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Picnic at Hanging Rock

This is hardly a substantive update, but today Rick Geerling features a little piece I wrote about one of my favorite movies, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. I’m arguing that it’s creepy enough to count for horror month and it turns out that others agree. It’s a fascinating film I’d very much recommend, and in fact I’ve done so here before.

Win Scott Pilgrim!

21 October 2004 Update (by Steven): Just to be clear: the Scott Pilgrim contest is open to everyone in the world—well, everyone who lives in a country with a working postal system, at least. Also, fellow bloggers are welcome to enter the contest.

18 October 2004 Update (by Steven): Bryan has kindly offered a watercolor drawing as an additional prize. That would make a good prize for special art entries! Note that an art component isn’t a required part of the contest, but if anybody feels like making a cool Scott Pilgrim-related drawing—a drawing of I don’t know what, since this is a contest for people who haven’t read the book, but that’s part of the challenge, I guess—then one talented artist will receive the Special Art Appreciation Prize.

So, you’ve heard about Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life but haven’t nabbed a copy yet. Volume 2 will be released in February, so now’s the time to get caught up with the story so far, and we at Peiratikos have your chance to get in on the fun. You have until 5 November, 2004 to email us at to let us know why you think you would like Scott Pilgrim for a chance to win the fairly obvious prize: your own copy of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. The grand prize winner will also get an XL tshirt, assuming they’re still available then. And for the artists, outstanding visual work may receive a special award.

And how will you know if Scott Pilgrim is right for you? The one-stop clearing house for all things Scott is Scott Pilgrim dot Com, where you can read reviews and view some fan art and hear what creator Bryan Lee O’Malley has to say. And since I might as well hype myself while I’m hyping Scott Pilgrim, you can see what O’Malley said to me in particular in my interview with him. More interviews are available in links from, too.

Want more looking and less talking? Get a taste of the story in two previews: a PDF document from Oni Press or a web-based preview from iComics.

And as a reminder for faithful blog readers, comics bloggers discuss Scott Pilgrim, although there are often spoilers:

And that’s it for now, I think. It doesn’t matter why you haven’t read Scott Pilgrim yet, because all we need to know is what makes you want to read it. It’s that easy, and three potential readers with the best arguments will win copies of the comic. And the grand prize winner will leave with a shirt, too! Just email your heart-wrenching tale to us at and then look for winning entries to be posted soon after the Friday, 5 November deadline.

Bryan Lee O’Malley Live!

Update: If you haven’t read Scott Pilgrim and this interview has you intrigued, enter the Scott Pilgrim contest.

Steven and I read and adored Scott Pilgrim and Lost at Sea this summer, so we were delighted to get the chance to interview creator Bryan Lee O’Malley. The result is decidedly not concise, but my introduction will be so we can get to all the heretofore untold sordid and scintillating details. On with the show!

Read the rest of this entry »

“Why do I look like a mutant in photographs, anyway?”

I finally read Lost at Sea a week ago, and I haven’t known yet what to say about it. It’s Bryan Lee O’Malley’s first graphic novel, and like many first novels it’s about finding yourself. Raleigh, the protagonist and narrator, has just graduated from high school and taken a trip to California, where she finds herself getting a ride home to Canada with some other kids she knew vaguely from school. And so she’s stalked by cats and searching for her soul and her other half (and her original half, really) and the link between an ambiguous past and a frighteningly open future. And it’s about me, at least when I read it. It’s one in a long series of books that have seemed to have mystical import, to get at some truth of how I see (or, in this case, saw) the world, and in some sense that’s what Lost at Sea is really all about. It’s not a harbinger of doom like Bridge to Terabithia seemed to be when I was a short-haired 9-year-old who already had built a Narnia in the woods with my fundamentalist neighbor, not something where the details match. It’s more like an antidote to The Catcher in the Rye, which I hated as a teenager because it seemed so unrealistic. Holden Caulfield wouldn’t just start out by owning up to his own phoniness. After all, what made being a teenager (and, ok, sometimes being me now) so painful was not that everyone else was phony but that they were phony and still managed to be more authentic than I was. And Raleigh understands this, and her carmates, Stephanie, Ian and Dave, seem to have some sort of understanding themselves. But I never found myself on a road trip before college and my mother certainly didn’t sell my soul when I was 11 (although that was the year that whatever I had instead of a soul fell apart) and I’m forced to admit that Lost at Sea can’t be a story about me. What it is, though, and what may have kept it from being commercially successful, is a story about “I.”

