Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

"The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" has 7 endings. I counted. And one of those endings has 3 sub-endings within it, so we're talking about 1 ending for every 45 minutes of the entire 14-hour extended edition trilogy. I'm not going to name all of the endings, because we've got a lot to cover today and I still have a parade and a musical to write about, but I just want everyone to be on the same page.

Ten endings. But the movie needs every one of them, because while Fellowship had just 1 linear storyline, and Two Towers had a hefty but still manageable 3, ROTK is juggling anywhere from 3 to 7 separate storylines at any given moment. At the midpoint of the movie, about two hours in, here is a rundown of the action: Gandalf leading the troops of Minas Tirith; Pippen caught up in the chaos of the burning city; mad Denethor plotting to commit suicide and take Faramir with him; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli taking the Road of the Dead; Theoden and Eomer mustering the Rohirrim; Eowyn and Merry riding in disguise with the Rohirrim to battle; Frodo and Gollum climbing to the giant spider; Sam cast out by Frodo on the stairs of Minas Morgul. The movie seamlessly weaves all of these stories together without sacrificing good pacing, character development, or emotional resonance.

Watching Fellowship for the first time, I was enchanted. "Look at the pretty elves, look at the ugly goblins, how will our heroes get out of this jam?" Watching Two Towers, deep in the midst of my nerdy obsession with "The Lord of the Rings," I was exhilarated. "Such a faithful adaptation, so much gallantry, oh cost and the glory of battle!" (Never things I said out loud, life was difficult enough in high school without talking like a Renaissance Fair groupie.) But watching ROTK--there's a scene in that movie where the enemy is about to break down the main gate of Minas Tirith with the big wolfshead battering ram, and Gandalf says to the soldiers, "Whatever comes through that gate, you will stand your ground," only to flinch back in consternation as "whatever" turns out to be fully armed and trained cave trolls. That's what watching ROTR was like. I thought I knew what was coming through the gate. I had no clue how powerful it would actually be.

I think by the time Peter Jackson & Co. were putting together ROTK, having already released the first two movies and seen the audience response, they were a lot more certain and sure of themselves. In Two Towers especially, there's a bit of hesitancy in the switch between storylines, which was cleared up in the theatrical version but really shows in the stuttery pacing of the extended edition, like the filmmakers were unsure where and when to go from Helms Deep to Osgiliath to Fangorn Forest. But in ROTK, they not only seem more confident in their ability to handle multiple storylines, they actually embrace it.

I'm thinking of the scene where Denethor sends his son Faramir out on a suicide mission to retake Osgiliath from the 100,000 Orcs that now hold it. While Faramir and a scant 100 or so knights on horseback ride across Peleanor Fields to Osgiliath, Denethor tucks into a hearty lunch and Pippin sings a slow, haunting little song in the empty, echoing hall. Now, I respect Peter Jackson and can't say enough good things about his movies, but in many ways I think he is a very conventional filmmaker. No one is every going to call him an auteur or say his movies are "experimental." (Example: one of the reasons Lord of the Rings holds up so well, 10 years later, is he eschewed CGI whenever he could, relying on techniques as old as film itself, like forced perspective, matte paintings, and miniatures. You could almost call him old-fashioned.) But that scene in the hall is a truly masterful and original piece of film, so wholly different in tone, pacing, sound, and editing from every other battle we see in these movies. Pippin's song would be sad enough, overlaid as it is on that pitiful company of men riding in slow motion to certain doom, but coupled with the sight and sound of Denethor snorking down his lunch, it becomes a heartbreaking and biting commentary on war itself (which is pretty bold for a movie where the opposing army is the literal manifestation of evil, so you don't have to feel bad when they all die horrible, horrible deaths at the hands of our heroes). The mad lord devours red tomatoes and red wine and cracks apart turkey bones to suck at the meat, like he's eating the bodies of the men he's just sent out to die in his name. The young man sings, the horses hooves pound, the knights yell, and the Orcs draw back their bowstrings for the killing strokes, but it's all muffled, drowned out by the smacking, gulping and chewing of Denethor in his beautiful, empty throne room. The arrows fly silently. We never even hear them hit their targets. And to cap it off, a shot of Gandalf, the most powerful wizard in the realm, who defeated 10,000 Orcs at Helms Deep, now slumped with despair in an alleyway, staring hopelessly at a pile of empty wooden crates as if they were the coffins of the dead.

Damn, I love this movie.

