It’s E3 week. For gamers around the world, this is like first Christmas in June, where among the lights and smoke and mirrors, we receive small little nuggets of sunshine in the form of game announcements and updates. This year was no different, with various companies announcing some big games, like Halo 5 and Mass Effect 4. But, in my opinion, it was Sony that stole the show this year with a pre-show press conference with the announcement of three highly-anticipated games. The first two, the Final Fantasy VII remake and The Last Guardian, were definitely welcome surprises, with the former a long-stated desire of fans and the latter long-since dead, but it was the third announcement that seemed the most shocking and exciting: Shenmue 3.
I want to talk about representation. I know what you’re saying: Chris, you’ve already written two columns on representation. Isn’t that enough? Why do you hate this horse so much that you gotta just keep beating it? Well, because it’s not enough, that’s why. And when you are fighting nearly a century of comic books that have featured one group primarily (white males), followed by the diminishing othering of marginalized groups through gross stereotypes, two columns isn’t even the bare minimum. It’s not even enough to scratch the surface. So, I want to talk about representation, but I want to talk specifically about how not to do it.
I don’t normally start out my column with a spoiler alert, but since the nature of today’s column is from this week’s issue of New X-Men, I thought I would state one here, especially if you’ve lived under a rock and haven’t been on like Facebook or anything. Of course, now, I’m just typing enough text so that I know the little textual preview on Facebook won’t spoil the first official line of the column, which is coming…
If you run in the same circles as me — circles which read literary blogs — there’s a good chance you saw a new mapp (short for mobile application [just coined it.]) making a few waves. The mapp is called “Clean Reader” and seeks to scrub your e-books of all filth and debauchery, replacing the words in question with family-friendly terms, like “freak” and “bottom.”
The mapp gained a bit of international attention last week when author Joanne Harris posted a scathing critique on her blog. And almost instantly it blew up, forcing the issues of authorship and censorship to the forefront of Internet discussion, as different authors weighed in, and even a few journalists threw their opinions into the ring. As a fan of words and literature in general, these types of discussions are my jam, and I’ve followed the debate closely, nearly salivating over each new entry into the saga. There were issues of copyright thrown about by armchair lawyers, and horrible metaphors about blue cheese dressing thrown about by the mapp creators. Big authors got involved. Small authors got involved. Dogs and cats started sleeping together. It was madness. It was Sparta. Continue reading
When I sat down to do my column this week, I was a bit torn. See, normally, I spend the better part of two or three days just trying to find something to write about. This week, though, I was struck with a bunch of different topics, all of which I thought would be super fun to discuss, and about each of which I thought I would have more than enough to say. How do you choose? I briefly considered going to the race track and randomly assigning each column topic to a separate horse and just let the racing gods decide my fate. Ultimately, though, I determined that was a less than ideal road, since horses scare me, as do people who frequent race tracks in the middle of the week, or on the weekends for that matter.
Instead, I decided I would combine my topics into one giant, super, Voltron-like column, in which I would simply move from one topic to another, laying out some brief and quick responses on a variety of issues. So, without further ado, let’s begin our journey down the wire in the magical land of television, a vast wasteland, as Newton Minnow once called it. Continue reading
Having grown up an avid reader, many of my best memories are wandering among the stacks, picking out a sweet science-fiction book to take home and read over the course of a night. It’s not a far stretch to assume that a lot of these early experiences helped shape much of my life path, from a desire to write to my eventual decision to go back to school for my Master’s degree in English (with a sub-focus on Realism and Naturalism, but that’s neither here nor there). And, considering that such a passion for reading blesses (or curses, depending on your perspective) its owner with the eternal titles of “nerd” and “geek,” it’s not hard to see how one such as myself might grow accustomed to other hobbies whose users share such titles, like the aforementioned science-fiction and the comic books we’re talking about today. I’m sure, among comic book fans, I’m not unique in this experience. In fact, most of my comic book loving friends are also avid readers, even to this day.
Where I might be unique in this experience is that my love for libraries often finds its way into my personal life, specifically during vacations. I often find myself taking at least a little time out of one of my days to make my way to the local library and just check things out. What is the library’s layout? What does the library emphasize? Fiction? Non-fiction? How are all of the books organized? I don’t necessarily learn anything from my visits to these libraries, but I enjoy them anyway. A good library is like a good friend’s house. When you visit, you immediately feel at home. Continue reading
It’s 1992, and Superman is dead. I’m in my local comic shop, and I see the issue on the racks. Superman #75, with its iconic cover featuring a tattered red cape hanging from a pole, like a weird flag of death. Next to it sat the black-bagged special edition, with its black armband, obituary, and collectible card. It was quite the sight to see for a young comic book fan, and one that sticks with me even now. Of course, now-a-days, Cynical Comic Book Fan Chris looks at death in comics and says, “Ha! Death! That’s a good one! Tell me again about how this character or that character has died!” But, back then…
As adult fans, our cynicism is well-founded. For years, there was a saying in comics that the only comic book deaths that would stick were Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben. Considering that even out of this short list, two of the three characters have returned, it’s easy to see why we don’t put much stock in major comic book deaths. You can tell me all you want about how Jean Grey is really dead this time, but we all know that when sales start lagging, and you need an event to really spice things up, her coffin will be conspicuously empty. (Note: This cynicism in no way applies to the recent death of Wolverine. I’m sure he’s really dead this time.) Continue reading
That’s all I can think about as the minutes tick down into seconds until the Target two blocks from my apartment opens. It’s 7:55 a.m. on a cold Friday morning, and my wife has left to go get breakfast. I’m about tenth in line, and I’m reasonably sure that the other nine people in front of me are here for the same reason I am. In five minutes, Target will open up, and we will all rush back to the electronics department, for an opportunity to score a new Nintendo 3DS. Specifically, we’re all waiting to be one of the few people to score the super-limited Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask edition. I know I don’t have much of a chance to get one. From what people have said, each Target is only going to get two to six, and being tenth in line puts me out of the running considerably. Continue reading
I love digital comics. Anyone who knows me knows that’s no secret. Truthfully, I am the perfect customer for digital comics. Unlike my partner-in-crime, I am not a comic book collector. I don’t buy comics and bag them and store them in boxes, in dark closets, never to read again. I don’t keep a spreadsheet of issues I own, cross-referenced by title, characters, and creators. I don’t have a pull list, and I don’t anxiously await Wednesdays. I read comics solely for the stories, and when I’m done with the stories, the comics often go into a stack in my closet, where I sometimes pull them out again months down the road and reread them, gaining new perspectives on the stories within. While I have great memories of brick and mortar stores, right now, in my life, at the moment, I am a horrible comic shop customer.
