Archives for posts with tag: History

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Dragon Con was a blast and I felt like the DC Comics and Cultural Studies panel went well. I’ve had a few requests so I’ve posted my paper “Discipline & Punish: Michel Foucault & the Suicide Squad” here. Hopefully I’ll get around to posting my paper from last year some time soon, but until then, enjoy this one.

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comics and popular arts conference hosted by dr. sivana

With Dragon Con less than two weeks away, the schedule for Dragon Con’s academic side-con has been released and I thought I’d share it with you here. While some events certainly appeal to me more than others, I’ll likely attend as much of the comics programming as my volunteer schedule allows. Quick observations: The schedule is pretty dominated by gender studies stuff. There seem to be a lot more television based panels than last year and most of the comic book stuff is on Monday. Sunday has almost nothing.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Friday

11:30 AM Comics, Trauma, and Psychiatric Disorders  (Hanover F Hyatt)

  1. Austin Hendricks (Georgia Regents University), “Waiting for Heroes: An Examination of Psychological Disorders, Existentialism, and General Strain Theory in Superhero Films”
  2. Kari Storla (University of Southern California), “Superheroes, super trauma: Is trauma in superhero comics a human or superhuman experience?”

2:30 PM – Game of Thrones: The Dark Time – (M301-M302 – Marriott)

        CPAC Panelist: Matthew J. Brown (UT Dallas)

4:00 PM – The Wayfaring Gater and Other Traveling Metaphors  (Westin, Chastain FGH)

CPAC Panelist: Richard Scott Nokes (Troy University)

7:00 PM – Of Monsters and (Super)Men (Hanover F – Hyatt)

  1. Corey Goergen (Emory University), “’It’s [Not] Alive!’: Disability, Eugenics, Zombies, and Frankenstein’s Creature”
  2. Shanna Early (Emory University), “Are Superheroes Monsters: Of Monsters, Superheroes, and the Law”
  3. Stephanie Larson (Emory University), “Dial Meow for Murder: The Figure of the Feline in Horror Literature, Film, and Comics”

8:30 PM – Roundtable: History of Gender and Race in Comics (Hanover F – Hyatt)

Comics Scholars: Daniel Amrhein (Independent Scholar), Matthew J. Brown (UT Dallas), Kari Storla (University of Southern California)

8:30 PM – Anime, Manga, and Japanese History  (Location)

  1. Yasemin Davarcı (Ankara University), “1904 – 1905 Russo Japanese War in Historical Japanese Manga”

8:30 PM – Hannibal Fannibals– Horror Track (Peachtree 1-2 – Westin)

        CPAC Panelist: Damien Williams (Kennesaw State University

Saturday

10:00 AM – Wonder Woman and Greek Mythology (Hanover F – Hyatt)

  1. Daniel Amrhein (Independent Scholar), “Wonder Woman and the Reappropriation of Women Warriors of Greek Myth”
  2. Matthew J. Brown (University of Texas at Dallas), “Love and Strife, Aphrodite and Ares – Marston’s Manichean Reconfiguration of Greek Mythology and Philosophy in the Wonder Woman Comics.”

11:30 AM – Hannibal: Brunch (Peachtree 1-2 – Westin)

Aaron Abrams and Scott Thompson dissect Hannibal’s elegant take on the horror genre

CPAC Panelist: Damien Williams (Kennesaw State University)

5:30 PM – Virtual Reality in Japanese Anime

        Panelists: Damien Williams, Michael Bugajski, Carl Dull

8:30 PM – Roundtable: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Comics – (Hanover F – Hyatt)

Professional Participants: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Amanda Conner, Laurenn McCubbin

Comics Scholars: Kari Storla, John Flowers, Tini Howard (Cape Fear Community College), Daniel Amrhein (Independent Scholar)

8:30 PM – Sense8 – Is this just another Cluster? (M301-M302 – Marriott)

 Panelists: Matthew J. Brown

Sunday

11:00 AM – CPAC Scholars Forum

Topic: Incorporating Comics and Pop Culture in the Classroom.

7:00 PM – Philosophical Perspectives on Japanese Anime

Scholars Carl Dull and Michael Bugajski discuss the philosophical themes in Madoka Magica and Cowboy Bebop.