Now let's discuss the parts that made everyone in the theater applaud. Legolas bringing down that oliphant. Yeah, that was pretty sweet. Sam rallying Frodo for one last push up Mount Doom to destroy the Ring. "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you!" I get goosebumps just typing that. And thank you, all my fellow audience members, for clapping at that scene and not repeating last week's incident of giggling awkwardly because you can't help seeing teh queer everywhere you look (weirdos).

My favorite, the Witch-King gripping Eowyn by the throat and hissing, "You fool, no man can kill me," and Eowyn whipping of her helmet and proclaiming, "I am no man!" just before she stabs him in the face. In. The. Face! HUGE cheer for her big moment, probably the loudest of the evening. I was going to write something like I'm glad she finally stopped crying and just stabbed a dude in the face, but now that I think about it, most of the male characters in ROTK cry as much as she does, so I guess I'm pleased that Eowyn has shown us a woman can be a bit of a weepy mess and still stab dudes in the face. (Not even in the heart or across the throat, but right between the eyes! Or where the eyes would have been if he wasn't a demon-ghost. Not even Aragorn stabbed his enemies in the face, and he ended up being king. Eowyn is harsh, my friends, harsh indeed.)

Nobody clapped for the death of Gollum, though. I suspect that most people feel a bit conflicted about the character. Like Sam, we look at him and feel repelled by his ugliness and contemptuous of his creeping, servile whining. But like Frodo, we feel a bit of pity for him, too, ragged, friendless creature that he is, wanted nowhere and by no one. And the strange thing is, both reactions are correct. Sam is right not to trust Gollum, because the little fucker betrays them at every turn, driving Sam and Frodo apart, delivering Frodo to the giant spider, and biting Frodo's finger off to get the Ring (he and Eowyn should hang out). But Frodo is right to show Smeagol mercy (and isn't it significant that Sam calls him Gollum and Frodo calls him by his pre-Ring name), because it really isn't Smeagol's fault that the Ring drove him mad and twisted his body into his present form. We like Frodo well enough because he's the hero of the story, but he knows and the audience knows that the only difference between him and Gollum is time. Just like Denethor is Faramir's true enemy in the scene above, not the Orcs at Osgiliath, Gollum isn't Sam and Frodo's true enemy, though Sam often thinks he is. The enemy is the Ring, and the Ring works through Gollum, who is the Ring's longest running master except for Sauron himself. They were together for 500 years, Smeagol and his Precious. Whatever mental anguish Frodo endures as the Ringbearer, whatever connection he feels to the Ring, he knows it's a pale candleflame compared to the furnace of need and madness Smeagol must feel toward it.

You want to have some fun? Watch Two Towers or Return of the King and every time Gollum speaks in his evil-Gollum voice, as opposed to his somewhat friendlier Smeagol-voice, imagine that it's actually the Ring speaking. The Ring is an inanimate object and can't talk, and Sauron is a big eyeball of fire and can't talk, so Gollum is the closest we'll ever get to hearing the voice of pure evil. Just a little thought experiment for you, my precious.

In the end, Gollum is a necessary evil. Frodo can't bring himself to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom, but Gollum does it for him, not on purpose, but because he wants the Ring for himself. I think it's significant that the hero couldn't vanquish evil without help from evil itself. Gollum swore an oath to "serve the Master of the Precious," and he broke his oath to Frodo. Frodo warned him, "The Ring is treacherous, it will hold you to your word," and he's right. Gollum breaks his word many times over and into the fire he falls. But he takes the Ring with him, because the Ring is so powerful and evil that it can't be defeated by the forces of good, which it will always tempt, overwhelm and consume. But only the Ring CAN be defeated by the weakness that lies at the heart of all evil things. The Ring rewards Gollum's treachery with a treachery of it's own, but that final betrayal on the part of the Ring was its own undoing. Compare the fate of Isildur, who took the Ring from Sauron ("But the Ring betrayed Isildur to his death," we learn in the prologue) to the look of stunned betrayal on poor Gollum's face as he burns in the lava and silently implores the Ring to save him, or at least explain why. The Ring always betrays. Betrayal is the only way to defeat it.

God DAMN, I love this movie. The books and the movies were such a big part of my life at a time when I was turning into the functional member of society you see before you today, that even now, 10 years later, I can bond with perfect strangers in the movie theater over our mutual love of Lord of the Rings. It's actually the best part of nerd culture, that sensation of instant recognition of a kindred soul.

