On Fandom and Media Criticism

Fan enthusiasm is a wonderful thing; it’s great to discuss the stories and hobbies we love with others who also love them. Unfortunately, fandom love and enthusiasm sometimes leads people to unquestioningly defend their favorite stories and hobbies from criticism, with fans sometimes making false accusations of censorship against those who are engaging in analysis and criticism. This essay is my response to what I see as the problem of fandom reluctance to engage in important discussions about beloved media.

It’s important to mention upfront that part of the problem is that fans remember actual attempts (sometimes from not too long ago, or even current ones) at censoring their favorite creative works. There are many books, films, television shows, video games, songs, comics, and works of other media that have been targeted for censorship throughout history. (In some cases, entire mediums have been targeted as being “bad for kids” and so forth.) Fans have become so used to defending our favorite works from those who advocate bans that some fans see censorship in totally valid media criticism. We have to realize that not everyone who criticizes a work is trying to censor it. I’ll use one of my favorite stories as an example: I’m a big fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The books in this series are among the many on the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books list.[1] There are people who consider them immoral. (Laura Mallory is one of the more well-known people who have attempted to censor the series. Melissa Anelli interviewed Mallory for her wonderful book Harry, A History[2] and, as I’ve mentioned before,[3] had the courage to point out Mallory’s double standard directly to her face.) However, that doesn’t mean everyone who criticizes the Harry Potter series is trying to censor it, even if their criticism is off-base. Harold Bloom, for instance, wrote negatively about Harry Potter (see “Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.”[4] and “Dumbing down American readers”[5]), but to my knowledge, he hasn’t tried to have the books banned or tried to restrict access to them. I would not, therefore, accuse him of censorship. (I do accuse him of being wrong about the books.) Fans shouldn’t use false accusations of censorship to silence criticism, not least because it’s insulting to the actual struggles against censorship that take place, but also because it’s just inaccurate and makes fans seem like uncritical and unthinking consumers of media. Related to this point, fans should realize that a work that we may defend on principle when it’s targeted for censorship may actually have some or many bad elements that deserve to be criticized. Just because a work has had to be defended against censors doesn’t make it good by default, and people who point out its flaws aren’t necessarily trying to censor it.

Certain fans have also targeted people who analyze and criticize media from an equal rights and media representation perspective, inaccurately accusing such critics of supporting censorship and of playing the victim. There’s a certain sad humor in all this: People accuse those who discuss media representation and diversity of playing the victim, of remembering past injustices against minority groups and bringing that into the discussion; however, it’s often the people making the false accusations of censorship who are remembering past attempts at censorship and basing their false accusations on those memories of being targeted. An added frustration is the fact that fans accuse people who’ve been historically been (and even presently are) excluded from positive media representation due to censorship of being censors. For instance, positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters and their romantic relationships have been (and still are, in many places) considered inappropriate, often excluded to due fear of offending people who are against approval of LGBTQ+ people. There is both de facto exclusion, and even government censorship. Similar statements can be made for other marginalized demographics as well, who may be portrayed more often than LGBTQ+ characters, but whose portrayals may be censored based on discrimination or stereotypes (such as not allowing non-white characters to be main characters). Creators have also been discriminated against, with people of certain races, gender, and so on having a harder time getting their work included in media. Creators who’ve bravely attempted to challenge discrimination in their works have faced censorship. When people argue that they would like a smaller percentage of stories with a white, straight, cisgender male, able-bodied protagonist and a larger percentage of stories with characters of other demographics, they are doing so because they hardly ever see characters like themselves portrayed in a realistic and positive way. They are then accused of being censors, of being politically correct, of being the “real bigots” and so forth. In other words: Fans accuse fellow fans who’ve been left out due to censorship of being censors when all the second group wants is to see some more positive portrayals of well-developed characters like themselves. Fans attempt to claim that increasing representation of a group excluded due to censorship would actually be censorship.

Even the people who may be okay with other analyses become defensive if people bring up diversity and equal rights. So, if someone wants to analyze certain symbolic references in a work (e.g. the significance of the number seven or the color green in the Harry Potter series) that’s considered fine. However, if we bring up the lack of LGBTQ+ characters in a story with an ostensible message of diversity published in the 1990s, then that’s an agenda. If someone says that a book was badly-written, that the artwork in a comic wasn’t that great, or that the mechanics in a video game were poorly programmed, that’s considered fine. People disagree (sometimes vehemently) in their opinions about these things, but they’re considered fine and relevant topics to have an opinion about. However, if someone points out underrepresentation or discriminatory portrayals of characters of certain demographics in a work, then there are people who consider that type of criticism irrelevant. Criticizing writing is generally considered okay, but criticizing writing that is discriminatory isn’t okay; criticizing the artwork is generally considered okay, but criticizing artwork that sexually objectifies or otherwise degrades people of certain demographics isn’t considered okay; criticizing gameplay is generally okay, but criticizing gameplay for how players are encouraged to treat characters of certain demographics isn’t okay. There are fans who consider it impolite or unfair to criticize media from an equal rights perspective, even though media portrayal can affect what people think of people of other demographics, as well as how people see themselves.

