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…The League of Regrettable Superheroes

League of Regrettable SuperheroesToday I read The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History by Jon Morris.

Batman. Captain America. Wonder Woman. Iron Man. Superman. Thor. Batgirl. Phoenix. Green Lantern. Spider-Man. These are the names of heroes, tales of their deeds told over and over again. Beloved and respected, they have stood the test of time. But what of their less famous brethren? What of Bozo the Iron Man, Pat Parker War Nurse, Ultra the Multi-Alien, Stardust the Super-Wizard, The Ferret, or Captain Tootsie? What of their…um, exploits?

Jon Morris has collected together some of the most obscure and possibly most ridiculous superheroes of the past 80 years in this high entertaining history. From a police commissioner who dresses like a clown, to a Nazi-fighting witch who speaks in rhyme, to a man who turns into a UFO to fight evildoers, to a superhero who fights shoe-themed bad guys with his shoes while making shoe puns, this book is a terrific resource for the comic history buff with an excellent sense of humour.

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This book was another one I won from a Goodreads First Reads contest. I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, but I wasn’t passionately interested like when I won Felicia Day’s memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) or Anne Jamison’s fascinating study Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World. I was wrong–this book is terrific. The writing is highly informative and highly entertaining–Jon Morris clearly has a great deal of interest and affection for comic history, but he also recognizes how absurd and badly done some of it is.

The book is organized first by timeline, divided into the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Modern Age of Comics, with a summary of the sate of comics at the time, and then alphabetically by the superhero’s alias. Each hero has approximately a page’s description, accompanied by a full page of coloured imagery, either a cover of an interior page of story. Morris also includes the creator and first appearance of each hero, and another joking fact, such as Amazing-Man’s “Great act of bravery: Wearing shorts and suspenders as a superhero costume” or Doctor Hormone’s “Adherence to basic medical ethics: Spotty.” Many of the heroes chosen are quite obscure, making only or two appearances before hanging up their tights.

It’s hard to decide which is better, Morris’ skillful and delightful writing, or the engaging illustrations included with each entry. The art does a wonderful job of showing the development of comics over the years, how heroes have been portrayed visually, and the marketing of comics since many of the illustrations are of covers that would have been used to help sell the issues. The entries wouldn’t have been as effective without the large full-colour artwork, and it’s fortunate that Quirk Books was willing to include it–black and white art wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

Honestly, I think the only thing I didn’t like about this book is the dropcaps that start each page–sometimes the large shadows on the letters make them a little difficult to read, but that’s really quite minor.

The League of Regrettable Superheroes is an engaging read for superhero fans, especially those with a lively sense of humour about the heroes they love and respect but also understand possess many foibles, and not a regrettable book at all.

Today I Read…Project Superhero

Project SuperheroToday I read Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr and illustrated by Kris Pearn.

Jessie loves superheroes. Completely, utterly, loves them. So she is THRILLED when her grade 8 social science teacher says that their major project that year will be about…can you guess…SUPERHEROES! How cool is that? They have to each choose a hero and research them, and figure out what makes them a hero, and debate with each other over whose superhero is the best.

There are so many to choose from, at first Jessie has a hard time narrowing it down. But one thing is for certain–it has to be a girl superhero. Dylan in her class keeps being a jerk and saying that girls suck and they can’t be superheroes, so Jessie needs to prove him WRONG! And to help her, she chooses the very best superhero of all, strong, smart, determined, resourceful, and a great team player–BATGIRL.

To help her figure out what makes Batgirl a hero, Jessie starts her own training program to become Batgirl. She takes karate lessons from her aunt and tries to eat healthier food because Batgirl has s strong body, does all her homework and learns about all kinds of different things because Batgirl is super smart, and interviews real-live heroes to figure out how and why they did remarkable things, just like Batgirl.

Jessie’s all ready for the Superhero Slam. But Dylan, her nemesis, has chosen Batman for his superhero. Can Batgirl beat Batman?

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This was one of the books I picked up at the Word on the Street festival last year, just because it looked like a really cool book. I was even happier when I found out that the publisher, ECW Press, has a program where if you provide proof of purchase of one of their print books, they will send you the ebook for free. And another nice thing is that Kris Pearn’s terrific illustrations are in colour in the ebook, though the double-page Superhero Slam Brackets are easier to see in the print edition since the pages are printed side-by-side.

I like the idea of studying what makes a superhero. The categories that the students have to study for the Superhero Slam are Wisdom and experience, Physical strength and agility, Perseverance and determination, Critical thinking, Recovery, Courage, Preparation, and Leadership. These really emphasize that what makes a superhero is not just who can hit the hardest (though who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?). Jessie also begins to think about how each of these qualities can be demonstrated in real life, by her family and friends and people she admires.