I've been working on this post for hours now and I'm still finding things to say on the subject, long after I'm sure most of you have lost interest and gone to look at porn. (You heathens.) I guess I just don't want to have to sign off on this post and say goodbye again. The first time around, when I saw ROTK in theaters and knew that this was it, there wouldn't be any more movies, I sort of made a fool of myself. I'm a big girl now, I can admit it. I wept so much at one screening that my friends refused to go with me to see it again "because you cried too hard and didn't want to talk about it afterward." "It's all just so SAD!" I wailed. "Frodo can never go home again! The Ring utterly destroyed him and he saved the world but it doesn't even matter because evil touched him too deeply and now he has to go across the sea to die and NO, he DOESN'T go to live with the elves, it's a METAPHOR for DEATH, didn't you read the Appendices?" (It's a miracle I still had friends to alienate.) But the weird thing is, I felt the same way after this special screening, years after I've moved on to other obsessions, years after I stopped having a copy of Lord of the Rings permanently resting on my nightstand, years after I stopped watching my copies of the movies. I still felt the ineffable sadness of seeing good friends sail off into the west, no matter how much I wanted them to stay.

Welp, I guess I'll go look online and see if they posted any new pictures from Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit"!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Another Tuesday, another 4-hour stretch of watching "Lord of the Rings" in theaters. The first time I saw this movie, me mum took me out of school in the middle of the day so we could catch the very first screening on the day the movie opened. This was on the Big Island, so there were no midnight screenings, but she probably would have taken me to see it then if there were. "I know what's important to you," she said. I love me mum.

The second movie of the trilogy, "The Two Towers," is considered by some (I'm glad this is the Internet and I don't need to back up this claim with any real numbers) to be the best of the set because it happens in the middle of all the action and doesn't have any of the slow set up of "Fellowship" or the long denouement of "Return of the King." It's just swords, battles, and creepy goblins for three hours, at least in the theatrical version. The problem with the extended edition is that most of the added scenes are the slow, character- and world-building bits that were really interesting to me when I was deep in my LOTR obsession, but now I feel like they mess with the pacing of the movie and slow it way, way down. I was in the theater for over two hours before the big battle sequence at Helms Deep even began! That's a bit excessive when you can't stop the movie at the halfway point to have a biscuit and a cuppa, which may be why there were a lot more candy wrappers rustling in the theater this time around. Everyone learned their lesson from last week.

One big problem with "The Two Towers" extended edition is, I'm sorry to say, the extra scenes with Merry and Pippin. When TTTEE first came out, I was really excited to see more of the duo, because their adventures in Fangorn Forest with the Ents were my favorite part of the book. I liked seeing those adventures realized on screen. However, after several years of not watching the movies OR reading the books, I find their extra scenes are just too at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie. The slow pacing and the casual jocularity of the characters' relationship belongs more to "Fellowship" than to "TTT." Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are battling to the death with Saruman's forces, Sam and Frodo are adrift in enemy territory with only a schizophrenic little freak to guide them, and Merry and Pippin are--hanging out drinking magical tree-water? The theatrical version played it just right, because Merry and Pippin went straight from being prisoners of war to trying to convince the Ents to join the battle, knowing that every precious moment the Ents deliberated, innocents were dying. The extended edition adds scenes that actually squander the suspense built up in the first two story lines, and almost trivialize Merry and Pippin's role in the wider story.

Speaking of scenes that just don't fit, poor, poor Eowyn. She is EXTREMELY ill-served by the addition of extra scenes between her and Aragorn. In the theatrical version, she's a capable, stalwart woman of the court, holding strong against the war on her doorstep and the treachery within her own household even as she rages against the societal constraints that prevent her from fighting for her kingdom. She weeps when her cousin and the heir to the throne dies, but even in her grief, she resists the allure of Grima Wormtongue, a man who was able to ensnare the king with his words but cannot sway the princess. When Aragorn calls her "a shieldmaiden of Rohan," you believe that this is a true woman warrior who could conceivably be a better match for him than Arwen. The extra scenes waste all of that and turn Eowyn into a weepy, simpering little fool who throws herself at a man who seems rightly embarrassed at her increasingly desperate bids for his approval. Even worse, some of these scenes are set right next to extra flashbacks between Aragorn and Arwen, which cruelly highlight Eowyn's deficiencies as a character and make it even clearer that her romantic efforts are wasted. In their attempt to give the character some depth, the filmmakers actually flatten Eowyn out and turned her into a romantic comedy cliche. Very disappointing.

