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As a public service announcement to anyone else trying to buy Steven a graduation present, DC Direct lies in stating that the Beppo the Super-Monkey plush toy is in stores now. It’s not in mine and they can’t get it! It’s nowhere to be found, not even for ready money. This is truly a tragedy for all monkey lovers, although not, I suppose, those who were wise enough to buy themselves Beppos while the cute little fellows were still in circulation.

Relatedly, this may be a slow week at Peiratikos as I have to attend two graduations and Steven has work to finish to get to his. I hope to write a review of the Hellboy Junior TPB tonight, since I believe that infernal scamp is far, far cuter than Beppo, but that may be it for my contribution for a while.

Why Don’t I Dig This?

I’m home sick from work today but, as my dad always says, too sick to enjoy it, alas. I’m assuming it’s a mild flu (complete with respiratory symptoms!) but it’s annoying. This is all a prelude to ranting, letting you know there’s a mild chance when I come to my senses I’ll think everything I’m saying is insane. But onward!

I’ve been thinking about Barb Lien-Cooper’s opinion piece “Why Don’t Chicks Dig Comics? Well, Why Don’t You ASK One?” and several things about it have been nagging at me.

First, and maybe most importantly, there’s this:

In addition, in spite of the fact that women are made to feel somewhat more welcome in comic book stores, there’s still a slight majority of stores that WANT to be like Floyd’s Barbershop or whatever. Some places REVEL in being the last place on earth a man can hang out without having to deal with women or their objections to how women are treated as customers, as readers, as creators, and as characters in comics. I’ve been to some stores where I have been made to feel unwelcome because of my gender. Those experiences were like accidentally stepping into a men’s locker room.

Relatedly, Alex de Campi said that German comics stores are more girl-friendly. I have no way of knowing whether the German part is true. I didn’t find any specialty comics shops in Turkey, and I suppose the Spanish stores I was in would have been friendly to girls who liked Conan and porn. But I’m bothered by the constant references to offensive behaviors in stores. I’ve never had any myself, but I stand up for myself. The problem is that if these kinds of things are going on, we need to know details. If there are stores with systematic discrimination towards women or where there’s a hostile shopping environment, there needs to be a list of names all over the internet so the managers can explain themselves and improve and be aware that this is a problem, and so that the rest of us who care about this issue can choose to shop accordingly. It seems like the most basic site for comics activism, and yet I’ve never seen anything beyond such vague complaints.

But then there’s the whole issue of why women need to be reading comics anyway. I’ve participated in lots of male-dominated fields and never considered that much of a problem or a barrier, nor did it deter me from following things that interested me. I’m also a knitter, a stereotypically female activity, and in reading message boards and knitting blogs there are plenty of entreaties to remember that men knit too and not to assume that all knitters are women as well as comments to the pattern makers that they should include more clothing for men, but I haven’t seen much widespread activism to get men as a group more involved in knitting. So why do comics readers get hung up on this kind of Affirmative Action, tricks to get women to read comics? As Barb points out, lots of women do read comics, especially manga. So where exactly is the problem?

I have yet to meet a comics reader who’s really just happy with the status quo. Whether it’s wanting writers to conform more closely to their view of the Platonic form of Green Arrow or wanting new writers (or a return of old writers) or different art styles or more or less editorial involvement, comics fans all want to make comics better. So when the thesis of such gender-driven articles invariably is that comics should be written better with more awareness of interpersonal interaction and characterization, why is this in any way special to women? To me, that feels patronizing; it’s not enough to say “Smart, sensible people want comics that read well and make sense,” but you have to add, “and chicks would dig it too!” I guess what I’m saying is that “what women want in comics” always turns out to be about what the writer wants in comics, which makes sense, but might be more useful if given in a more direct manner. The Class of Women is not a good demographic. Barb wisely suggests aiming for women who are already geeks, which I think is one place where comics have made significant inroads among female readers – or at least comics published by Vertigo and Slave Labor Graphics, as well as the aforementioned manga.