Oh, there’s a “you,” too, and there always is in these sorts of stories, right? It’s never entirely clear who “you” is, whether it’s just another version of “I”/Raleigh or “I”/Rose/reader or the “you” Raleigh wants to address and wishes she could address with the depth he deserves. Am I being oblique enough? I hope so, because Lost at Sea is a story about the unknowability of everyone and everything. It’s about connections that seem superficial but turn out to be vast and tight and about connections that seem meaningful despite their superficiality, like my insistence that Raleigh is a sort of me despite the fact that nothing that happens matches. The story is an epic of subjectivity, told unerringly in Raleigh’s voice and with her limited and self-restricted perspective. The one place it falters is on the last page, as Raleigh (or perhaps O’Malley) steps back too far and thinks that she (or he, of course) can see things as they are enough to sum up at least the uncertainty. It’s an unnecessary concretization, but not an uncharacteristic one, because Raleigh began the book with strong predetermined notions about herself and her life and she ends it with changed views, but she’s only leaving on another trip somewhere into her future, and she’s got plenty of time to grow up. (And so do I, I hope.)

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, published a mere eight months after Lost at Sea, features a brash hero who doesn’t seem as introspective as Raleigh, who isn’t constrained by imaginary boundaries and doesn’t even seem to realize real ones. I adore Scott Pilgrim, but I never thought he was secretly me. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with gendered personality differences, but I’m convinced it’s also a function of narration. Unlike Lost at Sea, Scott Pilgrim is a third-person story. Scott is the protagonist but not the “I” of the story; its “I” is the reader, who gets a little help from my good friend focalization. We don’t see what Scott sees, but we get plenty of opportunities to experience how he sees his world.

Scott Pilgrim meets Knives.

This, too, is a subjective story, but unlike the empty eyes Raleigh sees and her worried musings about her surroundings and background, Scott’s world is vibrant and dramatic. Scott doesn’t narrate his life so much as stage it, and Scott Pilgrim is a prime example of the way comics, like films, can focalize powerfully. Everything we need to know about Scott’s understanding of himself as he meets Knives is encapsulated in this image that isn’t a god-view but a non-view, a skewing of the events in a way no one saw them but instead as Scott (and, at least in his mind, Knives) experienced them. This is third-person twisted storytelling, not limited by the range of what Scott knows and tells, but blown open by the lack of limitation he finds in his experiences. We readers can be Scott without being inside him, see how captivating but also how thoughtless he can be while realizing that he’s aware only of the first of those traits. This simultaneous flexibility and distance is really a strength, I think. Raleigh’s insistently idiosyncratic voice could put off readers unlike me, readers who found her immature and self-absorbed in a way that didn’t make them think of themselves, because there’s no way out, no alternative to her view from the back seat. Scott, on the other hand, isn’t the only persona strong enough to get an angle on his story. Would he be the one to focus on the apartment ownership chart? (Well, maybe, actually, but Wallace is presumably well aware of the unequal distribution of labor and resources.) His highschool girlfriend Knives takes the initiative to kiss him and to worship his band, and if Scott ruled the world those things wouldn’t happen, but his is a contested reality, with another subjective look at the world always threatening to seep in. And really that’s what Ramona is, not a dream personified or deferred, but a person with views and a past whose very presence upsets Scott’s daily (and nightly) world. Really all the women in his life are potential strange attractors, strong characters with a lot of pull and depth, but perhaps gender is best left for another day.

For now I’m more interested in what seems like a leap in sophistication from Lost at Sea to Scott Pilgrim, although that may not be a fair characterization. They’re such different works with different perspectives and looks, although both address similar quests and worlds. Raleigh is like Knives and her friends, excited but inexperienced, ready to break out into a world of passion and danger, while Scott thinks he’s lived that all already. But each is about how difficult it is to come to terms with ourselves and all that that means. For Scott, the best fighter in the province, this may mean becoming a knight who battles for the honor of his lady, although I imagine what he learns in the process will be more interesting than the fights, cunningly staged as they may be. For Raleigh, personal change means not becoming more disciplined but opening up, being willing to trust people to be people rather than just what she expects them to be. For me, it’s something in between. Like Raleigh, “I look in the mirror and think I don’t belong there.” Like an embarrassed Scott, I sometimes think, “I’ll leave you alone forever now.” But all I’m really trying to do is create some kind of sense and meaning out of the world and myself as much as I can, and I know that’s not the kind of story that has an end, and that’s the kind of story I like best.

We3’s Cages

I didn’t get to be among the first to write about We3 #1 because I was thinking about other things, about focalization and whether it’s a technique particularly well-suited to comics. I hoped I could tie that in to my talk about We3, but I’m not sure I can, so focalization will have to wait until later. However, all that thinking about focalization got me thinking about perspective, which is at the core of both art and story in We3.