8:30 PM – Diversity and Sexuality in Comics (Hanover F – Hyatt)

        CPAC Panelists: Johnathan Flowers (SIU Carbondale), Daniel Amrhein (Independent Scholar)

10:00 PM – Con Culture and the changing face of Fandom (Hanover F – Hyatt)

CPAC Panelists: Molly Dilts (Pennsylvania State University), Kari Storla (University of Southern California)

Monday

10:00 AM – Comics and Feminism (Hanover F – Hyatt)

  1. Molly Dilts (Pennsylvania State University), “The “Fake Geek Girl”: Female-Occupied Space and Masculinity in Geek Culture”
  2. Tini Howard (Cape Fear Community College), “Thinking Outside the Fridge – Changing Comics with the Subject/Object Problem”

11:30 AM – Kelly Sue DeConnick in Focus

  1. Ahmed Younis (Chapman University), “Comic Feminism: Re-Imagining Traditional Perceptions of Heroism”
  2. John Flowers (SIU Carbondale), “Captain Marvel and John Dewey’s Theory of Imagination”

Response: Kelly Sue DeConnick

1:00 PM – Comics in the Classroom Hanover F – Hyatt)

  1. Elizabeth Perkins (Morehead State University), “Teaching Critical Thinking Skills to College Freshman Utilizing the Portrayal of Crime & Justice in Superhero Movies and Comics”

2:30 PM – DC Comics and Cultural Studies  (Hanover F – Hyatt)

  1. Durf Humphries (Independent Scholar), “Discipline and Punish: Foucault and the Suicide Squad”
  2. Jessica Dambruch (Old Dominion University), “Rev Up Your Harley: Cultural Constructions of Gender In The Batman Universe”

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While the first installment of the gift guide served as a starting point for fans of The Flash, Man of Steel, GothamSmallville, and the Batman:Arkhamverse/Injustice crowd and the second installment aimed to help readers looking for strong female characters and fans of the creepy comic book shows Constantine and The Walking Dead, the third installment deals (mostly) solely with (mostly) independent (mostly) non-superhero comics.

ALL-AGES ALTERNATIVE HISTORY: Buying something for a new reader? I’m a huge fans of using comics to both teach language and provoke the reader’s historical imagination. One book that I’ll giving this year is Van Jensen and Jose Pimienta’s The Leg: The Remarkable Reappearance of Santa Anna’s Disembodied Limb, which tells the story of the remarkable reappearance of Santa Anna’s disembodied limb. The book wanders around 20th century Mexican history with a few surprise guest appearances. The language and subject matter is age appropriate without being boring and an added bonus: strong female lead. Other alternative history tales for new readers can be found in the Crogan Adventures series by Chris Schweizer, Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang, and Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe. That last one borrows pretty heavily from Peter Pan, so it makes a good gift for a Peter Pan enthusiast as well.

MORE LITERAL HISTORY, LESS ALL-AGES CONTENT: Two books that really knocked my socks off that I came across this year are Jim Ottaviani’s Feynman and Li Kunwu’s A Chinese Life. They tells two pretty different stories, but both offer incredibly human faces for incredible phenomena.

LITERAL & ALL-AGES? March Book One– stick a copy in the stocking of every young person, which bring me to…

COMICS FOR ANGELA CHASE AND JORDAN CATALANO: If you’re shopping for angst-ridden teenagers, may I suggest the Morning Glories series, Deadly Class Vol. 1: Reagan Youth, and One Model Nation?

COMICS FOR PERVERTS: Is there a better way to put a smile on a pervert’s face than by giving them a comic book gift? Probably, but comic books are good too. There are some classic filthy books like Grant Morrison’s The Filth, Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, and just about the entirety of early underground comics, but there are some really special titles you may not have heard of that will surely give the pervert on your list something to smile about while also challenging their long-held beliefs concerning the nature of the universe. These books include Sex Criminals, which tells the story of people who can stop time with their orgasms; Girls, an invasion parable from the Luna Brothers; and The Pro, a hooker with a heart of gold and superpowers. Also I’d recommend checking out the adult section of your neighborhood comic book shop if they have one- it’s fun to thumb through a few dirty pictures books, catch a glimpse of the zeitgeist and probably some pubic hair. Also the eye-candy offered by Cassie Hack of Hack/Slash might please the pervert on your list, depending on their tastes.

