Archives for category: Russia

johnandpat

Most of us dwell on the future in January, but February is a time to incorporate our past into our present challenges and future aspirations. This coming Tuesday, Wonder Root Community Arts Center will host U.S. Civil Rights pioneer Attorney John D. Due, Jr. for a discussion about why Black History is important to people of all ethnic backgrounds. I’d like to use this space to explain why Black History is important to me.

I like Black History Month and have felt compelled to celebrate it as long as I can remember. Full disclouse: I’m not black and I am an historian. From that statement, let’s look at two questions:

1) Why am I an historian? I first recognized my love of history- or to put in more Flash-like terms “my connection to the Past Force”- in fifth grade studying the U.S. War of Independence. The primary school introduction of those who founded the United States stirred a certain sympathy in me- they wanted to be free from the tyranny of King George and I wanted to be free from the tyranny of childhood. In middle school, I identified similarly with the Russian revolutionaries I learned about in my World History course at about the time their revolution was proving to fail. Like my most children in middle school, I had figured out that life would be a constant struggle to live peacefully among my peers. It is around this time that I began to take my own class consciousness seriously, placing it high among the tools with which I would understand the world. It was very popular among both black and white students to wear clothing adorned with large Xs, referring to Malcolm X, and I read Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X in an attempt to understand this pop culture figure; I distinctly remember being challenged by white students for reading the book and feeling pretty surprised. It has taken much of my life to realize how polarizing historical figures like Malcolm X are in the U.S. historical discourse. Similarly many students wore t-shirts with the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo on them, so I read a biography about them too and for those of you unfamiliar with their early years, the story of the Chili Peppers is largely one of racial harmony and cooperation. Other pop culture icons that my generation was following were Nirvana and Pearl Jam, both very vocal about women’s issues, particularly rape and access to abortion. I entered high school expecting a much more liberal world than I actually encountered. How was I so naive? Well, I didn’t belong and that brings us to question 2.

2) Why am I not black and if I’m not black, what am I? Born in New York into a family that nearly all lived in New England, my family had contributed very little to local history and in turn, had very little influence on how society existed in Georgia and the U.S. South generally. My heritage did not line up with the collectively understood narrative of history. Though Jewish by blood, I had not connection to the Jewish community. I didn’t partake of the big Jewish rituals and my Jewish ancestors came to the U.S. before the Holocaust. Though raised Christian and living in an unbearably Christian society, seeds of doubt were sown early on and I felt almost no kinship to that community. My ancestors had nearly all arrived in this country after slavery had been abolished and I felt little personal guilt for the heinous crime that was the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Raised by the moderately left-wing, the worldview I’d inherited did not always match that of my peers. My “segregation consciousness” really came alive in high school as students were separated by academic performance. I’d been part of special education programs for the gifted since primary school, but the cultures of the academically advanced and the other become much more distinct from one another in high school. While I embraced a culture of learning, I felt very suspicious of this group I had been herded into and saw it as little more than another institutionalized form of tyranny with an inherent and systemic character dependent on the alienation of my ideas. I kept getting shoved into White cultures that I either felt no affinity for, had no connection to, or stood in direct conflict with my understanding of the world. My experiences in college and graduate school reinforced many of my aversions to White cultures, but more importantly helped me accept my place in a much larger historical context and realize that many of the faults that I find in the world are the products of awkward compromises made between people trying to hold onto whatever power they have and people trying to obtain greater power. Heroes, villains, victors, vanquished- people are selfish and the bounds of their selfishness have the potential to expand and become more sophisticated. By this I mean, people take care of themselves and take care of their families, but social and spiritual progress hinges on recognizing that our families are not solely defined by blood.

It’s a great paradox, achieving a sense of community depends on the achieving a sense of self. While I’m not black, my sense of self is largely understood by the forces of history and those forces have been heavily informed by the Black experience. Growing up in Georgia and living in Atlanta again, daily life is informed heavily by the experiences and contributions of black people. If I have any hope to understand my place as a citizen of Atlanta, I must actively pursue Black History as local history cannot be separated it; additionally, I feel firm in the argument that the conditions of globalization make it impossible to separate Black History and specifically the experience of blacks in the U.S. from any local history around the world. While I’m not black, My History is recklessly incomplete without Black History; since I fully believe that My History informs My Identity, My Identity is recklessly incomplete without Blackness. How I respond to and incorporate Blackness into my life responsibly is a challenge that cannot and should not be ignored.