Fans have to realize that the status quo of their favorite medium or genre may target others for bigotry, because such bigotry is in larger society, and our favorite works are a part of that society. As fans, we talk frequently about why certain stories mean a lot to us and how they’ve affected us (e.g. they had a message that resonated with us, they helped us through a difficult time in our lives). There are even fans who credit certain stories with saving their lives, inspiring them to pursue certain goals, and motivating them to do good things. When others dismiss our love of our favorite stories and hobbies, we cite our personal experiences and the effects these stories had on us as reasons for why they should not be dismissed. But when someone discusses ways that media can affect us negatively, too many fans use the excuse that it’s “just a story” (or “just a game” and so forth). Stories are worth paying attention to because of how they affect us, and they can affect us in many ways. Fans need to realize that we can discuss how media affect us positively and negatively without agreeing with efforts to wrongly scapegoat certain works for all of society’s problems or problems that are contributed to by many factors. The same story that may have some positive aspects that deserve to be praised may also have some troubling aspects that deserve to be condemned. We can’t have a double standard when discussing the effects media have on us, acting as if they only have good effects and never bad ones.

Another thing fans have to understand is that there’s a difference between someone being ignorant about a fandom interest and someone having a different opinion of it. Many critics are also fans of the works they are criticizing; they are fans who recognize that nothing is perfect. Fans have become accustomed to media coverage of their hobbies by reporters who know little about them and who make elementary mistakes in their reporting. However, someone who is knowledgeable (and who may even be a fan themselves) but just has a different opinion or interpretation shouldn’t be accused of being ignorant. We also have to realize that works that have been considered the stereotypical examples of a particular genre or medium may not be a fellow fan’s favorite, and that’s just fine. Certain works or sub-genres have become almost synonymous with certain media and genres (e.g. pseudo-medieval, Tolkien-esque stories in the fantasy genre; first-person shooters in video games; superheroes in comics). Part of accepting criticism as a part of fandom is realizing that fans who are critical of (or sometimes don’t even particularly like) the classic examples of a genre or medium aren’t inferior fans. Even the classics can contain certain harmful tropes, and all too often, these tropes have been frequently reused due to their association with the classics. Part of believing there can be good stories, part of believing that our favorite genres and media can improve, is criticizing bad content. Fans are the people who are often the most knowledgeable about the source material, and so it’s a shame when fans ostracize fellow fans who participate in critical discussion of media. Fans who are also critics (whether professionally or as laypeople) are well-placed to be representatives of fandom, helping others to realize the value of a certain genre or medium.

Fans know our favorite genres and media aren’t always taken seriously, especially if we’re fans of some niche or less-known hobby. We spend a lot of time trying to prove that our hobby has merit, just as valid as other artistic expression. Media criticism and discussion are part of a work being taken seriously. (As many people before me have pointed out: Fans of certain media that have been looked down upon, such as video games and comics, have wanted people to take these media seriously for a long time. Now that people are taking these media seriously and subjecting the content to the same criticism that other media have received for a long time, certain segments of fans don’t like their beloved medium being held to the same standard as others.) Work from every medium is discussed, analyzed, and criticized. These works become a part of our culture, both reflecting and shaping it, and therefore it’s important to discuss them. Fans believe our favorite genres and media have stories worth paying attention to, and so we shouldn’t be upset when people give them the respect of actually paying attention to them and holding them to high standards.

When people believe a genre or medium is capable of telling great stories, they have high expectations. Fans, of all people, should want great stories to be fans of.

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Notes, Acknowledgements, and Recommended Reading

I recently (on 19 September 2014) went on a bit of a rant on Twitter regarding fandom responses to media criticism, and this essay basically expands on some of the thoughts I expressed there. (To read my tweets, see the references for URLs)[6]

Thanks to Kate Elliott (@KateElliottSFF) for the kind shout out during my rant. She wrote that she hoped to see a Storify,[7] but I decided to just write an essay, as I’ve wanted to write about this topic for some time.

There has been much discussion about fandom and criticism by many people. Here are a few links to creators, websites, articles, and videos that are relevant to the topic of fandom and media criticism.

