Today I Read…My First Book of Girl Power and Batman’s Hero Files

my-first-book-of-girl-powerToday I read My First Book of Girl Power and DC Super Friends: Batman’s Hero Files by Billy Wrecks, illustrated by Erik Doescher.

Girls are strong and smart and brave and kind. They can be heroes! Come and learn about some of the DC Super Heroines.

And: Batman likes to know everything. He keeps files on all of the Super Friends and their special Super Powers. Let’s read his files together!

Tiny Niece has started to like Superman and Batman, and as her Nerdy Auntie I feel it is my duty to encourage this. Especially Superman, who is better than Batman. But as her Feminist Nerdy Auntie, I really want her to know some of the female super heroes–Batgirl and Supergirl and Wonder Woman, who don’t have the same overwhelming amount of merchandise as the boys do. I deliberately went looking for some books featuring the female super heroes (and maybe bought some of the DC Super Hero Girls dolls, which are pretty cute and bend better than Barbie). But books with the girl heroes are actually pretty hard to find. There was one book I looked at that had 4 stories about Marvel’s Avengers, and in those 4 stories the only female character mentioned by name was Pepper Potts. And she had to be rescued. And there was one drawing of a random female bystander who also had to be rescued. Now, there have been tons of female Avengers over the years, and even the movies have Black Widow (although not my Black Widow movie, I wants it, I wants it, where is my Black Widow movie?!?) But there is nary a girl to be found in the board books and early readers I was looking at, at Chapters and the independent comic store. And as much as I enjoy the DC Super Hero Girls, it’s really aimed at an older age group than my Tiny Niece, who is just turning 4. The rare books that do include a girl hero, the ratio is usually about 1 girl character for every 5-6 boy characters. I wanted a book with a fair ratio of girl to boy characters. I ended up getting this book, which is only about girl heroes, and an early reader DC Super Friends: Batman’s Hero Files. That one has Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, with Wonder Woman and Batgirl (Supergirl not included). And there are at least pictures of Catwoman and Cheetah, though none of the villains are named.

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They’re both good books, which describe the various hero’s powers. Girl Power is a board book, and it only has a maximum of about 3 sentences per page. The language is fairly advanced, and it’s more for an adult to read to a child. Batman’s Hero Files is a reader, intended for children who are learning to read on their own, so it uses basic vocabulary and short sentences, although I’m not sure who decided ‘indestructible’ is basic vocabulary. And I do like that Girl Power emphasizes that being smart and brave and kind are qualities as worthy of praise as being strong. Hawkgirl is posed with her mace, but her description talks about her healing abilities. Batgirl likes to read books and program computers. Mera likes to explore new places. It would be nice if they included some heroines of colour–at least Batman’s Hero Files feature a black Green Lantern and Cyborg, but I guess I’ll have to be happy with baby steps of representation.

So yes, I absolutely have an agenda regarding promoting super heroes to Tiny Niece. I love superheroes. I love stories about people who try to save the world. But I want Tiny Niece to grow up to realize that she can be a superhero too, and not have to always be rescued.

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Today I Read…Jem and the Holograms

Jem and the Holograms coverToday I read Jem and the Holograms: Showtime (issues 1-6), written by Kelly Thompson and art by Sophie Campbell.

Jerrica Benton and her sisters Kimber, Aja, and Shana are an amazing band, and they’re ready to share it with the world. Well, her sisters are–Jerrica suffers from crippling stage fright, and she’s the band’s lead singer. But a mysterious gift from their late father may just solve their problem–and lead them into a wild, rocking new future! Prepare for glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, with Jem and the Holograms!

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How do I begin to explain my love for Jem and the Holograms? It was my all-time favourite cartoon when I was little. Every time we went to the local Blockbuster I always wanted to rent the VHS cassette of the two episodes they had (yes, I’m aware of just how badly I dated myself there, it was an 80s cartoon okay? This was the prehistoric Time Before Netflix). I had still have my Jem/Jerrica doll. I bought the complete series on VHS off eBay before they released it on DVD, I hand-sewed a Jem dress for Hallowe’en one year in university (no I’m definitely not putting up a picture of that mistake), I have every song from the series on my laptop, I love Love LOVE Jem.

So I can’t even explain just how hard I squeed when the revival started. The DVD releases, the new dolls (which are gorgeous and out of my price range, sigh), the movie (which I had such high hopes for, bigger sigh), and the comic–it’s a good time to be a Jem fan. Ah, the comic. This comic is now officially my personal example of how to do a fabulous reboot. It retains all the charm of the original while updating it for modern tastes and plugging up some of the (many) plot holes. The writing is terrific and the art is gorgeous. The only thing that could have made it better would have been mixing glitter into the ink used to print it.

