Monday, June 13, 2022

Teen Pride: Teen Justice

 The Teen Justice issue for Pride Month was not originally on the list for Wednesday, but it earned its place. Teen Justice is the youth team of DC’s Earth-11. In the DC Multiverse, Earth-11 is the genderbent universe (before gender acquired a narrower meaning); thus the Justice Guild had members such as Superwoman, Batwoman, and a male Zatanna, whose fishnets do not work. Where there is a Justice League equivalent, there is the potential for a youth team – but only one, because secondary earths must maximize impact whenever they are allowed page time. Teen Justice is the youth team to the Justice Guild. It is composed of their children, sidekicks, proteges, and whatever Donald Troy is. The team exhibits Young Justice energy more than Titans. The roster includes Supergirl (Lauren Kent), Robin (Talia al Ghul), Kid Quick, Donald Troy (Wondrous Boy), Klarienne the Witch Girl, and Aquagirl. The new kid is Gigi, a depressed runaway with dark clothing and emotional powers – no prizes in guessing who Gigi is based on. Watered-down Raven may not be a crowd-pleaser; more enjoyable is the dynamic between Lauren and Talia. Laurel Kent (Supergirl) is the daughter of Clara Kent (Superwoman). The original pre-Crisis Clara Kent was Super-Sister, a genderbent Clark Kent (Superboy), while Laurel Kent was a Kent descendant in a previous iteration of the Legion of Superheroes. Talia is a Damian clone, right down to attitude – thus your appreciation for her will vary immensely. Laurel does possess the enthusiasm of Jon Kent, and sometimes you need to take the good with the bad. If young teen Jon is gone, then Laurel will have to do.

Traditional genderbending universes can provide sharp commentary, but the temptation is to lazily transfer the concepts of the main universe without exploring the implications. Certain concepts, such as male Amazons, are awkward without further details. Donald’s mentor recently appeared in Wonder Woman’s multiversal trip, in which he was treated as temporary toxic male until Doctor Cizko (hence Psycho) could be deployed. Klarienne the Witch Girl, although a logical reversal, diminishes the impact of the apposition of ‘Witch’ and ‘Boy’; she does have Klarion’s bad attitude. Aquagirl is the distaff version of Jackson Hyde, Kaldur’ahm reskinned to avoid any royalties like Black Lightning; not a bad character, but as restrained as many leaders are. Kid Quick is just another speedster – how many are there now?

The story appears to be combination of Raven’s entrance and the Church of Blood, although the ones behind the Church of Blood are a genuine surprise. This issue’s primary purpose is to introduce or reintroduce the relevant characters of Earth-11.

As stated above, Earth-11 began as a genderbent world in a time with a simpler understanding. Now it has become a world for genderbending and non-cis het heroes. It is not clear whether such diversity will dilute the concepts because Earth-11 is not a central earth of the DC multiverse and therefore will never (probably) receive the level of exposure central earths such as the main one and whichever of 2 and 3 is currently the evil earth do. “What if the men heroes were women and vice versa?” and “What if the heterosexual heroes were homosexual and vice versa?” are similar but separate questions best handled separately. In the spirit of concession to our reality, perhaps the writers are combining the two conscious of the limited series in which to present it. Male Amazons is still a strange concept!

Friday, June 10, 2022

I Owe My Soul to the Ballybran Store

 Anne McCaffrey is best known for her Dragonrider series, but a far more intriguing series in the Crystal Singer trilogy, composed of The Crystal Singer, Killashandra, and Crystal Line. This series takes place in the same FSP universe as Dinosaur Planet, the Ship Who series, and others. The protagonist of the series of the series is Killashandra, whose unpredictable temperament and a singular vocal flaw result in the abortion of her career as a singer. Her perfect pitch, however, makes her a candidate for residence on the planet Ballybran, source of the eponymous crystals. The crystals are magic space crystals, the spice of the FSP universe. If the original inspiration were dilithium, it would not be surprising. These crystals, in addition to their exclusive origin, cannot be mined in a conventional fashion – they must be sung out of their formation with precision. The value of crystals drives a constant competition among the singers, who need to prospect for the next vein; but one cannot sing and drive the sled, so cooperation is also necessary. A land of crystal mountains, as one might suspect, is not particularly conducive to human life, even with the modifications available in the FSP, but the fantastically high prices which crystal commands ensures food imports. 


Potential singers are exposed to the environment of Ballybran, which is, at best, long-term incompatible with human health and at worst a harbinger of impending mental death; but those crystals are very valuable! Of the candidates to become crystal Singers who gather on Ballybran’s moon, some recuse themselves from the trial, some are immediately invalided by the fever from adjusting to the environment of Ballybran, some are disabled in a lesser manner, and a few survive intact with enhanced senses – for now. All who descend to Ballybran cannot leave the world for too long; the Singers are the only ones allowed to leave in order to install the crystals in the infrastructure of the FSP – the rest of the world does not need to see the human price paid for the crystals. Even the singers, however, ultimately succumb to the toxicity of the environment of Ballybran. If a Singer stays away too long from Ballybran, she dies because her body is adjusted for Ballybran; if a Singer is on Ballybran, she is slowly going mad because “adjusted” is a relative term; if a Singer does not find new veins, she accumulates debt; if a Singer errs while prospecting, she goes mad. Ballybran is a company planet; it is surely no accident that rarest and most valuable color of crystal is black.

