From Groot to middle-school, it’s a graphic novels post!

GROOT by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger has Groot and Rocket heading to Earth to take in the sights when pirates kidnap the sentient tree (he has the bigger bounty, by far). An outraged Rocket sets out to rescue his friend, leading to encounters with the Silver Surfer, Skrulls and eventually the X-Men. Fluffy fun, but that was the goal and the creative team accomplished it well.

SUPERHERO GIRLS: Hits and Myths by Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat has Diana preparing to take her schoolchums to Themyscira for a slumber party only it turns out the Batplane Batgirl was going to fly them inn has been stolen. Hunting the missing plane involves descending into hell to confront Trigon and Raven (“Saving you will teach Dad a lesson — I’m tired of being homeschooled so that I can’t be expoesd to goodness.”) and Miss Martian having a Battle of the Bands with Black Canary and Silver Banshee. Fun, and I really love this origin for Etrigan, a demon whose encounter with human poetry inspired him to reform.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Strange Magic by Kelly Thompson and David Lopez was a disappointment after the previous two volumes. Terrified that in the fuure, the magus Ove will kill everyone she loves, Captain Marvel sets out to learn magic, eventually turning in desperation to the Enchantress. This was amusing enough, but it’s too heavy on the “hot mess” cliches showing Carol may be a hero but her personal life is in constant freefall.

BITTER ROOT: Rage and Redemption by David Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene was a hard story to follow due to a multiplicity of flashbacks and a large cast involved in several plotlines. What’s significant is the Sangerye family discovering much of what they know as a new breed of demon shows up on Earth instead of the Jinoo they were fighting in V1. That said, I love that this establishes other American minorities — Chinese, Jewish, Irish, Mexican — have their own monster-hunting families (logical enough as the Jinoo are born of white prejudice) and they all have their own monster-slaying traditions and names for things. I’ll be back for V3 eventually.

SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, is a memoir of the author’s middle-school years after she fell and knocked out her two front teeth. Result: braces! Shame! Self-consciousness! Will the guy she likes ever notice her now? This one didn’t work for me.

#SFWApro. Cover by Greene, all rights remain with current holders.

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Two classic Hitchcocks: North by Northwest and Psycho (with spoilers)

(Re) watching Alfred Hitchcock’s films makes me appreciate why so many critics and Hitch himself saw NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) as a film that expresses the essence of Hitchcock movies. Yet it was the next film he made, PSYCHO (1960) that came to define him: he’d be Alfred Hitchcock, direct of Psycho from that moment forward.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) stars Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive who through blind chance is mistaken for Kaplan, an American agent hunting enemy spy Vandamm (James Mason) and his right hand Leonard (Martin Landau). Vandamm mocks Thornhill’s denials, declaring that his performance makes the room a theater; this theatricality crops up over and over, for example when he later sneers American agents should get training from the Actor’s Studio.

The bad guys’ first attempt on Thornhill’s life fails, as does the second; however they unintentionally frame him as a murderer, forcing him to flee cops as well as crooks, traveling across country to track down Kaplan. Thornhill doesn’t know Kaplan doesn’t exist; it’s a non-existent man created by spymaster the Professor (Leo G. Carroll) to distract Vandamm from the real agent in his team. During his travels, Thornhill gets help from Eve (Eva Marie Saint), a beautiful woman who turns out to be Vandamm’s lover. Thornhill, having fallen for her, isn’t happy (“What makes a girl like you a girl like you?”), then he learns she’s the Professor’s agent on the inside. Unfortunately Leonard has figured that out too …

North by Northwest is a spectacular thriller with some great set pieces, from Grant being targeted by a crop-dusting plane to the climax on Mt. Rushmore. It carries over elements from multiple previous films including The Thirty-Nine Steps, Notorious and Saboteur. As The Hitchcock Romance says, it captures Hitch’s repeated theme that love and marriage is the happy ending for most of us. Thornhill starts out twice divorced and something of a ladies’ man (we see him dickering with his secretary about the right gift for one of his girlfriends), then he meets Eve and everything changes. Vandamm intends to kill her for betraying him; the Professor is willing to accept her death for the greater good. Thornhill loves her and he’s going to save her in spite of all of them. It’s a great film. “War is hell, Mr. Thornhill, even when it’s a cold one.”