WORTHY CROWD PLEASER: Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staple’s Saga continues to be the best book on the shelves. With the recent release of an omnibus collecting the first 18 issues, you’re sure to make just about any literate person happy with such a collection. If you know they already read (and love) Saga, I also encourage you to look at some of their earlier work. Staples adds her artistry to Mystery Society, a book that while well-written does leave the reader longing for Vaughn’s enigmatic writing. Vaughn’s previous stuff includes Y: The Last Man, a very long story about the last man on earth and his monkey; Pride of Baghdad, a tale of lions that escaped the Baghdad zoo; Ex Machina, a post 9/11 story about a mayor than communicates with machines; and Runaways, which is not indie, but Marvel and would make a good gift for the angst-ridden teenagaers mentioned earlier in the list.

 

 

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As some of you may know, my 2014 New Year’s Resolution has been to read at least one book without pictures every month. In January, I read Kay Larson’s Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists, which was a Christmas gift from a fellow ethnic Jew. In February, I reread Neil Postman’s Technolopoly, a book that one of my dearest friends had recommended to me back in 2003, a decade after it was written, and a book that remains relevant in 2014. In March, one of my friends from WonderRoot lent me James Baldwin’s Notes of A Native Son. I hope to continue this tradition of reading recommended books as the forces of chaos and friendship seem to putting the exact book I need to be reading into my hands.

Notes of A Native Son is largely a book about traveling. Baldwin relays his experiences exploring the United States and Europe while confronting the frustrating and rewarding struggle to understand the American identity. Baldwin’s working definition of what it means to be an American is something like an imaginary number, practical in certain cases but somewhat impossible. Unlike other noted writers who detail the American experience  like Tocqueville or Baudrillard, Baldwin is, as stated clearly in the title of the book, a native son. My own experiences as an American may appear very differently from Baldwin’s; some obvious differences relate to time, space, and race, but there is also a kinship I feel with this man from the past that stems from shared alienations as writers, expats, outsiders, and Americans. While being an American of any race in the United States can be alienating, I’d like to discuss Notes of A Native Son‘s final essay, “Stranger in the Village,” which details his experience visiting a remote Swiss village and encountering the locals who have never met a black man before. These villagers were not unaware of the existence of black people. They simply hadn’t met one before. These villagers had, however, contributed funds to “buy” some Africans- this “buy” terminology is taken from Baldwin who takes it from the villagers themselves. This practice does not involve purchasing slaves in the literal sense, but providing the monetary resources required to bring Christ into the life of an unsuspecting African. Baldwin is an eloquent critic of the church and shares his astute observations about how missionary work has impacted senses of identity for both African and African-American alike. With evangelicalism comes an unavoidable insult- before you knew me, you were hell fodder (and it’s larger implication- your entire civilization, its history and every one who lived before you, is unholy rubbish).

With this in mind, I’d like to share Baldwin’s words on the difference being the first black person that white people meet and being the first white person that black people meet. Remember that more specifically he is comparing the experience of an African-American intellectual in the 1950s visiting a rural Swiss village and a European missionary visiting a remote African village.

I thought of white men arriving for the first time in an African village, strangers there, as I am a stranger here, and tried to imagine the astounded populace touching their hair and marveling at the color of their skin. But there is a great difference between being the first white man to be seen by Africans and being the first black man to be seen by whites. The white man takes the astonishment as tribute, for he arrives to conquer and to convert the natives, whose inferiority in relation to himself is not even questioned; whereas I, without a thought of conquest, find myself among a people whose culture controls me, has even, in a sense, created me, people who have cost me more in anguish and rage than they will ever know, who yet do not even know of my existence. The astonishment with which I might have greeted them, should they have stumbled into my African village a few hundred years ago, might have rejoiced their hearts. But the astonishment with which they greet me today can only poison mine.”

I’ve never been to Africa and I don’t remember the black person I met, but there is something about this passage that relates somewhat to my own experiences. I was among the first white people that many people in China ever met and consequentially I have received the astonishment of the natives. Of course, the astonishment came with some entirely different baggage than the experience of a white missionary in Africa. Examples include the Cold War, China’s current economic status, the U.S. involvement in China’s political affairs over the past century, China’s established 5,000 years of history, the internet, John Denver, and Deng Xiaoping- the list could go on and on, but I’d rather address the similarities. As a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer drunk on the ego-swelling nectar of White Man’s Burden, I surely exhibited a sense of superiority over the Chinese people I met. Luckily my experiences offered many opportunities to embarrass myself and learn humility, but I was never free of the arrogance and elitism instilled in me by my own American background and the functioning of the larger world-system. Unlike the European missionary in Africa, I had no interest in marketing for Jesus, but I consciously desired to influence the way the people I met thought not only about the United States, but also about their own country, culture, and lives. At the invitation of the government of China, I was teaching university students, so my cultural imports were less forced than requested. Still I functioned as a propagandist for the Western ideals that I hold dear- not necessarily the ideals of the US State Department or anyone else, but the ideals that my experiences have compelled me to extoll in my daily life and as an educator. In fact, I believe my rejection of many Western ideas and acceptance of many Chinese and Marxist sentiments allowed me to make so many friends and enjoy my life there as much I did. I also arrived in China with little faith in the prejudices and condemnations by which Western society had tried to define China with during my lifetime. The irrelevance of Cold War propaganda and hefty evidence of the Chinese people’s extraordinary capabilities certainly watered down any sense of superiority that I carried with me, but I took the astonishment at tribute to rejoice my heart more often than I let the astonishment poison my heart, to borrow Baldwin’s words.

