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.

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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 – Companion Piece

  • Title: Companion Piece: Women Celebrate the Humans, Aliens, and Tin Dogs of Doctor Who
  • Author: L.M. Myles and Liz Barr (eds.)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/07/2016

Companion Piece is another book in the “Chicks Dig” series (other volumes include: Chicks Dig Time LordsChicks Dig Comics, etc.). This essay collection focuses on the companions in Doctor Who. The essays represent a variety of viewpoints, but often have a Feminist perspective. What I love about Companion Piece is that the essays really get you to think and to re-consider one’s opinions about various eras of Doctor Who and the companions therein. This collection begs the reader to reconsider companions that they may have not really cared for, and to think about how others might view a character – positively. But it also gives the reader unique, thought-provoking essays that will have the astute female reader nodded her head – and not as yet another dismissal of early companions as “screamers” (the “defense” of Barbara Wright is brilliant, as is the essay on Nyssa or “Science Princess FTW”). Companion Piece moves way beyond the common, oft-repeated fannish “wisdom” of long-time male Doctor Who fandom and gives the reader new ideas to consider. It even had me reconsidering my opinions about a couple of companions that I’ve never liked [Mel, Peri].

This essay collection is highly recommended to all Doctor Whofans but also to anyone interested in Feminist film/literary/television critique, as well as anyone who just wants to read passionate, intelligent, essay-writing.

The collection also is overwhelmingly positive, never strident. I loved that.

Again, highly recommended.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who

  • Title: Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who
  • Author: Steve Berry (ed.)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/19/2015

Behind the Sofa Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who is a essay collection put together to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. A number of people relate stories about Doctor Who – some of whom I knew of (Neil Gaiman, Jonathon Ross, etc) some I didn’t. Some of the interviewees describe themselves as massive fans of the show, many having seen it from the very beginning in 1963. Others are newer fans, having started to watch New Who in 2005 or even later (one or two even started with Matt Smith). Others, such as Micheal Grade admit not liking the show. Grade’s interview is an interesting artifact – he seems to almost take pride in taking Doctor Who off the air then turns around and says New Who, particularly with Russell T. Davies at the helm was brilliant. In Grade’s mind, he seems to think he’s solely responsible for the success of New Who (newsflash – he isn’t).

Some of the essays in the book are brilliant. Most are interesting. Some contain fascinating stories and trivia. Several people with connections to Doctor Who are interviewed – but this isn’t solely a collection of essays by actors and other people involved in making the program. Some of the essays, especially regarding the book being a fund-raiser for Alzheimer’s Research – are heart-breaking.

What struck me once I had finished the book is just how much Doctor Who is a cultural touchstone in the UK – literally everyone is familiar with the show. They might not have watched it during the Classic Era. Or they might have only watched the program occasionally. But it’s familiar to the British people, and is a cultural well, since I don’t like the phrase “phenom” – touchstone. I had heard similar comments before – but I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess I saw the show as a classic but still an SF “cult” show – something the “cool” people watched and everyone else ignored. But it’s an everyday classic in the UK, and everyone is familiar with the show, the TARDIS, and the Daleks.

If you can find a copy of this book, do buy one. You’ll be helping a great cause, and it’s a good read!

Non-Fiction Book Review – Chicks Unravel Time

  • Title: Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who
  • Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press
  • Editors: Deborah Stanish, L.M. Myles
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/15/2012

This essay collection is the sequel to the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords. I really liked it. I enjoyed it more than the previous book. Each essay addresses a season of Doctor Who and the book covers the original Classic series (1963-1989), the TV Movie (1996) and the new series (2005-). The BBC Eighth Doctor books and Big Finish audios are also mentioned.

The essays in this book cover a number of topics while also reviewing each season, and the essays are organized thematically, not chronologically. I would have preferred chronological organization, but as the Introduction points out, I can always re-read the book’s essays in chronological order. Also, the subtle theme-order makes sense. I did find it helpful to have an episode guide handy while reading.

Below I’ll mention one of my favorite essays, but I’m not going to go through all the essays, there are just too many.