But, digital comics. Digital comics are made for me. They always have been. Four years ago, I wrote an entire essay on a different site arguing in favor of what I perceived to be the future of comic books: digital comics. In that piece, I wrote about the access that digital comics could offer, and the potential for savings for the consumer. I painted digital comics as a perfect utopia, the wonderful and glorious future we are destined for. You can read the whole piece over here. I’m not super pleased with it. I was young and shortsighted and not very good. Continue reading
This installment is part of an ongoing series in which Christopher re-reads and analyzes one of the greatest comic book series of this or any age. Truth be told, he thinks way too hard about this series, but it’s okay: he knows that other people think way too hard about this series as well. He likes to justify his thoughts by telling himself that he is writing this series for those people.
When last we left Morpheus, king of dreams, he had just recovered the three artifacts of his power: his mask, his pouch, and his dream crystal. With the destruction of the crystal at the hands of Dr. Destiny, Morpheus’s power returns to him in full, making him more powerful than he has been in centuries. What follows is a single issue that is most likely the most important issue in the first volume, and possibly the most important issue in the entire series.
When “Sound of Her Wings” opens, Morpheus is sitting and moping and feeding pigeons. After completing his revenge on his captors and retrieving his belongings, he is listless and unmotivated, unsure of what to do next. Enter his big sister, Death, who offers him the opportunity to accompany her on her work that day and talk. Within 22 pages, which ultimately feel way too short, we are transported around the world, as Dream watches Death guide people into the afterlife. While this is happening, Death guides Morpheus and gives him direction, ultimately creating a beautiful sibling interaction that is remarkably sweet, considering the two characters are eternal representations of metaphysical concepts.
This issue is notable for a number of reasons. In the afterward of Preludes and Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman calls this issue an epilogue to the preceding stories, and in this sense, it’s very true. The first seven issues of the collection are a self-contained story documenting Morpheus’s imprisonment, escape, and recovery. Once this is complete, we the readers are left as unsure of the future as Morpheus is. While Gaiman could have just jumped through time to start a new story in the following issue, he instead chooses to slow down the pacing and explore what makes Morpheus tick.
Additionally, this issue is important because of its introduction of Death, who would go on to be a major fan favorite. Morpheus’s big sister is everything he is not, and that is wonderful. Where Morpheus is dark, brooding, and morose, Death is happy, perky, and energetic. This first appearance shows Death smiling and talking about Mary Poppins, and I don’t know about you, but in all my musings and thoughts on death, this persona is most unlike anything I’ve imagined. This juxtaposition is especially striking, considering that Death’s job is to literally guide people through their deaths. It makes sense within the context of the story, I guess. As Morpheus says, “It is as natural to die as it is to be born.” It is humanity that cowers in fear of death, when really, it’s just one more phase of life. In this sense, Death’s appearance and demeanor fits very well.
As to why people glommed onto her as a character, I think that some of that has to do with her reactions to those around her. We see her being stern and disapproving, when she first talks to Morpheus, to cool and comforting a few pages later, when an infant asks, “is that all I get?” While Morpheus is the king of Dreams, and the main character of entire series, it is Death that provides the pathos within these pages, and it is that pathos that engages us as the readers.
Or, maybe, she just gives people hope. Maybe, when we die, we’re greeted by a goth girl wearing an Ankh around her neck, who guides us to the afterlife amid the sound of her wings.
Gaiman calls this issue an epilogue, and it certainly serves that purpose. It caps off the previous stories, providing some much needed closure and bridging a gap to the storyline that follows. Additionally, though, it bridges an even wider gap, between who Morpheus was, and who he becomes in the rest of the series. It’s a single, self-contained issue that, as I said earlier, feels way too short, but it’s an issue that everyone should read. Even more so, it’s an issue that would be a great introduction to the series for someone who has never read any other issues.
This concludes our revisit of Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume of Sandman. Overall, this is a terrific opening to a terrific series, and Gaiman does a fantastic job of drawing us into the world and making us want to stay. In the next installment, I’ll head into the second volume, The Doll’s House, which finds Dream continuing to rebuild his realm.