But enough fangirl bitching. Let's talk about an extra scene that not only worked, but should have been included in the theatrical version. Faramir of Gondor, the younger brother of the Fellowship's Boromir, gets a long flashback that shows the brothers and their father Denethor hanging out before Borormir leaves to visit Rivendell and eventually join the Fellowship. Boromir is a prominent character in "Fellowship," and Denethor figures heavily into the events of "Return of the King," so TTT is obviously meant to be Faramir's chance to shine. In the theatrical version, we don't know a lot about Faramir. He seems pretty capable at killing enemies and being all Robin Hood-y in the forest, and when he finds out that Frodo has the Ring, he quickly pulls a Boromir and decides to take the Ring to Gondor, which probably seems like a good idea when you're the last line of defense against Mordor and you're living inside a waterfall. But Faramir is NOT Boromir-lite, and the flashback shows an entirely different motivation for the character's actions. It's the only scene we ever get between all three family members, and considering how much influence they all have on each other and how strongly their storyline comes into play in "Return", I really feel that this should have made it to the original cut. Their whole situation is so Shakespearean: Denethor loves Boromir more than Faramir, and both brothers know this but love each other, which makes Boromir ashamed of his status as favorite and Faramir both jealous of his brother and ashamed of his jealousy. When Faramir decides to take Frodo and the Ring to Gondor, he's doing it because he wants to honor Boromir's memory, but also to please his father and show Denethor that he, Faramir, is plenty awesome and could do what Boromir could not. It's hard to fault him when we've seen what Denethor thinks of his younger son. "Do not trouble me about Faramir, I know his uses and they are few." Gee, thanks Dad.

When I first read the books, Faramir was hands-down my favorite character because he possessed such clarity and insight into the whole war for Middle Earth situation happening all around him. He's the only one to openly suggest that war has no true winners and that violence, even violence for a good cause, is a fundamentally evil thing. Everyone else, even the hobbits, are so concerned with the tasks in front of them and are trying so hard to just stay alive that they never stop to reflect like Faramir does. This is fine, because it's sword and sorcery and no one really wants to read a book or watch a movie about a bunch of hippies sitting around talking about war and peace. We want to see some burly warriors kicking ass and taking names. But what sets LOTR apart from all of the other fantasy that followed it was Tolkien's willingness to give Faramir's concerns about the true cost of war as much credence as any other character's perspective. In the movie, Faramir says bitterly, "War will make corpses of us all," which is a little simplistic rendition of his viewpoint, but a pretty audacious thing to say when you've just killed a bunch of dudes and their elephant. In the book, he explains himself at length: "But I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I only love that which they defend." (Full disclosure, this was my quote in my senior high school yearbook, because yes, I am a massive nerd.) Either way, this is a peaceful little dude at heart, clinging to his compassion and humanity in a world where such traits will only get you a quick Orcblade in the gut.

After Mum and I watched TTT, I mentioned offhand that her nickname for me, My Precious, was the same name Gollum gives the Ring. "I know," Mum replied, "where do you think I got that name for you?" Which is sweet, but also kind of creepy.

I don't have a lot to say about the extra scenes with Sam, Frodo and Gollum, mostly because I didn't notice any. I know there were some added, but it's been so long since I saw the theatrical version, and that whole storyline is so well plotted and paced, that it just slides by without notice, which is great. If the filmmakers have done their jobs right, there should be seamless integration, not clumsy plot-hindering side adventures (Merry and Pippin) or glaring omissions (happy family time with Denethor & Sons). Anyway, I've got some stuff to say about the character of Gollum, but I'll save it for "Return of the King."

Oh, and one last thing: watching these movies in the theater again is a strange experience because you get large audience reactions to stuff that you've long since regulated to the solitary entertainment part of your brain. "Fellowship" had a lot of people giggling at Legolas's lines for reasons I couldn't figure out (maybe because he tends to be Captain Obvious when he speaks). And TTT got a lot of giggles in Sam and Frodo's climactic scene, when Frodo has his sword against Sam's throat and Sam implores, "Don't you know your Sam?"

Now, I know why people were laughing: haha, Frodo and Sam are gay for each other! But here's the thing. And maybe this is just because I live in New York City and I'm interested in queer theory, but that scene is not gay. In a case like this, sexuality lies in the context of the viewer. Maybe someone could construe the relationship between Frodo and Sam as homoerotic, but only if they have never seen any entertainment with ACTUAL gay characters in it before. For those people, allow me to give you a visual aid.