And one more gripe:

Right now, we are a hermetically sealed off order from the mainstream, with more terms of art, jargon, rituals, secret symbols, inside jokes, and offshoots than one can shake a stick at. We’re the bloody Masons of subcultures! And, that’s the way a lot of us like it. We make it difficult for newbies to come inside, as we make it so only those who are willing to study the subculture and take its ways to heart feel welcome.

Maybe that’s true. Certainly superhero continuity seems like a ridiculous mess to an uninterested outsider, but that’s not all of “comics.” And I think what’s just been described is true of just about any self-selecting hobby group. There’s a new language you have to learn to be a part of any subculture, and having gone through several, I strongly disagree that it’s harder to learn to speak comics than it is to get into any other subculture. I started reading comics 4 or 5 years ago and have figured out how to get by, and I have absolutely horrible visual skills: it can’t be that difficult. I’ve also seen many people who do welcome new or potential readers, both online and real-life folks in general, as well as organizations like Sequential Tart and Friends of Lulu, both of which are explicitly interested in helping women transition into The Comics Lifestyle, whatever that is.

None of this means that I don’t want more women reading comics! Most of my comics-reading friends offline have been women, and plenty of the online ones are, too. I just don’t look at myself as being somehow special or privileged for being a woman who (gasp!) reads comics, even the superhero kind! But trying to use women as an excuse to advocate the kind of comics you like is stupid and demeaning. In Barb’s defense, she’s not just talking. Her comic Gun Street Girl was created to fill what she considered gaps in the range of comics currently available. And I agree wholeheartedly that sexist discourse among and from comics professionals and fans needs to stop. I’m just sick of reading about what women want instead of reading good comics, and the ones I consider good won’t be good for all women. I’m ok with that. In fact, I think it’s great. But at least Barb didn’t advocate beefcake. Ick!

Apocalytpic or Necrotic?

By which I mean my life at the moment. Somehow these 11-hour workdays are not agreeing with me. But I stole my title from Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book for a reason. I’ve just finished Michael Swanwick’s In the Drift, which I briefly thought meant I was now caught up on Swanwick, but a quick search shows I’m wrong. And it’s a book from 1985 about a post-apocalyptic United States.

There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with such stories, though it was admittedly after 1985, which was the time when I was obsessed with Narnia to the point where I could recite full pages from memory. In the Drift explores East Coast civilization after Three Mile Island, or rather after an accident at Three Mile Island in which, unlike in our history, catastrophe wasn’t averted. I can’t recall other books in which the nuclear apocalypse is not weapons-related, which added intrigue here.

Postapocalyptic fiction as I know it had its heyday in the late 80s, and I hope to revisit some of the titles I remember well. A lot were geared toward young adults, or at least the ones I read. Young adult books seem to be set in the time of the crisis featuring teenaged protagonists trapped in a world they didn’t create, trying to make sense of love and horror, which is to say just normal young adult books. This could be a small sample size problem, though, because the only exceptions I can think of at the moment are In the Drift and A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I reread last month and which seemed much more profound when I was 12. Both have standard future-story problems with pop culture references. It’s 70+ years after Three Mile Island and a journalist’s heroes are Hemingway and Ernie Pyle? Or perhaps I’m just frustrated because I had to reread the chapter of 3001 today in which a space captain in the titular year has a photograph of early 1900s explorers and explains a whole bunch of nonsensical multicentury history that makes no sense in the order in which it is given. Think, authors, think!

At any rate, I plan to come back to this when I’m awake, and I’ll focus on the two books just mentioned as well as the excellent Brother in the Land, which has another title too, and the After the Bomb series and the Tomorrow When the War Began series, which I haven’t finished because they’re really well after my time, as well as the entire phenomenon that was Stamp Out Sheep Press. And more, if I think of them.