Specifically almost everything is claustrophobic, a word Marc Singer used as well, with tightly packed panels on many pages and very few full shots of anyone. Humans are viewed in part from the animals’ perspectives, not caring whether the head or face is caught in any given shot, and this is highlighted by the focus on Roseanne Berry’s kind face and eyes, which show up more than others’. Panels and perspectives are always limited not just by the edges of the characters’ visions but by the rigid boundaries of their very lives. The scientists running the We3 program exist in a world as regimented and oppressive and limiting as the metal bodysuits of their animal subjects. This is the kind of secret work no one is allowed to talk about because it doesn’t officially exist, except that as David Fiore notes, the work itself is alive and sentient, able to speak (albeit hesitantly) of its history and suffering.

David also thinks there is a moment of deluded, contested freedom at the end, in the final full-page image, which he considers an homage to the Hudson River School. Maybe, but I think it’s more than that. I can’t imagine a Hudson River School painting that looks down a hill this way; they were totally concerned with light and looking up and out. Instead I wonder if perhaps the painting is what the arriving helicopters see, looking out into the pristine light and seeing (or not seeing?) the shining green hills beneath them. The animals, our heroes, are locked within the painting still, mostly out of view, hidden under this veneer of assumed tranquility.

So where is the freedom? I said almost everything is claustrophobic, but perhaps what’s more interesting about it is that no one actually seems to feel claustrophobic on the inside. They’ve all been trained to know their boundaries, to accept the little parcels of themselves. But there are breaks, cracks. In the first, violent full-page image, an image no one could ever really see, we see the one way to be free, to be unconstrained, to have nothing holding you together anymore. And then we find out that for We3 the expectation is that the only way to be decommissioned, to be out of the metal suits once and for all is to be out of everything forever. Is death the Great Escape?

Roseanne Berry seems to think so, allowing her charges freedom in an action she hopes will bring her death and thus redemption for what she has done to them and, in the process, to herself. David Allison considers her attitude “unnerving,” but it occurs at a crisis point, at the moment where freedom is being defined. As We3 charge past her and she waits for the release of death, they choose instead a moment of freedom and focalization outside this binary between death and captivity. For one moment in the whole book, the animals soar across an amazingly starry sky and they understand freedom and their relationship to it as being equivalent to this stark, heroic, fleeting pose. By the time they reach the woods, their freedom has been limited because their individual desires surface, because they are no longer a sleek unit, but for that one moment they have become everything they dreamed of being.

After that brilliant dream, they fall to reality, and they are caught in a mesh of new limitations, the restrictions enforced by the humans (and animals) who seek them and the restrictions they will find when they reach the end of their own abilities and interests and willingness to keep pushing at the boundaries, breaking through the fences. We readers sympathize with We3 because they’ve been so deeply wronged, because they’re such adorable mass murderers, because we can easily put them in our categories of what it means to be a dog, a cat, a rabbit. I assume they will defy these expectations, or at least push up against the edges, but at their cores, that’s what they are, limited both by what they are and what they’ve been forced to be but willing to push for something else. And maybe that’s what makes them sympathetic, because we’re all fallen and yet looking for something else, looking for a home even when we know there is No Home. It still seems better than death/complacency.

Amazingly crazy animal photos

Amazingly crazy animal photos: beautiful but weird farm animals and owners

Via: Jeffrey Radcliffe

26 August 2004 by Rose | Permalink | Comments disabled

“Rating: Awesome”

I was going to start this post by asserting that I haven’t followed more illustrious bloggers into hiatus because I had gotten tired of writing, but only because of a total lack of time, not to mention technology meltdowns that have been resolved at least in the past week. But then I realized that there is even more too it than that. Basically since the beginning of the Peiratikos blog, my interest in comics has been waning. Occasionally there’s a Seaguy to perk me up, but I mostly stick with it because I like talking with Steven about things we’ve both read and because I enjoy some of my fellow writers in the blogosphere and because it’s good practice to be writing. But I was uninspired and missing blogging only in that I felt some guilt about not keeping up with it. Then last week I got some sort of flu and was stuck in bed and ended up reading something that changed all of that. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, reading Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan O’Malley was something of a conversion experience.