I would really love to have seen PSYCHO (1960) at least once not knowing what was coming but a friend told me the details in high school (I wouldn’t catch it until college). In the opening, Marion (Janet Leigh), frustrated that her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin) doesn’t have enough money to make a home for both of them, succumbs to a moment of temptation and drives off with $40,000 of her employer’s money. It’s a classic film noir set up that turns into an Old Dark House story when Marion ends up at the Bates Motel, where Norman (Anthony Bates) runs the largely unoccupied business and cares for his sour, bedridden mother. And then, of course, comes the infamous shower scene in which Mrs. Bates stabs Marion to death in the shower (future slasher films owe a lot to this and the later deaths). Can Sam and Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) figure out the truth?This film has a very strange structure, switching from genre to genre and protagonist to protagonist. It’s amazing visually and absorbing to watch even when I know what’s coming. That said, it’s a film that like Vertigo, I admire more than I enjoy. While in many ways it’s much more atypical of Hitch than North by Northwest, though Hitchcock Romance argues the film is a perfect example of Hitch’s tragic romances. When we catch up with Sam after the opening he’s writing to Marion to say that he’ll marry her, despite his poverty; if she’d only waited instead of acting, she’d have gotten her HEA. Like Vertigo and Rebecca, the past chokes the present. Sam’s struggling to pay off his father’s debts and support his ex-wife; Norman is dominated by his dead mother. It’s a remarkable achievement. “I’m not a fool and I’m not capable of being fooled.”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders. For extra interest, check out the great title sequences for Psycho and North by Northwest by the great Saul Bass.

 

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Mine is a genius for improvisation!

Which is to say this week, while productive, did not go at all as planned. But that’s okay; there are times when throwing away the plans and improvising is the right move. I guarantee you, when my manuscript returns from McFarland I’ll be dropping everything else—okay, not the paying finance articles—to proof it carefully, then index it.

What changed things up was that Gollancz, a British specfic publisher, has announced that in June it will open to unagented submissions. I’m not sure if Southern Discomfort is right for them, but that’s an incentive to finish this rewrite ASAP. That requires putting almost everything else on hold.

It went well this week, though bogged down by continuing extra dog care. That should only last another week though. I also got the cover for Questionable Minds finally nailed down and finished another of my finance articles (on integrated accounting).  I also submitted a query to The Guardian for an op-ed on abortion. It’s timely but I know the competition is fierce, so we’ll see what comes of it.

Oh, and I had my last appointment with my physical therapist for dealing with my vertigo. It’s gone. If it comes back, I have exercises for dealing with it.

Below, another photo from our trip to the North Carolina Zoo.And here’s a gorilla. One of the kids watching him said he looked said — could she give him a hug? I love children at zoos.#SFWAPro.

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An elegant affair

So last month TYG decided to throw a party. Rather than do it at our house, she picked the Angus Barn, a local steakhouse (we’re both vegetarians but they’re the kind of place that can adapt). Last Friday she and I and a bunch of friends and some of her colleagues got to dress up for the shindig.Not the best selfie, but it should give you the idea. The Ziploc under my shirt holds the place cards. As you can see, it’s a very cool dining room—They have an impressive wine cellar including some 1800s vintages and some worth more than $20,000 a bottle.No, it’s not that a $23,000 bottle of wine is that good; the sommelier says it’s more for bragging that you’ve bought a $23,000 bottle of wine. I was still impressed. And the wine I did have was good.

The food was excellent — chocolate soufflé for dessert — and the company was good. As TYG and some of the other guests like smoking cigars and I can’t stand them, I left a little before nine and went home to the dogs. TYG made it back later.

It was a very good evening.

#SFWApro.

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Replacement theory, Republicans and misogynist Matt Walsh.

You’ve probably hear by now about the Buffalo shooting fueled by the killer’s belief in the great replacement theory, that Democrats are deliberately important non-white immigrants to destroy the white race. As explained at the link, it’s a protean paranoia that can attach its rage to multiple targets: Jews (they’re behind it), immigrants, environmental destruction (but blaming it on immigrants) and white women who don’t have enough babies. It can therefore justify anti-immigrant policies, anti-abortion policies and opposition to feminism. Among the reasons college is bad for women is that educated women have fewer kids — though to be clear, misogynists hate women’s education for lots of reasons.