The original cartoon was a wonderful example of girl power, and Jerrica was the first girl to have it all. She was secretly a world-famous rock and roll star, and in her civilian life she was the head of a major record label and the manager of the Holograms and she was in charge of the Starlight House for orphaned girls and the Starlight Foundation. Her band was composed of her sisters, who each had their own talents and interests in addition to music: Kimber was a talented songwriter, Aja was sporty and fixed things, and Shana was a fashion designer who designed and made all their on stage costumes. They were adults, not teenagers, and they were in charge of their own stories. Jerrica’s boyfriend Rio worked for them as a road manager, they didn’t work for him. Rather than the still-popular ratio of a team of men with one token girl, they were a team of women with the occasional appearance of a boyfriend.

That said, Jerrica’s reasons for not telling Rio that she was Jem were pretty lame, and he was a bit of a jerk for dating Jem and Jerrica both, even though the show tried to portray it as romantic, that Rio was attracted to Jerrica no matter what holographic disguise she was wearing. And except for one brief mention in the pilot, they never discuss calling the police on the Misfits, their constant rivals. The list of crimes the Misfits and their manager Eric Raymond commit is so lengthy it’s absolutely ridiculous–theft, grand theft auto, embezzlement, kidnapping, kidnapping a minor, reckless endangerment, attempted involuntary manslaughter, industrial espionage, accessory to attempted regicide, accessory to terrorism, assault, slander, arson, destruction of property… Seriously, CALL. THE. POLICE! Rewatching things as an adult can really change your perspective sometimes.

The comic reimagines both bands–Kimber, the youngest, has just graduated from college. The sisters want to try to make their band a success before moving on to more mundane careers, and they volunteer at a community center and teach music there instead of running a foster home. The Misfits are a signed band trying to promote themselves via a Battle of the Bands contest, and while they are mean and selfish and don’t care if other people break the law for them, they don’t actually break any laws. Rio is a music journalist writing a profile on the Misfits when he meets Jerrica and is intrigued by her, not a long-standing boyfriend that she really should trust with her big secrets. Jem is Jerrica’s protection, a way for her to be someone else to avoid her stage fright–there is a reason to not tell anyone who she is, in addition to protecting Synergy, the wildly advanced AI and hologram projection system that the Holograms’ father built for them.

While the original Jem and the Holograms did a pretty good job representing racial diversity, with the (eventually) 5 members breaking down as 2 Caucasian, 1 African-American, 1 Asian, and 1 Latina, as well as the Starlight Girls being from multiple ethnicities, the comic goes even further by making them more diverse in sexual orientation and body types. Kimber from the Holograms and Stormer from the Misfits have always had a special connection that disturbed their respective rival bands, and this has metamorphed into a lesbian relationship. The only objection that anyone has is that they are in competition, not that they’re both girls.

The Jem cartoon was first developed in order to sell the dolls, since the toys came first, and they all had exactly the same body so that the clothes would fit all the dolls, which is great for marketing but less great for representation. Since that’s not a concern for the comic, these uniformly tall, slender, curvy characters

Original Jem

It’s truly, truly outrageous

Original Misfits

These are the Misfits. Their songs are better.

 

 

 

 

 

have become this fabulous range.

Holograms

The new Jem and the Holograms

Misfits

The new Misfits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side note: if you were reading the issues as they came out, you may have noticed that the artist for the first issue was listed as Ross Campbell. After it was published, Campbell announced that she was transgender and issues 2 and after list her as Sophie Campbell, including the trade that I’m reviewing here. She writes in her afterword in the trade that she feels like she’s “finally cut loose and the floodgates were opened artistically and emotionally.” I’m not familiar with her art outside of Jem, but I do know I love what I see here, so if this is what she makes when she’s happy I hope her life is ecstatic. And kudos to IDW for supporting her and using her new name on the cover of the comics. /sidenote

In the end, Jem is just plain fun. It’s super-girly in the best way possible, and shows both the allure and the hard work involved in a career in music. It’s about supporting your family and chasing your dreams. It’s about clothes and music. It’s about glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, and it’s truly, truly outrageous!

Today I Read…Ms. Marvel

MM No NormalToday I read Ms. Marvel: No Normal, Generation Why, and Crushed (issues 1-15).

Kamala Khan is totally normal. You know, for a Muslim American teenage girl, who isn’t allowed to date. Or go to parties with boys. Or eat bacon cheeseburgers. Or wear revealing clothing. Or ride in cars with boys she’s not related to. Okay, so she’s not so normal, and it’s not bad, she loves her family and her culture but sometimes it’s really hard being different from everybody else in Jersey City. But Kamala is about to become even more different from everybody else, when she suddenly gets superpowers! And if you have superpowers, and you’re obsessed with superheroes and the Avengers and especially Captain Marvel, aren’t you obligated to help other people? (But she’s not wearing the bathing suit, who cares that it’s a classic, it’s cold and drafty and it’s giving her a wedgie.)