I agree with Steven about the contents of the book, though I don’t necessarily endorse quoting of Foreigner lyrics. Scott is a relentlessly self-absorbed 23-year-old Romantic musician in a nonsexual relationship with 17-year-old Chinese-Canadian Knives Chau who forsakes her (kinda) for the literal girl of his dreams, super-cool American rollerblading delivery girl Ramona Flowers. But there’s more to it than that. For one thing, the art is amazingly cute, unique manga-ish flatly layered yet static black-and-white scenes. It’s cute, very cute. I know I said that already, but I emphasize because I might have avoided it for fear of cuteness had Steven not pushed for it, because I’m afraid that cute stories can’t live up to my cuteness standards, whereas ugly stories tend to be fine at staying ugly. But what’s more impressive is that Scott is such a likable hero even while his faults are all totally evident. It’s clear why his bandmates are charmed with Scott (and also why Kim can see through him) and why his roommate Wallace tolerates his general helplessness. He’s endearingly self-assured, unquestioningly sure that he’s the hero of his own narrative.

So there I was, 24 and not in a band but soaking in the bath, trying to open my sinuses, feeling frumpy and unfriendly, and Scott Pilgrim managed to get through anyway. I don’t know what more to say than that it was charmingly written, with a feel of both real affection and real communication that is rare in comics. Scott Pilgrim made me wonder what ever became of all the bands I hung out with back in high school, when I was a high-strung non-physical Catholic school girl not unlike Knives. I assume many of them think of themselves in the same inflated terms Scott Pilgrim would use to assess his own life, but somehow this is much easier to tolerate in a fictional character than it would be in my old circle of friends if we hadn’t all drifted in our own directions. The funniest line is not, as Steven erroneously believes, Scott’s lack of knowledge about’s web address, but that when major characters get ratings (whether as to hotness or just general goodness is unclear) Scott’s 19-year-old sister is rated “‘T’ for Teen.”

And obviously I successfully coerced Steven into reading Scott Pilgrim, meaning that I got an email on my first day back to work saying “Not only is everything grammatical and spelled correctly, it’s intelligent, witty, pomo playful.” That first part is almost the most essential in my book, as I think everyone is right to refuse to take comics seriously as long as comics writers (/artists/letterers) are unwilling to write properly and get their writing edited before going to press. (Most recently, this meant fury at Peter David or whichever Captain Marvel staffer couldn’t bother to do a quick search to realize that Anne Heche is an Anne-with-an-E. Seriously, people, this is the easiest stuff ever, and it makes you look like morons and makes me despise you. Trust me on this.) At any rate, Scott Pilgrim is seriously well-written, funny and poignant and self-aware, smart without being at all pretentious, full of goofy banalities without being stupid. It was a little depressing to see how young Bryan Lee O’Malley is, but I’m ok with the idea that I’m not going to accomplish much, so it’s not a competition. At any rate, he’s clearly very talented, an excellent storyteller with a good ear for dialogue and an eye for the details that matter. I look forward to seeing the next installment of Scott Pilgrim’s life (and we have to wait ’til 2005??) and whatever else he’ll be creating after.

“NOBODY cares about your stupid hat.”

You can’t say I didn’t warn you. Back when I read Seaguy #1, I said the story was boustrophedon, and of course I was right. (Although I’m convinced enough not to bother looking it up that the hieroglyphs are not boustrophedon, because nobody writes boustrophedon script vertically.) While it was awfully prescient of me to recognize that the story would swing around so that its end is the beginning only up a notch, in retrospect I realize a lot of Grant Morrison stories do that. But Seaguy does more than that. When people are discussing what happened and what happens next, the bigger question seems to be whether Seaguy knows this is boustrophedon, whether he has fought his way down one line and back another to find himself right where he began though slightly different. Or is it a Moebius strip or a circle or something like that, where he passes Go and grabs a new pal and ends up back at the start as if nothing has ever changed?

That’s not a question that really interests me, or at least not one I want answered. I don’t have any problem believing this is a cycle Seaguy has repeated before without knowing it, and that at best he’s learning incrementally as he goes, but that requires the Mickey Eye system to be something like the Matrix, giving Seaguy free will and freedom merely to be able to take them away when he (mis)uses them. The idea isn’t just that a person can only give away self-awareness by consensual choice, because we see naked Doc Hero being coercively brainwashed, and Seaguy goes through a similar process less nude process. Other readers think Seaguy is more aware and planning subversive activities. If he isn’t now, I’m sure he will be soon, if we clamoring readers get our promised “Slaves of Mickey Eye” sequel. I like the am-bi-gyoo-ity, and I like it that it’s not clear whether Mickey Eye (whoever the Eye corporation/government may be) approves of it.

And since I’m now a pro at clairvoyant exegesis, I have a new theory. Although it’s perhaps not obvious in Seaguy’s plot, Seaguy is himself following closely in the path of another famously watery hero, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know this. I realized that the servants of Mickey Eye who were reeducating Doc Hero and Seaguy had a strangely consistent way of reminding them about consensual reality. “Nobody wants the Eye to be unhappy.” “Nobody actually thinks you’re crazy… you just got bit by a crazy thing.” “Nobody cares about your stupid hat.” At first I thought these were just versions of “We have always been at war with Eurasia,” but I think it runs deeper. Who is this nobody who opposes all that is accepted and acceptable? Seaguy, the hero and protagonist and subverter of the enforced status quo! Well, maybe he will be, or is sometimes. But that’s what made it clear who he resembles, a more famous nobody, Odysseus.

As we all recall, Odysseus left the Trojan War having angered Poseidon, who kept him from going home until he’d wandered for ten years and lost all his crew, though he retained the love of his canny wife. His most famous exploit, the one we all recall, is his runin with the uncivilized Cyclops, Polyphemus, whom he blinded. Polyphemus wanted to know who his visitor was, and ever-wily Odysseus said his name was “Nobody” (well, sort of, since it’s hard to translate accurately, as well as being an elaborate pun on the name of Athena’s mother) so that when the other Cyclopes came to check up on their screaming relative Polyphemus responded to their inquiries by saying, “Nobody is hurting me!” And so the Cyclopes left, and soon Odysseus left too, with plenty of cheese and wine and goodies, though minus a few companions.

So where does this leave Seaguy? He’s been losing beloved companions, and he’s definitely dealing with a one-eyed menace. He’s a nobody in a larger sense, an unemployed slacker who would like to be a hero but can’t even outhero iron umbrellas. He enjoys stories to the point where he doesn’t seem to differentiate between the Mickey Eye show and Aten-Hut’s hieroglyphic history (and even though I’m super-picky about joke names, because no joke was made about it, that is the best joke name I’ve heard in a long time). And it’s possible he has a faithful woman waiting for him, She-Beard, who loudly laments the fact that “not one man [has she] found,” perhaps because she hasn’t yet had the dramatic unveiling scene in which (he hopes) she’ll recognize Seaguy as her own and take him up to her bedroom, or perhaps because she’s looking for a hero who is also a no-man and she hasn’t yet figured out that this is Seaguy’s gig. Of course, it’s not clear whether she’s a wily Penelope who’s manipulating the more powerful forces around her or whether she’s merely bait Mickey Eye uses to bring heroes out into the open, but there’s time for this to become clear. There’s time for all of this, since time, too, waits for no man.

“We can’t damn the torrent of death and injustice”

I wanted to write about Identity Crisis, but it’s as if I’m being stalked by the post I meant to write. I ended up thinking about it while writing about Eightball, and then while Steven was writing I ended up reading Daredevil: Guardian Devil, Kevin Smith’s epic and awful attempt to Make Daredevil’s Life Hell. (No, I don’t know why I’ve been driven to capitalize important words lately in a way I know everyone finds frustrating, and I don’t know why I write asides like this either, to head off complaints on that front.)

Guardian Devil is horrible in many ways, from the constant in-jokes (ooh, Silent Bob says nothing about Catcher in the Rye! Dogma is showing at the theaters Daredevil passes!) to the hideous Cabbage Patch Kid at the core of the story to the spectacularly dreadful dialogue. And then there’s the story! See, it’s really about consent and forgiveness and the pure vision inspired by pure, true love, but that’s trapped under layers of craziness and blood. I’m not even sure how to summarize, so I’ll just hit the highlights. Matt Murdock is Daredevil, of course, and his girlfriend at the beginning of the story is Karen Page. The story starts with Matt in the confessional, perhaps about to mention he’s been sleeping with Karen or something like that, but really just because Kevin Smith is obsessed with bad ring structure and an early confessional joke leaves room for later ones. There’s a throwaway line about how lapsed Catholics just return to the church for Christmas and confession, but unless “confession” was a typo for “Easter,” most of the many lapsed Catholics I know must be so extreme they’re not even living up to their lapsed-Catholic duty to seek out Mother Church after nasty breakups. I know Kevin Smith’s is not my mother’s Catholicism, but he seems to get things wrong so much more often than he gets them right that I don’t understand his insistence in harping on Catholicism.

And speaking of harping on things, let’s get back to Karen Page. See, she’s a radio dj now, but back in the good old days she was involved in less wholesome entertainment as a means of financing her drug habit. While Daredevil let her back into his life (and that was very sweet of him, I’m sure) she is sure he hasn’t been able to forget her past and that he can’t look at her as anything but sullied, and so she decides the time has come to become Matt’s ex-girlfriend. And I need to pick up the pace if I hope to ever escape even the first issue, not to mention the whole story. Matt/DD runs out of the confessional to save a teenaged girl and her little baby from being run down by a car going 90 in Hell’s Kitchen. And while he manages to save them, both baby and girl disappear in the ensuing craziness. Oh, and I forgot to mention the silly, portentous narration to inform us that a maternity ward(s?) has blown up, which returns to be a major plot point when the villain admits that this was a total coincidence and nothing more.

Anyway, Matt goes to his law office, where his partner Foggy is smitten with a client in a divorce case, a woman who plans to get a lot of money from the husband who had her sterilized without her knowledge or consent. Foggy is in a serious relationship with Liz Osborn, but that’s not getting in the way of anything here. Daredevil hears and then loses the heartbeats of the missing girl and baby, but is saved from another super-keen chase scene by the girl’s appearance at the law firm, because an angel has told her that Matt Murdock is Daredevil and that he’ll take her baby, which he does, before she disappears again. And people who are not absolute morons who think it’s normal for mothers of two-month-olds to refer to their babies as “it” will be really shocked in another issue or so when it turns out this baby, potentially the Antichrist, is a girl. Icky! Well, probably the ickier point is that the baby might be the Antichrist, polluting all it touches, according to an old man who mysteriously confronts Matt with secrets about his own past and secret identity. So poor Matt, unwilling to do so much as change a diaper, is able to pass the baby off to his other ex-girlfriend, the Black Widow, whose ridiculous maternal instinct makes her keep Matt from dropping the baby from several stories to the ground to rid the world of this absolute evil.

Wow, this is getting long. Once the Black Widow is gone, Karen shows back up to tell Matt that her HIV test has come back positive and then she collapses in tears before he can talk about how much it sucks to be the foster dad to the Antichrist, maybe. Meanwhile Foggy has been discussing his case with his client, Lydia, and things get a little hot ‘n’ heavy, and the next thing you know, Lydia’s been thrown through a window and Foggy’s getting jailed on murder charges. Foggy’s mother, who runs the law firm, fires him but Matt nobly leaves Karen in her misery to get to work and even more nobly resigns his own position at the firm, which does nothing to shore up support for Foggy’s case. Meanwhile Karen gets a visit from the same weird old man, as yet unnamed, who tells her that she’s been polluted with AIDS because the wicked baby’s miasma destroys everything it touches, and although this is the first she’s heard of the baby, she finds the story plausible enough that she agrees to help get the baby handed over to the old man’s organization, Sheol. Clear so far?

Anyway, Matt tries to get the baby back from the Black Widow to kill her (the baby, who perhaps generally goes by “it” because it resembles the Joker’s hideous dollbombs in The Dark Knight Returns more than it does any real child) and in the process does some serious damage to the Black Widow. Matt, as Daredevil, tries to stop a crime only to realize it’s a setup, and gets knocked out and captured. He’s able to eventually fight his way away from his captor, Baal, and escapes, bruised and ill. He decides to pay a visit to his mother, a nun who runs a mission downtown somewhere. Sister Maggie takes in Daredevil and the baby, and he sleeps for two days while Foggy is suffering (and because I forgot to write about Matt’s meeting with Foggy, I’ll just note for the record that the obligatory prison rape “joke” is made then) and Karen is presumably hysterical and maybe the Black Widow has regained consciousness. Then Sister Maggie and Matt share some touching moments talking about whether God exists and Sister Maggie slaps Matt across the face for suggesting that God might not be what she expects. Then Karen has tracked Matt to the shelter and asks to be given the baby so she can give her away to Sheol and clean up their lives. Matt, being perceptive for a change, remembers that he’s never told Karen about the baby and that she’s part of an Evil Trap.

Matt escapes and visits Dr. Strange, who deduces Matt has been given a colorless, odorless, tasteless drug and is hallucinating. Oops, that’s going to mean an awkward apology to the ex he just beat up!! Then they both talk to the demon Mephisto, even though Matt has promised he won’t talk to Mephisto, and Mephisto is apparently more up on his holy scripture than either of the humans, because he reminds them that the Antichrist should be a fully-grown adult man, not a baby girl. Matt Murdock’s convinced, but this reminds me that I forgot to say the baby’s mother, Gwyneth, claimed to be a virgin and that her heartbeat told Matt that She Was Not Lying. Also she escaped and was running in the first place because someone was in the process of slicing up her newly dead parents, but this part isn’t particularly relevant, but just gruesome for its own sake.

