Archives for posts with tag: reading

greenlanternstarrysky

I recently embarked on an intense reading/rereading mission. Throwing myself into the Green Lantern narrative as I had never before, I set off to read the entire GLC chronology up to this point beginning with Hal Jordan becoming a Green Lantern again in Green Lantern: Rebirth. For GL fans, this ambitious reading project is something similar, on a much smaller scale, to the Islamic rite of the Hajj. As Muslims fulfill their religious duty by making their pilgrimage, modern Green Lantern fans owe it to themselves to familiarize themselves with as much of the story as possible and while it isn’t possible to read the entire story in one sitting, I believe there is something special about reading it all at once.

Light reading

Light reading

My motivation for this spurred from my wife giving me the Brightest Day omnibus for Christmas. I had read much of the story out of sequence and I had picked up a few trades at conventions- saving them for when I had amassed a complete set. With the introduction of the Brightest Day omnibus, I went ahead and filled in the rest of the holes though I did miss a few- I haven’t read the Teen Titans trade associated with Brightest Day and I’d really like to because the Black Adam/Isis family from 52 is one of my favorite storylines in DC history.

abinsur

As an active member of the comic book internet community, I intended to write about the experience as I went along. I considered starting a twitter account and live-tweeting as I read, but I ending up just getting lost in the narrative. It’s hard not to. This run on Green Lantern is extremely well-executed- a sophisticated narrative with a reaching stories that attempt to take the notion of a universe controlled by tiny blue fascists to its ultimate absurd conclusion. During the first few trades, those leading up the Sinestro Corps War, I found myself constantly impressed with Geoff Johns forethought. The seeds of the Blackest Night and all the new Lantern corps as sowed in the very first issues where Johns brings Hal back. The integral roles played by Mongul, Cyborg Superman, and the Manhunters in the arrival of the Blackest Night and the writing of Atrocitus into Hal Jordan’s origin story all demonstrate such solid planning I wonder how much Johns had planned when he first began writing the character.

pucca-starsapphireWhile Johns’s master plan is certainly apparent, reading the whole story together allowed a chance to see how characters and concepts developed. The voices of certain writers who joined Johns become easily recognizable- primarily Dave Gibbons, Peter Tomasi, Tony Bedard, and Peter Milligan- and the end of Johns run is not only noticeable, but the final issue is included in the collected trades of every GL title published at that time. The creative teams that followed that crew brought their own voices as well. Though the art is largely consistent, both following and creating the DC house styles of their time. Some characters are drawn wildly different from artist to artist. None more so than Arisia Rrab- Reis gives her an adorable pixie face, Gleason makes her a hideous troll, and all the other artists find themselves somewhere in between. The female lanterns of all the applicable Lantern Corps often find themselves most easily distinguished by the nature of their scanty uniforms, but even that changes over time. When Rob Vendetti took Johns’s place as the guiding hand of the GL legacy, female characters in nearly all of the GL titles found their uniforms had become more conservative or at least less revealing. Green Lanterns like Arisia Rrab and the Star Sapphires received more modest outfits, but Red Lantern Bleez kept her trademark skeleton wings and black thong- which I’m happy about it. I can’t really imagine Bleez without some sort of overwhelming sexuality- it’s part of her origin story to some degree that she be sexually desirable and hostile to sexual advances. Sinestro Corps member and hot librarian Lyssa Drak actually sports a more conversative garb in the Sinestro series, but rocks her more traditional barely-there attire in the Sinestro issue published as part of Villains Month and in the Sinestro: Future’s End issue. It could be intentional, but I suspect disrupted communication as the likely culprit.

lyssadrakkin

When I first read Blackest Night, I read a digital copy that put every issue in chronological order. Unfortunately DC hasn’t collected the event that way. Instead, they separate the trades by title. To recreate the single issue experience, one would need to carry a lot of books with them, juggle them intermittently, and do their best to keep their bookmarks from falling into the wrong hands. If you don’t want to do that, I’d recommend reading the books in this order and split a few of the books in half.

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps

1/2 Blackest Night

1/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1

1/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns

2/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern

2/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2

2/2 Blackest Night

blackestnightofthelivingdead

Both Blackest Night and Brightest Day require the reader to know a bit about the DC universe, both contemporary and historical, to fully appreciate all the ins and outs. In the Blackest Night trades, they’ve provided blurbs about how each character rising from the dead to become a Black Lantern originally died, which I definitely appreciate.