Sana Amanat, an editor at Marvel, gave a talk titled “Myths, misfits & masks” about media representation, specifically about superhero comics.[8]

Katherine Cross wrote an article a couple of months ago titled “The nightmare is over: They’re not coming for your games” about gamers who are afraid that positive reception of video games they don’t like will lead to games that they like being taken away. Cross also makes the point that fans are afraid of any type of criticism, due to their memory of past censorship attempts that scapegoated games for all sorts of problems in society.[9] Cross also wrote the article “Violence is how we get ahead” about the frequency with which violence is used in gameplay and explains why it’s a good idea to encourage creativity to expand the types of games in the medium.[10]

Kameron Hurley frequently comments on fandom and media representation. Perhaps her most famous essay on the subject is “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative”.[11]

Foz Meadows frequently writes about fandom and criticizes various works.[12]

Aja Romano[13] is a fandom reporter for The Daily Dot[14] and previously wrote for The Mary Sue.[15]

Anita Sarkeesian’s discusses media from a feminist perspective in her Feminist Frequency videos.[16]

Saathi1013 on Tumblr has written many relevant meta essays about fandom, which are great reads.[17]

Kelly Thompson wrote an article titled “She Has No Head! — No, It’s not Equal”[18] (and a follow-up two years later)[19] to discuss the overly-sexualized portrayal of women in comics.

Disability in KidLit discusses the portryal of people with disabilities in books for middle grade and young adult readers.[20]

We Are Comics is a campaign to show the diversity of the creators and fans of comics.[21]

We Need Diverse Books is a campaign in favor of greater diversity in literature.[22]

The Women of Marvel podcast discusses female creators and female characters in Marvel Comics.[23]

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References

[1] American Library Association. “Frequently Challenged Books”. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks.

[2] Anelli, Melissa. “Chapter Nine: Banned and Burned”. In: Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon. Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster, Inc.), 2008, Ch 9, pp. 177-201.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “A Fan Letter to Melissa Anelli (concerning her book ‘Harry, A History’”. Posted on 9 June 2011 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/a-fan-letter-to-melissa-anelli/.

[4] Bloom, Harold. “Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.” Wall Street Journal, 11 July 2000. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rebeccal/comp/108f10/Assignments/BloomArticle.pdf.pdf.

[5] Bloom, Harold. “Dumbing down American Readers”. The Boston Globe, 24 September 2003. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbing_down_american_readers/.

[6] My tweets can be seen at the following: http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513047352157171713; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513051730771451906; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513058069665038336; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513060746142683136; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513063812388618241; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513065670335299584; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513067025783345152; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513070597967208451

[7] Elliott’s website can be found at http://www.kateelliott.com/. Her Twitter can be found at http://twitter.com/KateElliottSFF. The tweet I’m referring to can be found at http://twitter.com/KateElliottSFF/status/513050016680665088.

[8] Amanat, Sana. “Myths, misfits & masks”. TedxTeen 2014. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://tedxteen.com/talks/tedxteen-2014/217-sana-amanat-myths-misfits-masks.

[9] Cross, Katherine. “The nightmare is over: They’re not coming for your games”. Polygon, 29 July 2014. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/29/5947661/the-nightmare-is-over-theyre-not-coming-for-your-games.

[10] Cross, Katherine. “Violence is how we get ahead”. Polygon, 24 September 2014. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://www.polygon.com/2014/9/24/6833845/violence-is-how-we-get-ahead.

[11] Hurley, Kameron. Dribble of Ink, May 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2014 from http://aidanmoher.com/blog/featured-article/2013/05/we-have-always-fought-challenging-the-women-cattle-and-slaves-narrative-by-kameron-hurley/.

[12] Meadows’s blog can be found at http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/.

[13] Romano’s Tumblr can be found at http://bookshop.tumblr.com/.

[14] Romano’s articles for The Daily Dot can be found at http://www.dailydot.com/authors/aja-romano/.

[15] Romano’s articles for The Mary Sue can be found at http://www.themarysue.com/author/aja-romano/.

[16] The Feminist Frequency website can be found at http://www.feministfrequency.com/.

[17] saathi1013. “My Meta: Greatest Hits”. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://saathi1013.tumblr.com/mymeta.

[18] Thompson, Kelly. “She Has No Head! — No, It’s Not Equal”. Comic Book Resources, Good Comics, 21 February 2012. Retrieved on 29 September 2014 from http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/02/21/she-has-no-head-no-its-not-equal/.

[19] Thompson, Kelly. “She Has No Head! — Revisiting “No, It’s Not Equal”. Comic Book Resources, Good Comics, 16 June 2014. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2014/06/16/she-has-no-head-revisiting-no-its-not-equal/.

[20] The Disability in KidLit website can be found at http://disabilityinkidlit.wordpress.com/.

[21] The We Are Comics Tumblr can be found at http://wearecomics.tumblr.com/.

[22] The We Need Diverse Books Tumblr can be found at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/.

[23] The Women of Marvel pocast episodes can be found at http://marvel.com/podcasts/12/women_of_marvel_podcast.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 “Healing Factor, Part Two” (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)

“I don’t like hurting stuff. Even giant sewer alligators. I mean … is it possible to help people without hurting other people? Or, you know … reptiles?”

“No, it ain’t. It all circles around. The hurt I mean. Sometimes you can avoid hurting other people, but it usually means you get hurt pretty bad instead. The pain’s gotta go somewhere.”

“I don’t want to believe that.

“You’re young.”