As I finished my final requirements for my MA at Georgia State, I applied to join the US Peace Corps, intent on serving somewhere in Africa. Like most applicants to the Peace Corps, my primary motivation was self-discovery through service and I believed pursuing Blackness to be crucial to revealing truths about myself. The winds of fate and the bureaucratic pen of the Peace Corps determined that my self-discovery plans were not ambitious enough and I found myself serving in China. Let me clarify for the geographically challenged out there, China is not located in Africa and no matter what Gogol tells you, it is also a completely different country than Spain. There aren’t a lot of black people in China, especially compared to Africa.  Barely coming anywhere close to reconciling the role Blackness has played and continues to play in my life, I found myself confronted with a whole new set of challenges that would prove to further sophisticate my worldview if I had any hope of surviving in my new home. While I had studied some Chinese History, it had certainly felt more foreign than studying Black History, but now that History was becoming much less foreign not only for me personally, but for every citizen around the world- pretty exciting time to be China and sharing in the experiences of the Chinese people during that time has had irreversible effects on my worldview. As an historian, I’ve come to appreciate how different cultures approach history. The historical tradition of the Chinese corresponds in many ways with the historical tradition I’ve inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition, the European Age of Enlightenment, and new methodologies popularized in 20th century academia such as social and economic history. My training in Marx, Hegel, Lenin, and other historically minded Western intellectuals that China has embraced also prepared me for discussions with Chinese historians as did my familiarity with opponents and critics of European and U.S. imperialism.

Upon entering China, I had no doubt that better understanding Chinese History would bring about in me a better understanding of World History. When my wife and I joined our families in marriage in 2009, we also joined our personal histories so that rather my family and its history expanded in very concrete terms as opposed to the philosophical exercise of embracing all history as essential to your own. My family had now become Chinese and though the Chinese people make it pretty clear that a 外国人 will never be 中国人, I cannot separate the history of the Chinese people with that of my family and certainly not that of my children, should my wife and I choose to reproduce. Since moving to the United States in 2012, my wife has realized that her historical understanding is incomplete without a better understanding of Black History. She’s currently reading The Black Holocaust for Beginners and is rarely shy to ask questions of people she meets. I’m regularly surprised by some of her insights into the racial dynamic of our city, the US, and the world at large as her revelations are informed by her experiences as a Chinese woman. For example, she understands the civic-minded Black Panthers much more than religious leaders such as the SCLC’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and NOI’s Malcolm X. Growing up in a society that largely views religion as dangerous superstition, the more pragmatic approach of providing clinics, food programs, and self-defense classes by the Black Panthers is much more reasonable to her than singing in a church, invoking the holy spirit, or pursuing salvation in the afterlife.

Black History is important to me because without a practical appreciation for it, I could not navigate my way in this world. Some Black History angers me, some inspires me, and some bores me terribly, but the study and discussion of it never weakens my understanding of the world and my place in it nor does it wholly satisfy me. I encourage you to explore Black History, share it with the people you know, and make it a part of your life all year round.

You are all invited to join us for a discussion about the importance of Black History on Feb. 25, 2014 at 6:30 pm at Wonder Root Community Arts Center, located at 982 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta, GA. The event is free and John D. Due, Jr. played a pretty amazing role in the U.S. Civil Rights movement as both an activist and an attorney.

attherojohndue

Advertisements

best&worst

One of the reasons I took the internet and started this site is my hypothesis that superhero comic books are a uniquely democratic art form that has become increasingly democratic with the rise of internet communication. Superhero comic books have traditionally solicited the opinion of their readers. The industry has engaged in all sorts of gimmicks to find out what their audience likes and dislikes. The internet has allegedly made this process easier for the producer and consumer alike. Comic books are magic capitalism, right?