toys

Beyond the White Lantern of it all, Brightest Day actually has much less to do with the Lanterns than it does the rest of the DC universe. The affiliated GL books are actually quite strong though. I particularly like the story line of the Weaponer of Qward and his quest for vengeance against Sinestro from the Green Lantern Corps title, which depends entirely on Deadman creating a net out of White Lantern light in Brightest Day. The Brightest Day overlaps with the War of the Green Lanterns through a limited series called Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors. The War of the Green Lanterns peters out through the Green Lantern titles and a small handful of limited series. In the aftermath of the War of the Green Lanters, the arrival of The New 52 is very apparent. The trade War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath ends with two single issue stories that suggest heavily their authors were simply waiting out the clock before getting the emotional spectrum involved in any new crises. The shift from pre New 52 to New 52 is weirder for the Green Lantern titles than any of the others (even Batman) as so much of the Green Lantern story depends on a character-rich past. Rebooting Superman makes Cyborg Superman’s destruction of Coast City hard to explain. Similarly rebooting Green Arrow makes his friendship with Hal Jordan patchier than an early puberty beard. Johns, Tomasi, Milligan, and Bedard do their damnedest to balance the demands of the Lanterns with the demands of the New 52 reboot, but one character comes off really weird: J’onn J’onzz. Before the New 52, he’s one of the Brightest Day twelve while in the New 52, he’s a virtually unknown agent operating in odd stealth. Newsarama recently published a list of queer doings afoot in the New 52 and Martian Manhunter featured prominently among their findings

J'imm J'onzz

J’imm J’onzz

In addition to reading all the texts, I also watched all the films and must regret that DC has pursued more Green Lantern animated movies. I liked the television series okay, though it paled in comparison to the superior series Beware the Batman!, which suffered the same cancellation fate, but the tv series was a bit more childish than the animated movies. I stand by my earlier contention that outside of the comics, the best use of Green Lantern in media is Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.

glmovies

…And somehow this all felt relevant because something big is coming for the Green Lanterns as DC is cancelling most Green Lantern titles in the coming months. With that knowledge, I spent much of my time reading also speculating.

 

 

 

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I finished reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut yesterday. If you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage it. Some passages are so spot on that one must immediately reread them to make certain such truths actually made it to print. I read my wife’s copy and the book had evidently had a previous owner as well. I don’t know them, but after reading all their notes and seeing the words they underlined, I feel as if I know one thing about them- they really missed the point of the book. Mostly they had underlined words, presumably so they could look them up in the dictionary. The underlined words were either SAT words or words with less relevance outside their time, geography, and experience than within them. The passages that were underlined seemed to be sentences that would’ve agreed the grand old American objectivist Ayn Rand, a woman whose philosophies run counter with the book’s Hamletesque protagonist Eliot Rosewater. The book looks critically at the class system of the United States, both as an institution and in everyday practice. It is particularly sympathetic to the poor, victims of economic turmoil beyond their control and becoming less relevant with the advent of machines. Eliot’s father makes a lot of statements against welfare assistance, social programs, and “obscenity”- these were the statements that the previous reader decorated with meaningless notes like “Well-stated!” Perhaps the saddest part is a little note they wrote to themselves saying “I think Kilgore Trout may have helped write this book. There’s a sentence on the back of book.” As readers of Vonnegut well know, Kilgore Trout is a reoccurring character in his books, a science fiction writer who tells heavy truths in his work, much like the author in Saga. That’s a great comic, Saga. Anyway, it was fun to read this book alongside such an innocent reader that I’ve never met. I’ve consumed a lot of used textbooks, mostly history and philosophy- nonfiction – and I could understand why people underlined and took notes. Nonfiction is much easier to untie than fiction- when you read along with a stranger with a nonfiction work, you can start to see the argument they’re putting together or at least pieces of it. With fiction, you often get people underlining for more sentimental reasons. Sure, they could be literature scholars, but you can tell the difference between a scholar and a sentimental reader. You don’t feel like a peeping tom when you’re sharing research with a scholar- that’ s the transparency that gives our knowledge value. However, reading fiction with a stranger’s notes feels a bit perverted and sparks the engines of imagination and totally unsolicited judgement on the person’s entire being. It’s a love/hate relationship- maybe other people fantasize about meeting that person, sharing their intellectual insights, falling in love, etc. but I just think “What a fucking idiot” every time I see what they underline or read the notes they write. I take those little clues out of context, build an unflattering context around them, and then rule that whoever read the book before me is exactly what’s destroying civilization. It’s worse if you borrow a friend’s book and they’ve underlined all these sappy emotional passages and your imagination forces you to apply it to things in your friend’s life. Or what your mom underlined in 50 Shades of Grey.

Anyway, here are a few different covers that have been used for God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut. Who wore it better?

To Give Eliot Rosewater is twice the lunatic you'll ever be

god bless you winston smith

Fly Hunter god bless you mr rosewater and forget bill murray

V for Vendetta

Stuff My Piggy Bank

Title Page Rave Til Dawn

Three Books One Cup

Sylvia is Ophelia

When I'm An Old Baby

Pigs on wheels Dresden Copy

jamesbaldwinsketch

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…

saintsss

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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