The actual plot of The Crystal Singer is relatively simple: it is a story of vicious claim wars spiced up with romance. Many McCaffrey series feature a romance between a female protagonist and a high-status male, with varying degrees of consent. In this case, Killashandra aims as high as she can, successfully attracting Lanzecki, the head of the Heptite Guild. The nature of Ballybran, however, makes all romances doomed ones; Lanzecki’s years of service to the Guild have exacted a toll on him that Killashandra has yet to suffer. Killashandra must prove her worth while becoming increasing isolated from her less successful guild members. Much like the original Lost in Space movie, Killashandra proved too popular to remain dead.

The second book, Killashandra, is also a romance and an intrigue on a planet where ‘everyone is happy’. The new love interest is Lars, a name which also begins with L. Unless Killashandra has a pseudo-Kryptonian L-fetish (she is stronger, faster, better than non-Singers living in a sterile crystalline world), this is either an oversight on the author’s part, or an indication that the original script featured Lanzacki. The paradise planet is, of course, not a paradise. The false paradise, a love doomed to fail, and trial by computer give this book a feel reminiscent of Star Trek. It nonetheless has a happy ending.

The final book, Crystal Line, begins as more grounded, but its ending could be seen as cheap way towards a happy ending. The cost of maintaining essentially immortal brain-damaged Singers is ruinous, and Killashandra is well on her way to joining them. An unethical doctor discovers a way to circumvent the duty to care for such Singers. The discovery of a possibly sentient being named the Jewel Junk in ranges hitherto believed to be lifeless further imperils the status of the Heptite Guild, but the Jewel Junk could also be the solution to the Guild’s problems, or at least a way to avoid them becoming worse. The happy ending to this book suggests that the author has succumbed to the desire of a happy ending for the main character and her world even against the rigorous world-building – especially when the original novel did not end so.

The Crystal Singer trilogy is worth reading. Its world-building is excellent and contains many real world parallels for book club discussion. It has a strong protagonist, utilizes the author's larger universe well, and series has an arc with an adequate conclusion. It would make a wonderful miniseries. The only problem is that the ending is a deus ex machina in a series that hitherto had been grounded in realistic politics.

Monday, May 30, 2022

M.O.M

To read M.O.M., the latest comic entry in the burgeoning "menstruation pride" genre,was an inevitability, but the investment was too risky for installments. This is Emilia Clarke's first (and therefore potentially only) graphic novel, which explains its weaknesses as well its strengths. The plot of M.O.M. is comprehensive and conclusive, insofar as any comic production hoping for a sequel can be. The characters receive as much backstory as can be reasonably delivered in the time allotted. The theme should not have been as off-putting to other critics as it was. The author's enthusiasm for the project is heartwarming.

Everybody starts as novices, however, so there are three weaknesses. The first is the tendency to infodump. Experience with golden age science fiction, Steve Ditko, and Alan Moore has shown that this example is neither the longest nor the most awkward; incorporating all the necessary background into dialogue or visuals can be tricky. More and more comics writers are falling victim to the compulsive chart-making of Hickmaniasis. The expository dialogue in M.O.M. is still longer than it might have been had the author not been so well known. 

The second is the humor. Much of the humor is already outdated, a risk every author takes with the humor; the only jokes which never age (because they are so puerile) are bodily function jokes. A wife has never farted while sitting on her husband's lap, as the ancients said. Political humor, however, can sour like the half-full carton of milk accidentally shoved to the back of the fridge.

The third is the underlying assumption that the themes addressed here are being addressed for the first time. This is mostly a symptom of presentism, both of the author, not a lifelong comics fan by her own admission, and of the audience, subject to the illusion that because this is the first time they have encountered an idea it is also the first time that idea has been presented. This phenomenon is unfortunately part of the human condition, but it can be an irritant to those who have encountered the idea before and would like those who presented it to receive some credit. There are Wonder Woman runs featuring Veronica Cale in a similar vein.

M.O.M is worth checking out of the library or adding to your Christmas suggestion list. A sequel is unlikely.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Two and Half Feet in an Elegiac Trenchcoat

 In preparing for the June sampler of the Greek group, I was reminded how the second part of the elegiac couplet, the dactylic pentameter, resembles its lankier predecessor not so much as a younger sibling as much as a burn victim whose skin has been removed from one area to patch another, a Frankenstein of metrical composition. The dactylic hexameter is a well-behaved meter, rarely breaking its structure for moments of deep pathos or extraordinary gravity; the iambic pentameter, however, rather than losing a foot before the final spondee, amputates the spondee in order to graft a long syllable as the second-and-a-half foot, while extending the rigidity of the final dactyl and spondee (despondent for its other half?) to the entire latter half of the line. The iambic pentameter is a pair of two-and-half dactyls (Idaean or Cretan, they are always male) masquerading as a longer line.