It was popular with racists in the last century but it hasn’t vanished in this one. As the Washington Post says, Tucker Carlson and a number of other of prominent right-wing pundits believe it or claim they do. Elise Stefanik is one of multiple congresspeople who claim to agree. Stefanik’s pseudo-outraged response was that pointing out her statements was the same as saying the shooting was her fault waaaah, why are liberals so mean?

Forgive me for stating the obvious but this is a racist theory. It’s based on the idea that the U.S. is a white nation and that nonwhite immigrants are going to take “our” country away from us. Guess what, if nonwhite citizens outnumber white citizens they’re perfectly entitled to elect the officials of their choice. That’s how democracy works. And it’s unlikely a Latino-run government would do any worse than Republican WASPS.

A number of conservatives, such as Laura Ingraham, claim they’re only concerned about illegal immigration but their words show they’re lying. Ingraham we should put the blame for Buffalo on the media, presumably exempting her own channel, Fox. A network that, coincidentally, is avoiding any mention of replacement theory as the killer’s motive.

Some conservatives, such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page, have condemned the theory. I will give them credit for that. But the bulk of them? Not so much. Arizona State Senator and raving anti-semite Wendy Rogers blames it on the feds. Franklin Graham says only Jesus can stop mass shootings (funny how our deeply Christian nation has more than many nations with fewer believers).

But then there are people such as right-wing Christian Matt Walsh. While I blogged about Matt Walsh’s misogynistic writing almost a year ago, I had no particular reason to think he was racist as well as misogynist. My bad: he’s now claiming Democrats “want to minimize what they call whiteness in America … this isn’t a conspiracy theory. There’s nothing wild or speculative about it. It’s just a fact. And one of the ways you know that it’s a fact is the left and the media — The New York Times, CNN — they’ve been very open about it, many times. So if it is a theory — if the great replacement theory is a theory, then it’s a theory propagated by the left. They’re the ones who go around talking about this supposed scourge of whiteness.”

Much as I despise Walsh, I doubt he’s idiot enough to think criticizing whiteness (whether he means CRT, the 1619 project or merely pointing out racism is widespread) translates into “we must take power away from white people.” So I assume he’s lying, even though in Christianity, bearing false witness against your neighbor is a big no-no. Whether he’s lying because it’s good for his bottom line or he’s racist and wants nonwhites to stay out, I cannot say.

I cover more misogynists and more on misogynist lies about women’s education, in Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers.

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In a shocking twist, this week’s cover post is on Wednesday!

First an uncredited Sex Sells cover from 1965.Sex sold in 1954 too. Though the dark background makes this feel more like a witches’ sabbath to me than whatever orgy or wild party it’s meant to be.From the days of double novels, here’s one mystery cover I like——and here’s the other novel.#SFWApro.

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Robin Hood and the evil rich

“In times of economic downturns, in times of tyranny and oppression, and in times of political upheaval, the hero Robin Hood makes his timely call.” — from a history of Robin Hood discussing why the legend stays strong, even attaching itself to other people. For instance, the article notes, Jesse James was often portrayed as a Robin Hood figure who’d help out the poor — though I’ve read elsewhere that was a conscious Southern effort to hold him up as the enemy of Northern banking interests after the Civil War.

Part of that, perhaps is that the image of the corrupt rich, trampling are rights, is just as eternal as Robin of Sherwood. As the TV series Leverage put it, “The rich and powerful take what they want — we steal it back for you.” The series showed a team of crooks using their skills as modern-day Robins, providig the poor and pushed-around with “leverage” against the oppressor.

Go back 100 years and George Allen England’s The Air Trust isn’t that different. A grasping millionaire, bummed out that he’s gotten his hands on everything possible, thinks of something he doesn’t own yet — air. He establishes a series of oxygen extraction factories that provide pure, bottled oxygen for people who want it to pep them up. Nobody’s going to realize the amount of oxygen he’s extracting will eventually make air unbreathable — at which point we’ll have to pay any price for his oxygenators if we want to survive. It’s a great concept though heavy socialist exposition undercuts it (there’s even socialist poetry!).