This is not gay.

This is gay and the most used picture on this site.
In the interests of gender parity, this is also gay.
See the difference? Just so we're clear, deep and abiding friendship between two people of the same sex does not mean said people are gay. It is a nasty and pernicious byproduct of our patriarchal culture that men and women (but mostly men) are not permitted any physical displays of love and affection, such as hugging, or allowed to share deep emotions, such as vulnerability, with friends of the same sex lest they be damned as "gay." This only happens when being gay is considered a bad or transgressive act by society, which doesn't just hurt gay people, but straight people, too, because we find ourselves denied the basic comfort of holding a good friend's hand. Individuals may find that they have to actively battle against such negative societal messages within the space of their own mind in order to break free of such constraints and NOT ruin the most goddamn poignant scene in one of my favorite movies because you can't handle any hint of teh queer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Live theater is just the best, isn't it? Even when you have to leave the apartment super-early on a Saturday to stand in line for an hour surrounded by fat Midwesterners in Time Square just to get a half-way affordable ticket. I'm not exactly bitter about it, because there's a lot of manpower involved in putting on a Broadway show and all those people need to get a living wage. But back in 2006 I saw a few professional operas in Prague where private box seats were only $30 a ticket and standing tickets to a matinee were $3, so bitter, not so much, but a maybe a teensy bit salty.

Yesterday the BF, R and myself went to see "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," a revival of a Frank Loesser musical from 1961 about a brash young lad, played by Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe, who cons his way to the top of the corporate ladder armed with nothing but his trusty How To... book and his killer asskissing skills. We'd really wanted to get tickets to see "The Book of Mormon," but after it won 9 Tony Awards last week, I have a better chance of single-handedly legalizing marijuana than getting tickets to that musical.

So it was either "How to Succeed" or "The Normal Heart," and given a choice between a lighthearted middle Broadway musical and a depressing late Broadway play about AIDS, we went with dancing Harry Potter. Sure, it was kinda sexist--there was a somewhat unsettling number when the secretaries all try to make the female lead marry her boss because it fulfills every secretary's secret dream--but the sight of all those secretaries and well-choreographed businessmen prancing about in slim early-60s suits and ties made up for it. I love the dancing in these middle Broadway, Frank Loesser/Kander & Ebb shows like "Cabaret" and "How to Succeed." It's all just so--symmetrical. I know it's a little passe at this point in time. More shows seem to be either moving toward the slightly looser and wilder dancing in "Fela!" which is a superior musical in every way, or toward parodying that middle Broadway style like "The Book of Mormon." But I think there's still something to be said for a show that's unabashedly sincere about being a traditional Broadway musical. I didn't cry at the end of this, or leave the theater feeling like I'd learned something about the human condition, but I grinned the entire time and have a whole new set of songs to whistle on my morning walk to the subway.

And sometimes that's all you need to succeed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Watching Fellowship of the Ring in theaters--again!

Last night, the BF and I made a special nerd pilgrimage to the movie theater to see a one-night-only screening of "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" extended edition. I saw this movie six times in the theater, or maybe I'm thinking of "The Two Towers" and I only saw this one three times. I can't remember because it was ten years ago.

Ten. Years. Ago.

Fellowship came out Christmas 2001. Jeez, that makes me feel so old. I've been obsessed with these movies for an entire decade. I haven't watched the movies in a while, probably years at this point, but I found that I remembered every single line of dialogue in Fellowship. Hell, I even remembered the DVD commentary for certain scenes! Why I am using memory space for such things? At least I didn't dress up for the screening. I have my dignity.

Actually, nobody was cosplaying last night, which was a bit weird. I'd expected to see at least a few people rocking a ring necklace and bare feet, maybe a sword or two. But no, for the most part it was a mixed bag of young professionals, people old enough to have read a first edition in a haze of potsmoke and Pink Floyd, and couples. Lots and lots of couples. And you know, that gives me hope, hope that one day society will retire the stereotype of the fat, unhappy loner male nerd and embrace the nerd community as it really is: pretty damn normal, actually.

Fellowship holds up very well after 10 years: acting, special effects, sound, music, all of it top shelf movie magic. The version we watched, in addition to be the extended cut, was also digitally remastered for Bluray, so the whole thing was just freaking gorgeous! I saw details I'd completely missed before (and considering I knew every word of the movie by heart, that's really saying something).