I realize I was a grim little girl to be so taken with these stories of destruction and fleeting beauty, but maybe that’s why I didn’t get around to reading comics until adulthood. I don’t think I really understood the Cold War paranoia necessary to accept a lot of the stories as directly applicable to my life, but they were awfully meaningful to me nonetheless. I don’t know if there are books like this for my littlest brother and his classmates, born the first time our country was at war in Iraq. I don’t think they’d think their threats were the same, but I didn’t care about the bombs and not having a clear Red Menace didn’t make the stories less powerful to me, especially because the moral was always that you have to be at least as worried about “our” guys as “theirs,” and most worried of all about yourself and what you love.

A Virus from Outer Space

Last night’s bedtime reading was “Sociolinguistic Attitudes and Issues in Contemporary Britain,” by Paul Alceo, an essay in English in Its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics, which cost me a dollar at Half Price Books and has been well worth the investment. I was fascinated to come across something entirely new to me:

Polari survives in only about 100 words, the remnant of what was probably once a fuller criminal argot derived in part from Lingua Franca, a Mediterranean pidgin. It is a vocabulary, rather than a full language, used by vagabonds and homosexuals in the theater and navy.

In looking at word lists I realize I’ve read many of the words before, admittedly mostly concerning “homosexuals in the theater” rather than those in the navy or vagabonds of any sexual orientation. Still, while I’d known that subcultures, particularly persecuted or marginalized ones, have their own inflections and code words and circumlocutions (something I was rather obsessed with as a teen, in fact) I’d never thought of this as a separate language. It makes me wonder when and how current argots will be discussed and codified, from 1337sprach to stupid cyberknitters’ acronyms to all the other sorts of shared shorthands that the internet and blogs in particular create and nourish. This is something I like to watch while reading message boards and blogs, and I should probably pay more attention and keep track, but I don’t think I’ll ever do real sociolinguistic commentary on it.

As for Polari, the definitive source seems to be Paul Baker, who has written a history and a dictionary (still in print!) of Polari. I intend to hit the library.

“The loaded table made her feel gluttonous”

Before any substance, I apologize for yet more lack of Animal Man, but it’s been a crazy week at work and home and I haven’t gotten around to rereading or getting my thoughts in order. Poor Steven has very limited internet access now, so he’s not going to be posting either until that situation improves.

So instead of comics, I’ll quickly review the book I finished early in the week, sowing that I haven’t actually kept to my plan of just quickly reviewing all the books I read. This was Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, copyright 1969. The copy I have is a paperback from the thrift store, the cover a woman-shaped refrigerator in a dark kitchen with an overflowing sink. The worst thing about it, though, is the blurb on the back cover:

Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlpin: she can’t eat. First meat. Then eggs, vegetables, cake, pumpkin seeds – everything! Worse yet, she has the crazy feeling that she’s being eaten. She really ought to feel consumed with passion. But she just feels…consumed.

That’s not really what the book’s about, but it’s an interesting story itself. I don’t know why they thought a feminist horror book would sell, although perhaps that is sort of what The Edible Woman is, if a strange and ambiguous one. It’s set during the sexual revolution, when nice single women of middle-class backgrounds want to have sex and enjoy themselves and still be considered respectable by the sort of people who don’t approve of such things. At least that’s Marian’s situation when she agrees to marry her dull but functional boyfriend, and then her life gets much more strange. She’s losing her identity, her willingness to say what she thinks or what she wants, but at the same time she’s beginning to arrange trysts with an enigmatic, cadaverous literature grad student. Food becomes a weapon, but she’s not sure how to wield it, not sure how her body will betray her next in refusing to accept various forms of nourishment. She doesn’t know what pleasures are the ones she wants and whether they’ll be pleasures if she takes them.

I read my first Atwood as a very young teenager, Surfacing. The writing was lovely, but I found the story incomprehensible. The only story element I liked was a segment in which an Anglophone character remembers being mocked at school for translating vers libre as “free worms.” A decade later I understand well how educated women make foolish choices that leave them furiously searching for a source for their own unhappiness, so The Edible Woman makes sense. And that’s what I think is going on. It doesn’t matter how great or awful Marian’s fiance is if having a fiance is making her turn into something she hates and doesn’t recognize. It’s not a horror story in which an evil man is the villain, but interaction with a corrupt and confusing society. It’s a story about a quest for autonomy and self-awareness, not exactly achievable goals.