(Kamala Khan and Logan/Wolverine, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7)[1]

“The only power worth snot is the power to get up after you fall down. Everything else—the fancier, flashier powers—that’s just extra.”

(Logan/Wolverine, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7)[2]

“It took me a while to figure out that Ms. Marvel could be me. That I didn’t have to be someone else in order to wear the lightning bolt.”

(Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7)[3]

Issue #7 “Healing Factor, Part Two” continues Kamala Khan’s team-up with Logan/Wolverine from the X-Men. At the end of issue #6, the two of them were faced with a bionic megagator, even bigger than the one they’d already defeated.[4] With Logan injured and without his healing factor, Kamala has to take the lead in battling the Inventor’s creations and finding a way back out of the sewers. Most of this issue is dedicated to continuing Kamala and Logan’s student-teacher interaction. I really enjoyed the conversations between Kamala and Logan as they travel through the sewers under Jersey City. Despite the brevity of their team-up, they have some meaningful and funny conversations that I think will likely have an impact on Kamala.

One of the several moments that stood out was the passage quoted at the beginning of this review, in which Kamala asks Logan if it’s possible to help people without hurting someone else. Logan’s answer seems very in character for him. Kamala’s response is something that a lot of us readers can probably relate to; we love superheroes because they often have stories in which good triumphs over evil and the heroes can figure out a way to solve the problem while still being moral. The idea of a world where that’s always possible is very appealing. Like many superheroes faced with moral dilemmas, she’s thinking seriously about what being a superhero entails. This exchange also stood out to me because of her religious and racial background. Kamala’s question to Logan challenges the stereotype about Muslims being violent, showing that people of all demographics have a conscience and think about what would be the right thing to do in a difficult situation. Additionally, perhaps because of various discussions regarding racial profiling around the time this issue was released, the different demographics of the two characters having this conversation really struck me. In society, there’s often a double standard when determining if a person’s use of violence was unjustified or justified in a certain situation; people use different standards (sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously) when determining the situations in which it’s considered appropriate to use peaceful means and the situations in which it’s acceptable (if regrettable) to use violence in order to fight for a cause or defend oneself, based on the demographics (including factors such as race, religion, gender, and so on) of the person whose actions are under discussion. This double standard often labels the violent actions of people in the majority as justified, even if other peaceful means could have been taken, while labeling violent actions of people in the minority as unjustified, even in cases when they were defending themselves. (Sometimes, people even attempt to justify violence against people in the minority who were peacefully protesting in favor of equal rights, while not favoring violence against protestors who were using violence or threats at events where most protestors were of a majority demographic.) We also see people of all demographics being more willing to forgive immoral actions by people in their own group than by people in another. Yet, here we have two characters of different races, religions, genders, and ages having a conversation about the topic. The fact that Logan gave her the same advice he’d likely give to any new superhero, regardless of their race or religion (or whether they were a mutant), was meaningful.

After defeating the megagator, Kamala and Logan continue their journey through the maze of sewers under Jersey City and continue their conversation. There are lots of humorous and serious moments, with Logan giving Kamala advice and Kamala clearly enjoying talking to one of her favorite superheroes. Towards the end of the issue, Kamala and Logan locate Julie, who Logan had been looking for. Julie’s hooked up to machines and her body seems to be providing a power source for the Inventor’s inventions. This part of the story isn’t really well-developed. It’s reminiscent of various science fiction stories, but there’s not really an explanation of why the Inventor is using people as a power source and how that’s connected to the kids at the abandoned house in Greenville. This seems to be foreshadowing Kamala’s future adventures, so we will hopefully find out more in later issues.

Kamala and Logan go their separate ways, Logan taking Julie with him. At the very end of the issue, there’s a conversation between Steve Rogers/Captain America and Medusa (Queen of the Inhumans). Logan had surmised that Kamala must be an Inhuman based on her description of how she acquired her powers, and he informed Rogers of this. Rogers tells Medusa that Logan’s impression of Kamala was that she wants to find her own way. Medusa decides to send someone to be her companion. The last page of the issue sets up the next story arc, introducing us to a character Kamala will soon meet.

The writing was really enjoyable to read in this issue; Kamala and Logan are two of my favorite superheroes, and reading their conversations was lots of fun. Logan’s been written by many authors over the years, and I really like the way that Wilson writes him here; he’s a character who’s clearly had a long life filled with fighting and who sees himself as part of the older generation that should try to impart some advice to the youngsters. That he’s acutely aware of the loss of his healing factor but won’t let that stop him also comes across. Kamala’s enthusiasm for being a superhero and her bravery really come through. She’s really able to shine, even despite a team-up with a more well-known character. Regarding the artwork, I mentioned in my previous review that I was having trouble getting used to Jacoby Wyatt’s style, but I think this second issue helped me get comfortable with it. Though the white eyes and a couple of other things still weren’t to my taste, there are some great pages and panels. There’s a particularly fun full-page image of Kamala and Logan making their way through the sewers while having a conversation that staircases diagonally up the page.