MM Generation WhySo, superpowers, secret identity, costume that doesn’t give her wedgies, sidekick, secret hideout (the Circle Q counts, right?), definitely NOT telling her overprotective parents that she’s sneaking out to fight bad guys (is being mad at her their superpower? Must investigate), a giant teleporting dog for a pet…does she need anything else? How about a supervillain brainwashing kids into doing his bad-guy-bidding-stuff? Not in Kamala’s city! Now if only she knew how to fight…

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MM CrushedThis series has been getting great reviews, so I was curious to read it. And it’s sooooo good! Kamala is a great fangirl, who dreams of how cool it would be to be an Avenger, until she actually gets superpowers and there are more problems than she had anticipated. Like the fact that she doesn’t actually know how to fight, or how to use her powers, or just how hard it is to come up with a costume that works with her powers that doesn’t constantly get destroyed or is too uncomfortable to wear. Flowing hair looks cool, but it gets in your face, and wedge heels are impressive until you trip in them, and bathing suits get really cold when you’re fighting. And lying to your parents about where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing? Not that easy, especially when you know they really do just want you to be safe and happy, even if their rules make you different from all of your friends. And keeping a secret identity is hard, and sometime fighting means you have to hurt people.

But despite the problems, Kamala always keeps her belief in superheroes and the good they can do, She has a collection of superhero-themed shirts that she wears in her civilian life, for Captain Marvel and Captain America, she writes fanfic and gets excited when people upvote it, she tells Wolverine that he was her first pick in her fantasy hero team-up bracket.

She also has to deal with the usual issues facing young people, like what happens when a really cool, smart, good-looking guy turns out to be a total jerk (who wants to take over the world). And figuring out how to make a difference in the world when older people keep telling you that young people are selfish and superficial and only interested in their cell phones.

Marvel has really been working on improving the diversity of their better-known heroes lately, making Thor a woman, and a black Captain America, and a Muslim Ms. Marvel. It’s nice to see, and it gives some interesting story opportunities to show how hard it can be to combine multiple worldviews–Kamala has been raised by fairly strict religious immigrant parents who want her to be a part of their culture, but she is also American and wants to be a part of American teenage culture, and now she has to include the Inhumans and superheroes into her life and worldview. Finding out you’re part alien and can change your shape may not happen too often in real life, but feeling like you’re torn between two worlds, between what your parents and your friends tell you to be? Yeah, that happens.

I really like the series, and I’m looking forward to my local library getting in the next trade.

Today I Read…The H.M.S. Bad Idea

Today I read The H.M.S. Bad Idea: an Anti-Self-Help Comic Collection by Peter Chiykowski.

HMS Bad IdeaHave you ever had a bad idea? How about an entire book filled with bad ideas? It’s quite a challenge, but Rock, Paper, Cynic artist Peter Chiykowski is up to it, with a little help from some friends (ok, 40+ guest artists, I’ll assume they’re friends if they appeared in his book. That’s safe, right? I mean, if you’re making a book, do you ask your mortal enemies to draw in it? Is that a thing? That doesn’t seem like a thing. I mean, a self-help book would probably say rely on your friends to help you, so would an anti-self-help book say rely on your enemies? Or is it the self part that’s important, as in help yourself, so is an anti-self-help book about letting other people help you? Now I’m confused. I better go eat bacon, because bacon. Read the book to find out why eating bacon is a special occasion).

From #725 “reply to that poor Nigerian prince who’s down on his luck” to #1191 “open the eldritch book with the cover made of human skin” to #1355 “use non-genetically mutated turtles to battle your local crime syndicate,” this book is the perfect guide for anyone’s life–just don’t do anything on the list. Especially, one suspects, #2010–give alcohol to cartoonists.

Also featuring the best of five years of Rock, Paper, Cynic, this is a great book for anyone who likes geeky humour, sardonic philosophy, and turtles. Because turtles are awesome.

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RPC D&DI’ve known Peter casually for a few years now–he attends a lot of local sci-fi conventions selling his comics, and you get to know some of the regulars on the circuit. I usually try to stop by his table and see what’s new. I like his style–it’s brightly coloured and pithy and entertaining. I have a couple of his prints, but I like so much of his work that I was really happy when I saw that he had collected some of his favourites into a book. I dare anyone to read it and not smile.

teddy bears are better than most peopleRPC Fairy Tale

Actually, that’s the best praise I can give the book. It makes you smile.

RPC Happy

Also, I really want a secret bookcase-tunnel reading lair.

RPC Ebooks

Today I Read…Viminy Crowe’s Comic Book

Viminy CroweToday I read Viminy Crowe’s Comic Book by Marthe Jocelyn and Richard Scrimger, and with illustrations by Claudia Davila.

Wylder Wallace is having the time of his life at ComicFest in Toronto. There are comics and people dressed in costume everywhere, and even onion rings! The only downside is the surly girl that he met at the food court. He really didn’t mean to spill salad dressing on her jeans, or to grab at the comic she was reading, but it was the new Flynn Goster comic! The one nobody has! And it looks so cool! Flynn Goster is so great!