Move to the 1940s and Leading Comics #5 (author unknnown, art by Ed Dobrotka) gives us the heartwarming story of “The Miracles Money Can’t Buy.” That is, I thought it would be heartwarming (“With all my money what I really want is love — a miracle money can’t buy.”) but the miracles in this case are things like the world’s largest diamond and the world’s greatest racehorse. The Skull, world’s wealthiest man, can’t buy them simply because the owners won’t sell. His solution is to bust five criminals off death row and send them out to bring in those wonder items. You could update that one easily, just give the Skull a made-up name — hmm, how does Elon Bezos sound?

Jump forward to the Silver Age and we have another timeless rich dude, Gregory Gideon (whom I wrote about recently at Atomic Junkshop). Gideon is a gazillionaire on the brink of total control of the world’s economy. When his three closest competitors beat back his takeover attempt he proposes a wager: set him any task and when he succeeds, they sell out. The trio come back with something they imagine not even Gideon can achieve — destroy the Fantastic Four! Gideon comes closer than you might expect (details at the link) before learning that yes, the best miracles are those money can’t buy, like the love of his son. Schmaltzy, yes, but Lee and Kirby make it work.

The idea of the rich screwing us over has lasting power because it’s so often true. So it’s not surprising we fantasize someone — the FF, the Seven Soldiers, Robin Hood — who can give us that leverage.

#SFWApro. Covers by Mort Meskin (top) and Jack Kirby.

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DeSantis: Sexual harassment training is evil, just like Disney is evil!

As you all probably know, Fla. Governor Ron DeFascist and his fellow Republicans are outraged that Disney dared defy him and question the wisdom of Don’t Say Gay. He’s claiming that Disney’s sexing up cartoons — as noted at the link, it’s not a new thing in cartoons — but it’s doing the job of encouraging corporations to collaborate. He’s unsurprisingly fine with Nazis protesting Disney. And his party’s on board too: Josh Hawley’s suddenly discovered corporate copyright lasts too long and needs to be changed. Provided you’re a corporation with $150 billion in revenue so it’s not like he’s targeting revenue.

While I agree copyright stretches out way too long, altering the law to punish specific companies is not a good alternative.  Once again, Republicans show themselves as the Stalinists they pretend to despise. It was a staple rule in the old USSR, and many other oppressive states, that you either give lip service to party orthodoxy or pay a price. It’s not the first time, either: back when George Soros looked at buying into major league baseball, some Republicans said that would cost MLB its antitrust exemption. But the important thing from Republicans’ perspective is that its discouraging other corporations from speaking up.

The focus on Disney and DeSantis’ hating on gays shouldn’t obscure that he’s also punching down at sexual-harassment and diversity training. It bans training that says, for example, that race, sex or national origin make some people privileged, or that tells employees they should feel “guilt, anguish or psychological distress” because of actions committed by people who share their race or gender. If an employee thinks their employer has crossed the line, they can sue.

Rather like the Texas abortion bounty hunting program this is considerably more freewheeling than a policy supervised by the government. Would saying that statistically more men than women commit harassment or that women have to deal with harassment a lot qualify? Even if the employee loses, it’s going to cost the employer time and money, providing an incentive for employers to be very, very careful about harassment and diversity training).

Like Don’t Say Gay, the primary goal here is proving DeSantis is fascist enough to be a Republican presidential candidate. I suspect the right-wingers who complain sexual harassment is an arbitrary standard will be fine with it. They’re not offended by sexual harassers such as Madison Cawthorne or Roy Moore. Like Suzanne Venker they assume the problem is that women are there in the workplace so it’s their fault. Just keep women and men apart at work and if women’s careers suffer, well why should misogynists care? Likewise, the assumption is that diversity is a synonym for “minorities and women getting jobs they aren’t qualified for” in contrast to the fantasy era when white people ran everything because they were superior.

I don’t know if DeSantis believes any of that or is just making a calculated political gesture. Like his enthusiasm for punching down at gays to gain political points, it’s vile either way. Which unfortunately makes him a perfect Republican.

I have a chapter on sexual harassment-excusing bullshit (including the Pence Rule) in  Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers.

