Last year, I did anniversary posts for the Adam West Batman TV series and my top 10 best and worst Star Trek episodes in celebration of their 50th anniversaries. 1967 is also a great year for pop culture. Pink Floyd started off their career with Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The Beatles released their landmark Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Peanuts gang debuted on Broadway with You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. And in Tulsa, Oklahoma, SE Hinton published her debut novel, The Outsiders. It would be followed by That Was Then, This is Now, Tex, and Rumble Fish. All of these encompass what I personally call the Ponyboy saga, because he’s in all four books. (although in the “sequels”, he’s not as important as he was in the first book.
The story focuses on two gangs–the Socs (the rich kids) and the Greasers–Ponyboy, Dallas, Two-Bit, Soda Pop, and Johnny (our heroes). Most of the Greasers are orphans, with Dallas being the stand-in parent.
Years ago, I reviewed all seven of the original Harry Potter books on this site. Last year, two new stories were added to the mythos, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and a prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It’s only right that I review these on this page as well. Since I just finished it, I’ll start with Cursed Child.
Cursed Child is actually published as a play rather than a novel. I realize that using the script as my source for this review may not be the best way to review a play, but I probably might not get to see an actual performance, so here we are. Oh, and spoilers from here on out. You’ve been warned.
Let’s start with what I like. The story starts by replaying the epilogue from Death Hallows. It is now 19 years later. Hermione works for the Ministry of Magic. Ron has taken over Fred and George’s joke shop. (since one of the twins died in the last book, in case you don’t recall.) The story mostly focuses on Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Draco Malfoy.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
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:
10. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
6. 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.
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.
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.