Addy is really not impressed b the klutz who sat at her table and spilled salad dressing on her, but she has more important things to do than talk to some boy. She’s at ComicFest to help her uncle Vim, the creator of the fabulous steampunk Flynn Goster adventure comic. This is his last chance to prove that he can be a successful artist, and he really needs to sell out of his new comic, Flynn Goster and the Gold Rush Express. Unfortunately, the boxes got held up and the fancy train display isn’t working! Addy ducks into the washroom to try to get her pants clean, but when she tries to leave, she comes face to familiar face with another girl–Nelly Day, the former thief and newly adopted niece of Isadora Fortuna, balloonist and lady adventurer, and a character that her Uncle Vim based on her. But this isn’t a cosplayer, and they aren’t in the Toronto Convention Center anymore–they’re on a moving train, in the middle of the comic!

When Wylder follows her in, the story goes completely wrong, and it’s up to Addy, Wylder, and Addy’s pet rat Catnip to fix the story and change Flynn back to a hero from a zero and defeat the villainous Professor Aldous K. Lickpenny, not to mention saving Uncle Vim’s bacon from his angry investors!

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Viminy autograph

This was another of my treasures from the OLA Super Conference, and one that I managed to get signed. Richard Scrimger wrote instructions to Read, Enjoy, and Praise Highly (top left), so I’m going to obey. It’s an uncorrected proof, but other than improving the back blurb there’s not another thing I can see that it needs. This book is just plain fun, a rollicking adventure with lively characters and I kind of want to be Isadora Fortuna. It’s strange and silly in the best way, something so ridiculous and over-the-top that you just suspend your disbelief and go along for the wild ride. Adventurers, lady ballonists, mad scientists, robots, alligators, cyborgs, train hijacking, and even a little romance if you really have to (but not too much, because nobody likes mushy stuff)…There’s something for everyone.

I’ll start by saying that either Scrimger, Jocelyn, or both have definitely attended FanExpo before, because ComicFest and the Toronto Convention Center are very thinly veiled versions of FanExpo and the Metro Toronto Convention Center. As someone who’s been both to the event and to the building multiple times, it was fun seeing a version of it that didn’t involve me standing in line. Vim and Addy and Wylder are all characters I recognize, or at least their grown-up versions, so as someone else who’s worked the show it was very interesting. Fandom has been interested in steampunk for the last few year, so the streampunk adventure hero Flynn Goster and his world would fit right in.

The idea of falling into a book has been done before (Hello, Neverending Story), but falling into a comic book is interesting, especially when you include the pages they fall into. Pages from the Flynn Goster comic are scattered through the book, and while it’s not a comic book itself you do have to read the illustrations to follow the story. Claudia Davila’s illustrations are adorably whimsical, and perfect for a children’s steampunk adventure story, with modern-kids thrust into the middle of the story. Reading them makes me want a full coloured graphic novel version of the story.

This madcap adventure is a fun, fast read that you’ll devour with a laugh and a perfectly-timed quip, just like the famous adventurer, Flynn Goster!

 

Today I Read…Ensign Sue

Ensign Sue Must DieToday I read the Ensign Sue trilogy, Ensign Sue Must Die, Ensign Two: The Wrath of Sue, and Ensign Cubed: Crisis of Infinite Sue, written by Clare Moseley and illustrated by Kevin Bolk.

The multiverse is about to face the greatest danger it has ever seen–Ensign Mary Amethyst Star Enoby Aiko Archer Picard Janeway Sue! Torn between Kirk’s love and Spock’s (say what?), the seventeen-year-old medical officer, half-Russian, half-Vulcan, half-Japanese, half-Klingon, proud owner of Le Cutest of Beagle anda spunicorn (it’s like a unicorn, but it’s in space!), she is the most annoying creature the Enterprise has ever encountered. Unfortunately, in their desperation to get rid of this galactic pest, they accidentally ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and spread the Sues across the multiverse! It’s up to the crew of the Enterprise, the Doctor, and Wolverine (if there’s a team, he has to be on it), to travel the multiverse and trap the Sues in Pokeballs, and they gotta catch ’em all! But they have to be careful, because Sues lurk where you least expect…

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Wrath of SueI found this comic at the Interrobang Studios booth at Fan Expo last August, and the premise was hilarious so I bought the trilogy and read it on the train home that night. And I was right–it’s terrific! Both wonderfully funny and an excellent examination of the dreaded Mary Sue trope, the third book takes a turn for the serious by making Mary Sue into a character with a deeper motivation than her pretty hair. All she really wanted was for the people she loves so much to love her back–something many fans would like. She just has to learn that she can’t force people to love her–again, a lesson a lot of people in real life could stand to learn.

Crisis of Infinite SuesThe illustrations are adorable, and I really love the Sues’ cheek cutie marks, that help differentiate their different universes. And Sulu’s frustration at Anna Mae Sue’s terrible pidgin-Japanese, and how Mirror-Sue is evil because of her outfit, and how Khan-Prime defeats Reboot-Khan, and Kirk’s despair over his own sue-ish tendencies, and how Bella Swan is too useless and boring to even be a Sue. Basically, I love everything about this series.