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Titans, pseudo-romans and Rasputin: books read this week

After reading Mary Shelley’s life in Romantic Outlaws I checked Percy Shelley’s PROMETHEUS UNBOUND out of the library. This was a sequel to the partially lost Greek drama Prometheus Bound though Shelley acknowledges he’s taking the theme, involving Prometheus’  freedom and its effect on the tyrant-god Zeus, in a different direction. Unfortunately the poem deals with less with that theme than Romantic paeans to the beauty of nature; while any one page of that was a joy to read, at 100-plus pages it palled on me.

I picked up the Y/A fantasy AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir because I’m fascinated by the Roman Empire and this was supposedly set in an alt.Rome. I don’t find it very Roman other than the names and some ranks (centurion, augur) but it kept me reading nonetheless. One protagonist is Elias, an imperial warrior about to qualify as a Mask (a kind of ninja) only to be dragged into the struggle for imperial succession; the other is Laia, resident of s subjugated land and reluctant ally of the resistance in the hope they can help her free her brother. Need I say that their paths cross?

I could have done without all the sexual tension between Elias and his BFF Helene, but that’s just personal taste. I have a bigger problem with the amount of rape and rape threats; while I can buy Laia, who’s posing as a slave being on the receiving end of that shit (though as this review points out, it’s presented more as She’s So Beautiful than about power and dominance), there’s no reason to have Helene, a fellow Mask, treated that way (especially given women have apparently been Masks for centuries). No, “realism” doesn’t excuse it — underage male slaves would have been fair game in ancient Rome but we don’t see any male/male assault.

And I really hated the names of the various cultures — the Martial Empire, the Scholastic Empire, the Tribals living in the neighboring deserts. Those aren’t names, they’re classifications. But since I kept reading even when I was pressed for time, Tahir must have done something right.

RASPUTIN: The Road to the Winter Palace by Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo is a boring retelling of the story of the sinister priest (if you want the facts, I highly recommend Radzinsky’s The Rasputin Files). I really could have done without making him a Child of Abuse, which is very much a cliche for villains these days.

Case in point, it’s also the origin of the Absorbing Man in Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s BLACK BOLT: Hard Time. It’s good, and, surprisingly different in tone from Ahmed’s Miles Morales stories. Black Bolt’s evil brother Maximus has trapped him in an interplanetary prison and taken his form. Nobody’s coming to rescue him. His powers are gone. The Jailer is a parasite who feeds on suffering, to the point of killing  and resurrecting prisoners for more power. And Crusher Creel, AKA the Absorbing Man, is happy to show Black Bolt why he’s the toughest con on the cell block. Despite my reservation on Creel’s backstory, Ahmed’s writing is good; however the art is a murky mess.

#SFWApro. Portrait of Shelley writing his poem is by Joseph Severn, courtesy of wikimedia.

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Hollywood women, modern art: two documentaries

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING (2019) is a documentary on sexism in Hollywood, taking its title from the repeated declarations that the spectacular surprise success of Movie X — Thelma and Louise for example — is a game-changer that guarantees Hollywood will have to take women-led films/female directors/the female audience seriously … and somehow it never happens.

As someone who writes about both movies and sexism, there’s not a lot here that’s new to me, but that doesn’t make this a bad film. The most interesting parts were the personal stories — a woman director watching Mel Brooks call out the Directors Guild for not giving women more support, or one black woman’s awe at seeing Diahann Carroll as John Forsythe’s half-sister on Dynasty — a black woman who was wealthy, held her own with white people and could slap Joan Collins without getting arrested. “If you open yourself up to it, the work gets better.”

MY KID COULD PAINT THAT (2007) is a documentary about a four-year-old art prodigy whose abstract paintings became hot commodities on the New York art scene until Charlie Rose did a 60 Minutes piece claiming (rather dubiously from what we see here) that her dad did most of the work. This killed the kid’s  career until the family released a DVD showing her doing all the painting herself. However the subject is less the girl than the perennial question of how we evaluate, interpret and understand art (the paintings becoming less valuable when “she didn’t paint them herself” was the story) and whether abstract modern art has any meaning. Good job. “It’s never just about art, it’s about the story art tells.”

#SFWApro. All rights to the image remain with current holder.

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