It was a bit slower than I remember, probably because it was the extended edition, which means more gently cavorting hobbits and uneventful slogging through rough terrain. I think it takes over 2 hours to get to the action scenes in the Mines of Moria, but man, when it does, I'm just as blown away as I was ten years ago. The music and the pacing during the staircase scene, and Gandalf standing down the Balrog on the bridge--it gives me chills all over again. Lothlorian slowed the movie again and it actually sort of dragged during the giving of the gifts scene. I actually almost fell asleep, but that's probably just because it was late and the music is very soothing.

So here I am, ten years later, remembering an afternoon in 2001 when a friend said, "Let's go check out that Lord of the Rings movie, I heard it was pretty good." I'd seen a single teaser for the three movies almost a year before--just a shot of all 9 members of the Fellowship coming over a ridge and looking majestically determined. And some people in the audience were batshit excited, but a whole lot more were like, "Huh, that sounds familiar, didn't my parents read me a a little of that when I was a kid or something?" The books had a big cult following, but it was still just that, a cult classic. And Peter Jackson had one solid, Oscar-nommed movie under his belt, "Heavenly Creatures," but was himself mostly a cult hit for slasher horror flicks like "The Frighteners." New Zealand wasn't know for having ANYTHING Hollywood wanted, much less a world class special effects studio. Nothing about this project should have worked, and yet Jackson got the rights, New Line Studio ponied up the cash (and stayed out of the way because New Zealand is really, really far away from anything), and those plucky Kiwis spat out a masterpiece. As Jackson says in the special introduction he recorded just for these screenings, "It really felt like fate that we got to make Lord of the Rings." It was a labor of love on a blockbuster budget, and it was pure magic.

Ten years ago, after I got home from watching Fellowship, I got my mom's copy down from her shelf and read the entire Lord of the Rings in a single weekend. I've been hooked ever since, and I can't wait to see "The Two Towers" next Tuesday--and then "Return on the King" the Tuesday after that!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Business Model: More Tits!

I'm a feminist and I read comic books.

(Up next, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of No Shit.)

I read comic books and I enjoy images of perfect physical specimens running around in tight clothing as much as the next nerd. But as a feminist, I recognize that this art form has a long history of objectifying and marginalizing their female characters. When Wonder Woman first joined the Justice League, she wasn't allowed to go on missions with the male heroes. She was the Justice League's secretary. Seriously.

Female characters eventually rose to prominence in the comic book universe (though they still have a nasty tendency to get raped, de-powered, or dismembered and stuffed into refrigerators). My two favorite titles right now, Birds of Prey and Gotham City Sirens, star all-female superhero teams, and the new Batwoman comic, debuting in September, is the one of the most hotly anticipated titles coming out of DC's new mega-relaunch of their entire line.

Which brings us to my current feminist rant. DC Comics is relaunching all of their superhero comics (or rebooting, or renumbering, or whatever you want to call it when management says, Screw it, we're starting over). When the new comics hit the stands in September, there are going to be a few changes to my favorite super-women. Gotham City Sirens will be discontinued, with Poison Ivy moving to the Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn joining the Suicide Squad, and Catwoman getting her own solo title.

This is all fine. Catwoman is my favorite character and her last solo title was pretty good, and anything is better for Harley Quinn than just being the Joker's abused girlfriend.

And then I saw the artwork for the new comics. Please keep in mind that this is not fan-art--these are the actual, official DC Comics covers for two of their most prominent female characters.

Here is Catwoman.
Here is Harley Quinn.
Again, official artwork.

Harley Quinn's corset is held up by nothing except the collective horror of female comic book fans. Catwoman looks like she just fucked that condom full of diamonds. The jewels are spilling out onto her cleavage, for chrissake!

THIS is why it's so embarrassing to be a comic book reader. This confirms every negative stereotype of the socially maladjusted mouthbreather drooling over anatomically impossible bimbos in a dark basement that smells of hopelessness and corn chips. It's a corporate slap in the face to every woman who has ever had to endure the leers and condescension of said mouthbreathers at comic shops and conventions. And it's a chilling reminder of what people in power really think about women.