I’ve really enjoyed reading the first round of trades for DC Comics’ New 52. I’ve read nearly all of them and feel confident speaking on those I’ve read. Today I finished Men of War, which will probably be the last of the first round of New 52 trades that I will read. I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts on the reboot with a list of bests/worsts and Men of War sparked the spark, compelling me to finally publish my list of bests/worst, to proclaim my demands and evaluations as a client, to cast my ballot across multiverses in a vain last minute attempt to influence the big decisions like which book gets cancelled (I’m too late) and which authors and artists should get raises. The truth is that I enjoyed every single one of these trades, so the ‘worst’ shouldn’t be taken too seriously except in the first case (Worst Line of Dialogue). The meaning of ‘best’ and ‘worst’ will surely change from category to category.  Sometimes ‘worst’ means ‘failed to live up to my expectations’ and my expectations are higher for Detective Comics than Hawk and Dove.

Best and Worst Lines of Dialogue

Best Line:  In DC Universe Presents Deadman, Deadman and the Son of Morning are playing twenty questions. I’m fond of one of the Son of Morning’s answers to Deadman’s run-of-the-mill philosophical questions.

“God has earned the right to ignore you.”

Worst Line: In the story “NAVY SEALs: HUMAN SHIELDS” in Men of War, Soldier Ice says to Soldier Tracker:

“I got out of the Peace Corps ‘cuz it made realize if you want to do good, it helps to have an assault rifle.”

Well, Jonathan Vankin, the author of the worst story in Men of War, has some interesting street cred. He’s written a bunch of conspiracy books and  edited Tony Bourdain’s comic. He’s an advocate of underground icon Harvey Pekar and he contributed to a shit ton of Verigo stuff and  participated in Brightest DayIf I see Jonathan Vankin’s name on a comic again, I won’t buy it. During my Peace Corps service and most of my life, I’ve found if you want to do good, people will assault rifles are a big fucking inconvenience.

Best and Worst Story Lines from Men of War

Best: “Frankestein and G.I. Robot: Dead Man Flying” by Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Tom Derenick

Worst: The aforementioned “NAVY SEALs: HUMAN SHIELDS

Best and Worst Male Title Character

Best: Robin in Batman & Robin. Damian Wayne is one of my favorite characters and my favorite Robin of all time. I’d really love to see DC produce an animated film of Damian’s arrival into Bruce’s life. Peter J. Tomasi captures what makes Damian different from the other Robins and there’s a lot of difference between Damian and the previous Boy Wonders. Throughout the first trade, Damian and his tortured genius develop alongside Nobody’s nefarious plot, creating one of the more compelling story arcs of the New 52.

Worst: Green Lantern in Green Lantern: New Guardians. Kyle Rayner is the worst Green Lantern and by far the worst lantern in Green Lantern: New Guardians. The book could’ve been called Orange Lantern: New Guardians and avoided the dubious honor of Worst Male Title Character. I don’t mind hating Kyle Rayner too much, so if I was to issue one complaint about the book, I would request more attention be paid to Bleez. She’s a great character, really tears it up in Red Lanterns.

Best and Worst Female Title Character

Best: Batgirl in Batgirl. This is one of the hardest to choose because so many of the best titles in the New 52 are titles featuring female characters. Sorry, Wonder Woman. Sorry, Batwoman. Sorry, Voodoo. The return of Barbara Gordon to the identity of Batgirl brought me much joy. Gail Simone really used the landscape of Gotham, Barbara’s relationships with classic characters, and superb villainous foils to make the narrative of Barbara’s return to Batgirl meaningful.

Worst: Catwoman in Catwoman.

Best and Worst Team Title:

Best: Justice League. Yeah, everybody knows why Justice League is great. Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are geniuses. It’s the cornerstone of the New 52, so let me talk about how great Red Lanterns is. In Red Lanterns, Peter Milligan tells the story of a corps in crisis and through that story, he visits the origin stories of many of the Red Lanterns. The artwork is explosive, especially if you like red. As I mentioned before, Bleez is incredible in this book. Her rage and the rage of the other Red Lanterns distinguish this corps from the others and prove why the Red Lanterns, more than any other corps besides the Greens, deserve their own title.