I’m glad about the decision to include a team-up between Kamala Khan and Logan. It’s a story of one of the most beloved and ever-present characters teaming up with a new teenage superhero who’s just getting started — passing the torch to the next generation, if you will. For Kamala, it’s an important part of her character development and her learning how to be a superhero. It’s a way to transition from her discovery of her powers to her inclusion in the wider fictional universe of which she is a part. That the team-up happens so close to Logan’s upcoming death[5] adds more emotional impact to the idea of teaching the next generation. I know The Powers That Be will eventually (hopefully) resurrect him at some point, but the team-up is a nice choice so close to his most recent final chapter. Logan’s become a ubiquitous character, included in numerous titles and team-ups with almost every superhero in the Marvel universe at some point or another. Some of the best stories about him are the ones in which we see his heart and his concern for students; over the years, he’s been a mentor to several young characters in various comics titles and adaptations. It’s nice to see him in that role one more time. It’s a good team-up story with some meaning.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed “Healing Factor”. Though I find two issues to be a short arc, it’s a really fun story with two awesome characters. Even better was the fact that the team-up included some relevant and interesting character development that will lead to future storylines for our heroine.

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References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Wyatt, Jacob; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 “Healing Factor, Part Two”. Marvel, 20 August 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7.

[3] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 ‘Healing Factor, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 13 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 16 September 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-6-healing-factor-part-one-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

[5] “The Death of Wolverine Vol 1”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 26 September 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Death_of_Wolverine_Vol_1.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 “Healing Factor, Part One” (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)

“How am I supposed to find someone to teach me how to—you know—be better? At helping?”

“As the ancient saying goes: ‘When the student is ready … the master will appear.’”

(Kamala Khan and Sheikh Abdullah, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6)[1]

“I did have a ‘healing factor.’ I don’t anymore.

“Oh my God. You’re actually hurt.”

“I’m actually hurt.”

“So like … now you’re just a short, angry man who punches stuff?”

“I knew I liked you the minute I saw you.”

(Logan and Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6)[2]

Issue #6 “Healing Factor, Part I” begins Kamala Khan’s next story arc, after the conclusion of her origin story in issue #5.[3] Kamala has been fighting the Inventor’s robotic inventions and trying to figure out what the mysterious villain is up to. While trying to fight these robots, she receives a phone call from her brother Aamir, informing her of news that she’s perhaps even more frightened by than the Inventor: their dad wants Kamala to have a talk with Sheikh Abdullah, due to her recent misbehavior. As we saw in issue #3, Kamala and Sheikh Abdullah often argue due to the sheikh’s views on social issues, such as gender segregation.[4]

So, Kamala heads over to the masjid (mosque), where Sheikh Abdullah is surprisingly (to both her and the reader) understanding. She tell him she’s trying to help people but isn’t very good at it yet. He gives her some useful advice and also suggests she needs a teacher (foreshadowing the upcoming team-up). It was a nice moment of nuance, showing that even a character who our protagonist usually disagrees with can be friendly and helpful. It also shows a conversation between a Muslim religious leader and a Muslim teenager that doesn’t fit the negative stereotype of the religion. At the same time, I do hope that Kamala’s disagreements with Sheikh Abduallah are not ignored for the remainder of the story, as I could really relate to the moments in Kamala’s origin story in which she expressed her view that she’s being treated differently due to her gender, both at home and at the masjid. Exploring issues of gender equality in a story with a well-written female teenage Muslim protagonist could be fascinating, even if it’s a subplot.

Later, Kamala heads over to her local comics shop. On her way there, we see her jacket sleeve has a patch with the letter X on it, another bit of foreshadowing of her team-up. When she reaches the shop, Roy asks her if she’s there for the latest issue of Magical Pony Adventures. It’s a nice moment in which comics fans can relate to Kamala due to her going to a comics shop. The fact that Kamala likes both superheroes and stories about ponies is a nice little challenge to the idea that certain types of comics are for boys while others are for girls.

In front of the comics shop, Kamala sees a huge pothole with strange noises coming out of it and decides to go investigate. She gets ready in her superhero costume and (hilariously contemplating that she still needs theme music) heads down into the sewers, where she meets a holographic projection of the mysterious villain. The Inventor, as it turns out, is a clone of Thomas Edison with some cockatiel DNA. (I liked the little reference to Kamala’s home state; the real Thomas Edison lived and worked in New Jersey, where there is even a town named after him.)[5] In addition to the bots that Kamala was fighting earlier, the Inventor has also created bionic alligators that are apparently being controlled by machines wired to their brains. It also turns out that the Inventor wants Kamala alive for some reason.

