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…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…Rogue Touch

Rogue TouchToday I read Rogue Touch by Christine Woodward, a nom de plume for Nina de Gramont.

Anna Marie will never forget her first kiss. It put her best friend Cody in the hospital with a coma, and sent her running to somewhere else–anywhere else–where she could pretend not to be a freak. A dangerous freak. So she covers every inch of her skin that she can and tries to live her life avoiding other people as much as possible, to protect them as well as herself.

But then she meets this guy, and he’s different. No, really, he’s different. Touch is on the run for his own reasons, and they decide to run together for a while, but there are people after both of them. Together, Touch and the newly rechristened “Rogue” try to run somewhere they can be together, but can two such different people really find a place where they both belong?

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This came out at the same time as The She-Hulk Diaries, which I really enjoyed, so I had high hopes for this one as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. The She-Hulk Diaries was very much placed in the Marvel universe and we met other superheroes and supervillains and characters from the Marvel-verse. Rogue Touch is a prequel of sorts, set after Rogue has run away from home but before she has discovered anything about mutants or much about her abilities. It’s barely connected to Marvel mythology, and other than Rogue’s power she could have easily been replaced with an original character. The running away storyline is repetitive–they keep stealing more money and supplies and losing them, and then stealing more supplies and losing them, and again. Rogue and Touch’s relationship is definitely not a good one–she falls for the first older (kinda), married man she talks to even slightly, even though neither of them tell the truth about who they are and why they’re running. There’s no sense that Touch has feelings for Rogue–it’s more that he’s using her to complete his objective. Touch is a user, and Rogue is so naïve she’ almost a little stupid. She dreams more than making solid, practical plans. She may be only a teenager, but honestly I expect more from someone who grows up to be an X-Man.

It’s not necessarily a bad book, but there’s no reason for it to be a Marvel book. This is not a good representation of a superhero book, and will not encourage girls to read more Marvel. If you’re looking for a generic teen girl runaway story, it’s okay. If you want to read a fun, female-oriented superhero story, go read The She-Hulk Diaries. There should be another addition to the girl-friendly YA Marvel books with Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl, due out in October. I still hold hopes for that one (though I still want my Black Widow movie dammit!).

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…The She-Hulk Diaries

PrintToday I read The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta.

Jennifer Walters is taking control of her life. She’s had some problems recently, in large part thanks to her big, green and sexy alter-ego She-Hulk, but she is ready to overcome all that and get what she wants out of life. Not by making New Years Resolutions–people never stick to those. No, she’s going to be totally sensible about this–she’s gong to make a list of goals to achieve before Valentine’s Day–ok, April 1st. No point in making unrealistic deadlines, right?

Things seem to be going pretty well–Jennifer’s made a new friend, joined a new LARP group, got a new job at a prestigious law firm, met a potential friend-with-benefits, and met a potential dropdeadsexy! boyfriend. Oh, and she’s reconnected with Ellis Tesla, the scientific rock god who got away and the hottest one night stand she’s ever had. Except he’s her new boss’ son, is engaged to the witch of the office, and is best friends with the man she’s trying to sue. And he never called her! So what’s a smart, sensible, ambitious lawyer-and-occasional-secret-superhero to do?

Why, save the day, of course!
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I admit, when I first saw this book I pretty much thought it was Marvel trying to move into superhero chicklit. And it is, but it’s really good, smart superhero chicklit. In a way, it’s almost subversive of the chicklit genre. Jennifer wants a boyfriend, yes, but that’s only one of her goals, and she wants everything on her list. She wants her life to be well-rounded, to have a great career and great friends and be culturally aware and to be madly in love with someone who is her equal. She doesn’t want to stop doing anything she enjoys, she wants to add to it. While Jennifer has her issues with She-Hulk, she doesn’t even really want Shulky to change, just to change the way that Shulky is affecting her, Jennifer’s, life. Shulky is big and loud and confident and scantily clad and a party-girl and sexually aggressive–everything that Jennifer doesn’t think she is, except that she is when she wants to be. Ellis Tesla loved ‘Gin’ years before Shulky was created. Jennifer Walters is one of the most respected lawyers in New York–her employment difficulties tend to be more connected to her secret superhero identity than her actual job performance. She is universally acknowledged to be a powerhouse in the courtroom. Jennifer wants balance in her life, and she wants to have it all, and she is determined to find a way to get it.