Worst: Stormwatch While I found Stormwatch engrossing and found several of the characters appealing, it lacks the magic that the other team titles possess. Martian Manhunter has traditionally been one of my favorite characters, but his direction in the New 52 leaves me wanting. Where is his personality? Does he just hate everybody now? He was an environmentalist in Brightest Day, Clark’s sort of 2nd round godfather on Smallville, down with M’Gann J’onnz despite their different colors, and a green Harlem Globetrotter for much of his career- you know, he was likeable. I like my Martian Manhunter with a little naivete, a little child-like wonder. Now he’s a super-cop, which is contemporary comics go-to archetype.

Best and Worst Legion of Super-Heroes Title

Best: Legion Secret Origin. I entered the New 52 with only a scant knowledge of the Legion of Super-Heroes. I knew they were from the future and hung out with Superman and Brainiac. I had also read a handful of articles about how the title tried with varying success to deal with race issues. Honestly, I’m pretty ignorant about these characters and feel them to be less important and less interesting than other characters in the DC universe. Because the stated goal of the New 52 is to help introduce new readers to these characters, I hoped this reboot would help me make sense of the scores of characters involved in the Legion. The mini-series Legion Secret Origin does a good of that. It gives these iconic characters as sense of youth, a sense of adventure that may have dwindled under the bureaucracy of the Legion.

Worst: Legion of Super-Heroes. As someone who is not a Legion of Super-Heroes expert, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters I was introduced to. After a few issues, I was able to ascertain which characters figured more prominently in the story and the Legion itself. I like Brainiac-5. I think the story in Legion Lost is more easily understood than Legion of Super-Heroes and deals with time travel more directly.

Best and Worst Member of S.H.A.D.E.

Best: Bride. First of all, Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. has been one of the best titles to come out of the New 52 and my heart is broken that it has been cancelled. I really fell in love with Frank and his wife during Flashpoint. The characters in this title are each really special, so choosing one would be hard if Mrs. Frankenstein wasn’t on the team.

Worst: Warren Griffith. He’s a great character, just not as great as the others.

Best and Worst of the Seven Families of Titles (Justice League, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Edge, The Dark, Young Justice)

Best: Batman, with The Dark a close second. Because each family of titles has a different numbers of books in it, I’ve imagined an averaged level of quality, rather than which family has the best or largest amount of titles. Batman has a lot of titles and some are more connected than others. The Night of Owls and Batman, Inc. stories kept the family tightly pretty closely together.

Worst: Young Justice. Besides Teen Titans, none of the Young Justice titles really stood out.

Best and Worst of the Justice League

Best: The Flash, with Wonder Woman a close second. By far, The Flash features the funnest art in the New 52. A handful of New 52 titles exhibit particularly innovative art (Wonder Woman, Batwoman, I, Vampire) and the innovations in the visual representation correspond with the essence of the character being depicted; this is no truer than in The Flash, where speed is translated through blurs, fractures, bursts, and shatters.

Worst: Justice League International. This book is pretty offensive. It perpetuates the misconception that Africa is a country- superhero comic books seem to have an especially hard time dealing with this. General August in Irons represents an impossible China where their highest ranking military officials have never eaten a hot dog- seriously? Chinese people eat a variety of sausages, including hot dogs. Rocket Red perpetuates the same Cold War stereotypes he perpetuated before the reboot.

Keep your bat eyes bat-peeled for part 2, same bat-site, same bat-internet.

 

Image I recently posted the Will Power Timeline I’ve been working on. It attempts to draw connections to real world events with developments in the Green Lantern narrative. It’s unfinished, a work in progress. Any suggestions on things to add are appreciated. Also if you notice any glaring errors, I would appreciate it if you could bring those to my attention as well. I will keep adding to it as my research continues. You can visit the timeline by following the link at the top of the page or clicking on these words.

%d bloggers like this: