Comic Book Review: Wonder Woman ’77 Volume 1

Comic Book Review: Wonder Woman ’77 Volume 1 written by Marc Andreyko

Back in the 1970s, live-action television series with a woman in the lead were rare creatures indeed, and one of the best was Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter.  It migrated from ABC (where it was set during World War Two) to CBS in 1977, and it is this “modern day” series that this comic book series is based on.

Wonder Woman '77 Volume 1

In this version, Wonder Woman works for the Inter-Agency Defense Command in her secret identity of Diana Prince, along Steve Trevor, Jr.  Steve may or may not know  that Diana is also Wonder Woman, but at least in these issues, he doesn’t officially know or make a fuss about it. They have access to the latest 1970s technology, including the advanced computer IRA, but Wonder Woman’s powers and compassion are usually the main key to victory.

Where this comic book series varies from the TV version is that the live-action version used none of WW’s comic book supervillains, so versions of these compatible with the show’s look and feel are inserted.

The first story takes place mostly at a disco, where a Soviet defector scientist must be protected from mind-controlling songstress Silver Swan.  Diana’s outfit for this is based on the “white pantsuit” look she had during a brief period where the comics depowered her (to make her more “relevant.”)

The second story opens with Diana waking up in a world where she is not Wonder Woman or Diana Prince, but a mentally ill woman named Donna Troy.  There are some nifty references to the Cathy Lee Crosby TV movie, and the post-Crisis WW continuity.  Diana must figure out what’s going on and fight her way back to the reality she knows.

Next, there is a story that uses the Barbara Minerva version of long-time supervillain the Cheetah.  It brings in elements of the Priscilla Rich version of the character as well–Dr. Minerva is driven by jealousy when the museum she works for dismantles her prize exhibit involving years of scholarship and hard digging for a Wonder Woman-centric publicity grabber.  This allows the Cheetah spirit to take over her body so that Barbara can try to get her revenge.  The climax is a showcase for Diana’s gentle spirit being able to overcome Cheetah’s command of great cats.

Original (so far as I know) villain Celsia takes center stage next.  Due to a nuclear power plant accident that killed her home town, Celsia can project both heat and cold.  She is determined to punish the men who placed profit over life and safety.  We also get a version of the Atomic Knights, including a not-named Gardner Grayle.

And finally Diana has an encounter with the swamp monster Solomon Grundy on Halloween.  Grundy may not be the real monster here…  (Warning: domestic abuse.)

The issue is filled out with an essay by Andy Mangels about the television show, plus a gallery of covers and concept art.

One of the things I really like about this series is Wonder Woman’s dedication to non-lethal force, something that has largely been lost in recent years.  Yes, punching bad guys is an important part of her problem-solving style, but whenever possible, she uses truth and compassion to bring about resolutions.  This Wonder Woman smiles a lot, and inspires others to be better people.

Some of the 1970s elements do come across a bit cheesy, but this is not entirely a bad thing, as they fit with the feel of the show.  On the other hand, the very episodic stories mean that there’s no character growth or deeper characterization–what you see is all you are going to get.

The art is okay, with Diana and Steve being on model most of the time.

Recommended to fans of the TV show, Wonder Woman fans who prefer a lighter style and younger readers.  (It should be okay for tweens with a little parental guidance.)

And let’s enjoy that theme tune!

Magazine Review: The American Scholar Spring 1977

Magazine Review: The American Scholar Spring 1977 Edited by Joseph Epstein

The American Scholar is a quarterly production of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, published since 1932.  Its primary focus is non-fiction essays, but it also features poetry, book reviews and since 2006 fiction.  I happened across an old issue, was intrigued by one of the essay titles, and decided to review it.  At the time it was published, I was in my sophomore year of high school, Jimmy Carter was president of the United States and James Dobson founded Focus on the Family.

The American Scholar Spring 1977

Leading off the issue is “The Despairing Optimist” by René Dubos.  It discusses the various international conferences held during the 1970s.  The essay describes their well-meant aims and somewhat less than impressive results.  Professor Dubos reckons that the best approach is to set world-wide goals but work out individual approaches to getting things done as different areas of the world need specific tactics to deal with their specific problems.  “Think globally, act locally.” (Professor Dubos is said to be one of the possible originators of the motto when he was advising the Stockholm United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972.)

“Observing the Sabbath” by Aristides (probably a pen name) is about the custom of Sunday as a day of rest, and how that was changing in the modern age.  Less a span of enforced inactivity, and more a time of enjoying oneself as religion became less of a factor and just having some time off work became more of one.

“Freedom of Expression: Too Much of a Good Thing?” by John Sparrow talks about whether there should be laws against obscenity and pornography.  He discusses various objections to these laws, and attempts to address them.  On balance, Mr. Sparrow is in favor of having at least some laws on the subject, even if it’s difficult to precisely define obscenity without actually being subjected to it.  Generally, he seems to favor “community standards” laws.

“The Limits of Ethnicity” by Howard F. Stein and Robert F. Hill addresses the then recent upswing in “ethnic pride” groups in the United States, and they note that at least part of the impetus appears to have come from the civil rights advances of African-American people.  “Racism is a WASP problem, we Croatian-Americans or Italian-Americans have no culpability here–besides, we’re oppressed groups too.”  The authors feared attempts to re-segregate neighborhoods by moving all the people from one ethnic heritage together, making those of other heritages uncomfortable.

One of the weaker essays is “The Tyranny of Harmony” by John P. Sisk.  It starts out talking about the music of the spheres, which supposedly had perfect harmony, and eventually gets around to suggesting that an excessive love of harmony resulted in Nazi Germany.  The logic is forced.

“Rest in Prose: The Art of the Obituary” is by William Haley, who was editor of the London Times for many years.  He speaks of the obituary as a literary form, as history, and as an editorial comment on the worth of a person.  He’s especially enamored of the obituaries published by the Times.  Mr. Haley is a good writer and I enjoyed this essay.

“A Literature Against the Future” by James Stupple is the essay I bought the magazine for.  He notes that in the 1970s science fiction had become the subject of serious university study.  (Though he’s quick to point out that the colleges offering these courses tended to be second-rank.)  His main premise is that SF isn’t really serious, important literature.  Like many critics in the 1970s, he thought that real science showing that Mars is lifeless would kill the field, leaving only science fantasy.  Indeed, he suggests that science fiction would quickly become no more relevant than Kabuki or country western.  (Well, okay, maybe country western.)  From our perspective in the future, it’s easy to see where Mr. Stupple went wrong.  (The only other thing I could find by him in a Google search was half an essay on Ray Bradbury; he liked Bradbury’s stuff as fantasy.)

The final essay is “The Provincial Towns” by Barnett Singer, who wrote about his experiences the previous year touring the less-populated areas of France.  He chronicles the dying of an old way of life, but then old ways of life are always dying.  It’s rather sentimental, but he also notes that the young people seem okay with the changes.

The poetry is all that modern stuff I don’t care much for.  The best of the lot is “On the Language Which Writes the Lecturer” by Jeanne Murray Walker.  “English merely comments on the structure of another language concerning which nothing can be said.”

There are several book reviews, all of books I have never heard of.  The most positive review is of The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Márquez.  Sadly, despite the enthusiasm of the reviewer, it sounds dreadful.  There are also a lot of book ads.  Most of these are the barest snippets that seem to have been written by someone who doesn’t know anything about selling books.

The other kind of advertisement is for colleges–apparently the main audience was expected to be bright high school students looking for a place to get further education.  Saint Olaf!

Last is Letters to the Editor, very erudite people criticizing essays and reviews (in one case, a book reviewer is allowed to respond.)

It’s an interesting assortment of subjects, most of which don’t feel dated.  If you happen to spot a copy of this magazine at a garage sale, it’s worth a look.  The American Scholar is still published, and you can read more recent essays at their website here: https://theamericanscholar.org/about-us/

 

Book Review: Hell-Bent

Book Review: Hell-Bent by Jason Ryan

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an advanced reading copy, and changes will be made in the published version, due out November 2014.  In particular, the end notes and index were not yet finished.