What really makes this book special are the interviews that Jessie does. She writes letters to real-life heroes to ask them questions about what they did that made them famous and what drove them, how they trained, and of course who their favourite superhero is. The interviews are all actual interviews that Zehr conducted with actual experts in different fields, including:

  • Mike Bruen, retired NYPD Sergeant on duty at Ground Zero for 9/11
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
  • Clara Hughes, Canadian 6-time Winter & Summer Olympic medalist in speed skating & cycling and mental health spokesperson
  • Bryan Q. Miller, comic book writer for Batgirl and Smallville
  • Christie Nicholson, Contributing Editor, Scientific American & SmartPlanet
  • Yuriko Romer, film maker (“Mrs. Judo—Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful”) who documented the life of Keiko Fukuda—the highest ranking woman in Judo history
  • Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut who spent more than 3 months on the International Space Station and has been in space 6 times
  • Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
  • Hayley Wickenheiser, 4 time Olympic medalist in ice hockey and community advocate

The book is written as Jessie’s diary, as a kind of record both of her life and her research. Her project inspires her to make changes in her own life to emulate the qualities she most admires in Batgirl. It also leads her to examine her life and her interests, and think about her future and what she wants to do. Since she likes writing and finding things out, she thinks about becoming a journalist. Different people have different qualities that she admires, and she learns to take the best of everything to make herself the best she can be, as well as seeing the good qualities her family and friends around her.

Superheroes are hugely popular right now, with Marvel’s terrific MCU and DC’s strong tv shows Arrow and The Flash. Sure, the costumes and the powers and the snappy one-liners while they punch out the villain du jour are fun, but the thing about superheroes is, they’re good. They save the world when it needs to be saved. And maybe if more people tried to save the world, it wouldn’t need to be saved quite so much.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

The first day of my diary.

Or first entry. Or whatever.

Grade 8 is already crazier than I imagined it would be. That’s why I started this diary  to keep track of all the craziness. But I think it’s going to be fun. I really like writing: it’s like thinking out loud but in a quiet way. I think maybe I’ll be an author or a journalist when I get older. Or maybe a scientist. Something where I can ask questions and get answers!

But of all the questions I have, my main one is this: why are all the homework assignments and projects coming up already? Didn’t the teachers get the memo that it’s still only the first week of school?

I wish we were kind of “easing into” the year. Maybe gradually introduce some homework as we go along. Like, say, after Halloween or perhaps even later. I’m very flexible on the “later,” just as long as it IS later. It could be as late as March break.

Lots of questions are being asked, and asked too soon, in my humble opinion. (Which I guess isn’t all that humble, since I think I’m right.) But seriously, this early into the year should we really have expected questions like, “Who are you anyway?” and “Who do you want to be?”

Here’s an example from Socials today. Which again, just in case it was unclear, was day 1 of grade 8.

Ms. King, my friendly neighborhood homeroom supervisor and Socials teacher, was giving us some “food for thought” (her words).

“This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What’s the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?”

To which I shot up my hand and answered, “Um . . . obviously because superheroes are way cool!” I didn’t say that actually, and I didn’t shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.

I was so busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.

The big thing is this:

WE ARE DOING A PROJECT ABOUT SUPERHEROES!

She called it the “Superhero Slam”! And guess who’s into superheroes and superhero comics  me! How awesome is grade 8 going to be? Really awesome . . . except for all the homework.

Ms. King went on for quite some time. She was in that teacher-on-a-roll mode. She’s pretty great so far, and I actually like her. But I had gone off daydreaming about superheroes. I’ve read just about every superhero comic book and seen all the movies. But I’ve never really thought about why I like them in the first place. And why they might be important.

I started to think about superheroes in a new way. Like I always wondered if Spider-Man would have still been a hero without his Spidey sense. And although I think he’s a great character, is Batman really a superhero? He doesn’t actually have any superpowers. I guess I’ll get a chance to look into this in detail because we all have to choose a superhero and then argue that our superhero is the best! Cool!

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I started off this diary in September wondering (or being forced to wonder) what I had inside. What I was capable of. Basically, who was I?

I still don’t know for sure. But I do know I feel pretty good about what I could do. And can do. What the possibilities are. Not sure if I really want to become a superhero like Batgirl. (And not just because of what Hayley Wickenheiser said about the costume! Too funny.)

But I do know a lot more about the work and effort needed to do something big. All the people I wrote to this year told me that.

So for my big diary finale here’s my list of the Top 10 Things I Learned From My Interviews. In random order!

* “I don’t think you have to have superpowers to achieve amazing things; we can all do amazing things if we believe in ourselves!”  Jessica Watson

* “Do you ever defeat fears or do you just get used to them?? Well, I guess a little of both. There is no substitute for training and the ­other side of that is there is really no ­substitute for actually doing.”  Mike Bruen

* “I have a real live superhero and that is my mom. She is superhuman to me!”  Clara Hughes

* “You should never go to a place of ‘a girl wouldn’t say that!’ Anyone, of any race, of any sex, can do or say anything. How they behave is based on their past experiences and their current sense of self.”  Bryan Q. Miller

* “What’s best for us is who we are. Each of our challenges is unique and we are uniquely ­qualified to live our lives our ‘best.’”  Kelly Sue DeConnick

* “I believe that you should always go after your dreams, no matter how high or how hard they seem that just makes you try harder!”  Hayley Wickenheiser

* “Today I look around and I see many real ­women superheroes! I hope we keep adding more and more women to our list of ­super­heroes.”  Yuriko Romer

* “We did so much training so we could respond to things we could control if something did happen” Nicole Stott

* “We have to trust ourselves.”  Christie Nicholson

* “There’s a superhero in you.”  Jessie (That’s me. I needed one more to make 10. And I learned this year that this is true.  )

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!