While finding out all of this weird information, Kamala meets Logan/Wolverine of the X-Men, who’s looking for a mutant runaway named Julie who disappeared from the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning in New York. (She meets him when she’s about to attack him before realizing who he is.) The two of them work together to fight the bionic alligators and have some funny interactions. Kamala tells Logan about her fan fiction about various X-Men, which is hilarious. Readers who may not have been following all of Logan’s storyline find out (along with Kamala) that he’s lost his healing factor. We also get some foreshadowing of Kamala’s future storyline, as she wonders if she’s a mutant. (Fans who’ve read interviews of the series’ creators or are familiar with other Marvel storylines will already know she’s an Inhuman, but Kamala doesn’t know that yet.) When I first heard that Kamala’s first team-up would be with Logan, I was really excited (since I like both of them) and also slightly amused (since the Powers That Be apparently decided to squeeze in a team-up between Logan and a Kamala just before his upcoming death).[6] I thought this issue was a good (though brief) start to the team-up and appreciated that Kamala was still written as the main character, despite Logan being more well-known.

As usual, I really enjoyed the writing in this issue. There’s lots of humor, everything from Kamala thinking that she needs theme music to her conversation with Logan about her fan fiction about the X-Men. The only part that I found odd while reading was a passage which I later realized was a reference to a meme that I hadn’t known about before. Kamala’s excitement for being a superhero and her uncertainly in her ability to be a superhero both come across. This is the first issue of Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 with artwork by Jacob Wyatt. I found the depictions of the characters a little difficult to get used to at first. Overall, I thought that the artwork was well-done, though I did miss Adrian Alphona’s style. The one thing that stood out to me throughout, which I just couldn’t get past, was the way that Kamala’s eyes are sometimes depicted as white circles. It was a bit jarring. On the positive side, Michael Bround’s blog post “Minding Ms. Marvel #6” gave me some appreciation for the way that Wyatt uses long panels very effectively to convey motion.[7] In general, I definitely thought that the underground sewer panels were better, with more interesting details, than the ones set aboveground.

Overall, I enjoyed this issue. It’s a nice follow-up to Kamala’s origin story to have her team up with an older superhero who will act as a teacher. It simultaneously has two effects: tying in with her origin story while also being a new adventure with a (perhaps conveniently) famous character.

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Wyatt, Jacob; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 “Healing Factor, Part One”. Marvel, 16 July 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 “Healing Factor, Part One”

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5 ‘Urban Legend’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 8 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 13 September 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-5-urban-legend-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 ‘Side Entrance’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 12 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 13 September 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-3-side-entrance-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[5] “Thomas Edison”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 18 August 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Edison.

[6] “The Death of Wolverine Vol 1”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 2 September 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Death_of_Wolverine_Vol_1.

[7] Bround, Michael. “Minding Ms. Marvel #6”. Posted on 25 July 2014 at Atoll Comics. Retrieved on 13 September 2014 from http://atollcomics.blogspot.com/2014/07/minding-ms-marvel-6.html.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5 “Urban Legend” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“I’m not here to be a watered-down version of some other hero … I’m here to be the best version of Kamala. And it starts now.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5)[1]

“Good is not a thing you are. It’s a thing you do.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5)[2]

“This guy thinks he can threaten us where we live? Ms. Marvel has a message for him … This is Jersey City. We talk loud, we walk fast, and we don’t’ take any disrespect. Don’t mess.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5)[3]

Issue #5 “Urban Legend” begins after the cliffhanger of the previous issue,[4] as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel is about to face off with the Inventor’s supporters who are at the abandoned house where Vic is being held. She fights them but ends up losing. Being a superhero is not turning out the way she expected it to. Realizing she shouldn’t have just barged in without preparing, Kamala abandons the fight but promises herself she’ll return and won’t fail again.

After returning home, Kamala heads straight to the fridge, hoping her mother didn’t set an alarm after all. While Kamala’s eating, feeling tired and saddened (but still determined) after her defeat, she wants her mom to be there. Then, her mom walks into the kitchen and starts yelling at her. Her father comes in as well, and he and Kamala have a heartfelt chat (including a really sweet explanation of why her parents named her Kamala), after which he grounds her and tells her she has to speak to Sheikh Abdullah. Readers can probably relate to the situation Kamala is in, knowing that one’s parents have legitimate reasons for being worried and genuinely loving them, but also being upset about being in trouble.

Following Kamala’s defeat and getting into (further) trouble with her parents, there’s a training montage as Kamala and Bruno are working on improving Kamala’s superhero skills. While Kamala is practicing using her powers, I can almost hear upbeat exercise music in the back of my mind while reading. I really enjoyed the interactions between Kamala and Bruno in this section, showing more of their friendship and how much fun they have together. Kamala also convinces Bruno to let her use the biokinetic polymer (or super snot, as they refer to it) from his scholarship project to improve the stretchiness of her superhero costume (which she redesigns — adding a yellow lightning bolt, blue boots, scarf, and and golden-colored bracelets on her left arm while getting rid of the fanny pack — making her outfit look like the one that’s been on the covers for the past few issues). Ready for battle, she and Bruno head back to the abandoned house in Greenville, and this time, Kamala wins and rescues Vick successfully. I thought it was nice to add an element in the story indicating that it takes hard work, perseverance, determination, and practice to succeed. After all, Kamala is young and inexperienced, so it makes sense that she’d have to try again before achieving victory. It’s a nice message for young readers and for people in general, showing once again that even someone with superpowers still has to work hard and that it’s the person behind the mask who makes the superhero.