After finishing the essay, I quickly moved onto a book with pictures…

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Anxious to read Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints, I waited until my wife finished reading it as I had purchased it for her and I’d feel like a bit of heel reading it before she did. Yang made an excellent choice in choosing the Boxer Rebellion as a period in Chinese history to turn into a comic book because the Boxers believed they had magical powers and Catholics believe they are visited are saintly ghosts. In Boxers, the first volume, the Boxers have magical powers and in Saints, the second volume, stars a young girl who converts after being visited by ghost of Joan of Arc. One central theme of the text and the Boxer rebellion in general is the effect that the newly arrived European missionaries had on China. The foreigners who arrived in China at the end of the 19th century definitely arrived with a sense of superiority- not only missionaries, not only Europeans. The simultaneous import of Christianity and opium, reinforced by advanced weaponry, is a pretty strong strategy to take advantage of a trusting country and seems like an obvious plot to subjugate them. The response of local Chinese to either resist these invaders or align themselves with them is a bit of a classic dilemma- neither a particularly attractive coping mechanism, but resistance is generally regarded as more noble and collaboration is generally regarded with contempt. Yang himself is a Chinese-American Catholic, but his sympathies for the Boxers cannot be denied. By telling the story through the perspective of two different characters, Yang shows two methods to reconcile an infestation of foreigners- neither of which are ultimately successful. Yang finds subtle ways to bring perspectives to his comics, providing a noteworthy voice to women during this period both in the Red Lanterns in Boxers and in the major characters of Saints. One voice that is either absent or demonized, perhaps rightly so, is the voice of foreigner. I certainly feel more kinship with James Baldwin visiting a Swiss village in the 1950s than I do with a European soldier or American missionary arriving in late 19th Century China- it’s a bit of an apple-orange comparison, but the experience of reading both texts reminded me of two contradictory truths that fight each other to make us forget them- our experiences are similar and our experiences are different, not usually, but always at the same time- and this message, its simultaneity and inherent contradiction, is at the heart of both texts.

Post-script footnote: I think Ann Nocenti’s run on Green Arrow is one of the most under-rated chapters of DC’s New 52. She portrays Oliver Queen as one of an Ugly American while propelling the narrative and bringing our attention to misunderstandings between China and the West. I think her work is unfairly clumped in with the poor start led by Dan Jurgens and J.T. Krul. Unfortunately Jeff Lemire’s amazing work with the character will only further overshadow Nocenti’s contributions to the title.

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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.

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Upon the announcement that Jesse Eisenberg would play Lex Luthor in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel, I’ve felt a slight discomfort with the casting. I like Jesse Eisenberg, Lex Luthor is one of my favorite characters of all time, and more importantly, I think Eisenberg will do a great job as Lex Luthor. My discomfort comes from the difficulty is separating Eisenberg from his Jewish heritage. Eisenberg is not the first Jew to play Lex Luthor- Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum played an incredible Lex- but part of Eisenberg’s charm is how well he personifies many of the characteristics that pop culture finds endearing about the way Jews behave. He’s not Woody Allen, but he played him once in a movie. Does he play up to Jewish stereotypes? Sure, to some extent, but he’s also embraced roles that challenged popular conceptions of Jews, such as playing an Orthodox Jewish MDMA smuggler in Holy Rollers. Eisenberg is Jewish and deserves a certain amount of consideration when he portrays Jews positively or negatively as it is his own culture he’s representing. From Shakespeare to Star Wars, Jews has suffered negative portrayals by gentiles and while it is a generally accepted dramatic trope, negative Jewish stereotypes are usually identified by the Anti-Defamation League swiftly and often make news. As a person of Jewish heritage myself, I’ve come to tolerate the negative depiction of Jews as unavoidable symptom of a larger systemic social problem and rarely make a crusade about the way Jews are presented. As the husband of a Chinese woman, I’ve probably become more sensitive to the portrayal of Chinese people in Western media than I am to representations of Jews that reinforce stereotypes.