Ruminating on a cryptic quip from Mephisto, Matt decides to swing back to the shelter, only to find his mother and the other nuns and the poor innocents who came to the mission downed in blood. Bullseye is there, looking for the baby. Karen offers to give her to him, but it turns out she’s just given him a statue of The Baby Jesus. Meanwhile Sister Maggie, bleeding profusely, tries to sneak the baby out of the mission. Bullseye, not amused by this, manages to skewer Karen with one of her own true love’s sticks, and she dies in Matt’s arms in an egregious Pieta scene in front of the altar.

Then Matt’s off after the bad guys, knowing someone must have hired Bullseye. But who could it be? Artfully placed newspapers let us know that the aged representative of Sheol is John (later Jonathan) Curtain, which is not how you spell the name, people, but then his pseudonym “Macabes” is not exactly “Maccabee,” if that’s what it’s supposed to suggest. But who is this guy and what does he want with Daredevil? All becomes clear when Matt fights his way through a bunch of outclassed ninjas and then meets Baal again, who claims to be Matt’s guardian angel. Matt is able to figure out he’s not a real angel/demon but just some guy in a suit (and his real name’s Gabriel, ha ha!) and so is able to disable him and head on to see the main bad guy. It turns out this is Mysterio, Master of Special Effects. He’s dying because of illness caused by the plastics he’s used in his special effects and costumes for all these years, and he thought it would be fun to utterly destroy a superhero. The obvious choice would have been Spider-Man, but apparently he worried that clone fears would make this less satisfying. Luckily everyone knows Daredevil’s identity can be easily bought from the Kingpin, as well as information about his Catholic guilt and women trouble, and so it was easy to unmake the Man without Fear. All it took was a guy in a weird marble-headed suit dressing up in the latex skin (at least I think that’s what happened) to be old John Curtain and put the fear of God into Matt and Karen. Oh, and then slipping Matt a hallucinogenic talisman and hiring Bullseye in the first place. And most of his bodyguards were apparently doped up too.

And Doctor Strange’s skills of perception must not have been as faulty as he feared, because his prediction that frat boys and athletic teams would just love this mystery hallucinogen proves to have been borne out when it is used as a date-rape drug… against Foggy! Yup, Lydia was a plant all along, given false memories or something to trick Foggy into believing her story of forced sterilization enough to take the case and be seduced and then be framed for her murder, which is either some sort of suicide or she’s destroyed by some weird demon-thing and is not herself the demon-thing. Unclear, but all part of Mysterio’s plan! And then there was that baby, a symbol of the purity Daredevil idealizes and hopes to protect, but Mysterio was able to make Daredevil believe it was an evil baby almost to the point where he would have destroyed it. And it turns out the poor kid was the result of a virgin birth, since Mysterio’s henchmen had kidnapped the mother and artificially inseminated her, then using the magical drug to make her believe she’d seen angels sending her to Daredevil. All becomes clear! And Mysterio dressed up as a doctor to give Karen a false positive reading on her HIV test, just to make Matt hate her more for being an evil whore who’d put Matt’s very life at risk by having sex with him. The fact that he was completely covered in her blood during her last moment doesn’t seem to have caused him any worry, but luckily it didn’t matter since she probably was HIV-negative anyway.

Laughing at the way he has ruined all aspects of Matt’s life, and most of all his faith and hope, Mysterio commits suicide, although it’s not clear whether this is totally intentional. And that’s that, except not. Matt still has to search the building to find the baby, who still has a role to play in the touching epilogue in which Matt is reunited with a healing Sister Maggie outside a non-exploded maternity ward and decides to name the soon-to-be-adopted non-Antichrist baby … (wait for it) Karen!. And then he does manage to apologize to Black Widow, who is more sympathetic now that Matt has just lost his girlfriend. And Foggy gets to apologize to his girlfriend, who doesn’t care that he was drugged and unable to consent to anything or understand reality, because he chose to spend the night with another woman and therefore They Are Through. And Spider-Man commiserates with Matt about how difficult it is to lose someone you love to a bad guy you hate, which is a lesson Matt has already learned about 6 million times with his previous ex-girlfriends, and then Matt heads off to confession again only to (ha ha!) skip out once more to defeat evildoers as Daredevil!

And if you thought that synopsis makes Guardian Devil sound like an excellent story, be warned that the writing has such sophisticated errors as the one in this post’s title, part of a sentence in which “everyday” is used as a noun. And the art is just bizarre, with grotesque characters who are recognizable from one scene to the next mostly because of their distinctive garb. And if you’re not sure why you suffered through that whole explanation, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Identity Crisis. In my mind at least, a lot.

