel, and the N-Forcer.

Elliot Mills, editor of the Rocket
Elliot Mills, editor of the Rocket

“The Scoop” takes place in the 60’s, and is about Elliot Mills, editor-in-chief of Astro City’s Newspaper, The Rocket. (He’s basically a tribute to Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent works) In this story, he tells a new reporter about a framed article on his wall–one that was actually rejected by his editor. The story gives us a glimpse of the city’s earlier days, when a new hero called the Silver Agent called Astro City home. We also meet the original roster of the Honor Guard, and learn it was founded by a wealthy businessman named Max O’Millions. I liked this story for its glimpses of Astro City’s history.

The Jack-in-the-box, a clownish superhero
The Jack-in-the-box, a clownish superhero with a storied legacy

“A Little Knowledge focuses on a homeless criminal who catches the superheroic clown Jack-in-the-Box as he is removing his mask. Jack in the Box is what you call a “legacy” superhero, meaning that more than one person has taken on the identity (think of how there has been four different Robins throughout the Batman saga) . Jack has rubber noses that can stun criminals, stretchable limbs, and shoots confetti like Spider-man shoots webs. While Jack-in-the-box is a light-hearted superhero, his costume can be frightening to criminals, and the narrator is worried what will happen to him now that he knows the clown’s secret.

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Bookworm: Neurotribes by Steve Silberman

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I recently read Neurotribes by Steve Silberman. In my opinion, it is one of the best books about autism you will ever read. It tells the history of the research of autism, beginning in the 1940’s with Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger (where we get the “Asperger’s Syndrome”).

The book starts with two historical cases of autistic geniuses, Henry Cavendish (the “wizard of Clapham Common”) and Paul Dirac, who is famous for the “Dirac equation” and an early quantum physicist.

Autism’s earliest researchers were Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger. Both had differing views on the condition. Leo Kanner is the man who actually coined the term autism. He viewed it as a disease, caused by “bad parenting”. His model persists to this day and is sadly adopted even by Autism $peaks. It should be noted that he only focused on early childhood and overlooked differences in the children he studied.

Hans Asperger was different. He studied autistic children in Nazi Germany. Unlike Kanner, Asperger saw it as a positive, saying it was essential to creativity. He called his subjects “little professors” because of their wealth of knowledge. He risked his life to protect them from the Nazism ideal of “perfection”, as mentally disabled people were often sent to the camps, just like the Jews and everybody else who didn’t fit the mold of Hitler’s “dream.”

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My Favorite DC Villains

I believe heroes are defined by their villains. The best villains are those who exist as the opposite of their foes. DC’s villains are as grand as their heroes, as they should be. Here are my favorites:

new-52-vandal-savage_010. Vandal Savage–Vandal Savage has been around since human civilization itself. He has conquered all and survived every battle. And he has not forgotten anything he has learned.

thYU2JVLE19. The Parasite: If I were to make a Superman movie, I would use the Parasite as my villain. The Parasite consumes energy to survive. When he faces superheroes, he can steal more than their identity and energy, he can steal their powers. He can bring even Superman down to normal.

thQ3WD49XJ8. Catwoman–Catwoman is really the one villain in the DC Universe who has effectively been both a hero and a villain. She is truly an independent spirit, much like the animal she wishes to emulate. She’s not one to be taken lightly, and I admire her for that.

th38C8QEI87. Reverse Flash–Reverse Flash is the Flash unhinged in his powers. The Flash knows his limits and does not exceed them. He does not let his power consume him, and is ruled by his morals and convictions. Reverse Flash is not pinned down by such petty concerns, as he would see them. He is a true Reverse of the Flash, in every shape of the term.

th0WHLNU876. Mr. Freeze–Victor Freeze was a brilliant scientist who loved his girlfriend Nora, more than anything. He wanted so much for her to be healed of the disease that was slowly draining her. But she could not, because those who financed Mr. Freeze’s research wouldn’t let him continue. He is a tragic villain, one you pity because you feel if any villain deserves happiness, it could be him.