If we switch to a more sober frame of mind, like the Medes upon the eve of a great decision, the hemiepes (for that is its name) is a more rational construction, although one would still think that half an epes (dactylic hexameter) would have three full feet. The elimination of the dibrach (two shorts) after the long is suggestive of the principle of brevis in longo, whereby even a syllable short in prose is treated as long at the end of the line; the dissonance comes from the two hemiepes (is the plural hemiepeis?) united in one line, thereby stranding what would have been a final syllable displaying brevis in longo as an orphaned syllable before the caesura. There are two explanation I can think for this. The first, closer to epic, is that the caesura in epes often falls after the first (long) syllable of the third foot, and therefore is the appropriate place for bisecting the meter; the second, closer to lyric, is that a three-line stanza of an epes and two hemiepes would not admit sufficient flexibility in the second line. I am inclined toward the former, if only because a half line with the caesura after the first short of the third foot of a dactylic hexameter would be subject to brevis in longo and therefore result in a half line indistinguishable from the latter half of a dactylic hexameter. But the resolution (pun intended) of this question admits of diverse answers.

Monday, May 23, 2022

X-Men '92: Thoughts

 I meant to pick up X-Men '97 (forgetting that it was a different format and yet unreleased). So I ended up with X-Men '92. X-Men '92 is a continuation of the X-Men-focused fragment of Battleworld, the pastiche world created by God Emperor Doom from the remnants of the multiverse. Sadly, the only thing Vancean about this pastiche is a lot of Paos in battle. X-Men '92 was a testing ground for the continuing animation of X-Men '97 (which is the why the voices of the voice actors and the characterizations in the comic matched well). Fortunately, too characters and a complicated backstory is par for the course for the X-Men franchise; I'm old enough to remember the spinner racks where, if you missed an issue, or even worse, if the key event occurred in an annual, you just shrugged and read on. The advantage of the comics medium is that you can have far more characters, including short appearances, than you could with an auditory medium. The wordiness in this comic is almost Claremontian, a nice touch.

The story of the X-Men being temporarily tricked and who is good and who is bad being reshuffled is standard X-Men fare, well-written but not revolutionary. The writers and artists took advantage of this limited opportunity to introduce as many of the X-Men characters as possible - with the notable exception of Grant Morrison's X-Men run. There is no Wither or Wallflower here. Perhaps these characters are being held in reserve in favor of X-Force, New Mutants, and Generation X, and would have appeared in the second volume?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Island in the Sea of Time

Snake Island, the island off the Romanian coast from which the Ukrainian soldiers shouted words as vociferous, if not as grandiose as some Laconic words of defiance has a history stretching back into the Greek myths. Upon this island lay the temple of Achilles, where now the lighthouse stands; on its model the Greeks constructed Elysium; on these shores Circe (in some accounts) absolved her niece Medea of the murder of her brother Absyrtus (whose resemblance to Abzu, the watery consort of Tiamat, does not pass unnoticed). Pindar's Olympic Ode 2 mentions the Tower of Kronos in the Islands of Blest. If any island should represent the ghosts and sorrows of war, it is this island. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Trial of the Amazons: Thoughts

Some thoughts after finishing Trial of the Amazons

It is nice to see that there are now three tribes of Amazons. This number tracks with the legends of historical Themyscira and hinterlands. Three, however, is sufficient. This is not just due to the sacredness of the number three in the feminine and general Indo-European tradition, but also because the enhancement of a story which careful addition to lore provides can rapidly diminish if too many divisions are added or too carelessly. The impact falls to zero. An expansion of the Amazons beyond the current three tribes would need to be meticulously planned by someone who would remain in charge for many years; this is not how Wonder Woman has historically worked. In other lines, this is shown: the seven colors of the Lantern Corps were added slowly and with a plan. Even the black and white lanterns fit into that world, even if temporarily, as the absence or presence of light; but it should have ended there. The ultraviolet corps threw off the structure of the Corps. In a similar manner the consolidation of all the DC cities of Atlantis in the animation Young Justice can make continuity a trap as much as a springboard for future stories (which do not have to be pseudo-Arthurian).

The Amazons could also use a second island on which to have adventures. Themyscira is beginning to seem a bit cramped, not unlike the old X-Mansion in the older X-Men events.

There is a need to provide extra titles for Wonder Folk. The nature of the title Wonder Woman restricts it to one woman at a time, except perhaps if both Hippolyta and Diana are alive and serving on different teams, but surely there should be only one Wonder Girl at a time, with the others holding other titles. This has not been a problem with Donna, but Cassie should get her own title. As the Robins have shown, the name does not need to include the lead character's primary adjective!