Identity Crisis #1 features the mysterious murder of Sue Dibny, non-superpowered wife of the Elongated Man, with the shocking twist being that she’s pregnant, though there are no hints that the baby would have been the Antichrist. Then in issue #2 it turns out that a long time ago she was hanging out at the JLA space station while the heroes were off taking care of some disaster and Dr. Light managed to find his way onto the space station, where he sexually assaulted her. The response of the heroes was to cart her off to a hospital and psychically lobotomize him so he couldn’t follow through on his threats to do the same to other women who consort with the JLA. Since the members of the JLA who weren’t involved in meddling with Dr. Light are unaware of what went on, we can assume that the Justice League of America didn’t urge Sue Dibny to testify against him, despite having plenty of physical evidence as well as witnesses to the assault. Or maybe we’ll learn that Sue chose not to testify, chose never to be open about this part of her life,which is why we readers are just now learning about it.

Identity Crisis is not painful at every turn the way Guardian Devil is, but I’m worried it could become every bit as muddled and bad in the way it deals with gender imbalances and interactions. So far what we see is that it’s easy for superheroes to forget that regular people can control their own lives, make their own decisions. And admittedly it would probably be hard for heroes to keep on the right side of the line between being heroic and meddling and micromanaging. Still, there’s more than this. It’s not just that non-superpowered women can’t defend themselves against supervillains, but that all the male characters are worried about protecting all the female characters. Sure, Black Canary is dismissive of their concerns, pointing out that she hasn’t even been killed, but I hope the JLA don’t equate being protectors of the weak and powerless with protecting and overprotecting women.

There’s plenty of time to further flesh out Sue’s role in all this, show how she dealt with the pain of her assault and its aftermath and her recovery, how the decisions she made to remain with her husband (whose lack of a secret identity prompts the crisis in the title) affected her later life, her years spent in an over-secured apartment that still proved permeable. And if this doesn’t happen, if this is just a story about how much it annoys men when you break their toys or women, I’m going to be unhapy. And I’m making this more essentialist than I ought to, since Black Canary and Zatanna were both part of the group that chose to punish Dr. Light for assaulting Sue, for assaulting the sanctity of their base and their perceived safety, but we’ll see how this plays out.

I have more to say, but for now it’s time for an end-of-episode moral on behalf of Sue Dibny and myself:
If you learn a friend has been sexually assaulted or abused, don’t be like the JLA; saying “I’m going to track down that bastard and make him (or potentially her) pay” takes the power to make that decision away from your already friend, who is already dealing with the pain of forcible loss of power and choice. Be supportive, be sympathetic, be hurt and sad and angry, but be respectful and fair, and your friend will probably appreciate it.

Not Really More Eightball #23

So, this weekend I read Eightball #23, and I’m still not sure what to say about it. I can’t say I’ve ever liked anything I’ve read by Dan Clowes, and yet I keep reading his books. So here I am, with yet another story I’d describe as vapid just because it’s nothing but surface and not a surface I find interesting. Here’s another story in which there’s no internal life for the protagonist and no external world, either, since he interacts only with his delusions. I’d call the work soulless, except that that implies I think there are souls in other things. For me, Clowes’s work here and elsewhere is always flat, dull, uninspiring, and I haven’t been able to figure out what it is that causes such a spark in other readers.

I don’t want to play the gender card because this I don’t think this is about my gender, but because of my own experiences and general orientation toward the world, I’m just not really interested in seeing any stories about how great men think they are when they sadistically protect women from the Big Bad Male World. This goes for Identity Crisis, too, and more so. I’m sick of reading about poor, oppressed boring white men and their whiny hangups about how much women suck. I just really don’t care. At all. I suppose I’d be happy enough reading things like this if I didn’t ever have to come across it in real/internet life, if it were some exotic phenomenon and therefore had some peculiar depth and insight, but that’s not the way things seem to go. And depth and insight are what I’m looking for here, some evidence that maybe the people who do these sorts of things have at least the possibility of looking at themselves and realizing how stupid and cruel and self-defeating their actions are, but I probably shouldn’t go to literature looking for false hope.

I’m not saying I can’t come up with a critique of Eightball, only that I get so annoyed or bored by other concerns that I don’t want to bother. So this isn’t backlash or review, just bemusement and a reminder that I don’t have whatever thing it is that allows people to love Dan Clowes, and I think I’m ok with that anyway and will be if it changes too. Then again, this moving is getting to me and I’m clearly not myself. I spent part of the weekend actually wanting to dust and vacuum. Weird.