The Edible Woman lacks the poetry of later Atwood writings and its metaphors and trajectory are obvious even to the characters. And yet I liked it enough to stay up too late two nights reading it, though not enough to devour it in one. I still prefer Marge Piercy for frothy feminist novels, but Marian made a compelling protagonist, especially because of her ambiguous and only somewhat self-conscious analyses of herself and her peers. I was especially interested in it as a historical document of a setting where women can retire upon marriage and where even when you can be mistaken for a prostitute while wearing a girdle. The frivolous male grad students are a fascinating group, too, and are smugly excited by how shocking topics like S&M in Lewis Carroll are. All in all, it’s a very quick read and in many ways a frustrating one, but I enjoyed it.

My Minor Faith in Metaphor

No Animal Man tonight, but I am quoting David Fiore, which is practically the same thing, right? At any rate, David was talking about the barrenness of the superhero-as-myth theory and goes into another digression about a thread he began at the Ninth Art forum. Now that I’ve read it, it reminds me again that David should stick to blogging and stay off the boards! Part of the reason I haven’t been on message boards as much for the last two years or so is that I can’t handle the hysterical tone that gets going sometimes, and I would have utterly lost my mind were I a regular member following that thread and not being able to stop the carnage that follows David wherever he goes. I prefer to be slow and thoughtful and considerate whenever possible, but apparently a lot of people find that dull, and perhaps they’re right.

However, David quotes Alasdair Watson, which is what spurred me to write in the first place:

I am not covinced that the a serious dissection of nature of faith, to use my earlier example, is going to be well served when the protagonists must dress in spandex and fire lightning out of various orfices. I’m sure it’s not impossible to do, but I think it’d either come across as a bit of a joke - (see Chuck Austen’s recent religion-based storylines for examples), or kill the franchise, because lets face it, people come to the X-men for costumes and ass-kicking, not existential crises. Which is my point about not being allowed to do certain things with a given franchise.

I think my disagreement with this statement is probably not the same as David’s, though I’ve sort of forgtten the specifics of his response by now anyway. First I’d say that there has to be some combination of ass-kicking and existential crisis to interest most superhero readers, I think, to make things more interesting than a video game. The frighteningly deep emotional attachments don’t just come from being impressed at how much a favorite hero can benchpress.

I realize that my tastes run heavily to the existential crisis side of things, so I don’t read too many mainstream superhero books and read other things instead. And I’m not sure religion was a good example here, because, as with much existential crisis, I wouldn’t blame the editors or the audience but I’ll gladly say that many comics writers, mainstream or independent, aren’t smart or sophisticated to pull it off in a way I’d find satisfying. Subtle writing is a lot more difficult than just beating up various characters, but a good superhero writer probably has to do both.

And that brings me back to my real question, just what was the pejorative uniform term before spandex was a widespread fabric? Ok, not that at all. What I was actually thinking about was Marc Singer’s denunciation of metaphor. As I said in his comments, I think I use “metaphor” the way he uses “metonymy,” but I’m not sure. If a good writer wanted to dissect the nature of faith, what’s the best way to do it in an X-Men book? We’re talking fiction, so straight theology/philosophy wouldn’t be the way to go, and making Mystique disguise herself as an aardvark dreaming about the Pentateuch seems somehow cliched. If you’re writing a corporate property, making up a universe to fit your goals and needs like C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman did doesn’t seem to be an option. So you deal with what I’d call metaphor. You’ve got Nightcrawler, who I believe is now a Roman Catholic priest, already at your disposal. And Kitty Pryde is Jewish. And if you were a writer after my heart you could somehow remove Dust, the Afghan mutant who somehow wears chador instead of a burqa and exists only to make me afraid of what offensive or exploitative thing Marvel writers might do to her next. So you can deal with real-life religion and how it impacts the lives of the X-Men, tying it up in a story. Or you could make the religion more tangential, or make the faith in the story not have to do with religion at all.

When I talk about metaphor I mean that the stories have resonance with various real-life issues in my life or in the larger world. If I were this writer, I don’t think I’d have trouble talking about the nature of faith among the X-Men because they’re a community of idealists. They exist and justify themselves because of the good they think they’re doing. So I’d write about what it means to have a crisis of faith about being in the X-Men. How do you know whether you’re just believing what you’re told? Who decides what’s right and what punishments wrongdoers receive? How right can it be to do painful, destructive things in the pursuit of righteousness? Grant Morrison was getting at a lot of this with his work on New X-Men, and I was annoyed that he didn’t follow it farther. The foundations of the mutant dream were shaking and crumbling, and perhaps it didn’t need to be more explicit, but I thought there were many loose ends. But getting back to my own hypothetical story, I think if I wrote that I’d be talking about a crisis of faith on mutant terms, an existential crisis in spandex. And I’ll never get to write it because I don’t want to and because I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to stage the ass-kicking, but I hope it could be a more sophisticated dissection of religious thought than Chuck Austen’s “Catholics are evil because I misunderstand them” religious comics.

And I’d call it a metaphor because it is its own part of the story on its own terms but I can read it as being about religion or politics or about how my mother and I just can’t come to ultimate agreement about my role in life because our priorities and orientations are too different. I’m not sure if this would qualify for metonym status under Marc’s criteria, but it seemed like a good chance to explain my mindset. “Metaphor” works for me, but I understand the urge to pin things down and to make the connections more literal. Literalism has its weaknesses, but Marc explicitly rejects the sort that equates American military might with a big lunk punching out Bin Laden, as he should. I think he just wants people to be more willing to pin themselves down in doing comics criticism, which I’m afraid I’m not. This is the best I can do for now.

Definite Identity

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about comics and I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about any real comics yet (though do expect the long-promised Animal Man posts to recommence in the next week) but I have been thinking about comic book titles, specifically superhero titles. Specifically I’ve been wondering about the use of the definite article.

Why does Bruce Banner become THE Incredible Hulk when Bruce Wayne is just Batman? Actually, that’s an easy one, because names with adjectives need something more. The same goes for team names, whether The Avengers or The Justice League of America. Now, I haven’t gone anywhere near a statistical survey, but it’s interesting that so many of Batman’s foes are The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin… Tellingly, the definite article seems to attach itself to villains more often than to heroes, denoting a sort of depersonalization. Even more interesting, though, is that it shows up with characters who are heroes but only sort of, problematic types like The Hulk and The Thing and The Martian Manhunter and The Swamp Thing. They’re still heroes, but not exactly human (and neither is Superman, who somehow gets a free ride). To get grisly, Batman became The Dark Knight, and The Punisher could hardly be better-named.

I’m not arguing this system works unambiguously. At best, it’s more a trend than a system at all. I don’t know what’s difficult about The Flash except that just Flash would be a really lousy name. And I guess Wolverine is such a badass that to call him THE Wolverine would be admitting that someone might think there could be another, the utmost heresy. And a lot of animal names take the definite article for no meaningful reasons (beside the already present dehumanizing effect of the animal name), although maybe Janet Van Dyne had to be The Wasp so people wouldn’t think she was just a WASP.

And because Steven’s just going to comment if I don’t say this, I’m not calling The Legion of Super-Pets anti-heroes or problematic protagonists. They’re just uniquely identified, because you there’s no need to have lots of Super-Monkeys running around when you’ve got Beppo. Ditto Ace the Bat-Hound. So there.

Kill More Kill Bill PSAs!

Sean Collins annoyed people this morning by saying that Kill Bill detractors should be ignored because they’re misunderstanding a great movie. I disagree with Sean that any of the characters renounce violence, except maybe the Tiny Yakuza who brings out Beatrix’s motherly side. And if they don’t renounce violence, are they all getting punished? Actually, I realize what he said was that “characters who refuse to renounce violence and deceit are inevitably punished for that refusal.” So maybe Beatrix escapes on a technicality for not managing to tell lies while dosed with truth serum, and limbless Sophie Fatale didn’t become headless too because she’s a coward who squealed. But that’s not what I’m focusing on here.

In an email, he clarified his thoughts on the aspect of sexual violence that had bothered Steven and me:

Anyway, I’d talk about the sexualized and exploitative violence–if, that is, I thought there was any, which I didn’t. Not all violence against women is sexualized, and I didn’t think any of it in Kill Bill was. No fetishizing shots of breasts, nipples, legs, crothces, asses, or even hair, really, just by way of a for instance. At any rate, it’s tough to think of a stronger female character than the Bride, who’s easily the best action heroine ever (depending, I guess, on whether you like her better than Lt. Ellen Ripley).

So maybe it boils down a problem with definitions, what makes some violence sexual and some not. I didn’t mean the violence was problematic because it involved femmes fatales in boob socks, which seems to be Sean’s definition of sexual violence. Well, I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it. Without talking about which “worked” for me as story elements and which didn’t, I’m going to make an incomplete list of categorically grouped sex-related violence from both my hazy memories of Kill Bill Vol. 1 and the more recent volume.

There’s some straight-up sexual violence. Buck has been accepting money to let men rape Beatrix while she’s comatose. I’d argue that the murders in response to this fall in the same general category. Beatrix has no reason to murder these two men except that she’s been their victim, so she’s trying to “right” the power balance because there’s nothing she can do about the sex part, which of course is the point. And Esteban slicing up the faces of his prostitutes, that seems like violence as payback for infractions related to sex and power, though we never learn the details.

Then there’s gender-based or sexist violence. When Gogo slices through the businessman who propositions her, she’s upsetting social norms and doing something unexpected for a woman. She’s penetrating and controlling someone who sought to do the same to her. O-Ren has to do the same thing, beat the men at their game of brutality to lead the Yakuza. If Bill is to believed, Pai Mei is a sexist who makes the women in his tutelage work harder and suffer more to prove their ability.

And there’s no lack of violence in/and romantic or just sexual relationships. Maybe Esteban’s role as a sometimes violent pimp fits better here. I don’t just mean standard intimate violence, but the way sex and violence are intertwined for the characters. Elle kills Budd so she can take credit for offing Beatrix, thinking it will endear her to Bill, not to mention knock out a rival for his affections. And when Elle and Beatrix finally fight, is the extra brutality payback for old hurts or the old girlfriend going after the rival who’s taken her place? Most obvious, though, is that Bill and Beatrix were obviously having sex, and Bill killed Beatrix after she left him. Whether or not it had to do with his jealousy that he was being replaced in her heart and womb, when you kill someone you’ve been sleeping with, it’s intimate violence and it’s not uncommon in our world either.

Objectification seems too subjective to catalogue and was something I didn’t find too problematic, perhaps because it’s what Tarantino understands best. I thought the parallel between the prostitutes in the brothel and Bill’s Assassin Squad was an insightful one that added depth to the story. And I haven’t quite figured out the mechanics, but I liked the way Budd didn’t objectify the strippers he worked with but did treat Beatrix as subhuman when burying her. He treats women who are nothing more than puppets in the movie as characters and belittles (and thus underestimates) the two fully realized women he deals with in the movie.

I’m sure if I spent time thinking about it I could come up with more than this, but there isn’t much of a point. These are issues that hit close to home with me, so I know I’ll be more strongly affected by them than most viewers, but I don’t know how anyone could ignore them all or be unaffected by them. I didn’t think the movie was necessarily exploitative in a porny way, making Uma Thurman some kind of fetish object, but the violence exploited the audience.

Sean also says he’s avoided analyzing Kill Bill Vol. 2 because he likes it too much to have critical distance. I hope he reconsiders, because I think I can see what aspects people would like, but I’d love to hear what they actually are. It’s usually easier to do negative reviews and it can be difficult and self-revealing to talk in any detail about what you like. One of my goals in writing here is to get more comfortable doing both sorts of reviews. I’m still working on that part, but apparently have no qualms about pressuring others to do what I don’t. And Mr. John Jakala, this means you! We who haven’t yet seen Dogville want to know why we should!

“No one has succeeded in singing an epic of peace.”

Because I can’t make Kill Bill into the story I wish it could be, I’m open to suggestions. Are there cathartic quest stories about the search for forgiveness? Trite as it sounds, I’ve found forgiving worth the effort and pain, and I doubt that vengeance could be so satisfying (and certainly not for me), but is this a line of thought borne out in anything that isn’t a Lifetime Original Movie?

Kill Bill: “My baby shot me down”

The real climax of Kill Bill Vol. 2 comes at the end of the credits. The Bride has found herself a new identity, one that’s not chosen for her but actually chosen. Just because she drives off into the sunset as Mommy doesn’t mean she’ll be Mommy forever, but it is a new start. There’s a liminal moment where this change begins to take hold, in a doorway no less! Gun in hand, Beatrix spins to face the most cunning trap Bill could have set, beatific B.B. holding a toy gun. After a painfully long moment of shock, Mommy falls, in the clearest (and maybe first) display of real emotion in all of Kill Bill.

Of course, Daddy has been a bad Daddy, and not just because he lets B.B. stay up past her bedtime to watch Shogun Assassin. Bill tried to kill Beatrix in what he describes as a fit of agony over lost love, which also included anger and betrayal that he’s lost his favorite toy. Daddy metes out gentle punishment to B.B., firmly discussing the death of her fish and the guilt she feels over her role in it. He hasn’t grown more kind or fair to B.B.’s mommy, whom he shoots again, this time with a dart that gives him the power to extract truth from her against her will. Can this “marriage” be saved?

Beatrix has made a lot of choices in her life, but we don’t get to see them. Her only backstory is a glimpse of what she was with Bill, a lovelorn assassin, and what she is because of Bill, the vengeful Bride. Bill and the Vipers wiped out the wedding party and the hope of a new life, and Beatrix has done in the Vipers, so those two identities have been destroyed. “Beatrix Kiddo” is a name suitable for the sort of jokes it inspires in the movies, and she doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to go back to that. But suddenly on the floor of a California mansion she finds an alternative. Her story won’t be over when she kills Bill because now she once again has something to live for!

Beatrix and Bill have been locked in a power struggle for years. Young Beatrix submits to Pai Mei both to prove to Bill that she can (thus proving his warnings wrong) and to make him proud, and indeed it turns out she succeeds more thoroughly than Bill realized at the time. Bill enjoys his control over Beatrix and the Viper Squad disintegrates once that link is lost. Is this mutually destructive bond some Grand Passion or just a standard abusive cycle? And how does little B.B. fit in? Daddy and Mommy both love her very much (or do they?) but they don’t love each other anymore (right?) and so it’s better for everybody if they resolve their disputed custody with a fight to the death! It makes no difference to little B.B. whether Daddy cared for her out of love or for Beatrix or to atone for his violent past (and present) or just because he knew it would make Beatrix more angry. She had a Daddy and she had a life, and now she has a Mommy and a new life. Has anything really changed?

In Westerns, a cowboy heads off into the sunset because he hasn’t been domesticated, hasn’t settled down. If he wanted to complete his Oedipal trajectory, he’d find a nice woman (or make a woman nice) and start a solid life for himself in town or on a homestead. In becoming Mommy, Beatrix is trying to twist this. She’s domesticating herself, switching from murderer to caregiver in a matter of minutes. It may not work this way and may not work for good, since she’s left two little girls half-orphans in a revenge culture, but she’s a determined woman when she puts her mind to a task. She’s still defining herself through her relation to someone else, but that’s what has to happen to some extent if you live in society, and now she has someone who depends on her, has power she can use to do great good. It’s a wide horizon, full of promise, and mother and daugher are heading right in, not looking back.