“A Dance with Drashigs” by Emma Nichols focuses on the Doctor & Companion relationship, specifically in Season 10. But more specifically it focuses on Jo Grant — and in a positive manner. Jo is a companion who gets no respect in Who fandom, and she’s often unfairly compared with the companion before her (Dr. Liz Shaw) and after (Sarah Jane Smith, often perceived as the Classic series fan’s most favorite companion). Yet, I’ve always really liked Jo, though I tend to be quiet about it. And, as this essay points out, it’s because I saw “later Jo” first — the first episode I saw with her was “Frontier in Space” and Jo kicks, um, butt, in “Frontier in Space” — she’s rescuing the Doctor, getting herself out of cells, successfully resisting the Master’s hypnotism, and figuring out just what the deal is with the Drashigs anyway (as well as the rest of the plot, which involves perception of an “enemy”). When I saw Jo’s first episode I understood why a lot of fans didn’t like her — but what I also like is she evolves and she takes it upon herself to learn and grow. This essay legitimizes my opinion of Jo and adds to it. I also enjoyed the fact that a new Who fan actually enjoyed classic Who (perceived “wisdom”, especially in the Moffat Era, is that a New Who Fan can’t possibly be interested in Classic Who. Yeah, right.) Or as Nichols put it: “…when Rose encountered an Auton in Hendrick’s basement, I had never seen an episode of Doctor Who. By the time she was crying on a Norwegian Beach, I’d seen every episode of Doctor Who. And then there were the 70-ish eighth Doctor novels and dozens of Big Finish audios…” (p. 24). I simply love that.

Course, it was the comments of one of the editors praising Jo Grant at a Chicago TARDIS convention panel that convinced me to go straight to the dealers’ room to buy my own copy!

But there are many, many brilliant essays in this book. I loved the one about my favorite Doctors and companions: What Would Romana Do?; I’m from the TARDIS and I’m here to help you – Barbara Wright and the Limits of Intervention; Build High for Happiness!, Ace, Through the Looking Glass. But I also liked essays that brought up topics I had never thought of before: Reversing Polarities The Doctor, The Master, and False Binaries in Season 8; The Problem with Peri; Identity Crisis, The Still Point, The Doctor’s Balls (not what you think!). And, without a doubt, many of the essays had me wanting to sit down and re-watch Doctor Who — in its entirety!

I highly recommend this book, everyone from the casual fan to fans like the guy who kept sitting next to me at Chicago TARDIS who could name every episode in order from the entire run (so far) — and did so, frequently, at length. (I look-up info like that, which is why Lofficier’s Programme Guide still sits on my desk). Anyway, it’s brilliant!

Bruce Wayne isn’t Crazy – Book Review – “Batman and Psychology”

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  • Title: Batman and Psychology A Dark and Stormy Knight
  • Author: Travis Langley
  • Format: Trade paper

I loved this book. Often “pop culture and academic subject” books are great 101-level introductions to whatever the academic subject is (Philosophy, Physics, Science, etc) but the pop-culture references are shoved in with a shoe-horn, almost as if a research assistant summarized Buffy or Star Trek or Doctor Who for the author who didn’t really understand it, and the book was written with few, if any, good examples drawn from the pop culture source — though the 101 academic info is always good.

Batman and Psychology, however, is different — Batman, the dark, complex alter ego of Bruce Wayne is a deeply psychological character that begs for serious analysis. Langley is obviously a fan of Batman comics, graphic novels, and the Christopher Nolan films (even including the third film of the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, though this book pre-dates the film’s release. Langley gives a detailed history of the Dark Knight, and some of his companions (such as the Robins) and different versions of his rouges’ gallery villains (such as Joker). Plus this book introduces basic concepts of theorists and founders of psychology: Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, Erikson, etc.

If you would like an introduction to psychology, a history lesson (an interesting history lesson) about DC Comics and one of it’s most enduring heroes – Batman, and to read a good psychological analysis of Bruce Wayne/Batman and his friends and enemies, buy or borrow this book. You will most probably enjoy it, I did.

This review previously appeared on my Goodreads page, and on my Live Journal blog.