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Celebrating 75 Years of the Joker

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In 1939, Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27. A year later, his popularity was so vast that National Comics, which we know today as DC Comics (they get their name from Detective Comics), decided to give him his own solo comic in addition to making him the main feature of Detective Comics (at the time comic books were like anthologies and had several recurring characters rather than just one character like they do today). In that first issue, Batman’s most well-known foe, the Joker, made his first appearance. DC Comics celebrated their 75th anniversary in 2014 with a series of hardcover anthologies collecting classic and modern stories. This post will review all the stories in the Joker anthology.

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Bookworm: My Autistic Awakening by Rachael Lee Harris

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I’ve read three autobiographies from autistic writers: Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison, Thinking In Pictures by Temple Grandin, and now a new one–My Autistic Awakening by Rachael Lee Harris.  She is a colleague of Tony Attwood, a renowned psychologist who has worked with autistics for years. In fact, Attwood is one of the foremost authorities on Asperger’s Syndrome.

Rachael’s introduction begins by telling you about the man who Asperger’s Syndrome is named after, Hans Asperger.  His “little professors”, as he called them, went on to diverse fields because his studies unlocked their potential. She then goes on to say “My Asperger life…can never be viewed in isolation; it can only be viewed through the prism of environment, upbringing, temperament, life experience, and personal values.” This is why we stress that autism is a spectrum: there is no constant.

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Sandman Retrospective Part 10: The Wake (Finale)

The Wake book cover
The Wake book cover

“Only the phoenix arises and does not descend. And everything changes. And nothing is truly lost.”

I started this series of posts to talk about one of my all-time favorite comic books, The Sandman. It’s been interesting going through the volumes, as the first time I got into the series, I never really finished it.  I love to come into stories fresh, with no pre-conceived notions about what will happen. I may make cursory glances at Wikipedia, but for the most part, I always try to avoid spoilers. But now we come to the ending volume, The Wake. This is the grand finale to what I feel is truly one of the all-time greats.

In the previous volume, Dream was hounded by the Furies and lost his life.  Thus, Hippolyta’s son, Daniel, is chosen to take his place.  Many characters come to pay their respects, both ally and adversary.  Even Desire, who had sought to reign over the realm of the Dreaming, mourns her brother’s passing. “The bonds of family bind both ways. They bind us up, support us, help us, and they are also a bond from which it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to extricate oneself.” Despair, often Dream’s cohort, says this of Dream. “He was a creature of hope, for dreams are hopes and echoes of hopes, and I am a creature of despair.” They may have been allies or enemies, but they are still the Endless. For better or worse, they are still family.

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Sandman Retrospective Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

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We have no nightmares. We are the hounds of Hades.  Gods fear us. Demons fear us.  We have hounded kings and angels. We have taken vengeance on worlds and on universes. We are the Kindly Ones”–the Furies

The story of Sandman’s penultimate and ninth volume was hinted throughout the series.  Everything was building up to it.   Desire’s lust for power. Hector Hal’s wife Hippolyta’s hatred of Dream. Her infant son Daniel even visited the House of Mystery in a previous volume.  This is the main reason Vertigo was my favorite thing about DC. They gave the creators more freedom than DC’s main line titles. Gaiman was allowed to decide when his story would end. DC could’ve pressured him to keep it going longer than he wished, but they let him decide its finale.

This story has Loki and Robin Goodfellow do the unthinkable. This is not the Loki from Marvel’s comics. That Loki is a misrepresented god of evil, complete with horns. No, the Loki of Norse myths was a god of mischief, not evil.  As for Robin Goodfellow, he is another example of Shakespeare’s influence on Gaiman.  This is the same Robin Goodfellow from his famous comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In that story, Robin played pranks on the other characters and reveled in the events that resulted from them.  He did not seem to care about the consequences of his actions, as should be expected of a trickster. Robin is a great representation of the “chaotic neutral” alignment. The chaotic neutral character is often a trickster, who doesn’t side with either good or evil, and instead operates in total freedom.  And it is this carelessness that threatens the very fabric of the Dreaming. It is so dire that Dream even conjures another Corinthian, the very same twisted creature who feasted on eyeballs. This time, however, Dream erases the Corinthian’s will so that he will be completely loyal to his creator and sends him, with Matthew as his keeper, to locate the missing infant.  (Against Matthew’s wishes, I should add.) Continue reading “Sandman Retrospective Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones”