Book Review – Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder

  • Title: Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder: Scholars and Creators on 75 Years of Robin, Nightwing, and Batman
  • Author: Kristen L. Geaman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/09/2019

Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder is an excellent essay collection about Dick Grayson – Robin, Nightwing, Agent of Spyral, and the heart of the DC Universe. Some of the essays in this collection take a strictly chronological approach – summarizing different eras in Dick Grayson’s career from his earliest days as Batman’s “young sidekick” to the New 52 Era of Grayson. Other essays use a particular lens to examine the character from Freudian psychology to Feminism. Grayson’s relationships with other important characters in his life including Alfred and also the Teen Titans are examined. Finally, the book concludes with interviews with some of the more influential writers of various DC Comics.

I really enjoyed this book, though it took me a while to read parts of it (I never was a fan of Freud and Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin left me cold. So the chapters devoted to those topics were tough going. But, on the other hand, the essay on New 52 including Grayson was very interesting – and I’m not a fan of New 52 either.) I also learned a lot about the history of the character and of DC Comics. I highly recommend this book to Grayson’s many fans, and to anyone who would like to learn more about the character and the history of DC Comics. Each essay is meticulously researched and documented with footnotes.

ST: TNG – Darmok Episode Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Story Title: Darmok
  • Season: 5
  • Episode: # 2
  • Discs: 1 (Part of “Season 5” – 7 discs total)
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Colm Meaney
  • Original Air Date: 09/30/1991
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

The Star Trek: TNG episode “Darmok” is a fascinating study of linguistics and culture and I really loved it. The idea was very cool, even if I figured out exactly what the Tamarians were doing a lot earlier than the crew of the Enterprise. The episode starts with the command crew of the Enterprise discussing that they have received a message from the Tamarians, an alien species that the Federation has encountered before, but has also utterly failed to establish any sort of relationship with. In fact, all the previous Federation captains had declared that the Tamarian language is “incomprehensible”.

The Enterprise meets the Tamarian ship and open communications – the Captain, and at times his crew, make declarative statements, of proper names and places, but of course, the crew of the Enterprise doesn’t understand. Finally, the captain and his first officer make statements to each other, the first officer backs down and Picard and the Tamarian Captain are beamed down to the surface, like in the Classic Trek episode, “Arena”, where Kirk and the Gorn are forced to fight each other by a third entity. But unlike “Arena”, the Tamarian doesn’t want to fight Picard. What Picard discovers is that the Tamarian is both trying to teach Picard his language and that by facing an adversary together, a monster on the planet, they may learn enough about each other to communicate. And of course, both communications and the transporter are cut off by the Tamarian ship. This makes Riker and Worf nervous and prone to doing dumb things – like interfering. The Tamarian’s plan works, as Picard, slowly figures out that the Tamarians communicate by example, by metaphor. Unfortunately, Riker’s attempt to beam up Picard during the battle with the monster results in the Tamarian captain’s death. Picard figures out enough to communicate with the Tamarians and then the Enterprise leaves.

OK, so far, so good – but why did this episode resonate with me so much? Because the Tamarian language reminded me not so much of “metaphor” but of the short-hand language that fans use. For example, if I said, Picard and Tamarian Captain like “Arena”. A Star Trek fan would probably know what I meant. But to someone who had never seen Star Trek or the episode “Arena” that would be incomprehensible. Besides, in this story, although Riker and Worf assume the situation is “Arena” and are therefore worried about Picard, that’s not actually what was going on. It’s actually a lot more like “Enemy Mine”. (A 90s SF movie where a human and an alien who are in a war no less crash land on the same planet and have to work together to survive.) See what I did there? Again, without the explanation of “Enemy Mine” a reader may or may not understand the reference.

In the episode, “Darmok”, Data and Counselor Troi eventually figure out that the phrases being used by the Tamarians are proper names, places, and then even locate references to those names and places in the Enterprise‘s databanks. But there is no context. And in this case, context is everything.

I watched the entire episode with the subtitles on, and that may have helped make it obvious that the format of the language was to refer to something. E.G. what the Tamarian was saying was, “this situation is like the situation of “Darmok and Jamel at Tanaka”, but of course, Picard had *no idea* what had happened at Tanaka or who Darmok and Jamel were. He figures it out. At the end of the episode, Picard’s monologue and eventual dialogue with the First Officer of the Tamaran ship is fascinating because as a viewer you only understand part of it – but the Tamaran First Officer grins – he understands, and although he’s sad at the loss of his captain, he knows there has been a connection made.

There are a few other things in the episode, Troi, out of the blue tells Riker the Tamarians have “no sense of self-identity”, which is both a pretty big assumption and probably wrong. They do have a strong sense of community and connection through shared experience and stories. Again, like fans. I remember once discussing a television show with a friend and she mentioned how the ending had ruined it for her. I’d stopped watching that particular show before the last season so I asked, “Why? what happened?” And she said, “They Blake’s 7‘d it.” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Now again, some out there might understand both what my friend said, and why I was sorry about it. For those of you scratching their heads, going, “huh?” and reaching for IMDB, Fandom Wiki, or Google, let me explain, Blake’s 7 was a British SF show most famous for its last episode, in which, Spoiler – they killed everyone off. This, in a show which routinely killed off regular characters. So she was basically saying “they killed off everyone” in this show she liked but using fannish shorthand to explain it. Again, this is how the Tamarians talk to each other all the time. In fact, when the Captain and his First Officer are arguing about what to do it’s clear they both are citing a story or an idea – the Captain’s idea for getting the Enterprise crew to understand is “Darmok and Jamel at Tanaka”, the First Officer’s is “[somebody] his sails unfurled”. We never really learn what that means, so who knows if it would have worked or not. But it also seems clear in that first scene that the Tamarians think the Enterprise crew is somewhat dumb to not understand them. Even the Tamarian Captain gets frustrated with Picard at times. Again, those of us with our fingers on the pulse of pop culture can relate.

I did feel that as someone with some background in linguistics, although some languages on Earth use more metaphors than others, and as my examples of fannish shorthand show, sub-cultures often can use metaphor, shared experience, and shared cultural knowledge to augment language – it’s not possible to construct an entire language that way. Imagine if instead of saying, “I’d like to a cup of coffee,” it would be, “Special Agent Dale Cooper in the Cafe”. But then that might get you pie not coffee. And another approach, which Picard actually tries on the planet, is to define basic words – like “fire” or “give”. This is part of how he and the captain do learn to communicate, but it’s Picard who learns the alien language, not the other way ’round, which again, is a major point in this episode’s favor.

So again, I really liked the episode and I hope the rest of the season is this good. I usually just review ST: TNG episodes by the season, which is what I’m planning on for Season 5. But I just had to address this particular story, because I just loved it.

Star Trek Season 1 Review

  • Series: Star Trek (aka ST: TOS – Star Trek The Original Series)
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 29
  • Discs: 10
  • Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett, Grace Lee Whitney
  • Network: NBC (Paramount Productions)
  • DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 08/09/2009, now hosted on Dreamwidth

My first comment is WOW – oh, wow – Star Trek has never looked so good! The original series must have been filmed in Technicolor because it looks absolutely fantastic! The bright primary colors of the uniforms really, really pop, especially the blues and reds. Consistently, every frame of every first season story looks good. The restoration work going into the set must have been immense – and it looks better than even The Man from UNCLE (which had some flaws and artifacts).

If only all DVDs, especially TV DVDs had such excellent restoration. The Technicolor look is that of the Errol Flynn and Olivia deHaviland’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain, or Judy Garland’s The Wizard of Oz. Which just goes to show how truly beautiful Technicolor really was – especially when properly restored. The other technical notion is that Star Trek, though filmed and filmed in Technicolor at that, was filmed in 4:3 ratio – the only ratio available at the time, especially for TV (If you watch the fully restored films mentioned above you’ll note they also are properly 4:3 ratio – not widescreen.)

I did have a technical problem with my set – discs 3 and 4 did not play properly. “Miri” skipped horribly, as did the opening CBS logo and episode 1 of  “The Menagerie”. I didn’t check Episode 2 of  “The Menagerie”, because by then I knew I’d have to exchange the discs. I called Amazon (from whom I purchased the entire 3-Season set) and found I could not simply return the bad discs. They wouldn’t even accept exchanging Season 1. This is annoying. I have found before, especially with DVD sets with extremely large pressings, that sometimes you just get bad discs. The problem with exchanging an entire set is that you don’t want to exchange 1:1 and take the chance that different discs are bad if you follow me. I’ve watched all of  Season 1 – and found no more errors, so when my replacement arrives I should be able to take discs 3 and 4 out of it, put them in my original set and send back the replacement. And I’ll only have six episodes to check instead of 29.

The first season of Star Trek is a bit uneven – I missed Ensign Chekhov greatly, and in some episodes, major characters are completely missing (chiefly Scotty and Dr. McCoy, though Sulu also disappears occasionally, as does Nurse Christine Chapel). However, there are some classic episodes as well. “The Naked Time”, “Dagger of  the Mind”, “Shore Leave”, “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, “Speed Seed”, “This Side of Paradise”, “The Devil in the Dark”, “Errand of  Mercy”, “The City of the Edge of Forever”, and “Operation – Annihilate!” are all first season episodes. Of these, certainly, “Devil in the Dark” and “The City on the Edge of Forever” were personal favorites of mine.

But with the release of the new Star Trek movie (which I absolutely loved!) and now my taking the time to re-watch classic Trek, well, in the words of a guy a recent media convention during the Trek movie panel – “Isn’t it great to be a Star Trek fan again?” This is something that has happened over and over with Star Trek. After all, the original series did not do that well – it never got good ratings and was canceled after a mere three seasons. It was the action of the fans – especially fans who organized clubs and conventions (Shout out to Bjo Trimble who created the Star Trek Welcommittee) and the female fans who kept Star Trek alive in fan fiction that not only kept the show alive (Star Trek Lives! – Great book, not only for fans of Star Trek but for anyone interested in cultural/media fan history) – but made the subsequent series and movies possible.

Special Features:  Many, including preview trailers of all episodes.

International TableTop Day 2018

This was my third year going to an International TableTop Day event sponsored by my local comics shop, Vault of Midnight. I always enjoy the event very much, but with Free Comic Book Day following the weekend after, and working full time, I often don’t get a chance to blog about the event. But regardless, I always have a very good time and this year was no exception.

I go into International TableTop Day, hoping to play some old favorites, as well as wanting to learn new games – and for three years, this event has not disappointed in satisfying both those goals. Also, I tend to be a bit shy in new situations, but the staff is welcoming and inviting, helping to get new games started and always welcoming one into a new game. I really, really appreciate the staff and both how hard they work and their helpful, welcoming attitude. It’s a great relief and makes the event tremendously fun.

This year I played four games, which is a good amount for a 5-hour event. Those games were: Bunny Kingdom, Settlers of Catan (classic), Ex Libris, and Hive. Bunny Kingdom was a great game. Each player is dealt ten cards to start, and plays two – but then hands his or her cards first to the left, and after the next round to the right. Play alters in direction until all ten cards are played. There are four rounds then the game is scored. Players earn points for controlling territory and completing quests. It is far better to complete quests than hold territory, though holding territory is often needed to complete the quests. And the scoring is incredibly complicated, especially for a family game. But it is fun. The image header for this entry is our completed game board. Now that I understand the mechanics, I’d play the game again.

Settlers of Catan is the classic game, one I’ve played since the 90s, and that I really adore. I usually play one of the expansions, such as Seafarers of Catan or Traders and Barbarians of Catan, so it was nice to play the classic edition. One builds settlements, roads, and cities, in an attempt to be the first to achieve the required number of Victory Points. My two co-players were new to the game, and we did have a good time.

Ex Libris was a game set in a library, and the point is to put your books on shelves in order. I didn’t like the mechanic of there being no deals of new cards after the first one. I also found my special ability utterly useless and actually a negative for gameplay. But, on the positive side, the cards look beautiful, and if I played the game again I might enjoy it more. It’s also a very, very, long game – the longest by far that I played.

Finally, with only a half-hour or so left, I played Hive, a two-player game. It’s sort of like a basic form of Chess, with bees and insects. Your object is to surround your opponent’s Queen – and each of your insects moves in a different way. I played two games and I won once and my opponent won once. It’s a fun game, but one that might become boring after a while. On the other hand, it doesn’t have a board and can be played on any flat surface.

Overall, I enjoyed International TableTop Day very much, but then I always do. It’s a great event. I highly recommend finding a local event in your area and going.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Chicks Dig Comics

  • Title: Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comics by the Women Who Love Them
  • Author: Lynne M. Thomas,  (eds.)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/11/2015

Chicks Dig Comics not only covers Marvel and DC Comics, but independent comics, magna, graphic novels, even French comics. The essays are thought-provoking and intelligent, well-written and fun. Many of the writers are feminists, but don’t let that put you off – these women have something to say, and it isn’t entirely telling DC and Marvel off.

One point brought up several times was something I realised myself when I read comics (DC) in the 90s – Comic books are soap operas for boys. And just like boys might be teased for liking traditional afternoon soaps, girls were often not simply teased, but bullied, harassed etc. The women in these essays tell stories of comics’ shops with actual or virtual “No Girls Allowed” signs, playboy magazines next to comics racks, or even in the industry being treated as everything from a sex object to “one of the guys”.

Yet at the same time, the women in these pages tell of their love for comics, including traditional superheroes comics.

The collection also includes interviews with comics professionals – male and female, about women audiences for comics.

This light and breezy quick read is highly recommended.

Non-Fiction Book Review – The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Title: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geek Girls
  • Author: Sam Maggs
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/10/2015

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and some aspects of it are very well-researched. The resources pages at the back are definitely going to be worth checking out. Sam, by the way, is short for Samantha.

This book is half guidebook how-to manual and half feminist celebration of fangirls. In many ways, it could have been sub-titled, “The Fangirl’s Guide to Tumblr”, though it does venture beyond that, especially in the areas of Anime, Comics, and Gaming.

What I found, um, intriguing is that it seems to really reflect a completely different generation. The fangirls celebrated in this book have grown up with Tumblr, Twitter, youTube, and really big conventions like San Diego Comic Con and DragonCon – yet no mention is made of the the traditional media cons, especially ones that were originally run by women (some still are) and which catered to female fans. Yes, I’m talking about MediawestCon, Chicago TARDIS, and the traditional Star Trek and other conventions. It just seems that smaller, local, fan-run conventions aren’t even on the author’s radar. (Even Toronto Trek/Polaris/whatever-they’re-calling-it this year isn’t mentioned in the conventions section or the resources – and the author is from Toronto.) It just seemed strange. And if your advising 18-14 year old women to “yes, SDCC, just go” – it seemed to me that maybe she should have at least suggested checking out your local Comics/Gaming/SF/Media con. For one thing, it’s easier to get your feet wet at a convention with a few hundred people or even 1000, rather than one of the biggest conventions in the US.

But on the other hand, part of the message of the book is “Be Fearless”. OK, be safe but be fearless. And that is a really good message – and it’s a great message for young, enthusiastic girls. For once, at least this book isn’t full of scare-mongering about the Internet.

Her section on Cosplay is brilliant. Her discussion of “Cosplay is not consent” explains exactly what that means, what to do if you are harassed (talk to con security and/or volunteers). It’s not complicated. And her explanation of the whats, whys, hows, and even whos of Cosplay was also very instructive. I loved learning about how women and men who Costume make, fabricate, put together, and even buy or commission costumes. (It’s not as hard as I always assumed!)

She’s also without restraint teaching about respect for creativity, respect for the creators of art (be it written, drawn, crafted, sewn, or any other form of fan art). No whiny, “but that’s illegal” arguments here. And Sam never says some types of art, such as Cosplay, are more valid than others, such as fan fiction, or blogging about your OTP. She’s pretty even handed about every fangirl’s opinion is OK. She constantly reminds the reader to respect other girl’s opinions and likes – “even if their OTP is your NOTP”. If that confuses you, it’s updated IDIC, or a celebration of diversity – all diversity. OTP is One True Pairing or the romantic pair from a book, TV show, movie, video game, comic, or magna that you really love – write fan fiction about, blog about on Tumblr, and just see as your perfect romantic pairing that must get together. For fangirls, that pairing can be male/female, male/male, female/female, whatever. It can be a pair that actually is canon to TV show, film, comic, etc. – or not so much. A NOTP is Never or Not OTP, basically the couple you can never see together, the couple that does not rock your boat even if it’s canon. Stories that bring romance to a couple, whether canon to the show or not, “ship” characters, as in “relationship”. Canon, though sometimes complicated – ask someone to explain Star Wars canon sometime, is generally the actual work. Episodes of a TV series; the film as it was released; the actual book(s). Etc. IDIC is the Star Trek philosophy of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”, or basically – respect for people in all their diverse wonderfulness. Sam Maggs makes it very clear, that being rude to people who you disagree with, especially over your favorite and not-favorite geek things, is not cool.

The books includes descriptions and advice for dealing with Internet Trolls as well (up to and including how to contact moderators, block another account, contact law enforcement, etc.) And she stresses safety for in-person meetings such as conventions.

The book also includes a enlightening, well-written, intelligent explanation of feminism. I found myself nodding and fist-pumping the air (figuratively) over that chapter, because yes. The Myths of Feminism was especially well written.

Highly recommended to any fan, older fans who might want to try learning about their younger cohort, younger fans who have mastered Tumblr and want to branch out into modern fandom, media studies students (try not to let the informal language put you off), and the reporter scratching their head and saying, huh? It’s a fun, short, highly recommended read.

Flashpoint – Is there more to be revealed on the CW DC Shows?

I have now caught-up on the current seasons of all four DC CW shows. And I’ve noticed something. The Flash mentioned Flashpoint at the opening of the season, and Barry attempted to reverse Flashpoint. But his attempt failed. The Flash is now in an alternate reality – Cisco, as Vibe, is much more powerful than he was last year when he was first discovering his powers. In some ways it’s like that character has skipped ahead in time. And that’s not all – somehow, as a result of Barry messing with time – Cisco’s brother Dante is dead, killed by a drunk driver. Meanwhile, Caitlin is exhibiting cold powers – and she fears she is turning in to Killer Frost. And at the Central City Police Department a new guy is in charge of forensics and he’s a total, well, you know, to Barry. By the mid-season finale, we know a lot more about this guy who’s suddenly appeared from nowhere.

But it isn’t just The Flash that’s in a new reality. Arrow is also subtly changed. One thing I’ve noticed – last year on Legends of Tomorrow they visited future Star City – where they met future Green Arrow Connor Hawk (aka John Diggle Jr) and there was a skyscraper called Smoak Technologies. Due to Flashpoint, Diggle now has a son – John Jr, not a daughter, Sara. Felicity has also lost Palmer Tech – and in last night’s episode, Curtis mentioned he and Felicity were working on a start-up company (he mentions this as a cover for his Mr. Terrific duties to his husband) which Felicity seems to know nothing about. But easily, that could be the spark of an idea for her – especially if she pulls back from Team Arrow for other plot reasons. Flashpoint seems to be bringing the Arrow universe closer to the disaster we saw in last season’s Legends of Tomorrow. And let’s not forget – this season’s bad guys on Legends are the Triumvirate of Evil: Reverse Flash (from Season 1 of The Flash); Damien Darhk (from Season 4 of Arrow); and Malcolm Merlyn (aka “The Magician” in the comics, but he’s been hanging around Arrow since the beginning). I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think it’s all related to Flashpoint (which was a world-ending event in the comics and the animated movie).

I suspect since we also saw Damien Darhk in the Legends of Tomorrow last season; and he’s clearly working with the Reverse Flash this season, and later with Malcolm Merlyn. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think something is going on. I suspect time travel is most definitely involved. And I think the disappearance of Rip Hunter is also involved. I would love to see Rip return, maybe with his father, Booster Gold. I think the time paradoxes are only getting started and they will get more and more complex.  The four shows, but especially The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow, will have a bang-up complexly-related “super-crossover” feel by the end of this season. Maybe they will even change the “Supergirl is it’s own universe with no other Heroes” left over from last year when Supergirl was on CBS. Have I mentioned how that never made sense?

But I have to say, I love, just love, how all the DC shows are inter-related, just the way the comics are. Yes, you could just watch one or two of the shows – and you wouldn’t be lost. But when you watch all four, everything is connected. Also, just as is traditional for DC – all the Heroes know each other: they know each other’s real names; they know each others allies, friends and family; they know each other’s superpowers; and they work together when needed to overcome major threats (as in this year’s 4-part crossover event). That’s something that’s always been important in the DC Comics Universe. The heroes cooperate with each other. They don’t see each other as threats or rivals. When I first read Justice League International (later Justice League America / Justice League Europe) in the late 1980s and early 1990s – every hero, from the most powerful like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, to the ones who really had no powers at all, like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold were members of the Justice League. In between the two extremes were a lot of single power individuals such as Fire, Ice, Black Canary, Vixen – all of whom were female. There were many minorities in the League as well, including John Stewart – the Green Lantern at the time and an African American. And there were the magic users: Zatanna, Dr. Fate, etc. There was something for everyone, and a well-balanced League. Young Justice, the animated series, although it had a modern aesthetic and look, also reflected the width and breadth of the Justice League with many female and minority characters or both (Rocket and Bumblebee are both African American young women). The CW Shows have women and minorities on every show. And the women are not simply there as set dressing or to be rescued by the “male hero” – they are smart, educated, career-oriented women (reporter, scientist, computer expert), minorities have viable roles (engineer, army veteran), and Legends of Tomorrow has a balanced team of women and men with minorities on the team. Plus, you have to love a team of self-styled “screw-ups” who manage to be heroes, um, excuse me, Legends, anyway. The CW Network is doing a better job at this point of doing live action DC stories that Warner Brothers is doing with the films – though Suicide Squad was fun (though Arrow did a suicide squad storyline in it’s first or second season) and I have high hopes for Wonder Woman.