I feel like my 20 years of loyal patronage of the DC brand has just been repaid with a big, steaming pile of "fuck you and your opinions, you useless bitch, go put on something slutty for the fellas and maybe jiggle around a little." I couldn't even go to the comic book shop this week. I was so pissed off at the company that I didn't want to give them any more of my money or support. Instead, I sat down and wrote DC an angry letter, the contents of which are similar to this post, but with a lot less swearing.

So first time I write a letter to the editor, it's about pretend people who dress up like cats and homicidal clowns. I don't know what that says about my priorities. At least I can rest easy knowing that my priorities are still better-placed than whoever approved that artwork up there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Delicious cake, om nom nom.

Hey, there! Still not feeling my best, but I got some happyvibes from my friends about the Literati Scouts idea, so it's all cool.

There was cake at work today. When you work in a large office, or, as I do, in a small office that's nestled in a larger office ecosystem like the seven-legged cane spider that used to live in my bathroom and eat gnats and mosquitoes... hang on, that metaphor got away from me. I was too busy shuddering in terror at the thought of that damn spider. I didn't pee alone from ages 5 to 8. My Big Sister will never forgive me.

Cake! When you work in a large office, cake just sometimes appears. Maybe it's somebody's birthday. Maybe there's a new baby, or a graduation, or we laid siege to another department in the building and are now feasting on the spoils of war. I've learned not to question delicious noms that come my way. My overlords assure me that I am being amply rewarded for my efforts, whatever larger purpose they may serve.

Seriously, after nearly a year in this job, I'm still not entirely sure what I do. The orders come down from the tower, some short guy with two heads distributes the armor, and we ride forth into the haze. I've never gotten a proper look at the enemy--no one has--but the scarred veterans who ply their trade along the walls of the keep whisper that the beasts have command of shadows and shades. Rumors from the hut of the one-eyed witches say that the haze in which we fight isn't a haze at all, but the bodies of the enemy, spread thin and wide like a poisonous gas that hangs over the killing fields. Though if this is true, what then prevents the haze from smothering us all while we sleep?

I don't question. I follow my orders. Answer the phones. Service the customers and polish my blade. The haze is always worse in the summer. Tempers run short. I hope the overlords have lots of cake.

Delicious cake.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

She stoops to conquer

Jeez, that is such a nerdy reference, I think I just earned another literati merit badge. (My troop meets once a month to get drunk in libraries and laugh at the plural form of words like 'apparatus.' Apparati. Priceless!) "She Stoops to Conquer" is an play by George Bernard Shaw, and I got sick and collapsed on a stoop this afternoon. A stretch, I'll admit, but I'm this close to becoming a Murasaki Scout and I really need my "Needlessly Pretentious Referencing of English Playwrights" credit.

You know, I WAS going to write a post about how embarrassing it is to disappear from one's blog for a month and have to come back with a story about nearly passing out on a Brooklyn street corner, but frankly my fake intelligensia survival troupe idea is way more interesting than my failing health. Would anybody be interested in joining the Literati Scouts? I don't know if we can bring alcohol into libraries, but we can discuss our favorite books, writers and poets and drink outside on the steps. New York libraries have very fine stoops.

We could have different levels of Literati Scouts, starting with Seuss and going up to Shakespeare. Both levels require you to speak in rhyme at meetings, so you'll probably want to advance through the ranks quickly, but also not get cocky and overreach yourself. We gotta keep the members humble. Murasaki and Wharton Scouts are responsible for upper-class angst. Bukowski Scouts handle working-class angst. Burroughs Scouts can head the discourse on queer theory, but only if they're sober (ditto for Ginsberg Scouts). Hemingway Scouts bring the drinks and organize the annual camping trip, but must defer to the more-senior Angelou Scouts in discussions of race and gender. Vonnegut Scouts head the Satire Glee Club and the annual Post-Apocalyptic Bake Sale, assisted by their Canadian counterparts, the Atwood Guides. (Scouts are called 'guides' in England and the colonies.) What level Scout would you like to be?

And we could give out merit badges: "Dated like a Jane Austen Heroine," "Maxed out your Library Account" both in library fines and book holds, "Lost Hope in Humanity," "Participation in Slam Poetry," "Pilgrimage to an Author's Home," "Used Bookstore Hygiene," "Accessed a Library's Closed Stacks," "Drunk Relatives," "Eviction from Bowery Poetry Club for Openly Mocking Performers," "Beating Off to Beat Poets," the more advanced "Beating Off Beat Poets," the more popular "Beating Beat Poets," and "Raged Against the Dying of the Light."

These are the badges I have. Feel free to list yours below.