Another thing that struck me was how sex-positive the book was, particularly in light of David Goyer’s recent appalling (and stupid) comments about She-Hulk. Shulky is never slut-shamed for her sexual appetite, she is not predatory or aggressive. She is confident in her sexuality and goes after what–or who–she wants, and while Jennifer wishes Shulky would stop letting her wake up in strange places she never looks down on Shulky for her actions. Jennifer herself has a healthy sex drive–she considers a coworker’s friends-with-benefits proposal to see if they would be good together and if it will work with her goals for her life. She enjoys sex, and she thinks sex with him would be fun, but is it what she really wants?

I haven’t read too much about She-Hulk before this book. Marta Acosta’s take on her is a smart, savvy, sexy woman, green or not, and I think I need to read more. This is a great introduction to the character, and non-comics-reading-female-friendly, while never descending into the worst of the stereotyped chicklit depths.

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VALENTINE’S DAY RESOLUTIONS

I, Jennifer Susan Walters, being of sound mindand body bodieswhateverdo promise to try to achieve the following life-improving objectives beginning February 14:

1. Stop hanging around the loft playing online games (take sabbatical from Skyrim, BF3, Massive Threat, etc.) and get a new job as myself: apply to my five top dream legal firms. Update CV. Replenish business wardrobe with clothes that can survive hulking out.

2. Meet an actual human man and establish an actual relationship. He should: (a) be employed, (b) have a sense of humor, (c) like me no matter how I look that day, (d) not be attempting to rule the galaxy, and (e) be considerate (e.g., remember to put the toilet seat down). Cancel account with Smingles.com because they match me with smorons.Stop Severely restrict Moderate cyberstalking and crank calling exes.

3. Have arealdate on Valentine’s Day: flowers, lingerie, the whole deal. Going out for burgers with my cousin again DOES NOT COUNT.

4. Seek balance in work environment and social life. Have funandlearn how to speak up for myself without doing anything that will get me fired. Participate in more activities and get more culture: buy membership to Met, go to opera, ballet, and theater. Join a book club?

5. Stretch outside my comfort zone. Don’t automatically reject opportunities to do something new and different especially if there’s a chance to meet friends/boyfriend.

I’m totally psyched to take control of my life and I’m determined that my new year will be the best one yet!

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.”

Today I Read…The Ultimates

UltimatesToday I read Marvel’s The Ultimates, written by Mark Millar and pencils by Bryan Hitch. This hardcover omnibus contains the first 13 issues of the Ultimates series and an introduction by Joss Whedon, director of The Avengers movie.

The world is getting more dangerous, and Nick Fury, director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division has decided it’s time to put together a special response team, made up of very special people: Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, the World War 2 super soldier, recently found alive after being frozen in the Arctic Ocean for 52 years, who returns to life to discover that his family is long-since dead and his fiancée married his best friend. Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, the billionaire scientist and head of Stark International, who created the most advanced flying suit of armour in the world but cannot cure the brain tumour that is killing him. The Hulk, known by a select few as Dr. Bruce Banner, the nerdy geneticist with serious anger issues, desperate to recreate the super soldier serum that created Captain America in his quest to rid himself of his green, rage-filled alter ego. Giant Man and Wasp, Drs. Henry and Janet Pym, who can change size from tiny to enormous, and who have a terrific marriage other than the occasional spot of domestic violence. And Thor, Norse God of Thunder and Odinson, who will help fight after the American president doubles his international aid budget. Together they will save the world, if they don’t destroy each themselves first.