It will probably appeal most to fangirls, and ones who can see the funny side of fandom and fangirls. And remember–may the Sue be with you (’cause she’s driven everybody else crazy).

Today I Read…Days of Future Past (and again)

Days of Future Past TPBToday I read Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont, Jim Byrne, Terry Austin, John Romita Jr., Bob McLeod, Glynis Oliver, and Tom Orzechowski, the trade paperback collecting Uncanny X-Men #138-143 and X-Men Annual #4, and Days of Future Past the prose novel by Alex Irvine based on the Claremont/Byrne storyline.

2013: The fight for freedom is over, and the bad guys won. America’s mutants are dead or living in captivity, subjugated under the robotic Sentinels, who are about to expand their mandate worldwide: destroy all mutants, and anyone else who gets in their way. The nations of the world, unwilling to stand aside while their citizens are attacked, have formed a dangerous plan to nuke what remains of the United States, to stop the Sentinels. The world’s only hope lies in the hands of what remains of the X-Men and their desperate attempt to stop the madness before it ever starts.

October 31st, 1980: The day it all began. The beautiful and deadly Mystique is on a quest Days of Future Past proseto create a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and for their first act she has decided that they will assassinate Senator Robert Kelly, a vocal opponent of mutantkind. She believes that this will prove that mutants are not to be trifled with, not to be threatened or subject to government-sanctioned bigotry. Instead it leads to the death of all mutants, and the ruination of a once-great nation.

Kate Pryde, one of the last living X-Men, will brave time itself, risking her marriage, her life, and her friends’ lives, to save the life of a man who wishes her nothing but ill– in a dangerous attempt to make the world a safer place for her children who never lived. Because an X-Man never gives up.

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I was curious to read these since the movie just came out this past May, and I’d never actually read the original storyline before. I picked up both the trade paperback and the prose novel at Niagara Falls ComicCon, since I was curious how each format would treat the story. For what is considered to be one of the best X-Men storylines and to have spawned both a full-length novel and a major feature film, the original Days of Future Past story is only 2 issues long. The mind of the mature Kate Pryde is sent back in time by Rachel Summers into her 13-year-old body, to warn the X-Men about Mystique’s plans to assassinate Senator Kelly, an event which leads to a dystopia in which people are judged based on their genetics and mutants are either dead or living in internment camps. At the same time that Kate is occupying Kitty’s body, the remaining X-Men in the future attack the Sentinels’ headquarters, trying to destroy them before they can launch their attack against the mutants of Europe and force the nuclear retaliation waiting.

The prose novel stays fairly close to the comic, while making a few changes to be able to stretch the story out to a novel’s worth. Kitty wakes up in the future and spends time with them, to understand their plight and to fast-forward the action so the group isn’t carrying too many limp bodies around into action. We see much more of the lesser-known X-Men like Franklin Richards and Rachel Summers, and more about Logan’s Canadian Resistance Army.

The movie, of course, is extremely different, since it was trying to tie together the two separate movie-verses of the X-Men, and using Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine as the main character who goes back in time instead of the lesser-known Kitty/Kate Pryde. They go to the 70s, instead of the 80s, so that they can use the X-Men: First Class cast, and make Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the Sentinels, the object of Mystique’s anger, instead of Senator Kelly who only feared mutants, and they eliminated the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and make Mystique a lone gunwoman, as it were. While I enjoyed the movie, it was very clearly a different universe than the comic and prose novel.

Personally, I’m fond of the prose novels that Marvel has been publishing, such as Civil War or Iron Man: Extremis, which is waiting for me on my shelves right now. I like the extra detail that novels can provide to the story. That said, the cover of Uncanny X-Men #141, used on the cover of the trade paperback as well, is an enormously evocative image–Logan and Kate on the run, cornered and afraid, standing in front of the images of their friends, all apprehended or slain. The image is repeated when Kate describes walking across the graveyard at the internment camp in New York, and all of her friends who are buried there. They died because of what they were, because people hated them because of how they were born. The X-Men have always been a metaphor for racial tensions, ever since they were created in the 1960s. Shame we still have to tell their story, since based on the news people still aren’t getting it.

A great story for Marvel comics fans, and fans of time travel stories, and the different formats that the story has been told in each add their own perspective to the tale of what happens when fear and hate are allowed to rule.

Today I Read…Cinderella: Fables Are Forever

Fables Are ForeverToday I read Cinderella: Fables Are Forever, part of the Fables created by Bill Willingham. It was written by Chris Roberson and illustrated by Shawn McManus.

The lovely princess Cinderella, socialite and proprietor of a shoe store in Fabletown, has a secret that the other Fables don’t know–she is actually a high-ranking spy, sent out by Sheriff Bigby Wolf on missions to protect the Fables from dangers they will hopefully never find out about. And Cinderella is very, very good at her job.