So……………………

what’s wrong with a Jewish Lex Luthor?

Lex Luthor plays to some very specific Jewish stereotypes

1) Lex Luthor is the smartest man in the world. This point may be argued by Michael Holt or Ray Palmer, but it is generally accepted in the DC Universe that Lex Luthor is the smartest man on Earth. When I was living in China, the most common reaction to the discovery of my Jewish heritage was: “This is why you are so clever.” or “The Jews are very clever.” While this is not really a negative stereotype, it is a stereotype and one that makes the lives of Jewish children with learning disabilities doubly difficult. Is unforgivable to portray Jews as intelligent? No. Is it racist to portray Jews as intelligent? I’m not sure if it is. The belief that Jews are somehow smarter than others is rooted in the Jewish tradition of revering scholarship. Many cultures place an emphasis on education, but there is something special about the role education plays in the development of Jewish identity, both communally and for the individual.

2) Lex Luthor is the richest man in the world. Lex is not only one of the richest people in the DC Universe, but he has obtained his wealth through the type of ruthless business behaviors that non-Jews have frequently accused Jews of engaging in. Of course, Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor won’t be as damaging as Bernie Madoff or any of the very Lex-Luthorian types of Jewish descent that the US government has an irrational fear of prosecuting. The stereotype that Jews have lots of money is hardly new. The phenomenon of Jewish wealth can largely be traced back to the limiting of opportunities for Jews by the gentile populatins in which they lived. The inability to own land and Christian opposition to usury can both be credited with encouraging a tradition of finance and trade in Jewish communities, making both finance and trade elemental to the Jewish economy and to Jewish social mobility.

3) Superman is Jesus. As we all know, Superman was created by a couple of nice Jewish boys from Ohio and the comic book industry itself was largely created by Jews, borrowing many of its production strategies from the garment industry where Jews were also prevalent. Why did these Jews make a caped Jesus? The Christ-like nature of Superman has always been there. While Superman’s origin story greatly mirrors the story of Moses, we should pay attention to some differences in the two stories. Moses liberates his people from the tyranny of the Egyptians while Superman liberates a foreign population from the tyranny of themselves and external forces of Darkness. Superman is Jor-El’s only son. Jor-El gives his only son to the people of Earth- people he largely look down upon while simultaneously adoring them (sounds like any god you’ve heard of?). The messianic nature of Superman is well-documented and generally accepted, so I won’t go into too much detail here and will assume that you accept that the idea of “Superman as Christ” has legitimacy. Lex Luthor hates Superman- perpetuating the idea that Jews hated Jesus or willfully contributed to his crucifixion is an irresponsible assessment of the relationship Jesus had he with members of his own community.

For these reasons, I’m a little uncomfortable with Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor, but as a comic fan, I have no doubt that he will do a better job than Kevin Spacey, the worst Lex Luthor of all time. My favorite Lex so far? Either Clancy Brown or Anthony LaPaglia.

Honestly, I might be more excited about the Son of Batman animated movie that was recently announced more than the Man of Steel sequel.

Mesoamerica Resiste (outside) by the Beehive Collective

Mesoamerica Resiste (outside) by the Beehive Collective

Yesterday I have the privilege of attending one of the Beehive Collective’s touring workshops for their gushingly beautiful and incredibly detailed work ¡Mesoamérica Resiste! which illustrates many of the issues at play in the Plan Pueblo Panama (P.P.P.) or Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project.  The collective put all of their resources to work to craft the piece including numerous illustrators, scientists, and contributions from local people throughout the area affected by the PPP. Two women, Meg and Mandy, toured with the piece and gave thorough explanations of the many themes, metaphors, and assertions of the work. You can learn more about the Beehive Collective and their touring schedule by visiting their site and I strongly encourage that you do.

Mesoamerica Resiste (inside) by the Beehive Collective

Mesoamerica Resiste (inside) by the Beehive Collective

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2013 is turning out to be a busy year for Charles Soule. Debuting his creator-owned series Strange Attractors and his first issues on two of my personal favorite DC properties Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns, Mr. Soule is one of the reason’s your local comic rack suddenly got so much more exciting. While I’ve enjoyed the Green Lantern run under the reign of Geoff Johns, DC has picked some incredible creative teams to take over the Green Lanterns, bringing up some of independent comics’ most innovative talent including Mr. Soule.