Hell-Bent

Hawaii’s reputation as a tropical paradise vacation destination tends to gloss over the fact that it’s inhabited by fallible human beings, who have the same problems there as anywhere else.  In particular, during the 1970s, it had a skyrocketing crime rate, with far too many unsolved murders.  But this wasn’t the exotic crime you’d see on Hawaii Five-O, but mundane crime like drugs, prostitution and gambling.  And not clever locked room mysteries but thuggish mob hits.

This book centers its narrative on the murder of Charles “Chuckers” F. Marsland III, a nightclub bouncer, and its effect on his father Charles F. Marsland, Jr.  Mr. Marsland, an attorney, was galvanized into desiring the eradication of organized crime from Hawaii, and eventually became the Chief Prosecutor of Honolulu.

The history of Hawaii is briefly sketched from the first time it was contacted by outsiders, through the loss of its sovereignty, and becoming a state.  Thereafter, it concentrates on the matter of organized crime, why it became such a big issue, and who the major players were alleged to be.

While many of them were convicted of crimes, one of the people mentioned most in the book has never even been indicted, much to the frustration of Marsland and others who believed him to be the “godfather” of Hawaiian crime.  The fact that he’s never been proved a criminal is repeatedly brought up, often after a direct quote from someone accusing him of crimes.

Mr. Marsland was apparently, like many driven people, a difficult person, often accusing people who did not completely follow his program of being soft on crime, or actively corrupt.  While he made great strides at bringing down the crime rate, he eventually lost re-election to a more reasonable-sounding prosecutor.

Hawaiian politics play some role in the book, as does the entertainment world.  Many of the criminals had gone to school with people who’d made good, so odd-seeming friendships were not uncommon.

There will be a photo section, bibliography, end notes and an index when the book is fully published.  There’s also an essay by the author on his sources, who he could and could not get information from.

The writing is okay but not gripping.  I’d recommend this book to true crime readers, and people with an interest in Hawaii beyond the tourist destinations.

Comic Book Review: El Deafo

Comic Book Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an uncorrected proof, and there will be changes in the final product (notably, the proof is in black and white, while the real thing will be in color.  Also, the cover will be much less cluttered with endorsements.)

El Deafo

Cece Bell developed profound hearing loss due to an illness when she was four.   This children’s graphic novel is a memoir of her life from then until fifth grade.  Most of the story is about Cece learning to cope with her hearing loss and the rather obvious hearing aids she was given to mitigate the loss.  In particular, her adventures with the “Phonic Ear”, a powerful chest-mounted unit that came with a microphone for her teacher to use.

The title comes about when young Cece realizes that when her teachers don’t take the microphone off, she can hear them speak and what’s going on around them no matter where in the school they are.  It’s like a superpower!  So Cece imagines herself as the superhero El Deafo.

There is also a theme of learning about friendship.  Cece makes several friends over the years, but there are difficulties with each one–sometimes it’s negative qualities of the friend, sometimes it’s Cece’s own self-consciousness and suspicion that causes problems.

The book is written for elementary school children, but has information that will be helpful for parents and other adult relatives, who should immediately turn to the back and read the author’s note.  Parents are likely to get many cultural references that might escape children–Cece grew up in a time before television had closed captioning.

There’s some body function humor of the type grade school kids tend to love but many parents are distressed by, and one of Cece’s moments of bonding with her classmates may not sit well with adults who think that disobedience should be forbidden.

For whatever reason, everyone is drawn with “bunny” features, which does allow the hearing aids to be obvious.  Cece’s deafness is depicted with empty word balloons, or nonsense words when she can hear some but not clearly enough to understand.

The obvious audience for this book is children with hearing loss and their families, but it will be of interest to any family whose children might encounter someone with hearing loss in their school or activities.  And many children will be able to identify with Cece when her “specialness” doesn’t seem positive at all.

Update:  In 2015, this book was a Newbery Honor selection, which means that it was a close runner-up for the prestigious Newbery Medal for children’s literature.  Congratulations, El Deafo!

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents Super Friends

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents Super Friends by Various

Back in the 1970s, there was a Saturday morning cartoon titled Superfriends.  It featured several superheroes from DC Comics,, plus “Junior Super Friends” Wendy and Marvin, trainee superheroes with their pet Wonderdog.   Each episode taught valuable life lessons to kids across America.  While reruns of the cartoon continue even today, younger fans may not be aware there used to be a tie-in comic book as well.

Showcase Presents Super Friends

Because the Comics Code of the time was surprisingly less restrictive than the Standards & Practices Board that governed children’s broadcasting, the writers of the comic book had more flexibility to put in story elements that explained how the team worked, and the full range of the heroes’ powers.  The book took place in a close parallel of the DC universe, so other superheroes could guest star.

Now, I said the writers could be more flexible than the TV show, but I am still amazed that they got away with mass murder as a plot point in the third issue.  Some of the deaths even happened on panel!  And they weren’t even reversed by the end of the story.  To explain, a mad scientist captures over a hundred supervillains (none of whom were established characters) and disintegrates them to create the World-Beater, which has all their powers combined.

After a few issues, the comic book explained (as the show never did) the change from the first season’s Marvin and Wendy, to the later Wonder Twins, aliens named Jan and Zayna.   This was a truly epic plot which also introduced a slew of international superheroes who later joined the mainstream DCU as the Global Guardians.  (It also gave the comic some much-needed ethnic diversity.)

Many creators worked on the series, but the distinctive art of Ramona Fradon is perhaps most representative.

Aside from the mass murder, this is a kid-friendly title; there are some dated attitudes that parents might want to discuss with their children.  The writing is typical for the time period, and certainly better than the television show.

Recommended for fans of the Superfriends cartoon and nostalgic comics fans.

Comic Book Review: Persepolis

Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Disclaimer:  I received this book through the Rasmussen College One College, One Book program on the premise that I would review it.

Persepolis

This is the graphic novel memoir of Marjane Satrapi, who was nine years old when her home country of Iran had a revolution and kicked out the Western-backed Shah.  It follows her life from when she was small to about age fourteen, when her parents sent her to school in  Austria for her safety.

As it happens,  her family was far from ordinary, as her great-grandfather had been the Emperor of Persia before he was overthrown by Reza Shah, the father of the Shah that was overthrown in 1979.  Her grandfather had been made Reza Shah’s prime minister, but converted to Communism and was treated as a traitor thereafter.  Even so, the family remained relatively wealthy and influential.

Mari (as she is called in the text) and her parents had high hopes for the 1979 Revolution, hoping it would bring the proletariat to power in a socialist republic.  Instead, the Shi’ite fundamentalists took power, and Iran soon became a very different country.  Worse, the things that the revolutionaries most wanted to change from the old regime, imprisonment of dissidents, torture, assassination, only changed in the persons who did them.

All this has a traumatizing effect on young Mari; she sees friends, relatives and random people she meets suffer great injustice, and feels stifled under the new religious restrictions she must obey, even if they are technically not actually laws.  As if all Iran had happening internally was not enough, Saddam Hussein decided that it would be a good time to invade Iran.

Marjane Satrapi does not depict herself as an entire innocent–Mari lies to inflate her self-importance, says hurtful things, and breaks even fair rules.  She has a rebellious spirit that becomes more dangerous to her as she grows older.

The art is black and white, with much use of large black areas.  The creator is a trained illustrator, and it shows.

Trigger warnings for torture, and for off-panel rape.

Because of the subject matter, this book may not be suitable for children, especially sensitive ones, despite being about a child.  I’d rate it as for older teens and up.  There’s also an animated movie which combines this volume and Marjane Satrapi’s later life, which I have not seen.

This is a book that is valuable for its look into a country many Americans have not heard anything good about in a long time, and a reminder that no culture is monolithic.  There are real people underneath the seemingly united front Iran shows the world.

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