But someone from Cinderella’s past has returned to threaten everything she holds dear–the mysterious and deadly assassin codenamed Silver Slipper. And she will stop at nothing to destroy Cinderella. They will chase each other around the world and beyond to decide once and for all– will Cinderella lose her life along with her shoes at midnight? Or will Silver Slipper be blown away for the last time?

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I’ve talked a bit about the world of Fables in my review of Cubs in Toyland. Fables Are Forever is a complete story set in the Fables world but away from the main storyline, and most of the other Fables never know what Cinderella is up to. This is an action-packed James Bond-style story–I wonder if Bond will ever show up as a modern Fable? There are newer Fables that didn’t come from the Homeworlds… While the bikini-clad fight scene between Cinderella and Silver Slipper does set a lot of the tone for the rest of the story (bikinis and towels and sheets and tight low-cut shirts, oh my!), I suppose it does fit in the with mature nature of the Fables universe.

Fables focuses on the main characters and their adventures, the ones who came to the Mundy world from the Homeworlds to settle in Fabletown and on the Farm. It’s always interesting to see what happens to those Fables who don’t stay at home, the ones who never joined Fabletown. Silver Slipper’s story isn’t complicated–the small-town girl who gets a taste for blood, and decides to become a mercenary for pleasure and profit–but it’s a fascinating contrast to Cinderella the self-proclaimed patriot. What exactly is the difference between the two women? What makes Cinderella a patriot and not a mercenary who only works for one boss? They spy, they lie, they kill. Where’s the line? The carte blanche that Bigby gives her?

Still, if you’re looking for kick-ass babes and action around the world, this is the place to find it. Tomorrow may never die, but Fables are Forever.

Cinderella pow

Today I Read…Cubs in Toyland

Today I read Fables volume 18: Cubs in Toyland, written by Bill Willingham and illustrated by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Gene Ha, Andrew Pepey, and Dan Green. Cubs in Toyland

Fables is an award-winning comic book series created by Bill Willingham, in which fairy tale creatures fled their homelands to create a new home for themselves called Fabletown, located in the middle of New York. The series has won 14 Eisner awards.

Therese, daughter of Snow White and Bigby Wolf, is jealous. She’s so pretty, and yet her sister Winter was chosen to succeed their grandfather as the King of the North Wind. Then Therese’s toy boat tells her that she must come with him and rule a magical kingdom of her very own. When she gets to the island, it isn’t quite what she imagined–it’s dirty and muddy and all of the toys who live there are broken, and there’s nothing to eat. Soon Therese discovers the terrible secret of Toyland–all of the toys who live there are murderers, toys who accidentally killed their children, by catching fire or smothering them or drowning them or choking them or cutting them… She also discovers why they brought her there, because Toyland needs a living ruler to restore the land and its inhabitants. Too bad Therese is starving to death, since there is no food since toys don’t need to eat.

But what Therese doesn’t know is that her brother Darien is also on the island looking for her, and that he will sacrifice everything to keep her safe…

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Fables has never shied away from hard stories to read. It goes back to the original stories for source material, the bloody, violent, lust-filled stories where Cinderella’s stepsisters are pecked to death by birds and Bluebeard keeps his dead wives in his tower. Disney has no place in Fabletown. And while the Fables are essentially immortal, gaining their strength and longevity from humans who believe in them and tell their stories, they can still die.

Therese is a spoiled, selfish little girl who wishes for a kingdom, and ends up with subjects as spoiled and mean as she is. It takes her brother’s willing sacrifice so that she can live to open her eyes to what she is and make her change, and she drags the toys along with her. The bad toys got the queen they deserved, but she turned into the queen they needed. Darien may have been a bit of a bully to his younger brothers and sisters, but his father always told him to look after his packmates, so in the end he is a good big brother to Therese.

Fables is definitely a comic for adults, not children.Fans of mythology and legends and fairy tales may get a little more out of the references, but the general reader will still be able to follow the storyline. The series is very violent, but not gratuitously so–the violence is meant to hurt, not to become inured to. People die, and it’s supposed to be painful–you should be hurt when people die, even fictional people.

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Today I Read…Civil War

Civil WarToday I read Civil War by Stuart Moore, the novelization of Marvel Comic’s storyline by the same name.

People are angry, and afraid. A green superhero team called the New Warriors were fighting supervillains way out of their league, and they all died. And a school full of children died with them.

A new law is proposed–the Superhero Registration Act. All superpowered individuals must have public identities and submit to training and licensing by the federal government. Otherwise they will be deemed criminals and will be captured and incarcerated for an indefinite period of time. Tony Stark, the genius billionaire CEO of Stark Enterprises, has been publicly known as Iron Man for a long time. He hears things from his contacts in Washington–the SHRA could be worse. It will be worse if he doesn’t throw all of his support into it, and try to protect all of his superhero friends as best he can. Tony will be the public face of the SHRA and try to keep control during these dangerous and unstable times.

Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, the super soldier from the second world war, has seen this before. They always start by saying “we just want to know who you are.” And he feels sick that his government, the one he has served so loyally for so long, is willing to do such a terrible thing. Captain America doesn’t compromise with evil. He fights it. Even if it means fighting against one of his best friends.

In this Civil War, hero will fight against hero, wife against husband, and friend against friend, both side doing terrible things in the name of what is right.

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I was aware of the Civil War event that happened some time ago, but I hadn’t read the actual comics. I like it when they release novelizations like this–it lets me get the story without having to track down multiple issues. And I’ve been on a bit of an Avengers kick since Marvel’s Phase One, especially The Avengers last year.

The novel is necessarily briefer than the comics, since it all has to be crammed into one book instead of multiple issues of multiple titles. It chiefly follows Captain America and Iron Man as the leaders of the two different sides, but it does delve into other heroes’ points of view, particularly Spider-Man, who has always held tightly to his secret identity in the name of protecting his family. He lets himself be persuaded by Tony Stark to register and be a legal hero, to publicly unmask himself during a frenzied press conference. At first it’s nice to have people’s good opinions, but the public is a fickle beast, and villains never go away. His family is threatened, the exact thing that Tony promised him would not happen. And Tony is losing control, working with Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four to find technological ways to contain the problem instead of remembering that he is fighting against his friends–his family. The heroes are not meant to be the villains. The book ends with Captain America surrendering after realizing that he was about to murder Iron Man, and awaiting his punishment in jail. Iron Man becomes the Director of SHIELD, still trying to support the SHRA and protect his friends. And Spider-Man is one again the friendly neighbourhood wallcrawler, or public menace number one if you listen to J. Jonah Jameson. The storylines continue in the comics, but get cut short in the book. Hopefully they’ll release another novelization to show what happens next.

This book is good for superhero fans who prefer the words over the art, or for fans who like to get the story all at once instead of waiting a month for each issue to come out. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with the Marvel universe, or with superhero stories in general–while it does do a good job of setting up the characters and situations, I think it might still lose something for the comics newcomer.

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“FIRST of all, I’d like to thank you all for coming. It means a lot…to me, and most of all to your friends, neighbors, and family who lost loved ones in yesterday’sutterly avoidable tragedy.”

Subject: Henry Pym

Aliases: ANT-MAN, GIANT-MAN, YELLOWJACKET

Group Affiliation: Avengers (former)

Powers: assorted size-changing abilities, flight, stinger-weapons

Power Type: artificial

Current Location: New York, NY

Tony Stark called up the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard, jotted a note: Retired. Harmless.

“At times like this, it’s crucial that a community come together. We cannot allow ourselves to descend into hatred and bitterness. Judgment belongs to the Lord, not to us.”

Subject: Robert Reynolds

Aliases: SENTRY

Group Affiliation: Avengers (occasional)

Powers: extreme strength, invulnerability, and unknown other capabilities

Power Type: inborn

Current Location: unknown

Tony frowned, wrote: Potential trouble. Find and recruit.

“That said…” The minister looked down, removed his glasses. “…in our grief, we must not forget the causes of this tragedy, nor forgive its perpetrators. Forgiveness, too, is reserved for the Lord.”

Subject: Robert Bruce Banner

Aliases: THE HULK

Group Affiliation: none

Powers: anger-fueled strength—no measurable limit

Power Type: inborn

Current Location: exiled to deep space

Tony shivered.

The church was huge, with several hundred pews; but every one of them was filled today. Old people and young, men and women, every one of them dressed in mourning black.

Tony sat five rows from the front, his mind racing. He hadn’t slept last night. Since the incident he’d slipped into overdrive, the way he did when confronted by a sticky engineering problem. His subconscious whirled around and around, tackling the situation from a thousand different angles.

“…and so we ask you, Lord, for your mercy.”

So many heroes. Hundreds of them, and who knew how many villains besides. Tony already kept dossiers on most of them, but now he found himself compulsively updating the entries.

There’s a lot of power here, he thought. A lot of potential Nitros.

“Mercy. Not only for the souls of the children who perished…” The minister paused, looked out over the crowd. “…but also for the so-called super-people whose carelessness led us to this sad place.”

A news-alert icon flashed in the corner of Tony’s phone. He slipped on his earbuds, casting a brief, guilty glance around. A bald man appeared on the phone screen behind a cable-news logo, his voice tinny in Tony’s ears.

“…like Speedball, for example. Nobody likes to speak ill of the dead, but here was a boy who, by all accounts, couldn’t even name the president of the United States. Shouldn’t a kid like that be tested before he’s allowed to work in our communities?”

Tony frowned, clicked to another channel. The phone screen filled with a close-up of Johnny Storm’s bloody, unconscious face as he was loaded into an ambulance. Blinding lights flashed in the Manhattan night.