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I’ve heard of The Ultimates before as a version of the Avengers, but I’d never read the original series until now. This is a gritty, modern, realistic take on superheroes, deeply flawed and troubled people with remarkable abilities that they don’t always use wisely. The Ultimates will be jarring to anyone who’s mainly familiar with the Marvel MovieVerse–Banner deliberately becomes the Hulk to attack (and eat) civilians, while Betty Ross wavers between airhead and manipulative media specialist. Cap is extremely violent and angry about losing his life in the ocean, and not quite as much the paragon of virtue he is in the movies. Henry beats Janet into the hospital after using her mutant blood in ‘his’ growing formula. Thor is a hippie activist and possibly a demented former mental patient won’t help save the world from an alien invasion until he gets his way. And Tony Stark is actually a little more stable than he is in the Iron Man movies, though still an alcoholic and a womanizer, and a highly respected businessman with a fairly good relationship with Fury.

In general, I’m not a huge fan of making superheroes all dark and gritty and ‘modern’ (yes, I realize I just complained that Kevin Keller was too shiny and perfect–he’s not a superhero, hush). People who wear brightly-coloured spandex, answer to silly names, and do things like fly and shape shift and shoot lasers from their hands? There is a little bit of inherent silliness in them, and a lot of larger-than-life characteristics–I don’t want them to be too dragged down into the grime of ordinary people. And on the other hand (what am I up to, three?), many of them are ordinary people given extraordinary and not always welcome gifts, and thrust circumstances and by fate into extraordinary situations. People aren’t perfect–it’s what they do when they have to that makes them heroes, or not. Sometimes it’s easier to fight aliens than say “I’m angry” or “I’m afraid” or “I’ m sorry”. That said, The Ultimates is an incredible piece of storytelling. The commentary with Millar and Hitch in the back of the volume explains some of their thought processes and memories of creating The Ultimates, and of course as a devoted Whedonite of long standing I love Joss’ introduction and the anecdote about his wanting to buy a piece of the original art for Sarah Michelle Geller and Freddie Prinze Jr.’s wedding. The casting scene is also interesting, since The Ultimates predates the Phase One movies, including the casting of Samuel L. Jackson as Fury. In fact, it was after Jackson found out that Ultimates Fury was modelled after him that he asked to play Fury in any movies Marvel was planning.

In The Ultimates , the heroes aren’t always likeable, but they are very, very watchable.

And I STILL WANT A BLACK WIDOW MOVIE! YOU HEAR ME MARVEL?

Today I Read…Comics!

I’m in a bit of a hurry to pack, so I’m just going to list the graphic novels I read recently so I can put them in boxes.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon vol. 8 by Naoko Takeuchi

  • The Sailor Scouts continue their battle against the dark planet and Master Pharaoh 90, and discover the Holy Grail and Super Sailor Chibi Moon. Chibi-Usa tries to go home, and the Dead Moon Circus is introduced.

The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror: Fun-Filled  Frightfest created by Matt Groening.

  • Tales of terror featuring the denizens of Springfield.

Green Lantern: Brother’s Keeper written by Judd Winick

  • The Green Lantern Kyle Rayner fights against the villain Brainwave, who is driving the citizens of New York crazy, takes his girlfriend to his high school reunion, and watches helplessly over his friend Terry in the hospital after Terry is the victim of a severe gaybashing attack.

The Spectacular Spider-Man: Sins Remembered written by Sara Barnes

  • Peter Parker travels to Paris to help Sarah and Gabriel, the superhuman children of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn the Green Goblin, and upsets his wife MJ

Emma Frost: Bloom written by Karl Bollers

  • Emma uses her telepathic powers to cheat her way through university, until she meets Astrid Bloom, a fellow telepath who uses her own abilities to control everyone in Emma’s life

Formerly Known as the Justice League written by Keith Giffen and JM Dematteis

  • Maxwell Lord recruits heroes for his new Superbuddies group, meant to be more accessible to the people, with full merchandizing rights of course. Too bad Roulette captures them all with the plan of making them fight to the death in The House, a casino and area for criminals. And then Manga Khan, Supreme Commander of the Cluster and President Emeritus of the Manga Khan School of Melodrama, comes looking for his robot L-Ron