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INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES SOULE

WAYNEXIAOLONG: First of all, congratulations on being chosen to write two of what I consider to be DC’s best titles right now, Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns. These two titles are pretty different from each other. Can we expect to see any overlap between the two books?

CHARLES SOULE: Well, you said it yourself – these two titles are quite different from each other.  The fantasy/horror tone of Swamp Thing doesn’t obviously mesh with the sci-fi space opera of Red Lanterns, but it’s comics, so never say never.  In the short term, I’m trying to do a bunch of world-building in each title, to really give them their own identity.  Once that’s established, though, why not? No specific plans, but one of the great joys of working in a big shared universe is actually sharing the universe.  We’ll see where it goes.

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: From your comics and your blog, you demonstrate a fiercely independent spirit, reminiscent of grassroots activists and punk rockers. Are you having any trouble reconciling that spirit with the fact that you are now working for the Man?

CHARLES SOULE: Ha! Creating comics is hardly the same as slaving away over a set of accounts ledgers.  My experience with writing company-owned characters has been remarkably open so far, to be honest.  I think DC (and any other comics publisher) just wants fantastic stories that push things in interesting directions.  There are certainly bullet points to be hit in any story, and you can’t really burn a franchise to the ground, but since that’s not something I particularly want to do, it’s all good.

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: Like you, I am an historian and I’m thrilled whenever someone with a strong sense of history translates that into comics. Recently, fans like myself have been blessed with far out works like 68, The Manhattan Projects, and your brilliant 27 that mess with historical conventions to reveal some invisible cracks in the narratives we use to comfort ourselves.  Likewise, the past twenty years have shown a significant rise in the study of environmental elements of social history. What kind of research have you done in preparation for writing Swamp Thing?

CHARLES SOULE: A fair amount – I like to immerse myself in whatever subject I’m writing about, just as a matter of course.  If you do enough homework, you get to the point where cool details rise to the surface while you’re scripting in a completely organic way.  I’ve also been a big history guy for ages, and I really enjoy integrating that into my stories.  Swamp Thing in particular is a great character for that, because part of his established history is that there have been Swamp Things on earth for billions of years, covering all of recorded history.  So, I can delve into any period I like.  In  Swamp Thing 21, we see the Avatar who was active in the 13th Century, and the upcoming Annual will cover a huge swath of Swamp Thing history. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing that title.

As far as non-historical reference goes, I took a trip down to New Orleans earlier this year and went out into the swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin region.  I checked out Houma, LA – which is the traditional “home” of old Swampy.  I just immersed myself as much as I could, so I could write about the region with a little authority.  Plus, I got to hang out in New Orleans a bit, which wasn’t half bad either.

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: You’ve studied Chinese history and culture. How do you feel about how China has been represented in the New 52?

CHARLES SOULE: That’s a good question.  One of my favorite character groups in the DCU is the Great Ten – the China-based superhero team.  I know a bit has been done with them so far, but it would be fun to see them brought out in a more significant way.  I actually have a story idea for Accomplished Perfect Physician that it would be fun to write up one of these days.  Put it in the stack with that Swamp Thing/Red Lanterns crossover idea – we’ll see!

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: Which figure in Chinese history do you think a Green Lantern ring would most likely have chosen?

CHARLES SOULE: This might be a bit inside baseball (or inside Chinese history), but I think Zhu Yuanzhang, aka the Hongwu Emperor.  He’s the guy who started out as a Chinese peasant during the latter years of the Yuan Dynasty (which was when the Mongols – guys like Genghis Khan – were running China).  He ended up fronting a revolution against the Yuan, and, eventually, taking over the whole country and founding the Ming Dynasty.  Talk about willpower.  I actually shudder to think of what the world would look like today if that guy had gotten his hands on a ring. He did plenty with nothing other than what he was born with.

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: Which figure in human history do you think would be most justified in putting on a Red Lantern ring?

CHARLES SOULE: Red rings are given to people who have experienced great rage. You know who’s always seemed incredibly ticked off about just about everything? John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.  Harlan Ellison, too – neither one of those guys seems to get through a day without flipping out about something or other.  I realize you might have been looking for someone more like Boudicca (the revenge-crazy Celtic queen who whipped through Roman Britain like a well-sharpened scythe), but hey, there’s plenty of room in the Reds for everyone.

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.

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