“—details in the brutal assault on Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, last evening. This, the latest in a series of attacks on New York’s super-community. More on the hour, plus the growing pressure on the president as the people of Stamford ask: What are his proposals for super hero reform?”

Click.

“A ban on super heroes?” She-Hulk leaned forward and removed her glasses, rattling the talk-show host.“Well, in a world full of super villains that’s obviously impossible, Piers. But training them and making them carry badges? Hell yes, I think that’s a reasonable response.”

Tony felt a prickling on his neck, looked up suddenly. The two women next to him were glaring at him through their veils. He flashed them a sheepish smile.

Then he noticed the other set of eyes boring into him, from the end of the row. Captain America.

Tony yanked off the earbuds, slipped the phone into his pocket.

When the service ended, Tony beelined for the door. People were already gathering together, weeping and comforting each other. He had no desire to intrude on their grief. Several other Avengers, including Tigra and Ms. Marvel, had wanted to come, but they’d all agreed it was best to keep the superhuman contingent as small as possible. No one wanted to turn the people of Stamford’s grief into a media circus.

Tony strode quickly out of the church. He didn’t really feel like arguing with Cap right now, either.

Just outside the door, Tony felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Peter Parker, smiling sheepishly. “Boss,” Peter said.

“Peter. I thought we agreed Cap and I were going to represent the Avengers.”

Peter shrugged. “Who’s an Avenger? You’re looking at a humble photojournalist from the Daily Bugle.”

Tony smiled despite himself, eyed Peter up and down. The rented tux looked good on Peter, but those shoes were scuffed. And brown.

Baby steps, Tony thought. This one’s a project.

“Besides,” Peter continued. “I just wanted to be here.”

The church’s driveway was small and curved, on the edge of an open field. Cars clogged its full length, pulling up one at a time to pick up the oldest mourners. Down the line, Tony spotted Happy Hogan leaning against the limo.

“Walk with me, Peter.”

Peter fell in beside Tony. They passed the minister, who stood comforting a pair of grieving widows. A very old woman was with them, weeping uncontrollably into a lace kerchief.

Captain America stood off to the side, solemnly shaking hands with a pair of firemen.

The minister raised his head, locked eyes briefly with Tony. Tony looked away.

“I feel like I should be snapping pics,” Peter said.

“That part of your life is over,” Tony replied. “No more scrambling for rent money.”

“You mean I’m part of the one percent now?”

Tony stopped, touched the boy’s shoulder. “Things are about to happen fast, Peter. I’m glad you’re with me.”

“Things. Like the Superhuman Registration Act.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Not many people have heard that phrase yet.”

“But it’s why you’re going to Washington next week, right?”

“Tonight, actually. The Committee has moved up their timetable, in light of…” He gestured around, taking in the church and the mourners. “The president has asked to meet with me this evening, and the hearings take place tomorrow.”

“What would it mean? This Act?”

“All metahumans would be required to undergo registration and training in order to practice their…their gifts in public. It also gives the government extremely broad powers of enforcement. Broader, even, than anything the Senate was considering before.”

“And you support it?”

“It’s a tricky piece of legislation.” Tony frowned. “If it’s enacted into law, it would have to be administered with great wisdom. Great care.”

“Tony Stark?”

Tony whirled around—just in time for a stream of spittle to strike him in the face.

“You filthy piece of crap!”

The woman was crying openly, tears streaming down her cheeks. Peter moved to restrain her, but Tony held out a hand.

Happy Hogan was already behind the woman. “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He laid a meaty hand on her shoulder.

“Leave what? My own son’s funeral?” She shrugged him off angrily, turned to point at Tony. “He’s the one you should be dragging away.”

Tony grimaced, wiped his face dry. “Ma’am, I appreciate that you’re upset. But the New Warriors’…tragic actions…had nothing to do with me.”

“Oh yeah? Who finances the Avengers? Who’s been telling kids for years that they can live outside the law, as long as they’re wearing tights?”

Peter Parker cleared his throat. “I, uh, don’t think Mister Stark says that.”

“Cops have to train and carry badges,” the woman continued, “but that’s too boring for Tony Stark. All you need are some powers and a badass attitude, and bang! You’ve got a place in Joe Billionaire’s private super-gang.”

Tony opened his mouth to speak, and then something happened that had only happened once before. His mind went utterly, completely blank.

She’s right, he realized.

Happy reached for the woman again. She shrank away from him, doubling over with a piercing wail of sorrow. A crowd was gathering now, watching with hostile eyes.

“Jerome left me,” the woman sobbed. “When they took away his pension, he just…he couldn’t take the pressure. All I had left was my little Damien. And now…and now…”

“Hap,” Tony said, “Let’s go.”

“You, Stark.” The woman straightened, stabbed a finger out at Tony’s retreating form. “You fund this sickness. With your billions. My Damien’s blood is—it’s on your hands. Now, now and forever.”