Review: Marvels

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Marvels
by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross

★★★★½

1994 • 248 pages • Marvel

After my brother went off to college, his room, despite still having all of his stuff in it, was up for grabs. My dad seized upon it as an office without telling anyone or even taking the bed out, while I was finally able to rifle through my brother’s books to my heart’s content. (Madame McBride did not participate in this land grab.) Without my brother to kick me out or stop me from getting my grubby preteen paws on his lovingly curated collection of French comics (direct from the motherland!), I was unstoppable.

And that’s how I, at around the age of nine or ten, discovered the difference between Marvel and DC. I’d only been familiar with DC before, having watched Batman: The Animated Series and the odd episode of The Adventures of Lois and Clark, but I had only the vaguest idea that Spider-Man existed. In my brother’s library, there were two graphic novels from each company, alone among the Asterixes, Tintin, and Largo Winch. DC was represented by Kingdom Come, an epic and fairly dark Elseworlds end game story featuring roughly everyone in the DC universe. Ross was inspired to pitch Kingdom Come to DC because he was just coming off illustrating the only Marvel book in my brother’s collection—Marvels.

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At The Movies: Magic Mike (2012)

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Magic Mike

★★★★☆

2012 • 110 minutes • Warner Brothers Pictures

Channing Tatum is a national treasure. I tend to avoid mainstream romantic comedies, due to the social narratives they perpetuate. (Unless, of course, two people I think are cute are making out in it, like Becoming Jane. I am a simple woman with simple tastes.) Because of this, I did not learn this fact until watching 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street recently.

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Review: Otherbound

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Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

★★★★☆

2014 • 400 pages • Amulet Books

When it comes to fantasy, I usually don’t like my secondary worlds squirreled away within our own. (Careful Internetting tells me that this is called portal fantasy, which is an incredibly handy phrase.) As a kid, I was just burned too many times where the real setting isn’t integrated carefully and a real part of the story. At best, I’ve seen easily bruised worldbuilding (Harry Potter); at worst, I’ve seen hideous emotional trauma swept under the rug (The Chronicles of Narnia). I fully realize and know that it can be done well—I’ve seen it done well, such as in The Magicians, an incredibly brutal deconstruction of both Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia—but I’ve developed an aversion to it.

(This probably accounts for my reluctance when it comes to urban fantasy, come to think of it.)

So Otherbound’s central conceit, that a teenager in our world experiences the life of a servant in a more traditional fantasy setting whenever he closes his eyes, didn’t appeal to me. What did appeal to me was Ana’s review at the Book Smugglers, which revealed that Otherbound was diverse young adult fiction, a rare enough quantity in and of itself, let alone diverse young adult fantasy. I decided to suck it up and give it a go.

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Review: Under the Banner of Heaven

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Under the Banner of Heaven
by John Krakauer

★★★★☆

2013 • 372 pages • Doubleday

To celebrate the Fourth of July this year, my local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema screened two films—Top Gun, which we’ve already been over, and a Quote-Along for Team America: World Police. Specifically, a Quote-Along for Team America: World Police’s tenth anniversary. I’ve never seen that movie, but watching the brief advertisement for the upcoming Quote-Along, I was instantly taken back to the political climate of the United States in the early aughts.

While the nostalgia wheel has turned to the nineties (which explains the amount of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess I’ve been consuming) per its traditional twenty year delay, the aughts are finally far enough behind us to take a certain narrative shape. There’s even a new VH1 series, I Love the 2000s, to prove it. This is nothing new for history and nostalgia, but it is something new for me.

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At The Movies: Jersey Boys (2014)

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Jersey Boys
based on 
Jersey Boys
by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

★★☆☆☆

2014 • 136 minutes • Warner Brothers Pictures

In our culture, musical theater, as an art form, is coded as feminine. This is due to the form’s pointed embrace of artificiality, which is so often conflated with femininity. In reality, musical theater doesn’t divide along gender or sexuality lines so easily—in my Georgia high school, everybody got involved with the spring musical. But the stereotype remains, to the point that even Camp, a film celebrating musical theater with a diverse cast, sees all the male-attracted teens go dizzy when an actual straight boy turns up.

In response, producers have begun to highlight certain musicals as guys’ musicals or musicals you can bring your boyfriend to. My beloved Rock of Ages pitches itself quite hard in that direction, what with the strippers, concert atmosphere, and stunt casting, and so does the mildly more family friendly Jersey Boys, which tells the true stories behind the success of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. In fact, both musicals are jukebox musicals that play with the fourth wall, luring in non-theater goers with songs they already love and constantly puncturing the supposed artificiality of stagecraft by talking to the audience. (Both musicals’ abuse of the fourth wall peak memorably: the script is produced in Rock of Ages and the stage is visually flipped in Jersey Boys.)

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Review: Young Avengers — Style > Substance

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Young Avengers: Style > Substance
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

★★★★½

2013 • 128 pages • Marvel

Through sheer timing and luck, I have, in my comic book collection, Kieron Gillen’s entire run on Journey Into Mystery in single issues. I don’t mention this as a bragging point; its genius is readily available in trader paperback. I mention this because I really loved getting to follow the story of Kid Loki in weekly installments. In the digital age, it’s very easy to binge on something in days or weeks, so I really value being able to take my time with a series. (I’m doing the same thing right now with Sailor Moon. It’s awesome!) Gillen’s self-contained arc—best described as “a comedy in thirty parts and a tragedy in thirty-one”—is fun, heartwarming, thoughtful, meta, and heartbreaking, all at the same time.

And that’s without Gillen working with long-time collaborator Jamie McKelvie. I don’t mean to imply that Gillen’s writing sparkles less without McKelvie or vice versa, but the narrative and the art walk hand in hand when they’re working together. The two began their working relationship in 2003 at PlayStation Magazine UK on Save Point, a comic about gaming. (This is, to quote John Mulaney, a very old-fashioned sentence. I can practically smell my old GamePro magazines reading it.) Since then, they’ve worked together on Phonogram, the upcoming The Wicked + The Divine, and the short-lived but critically acclaimed and GLAAD Award-winning Young Avengers.

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Review: She Matters

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She Matters
by Susanna Sonnenberg

★★★☆☆

2013 • 272 pages • Scribner

The storied Bechdel Test caught some flack last year in the wake of Pacific Rim. Faced with such a fully realized female character that was, nonetheless, the only woman with a major speaking role in the film, fans coined the Mako Mori Test, which focused on testing a film’s development of a female character.

Of course, passing the Bechdel Test doesn’t mean that a text is feminist or not. Showgirls, as you may hazily recall, passes it several times, and John Carter squeaks by with a single exchange. What the Bechdel Test means that the film’s female characters have the potential to exist, however briefly, in a world where they are not defined by the men in their lives and where they can connect to each other. The test indicates a breeding ground for depictions of female relationships, be it in the film itself or in the fanworks created around it. Representation in media is incredibly important, as we’ve been over time and again. In a culture where teenage girls pat themselves on the back for not being like “other girls” and mainstream films tell us that (heterosexual) marriage is the only important relationship in your life, seeing female friendships not only validated but celebrated onscreen disrupts those harmful narratives on a visceral, immediate level. Which, to bring it back to Ms. Mori, is why fans were so unsettled to realize that Pacific Rim fails the Bechdel Test: it’s the rare—and, perhaps, only—action movie that posits that friendship is more than capable of being the defining relationship of a lifetime.

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