Later, when the Circle Q’s renovations (after it was damaged during Vick’s robbery) are complete, Bruno and Bob are about to re-open the store, but when they get there, there’s a large doll of Ms. Marvel hanging in front of the store with writing on the door which reads “The Birdman Cometh”. The issue ends with a full-page image of a mysterious figure who looks like a bird, setting up the next story arc.

Once again, both the writing and artwork are wonderful in this issue. There are lots of fun and sweet moments. This definitely felt like both a conclusion to one storyline as well as a transitional issue to show Kamala’s development in character and powers before her next adventure. Basically, this is the conclusion of Kamala’s first planned superhero mission, with an emphasis on her being inexperienced and learning how to do things. Her confidence at the end of the issue is the culmination of the experiences she’s had, as she finally feels ready to truly be Ms. Marvel and protect Jersey City. There is a good mixture of humor, adventure, and character relationships in the story.

This issue is the conclusion of the first story arc of Kamala Khan, her origin story. When I reviewed the short story “Garden State of Mind”, which was a preview of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, I was excited but cautious about this series.[5] I’ve been so happy to find that this story is so amazing. Issues #1-3 especially did a great job of setting up the story and getting readers interested in the characters. By issues #4-5, we’re already intrigued and invested in the story, enjoying Kamala’s first mission. Stories like this one are why are why I love origin stories.

There are many elements in Kamala’s origin story that are common tropes, but they make sense. As I mentioned in my review of Young Avengers, Volume 2 (by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al), story elements that may be tropes for characters of certain demographics can be very welcome when included in the stories of characters of underrepresented demographics.[6] For instance, creating a character who is a fan of superheroes and then becomes a superhero, a character who is dealing with strict parents and has to sneak out, a character who is dealing with bullies at school (and so on) may all seem cliché, but they are tropes that we rarely see for female, South Asian-American, Muslim, teenage characters like Kamala Khan. Showing that she also has these experiences shows that people in minority demographics are just as human as everyone else. At the same time, integrating aspects of Kamala’s life that are influenced by her being in particular demographics provides a way to show experiences that aren’t often portrayed in media here in the United States. Finding the right balance of all of these elements makes her story both universal and specific, relatable for a great many readers.

Overall, the creators manage to fit so much into the origin story that readers fall in love with Kamala’s story right from the start. We find out about her relationships with various family members and friends, her hobbies and interests, her views about morality, her sense of humor, her bravery both in and out of superhero costume, and so much more. Everything seems very deliberate and well-thought-out, with not a page or panel wasted. The creators likely knew (as Joseph Hughes writes in his review of Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1)[7] that introducing a superhero character who is both new and part of several marginalized demographics meant that they’d have to exceed expectations, create books that were better than books about an already-beloved character. They managed to find the right balance of many aspects of life in order to make Kamala feel like a real person, so much so that this series quickly became the one I most look forward to every month.

#

Note/Recommended Reading

The first trade paperback of Kamala’s story (containing issues #1-5 and the short story “Garden State of Mind”) will be released on 28 October 2014. If you’ve been wondering whether to read this series, it’s a great chance to get the beginning of the story all in one book and try it out.

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3, #5 “Urban Legend”. Marvel, 25 June 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5.

[3] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #4 ‘Past Curfew’” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 21 July 2014 on The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 8 September 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-4-past-curfew-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Story Review: ‘Garden State of Mind’ (Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3 Preview) (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 21 June 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 8 September 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/story-review-garden-state-of-mind-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[6] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: ‘Young Avengers’ Volume 2 (By Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al)”. Posted on 30 May 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 8 September 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/book-review-young-avengers-volume-2-by-kieron-gillen-jamie-mckelvie-et-al/.

[7] Hughes, Joseph. “‘Ms. Marvel’ #1: Embracing the Paradox [Review]”. Posted on 10 February 2014 at Comics Alliance. Retrieved on 8 September 2014 from http://comicsalliance.com/ms-marvel-embracing-the-paradox/.

Unreliable Media: A 31 July Essay for J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter’s Birthday

The arrival of the 31st of July means it’s time for my yearly Harry Potter essay in honor of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s birthday.[1] This year, prompted by Rowling’s recent short story on Pottermore (written in the form of an 8 July 2014 Daily Prophet article titled “Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup” by Gossip Correspondent Rita Skeeter),[2] I’ve decided to write about the theme of unreliable media in the Harry Potter series.

The main newspaper of the wizarding community in Great Britain is the Daily Prophet. Harry Potter first sees a copy of the Prophet on his eleventh birthday, after Rubeus Hagrid comes to deliver Harry’s Hogwarts acceptance letter and take him to Diagon Alley.[3] Over the next seven years, the paper plays an important role in the story, serving both as a source of information and misinformation. Prophet reporter Rita Skeeter is the story’s prime example of an untrustworthy reporter, someone who fabricates and alters stories in order to gain more readers. In addition to the Prophet, there are many other sources of false information for our characters, as they try to figure out who and what they can trust. Because of the unreliable media, Harry and his friends also encounter and participate in alternative media that (despite, or perhaps because of, its unofficial nature) helps to provide more accurate information to the wizarding community.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione first meet Rita Skeeter during their fourth year at Hogwarts, during the Triward Tournament. The Tournament is big news, not least because it hasn’t taken place for many years.[4] Throughout the tournament, Skeeter writes factually-incorrect sensationalistic articles. Skeeter wants to interview Harry, but the resulting article is filled with fake quotes of statements he never actually said.[5] She writes an article that paints Harry as disturbed and dangerous.[6] Skeeter also reveals that Rubeus Hagrid is half-giant, which (in a society that is prejudiced against “half-breeds”) is something he was hoping to keep hidden. Hagrid is devastated, and his friends intervene to cheer him up.[7] In an article for the magazine Witch Weekly, Skeeter accuses Hermione of emotionally and romantically manipulating boys, including Viktor Krum and Harry Potter, with a quote from classmate Pansy Parksinson suggesting that Hermione might be using illegal Love Potions to get attention from boys.[8] The articles about Harry cause people to become even more suspicious about him and mistrust him, including those who’ve known him for a while. Even Molly Weasley, who knows Harry and Hermione as good friends of Ron’s and has had them over at her home during holidays, is tricked by Rita Skeeter; Mrs. Weasley seems to believe Skeeter’s article about Hermione, and Harry has to point out to her that the article isn’t true.[9] Much like in our own world, certain types of news stories (e.g. spreading rumors about famous people’s love lives and revealing people’s private information) are tactics used to gain readers. Coverage of an event like the Triwizard Tournament provides an opportunity for the media to include these types of stories around a high-profile event that many people will be paying attention to already. We see how the false information in the media can be used as a form of entertainment and as a tool of division, encouraging people to be interested in gossip and suspicious of those who are different from them.

After the return of Lord Voldemort, the Prophet’s unreliable reporting gets even worse. The paper’s antics had been frustrating before, but they became even more dangerous when the powers that be at both the Ministry of Magic and the Prophet deny that Voldemort has returned, casting Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore as dangerous liars.[10] Dolors Umbridge arrives at Hogawarts, as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor and later becomes the Hogwarts High Inquisitor; as Hermione says, Umbridge’s presence at the school means “the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts”.[11] Throughout Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s fifty year, she doesn’t teach the students properly and enforces very strict rules with the goal of preventing students from assembling and doubting the government.[12] It’s another form of false information, this time through classroom instruction, with the aim of bolstering the Ministry’s propaganda while limiting access to correct information. Once again, even people who already knew Albus Dumbledore Harry and even know people who are fighting against Voldemort, still believe the government and media. Percy Weasley believes the Ministry and the Daily Prophet accusations, resulting in a fight between him and his father Arthur Weasley, after which Percy leaves home and stays away from his family.[13] Percy even sends a letter to Ron, advising him to stay away from Harry and seek advice from Dolores Umbridge.[14] Later, when the Ministry is under the de facto control of Voldemort’s followers, Ministry officials start to send out propaganda materials to encourage distrust of and discrimination against Muggles and Muggle-borns. The Ministry has new Muggle-born Registration Commission (headed by Dolores Umbridge)[15] and it’s likely that his propaganda is being sent out so that people will support the persecution of Muggle-borns by the Commission. The state of affairs places many people in both the wizarding and Muggle worlds in danger. Because the Ministry doesn’t acknowledge that Voldemort has returned, they also refuse to do anything to protect the public. As in our own world, bad reporting in media can keep a population unaware of a danger in society, while creating pariahs and scapegoats and not addressing problems. There is propaganda by both the government and ideological groups in order to encourage hatred and distrust of certain people, especially people from marginalized demographics. Having one major established source of news in a community can exacerbate the problem, making it even easier for that one source to be inappropriately controlled by the government.

In addition to being a reporter for the Prophet, Skeeter is also the author of various books, including a biography titled The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore.[16] This book shows how both truth and lies can be combined to achieve deception. It’s true that Albus Dumbledore did lie to Harry (and many other people) about aspects of his life and his plan to defeat Voldemort. However, Skeeter exaggerates the accurate information and writes in order to completely discredit Dumbledore, emphasizing his wrongdoing and underemphasizing his good actions. Again, there are many parallels to the real world, as many authors write books about issues that are being discussed in the media. Many arguments contain some truth (which make them sound plausible) but have much added rumor and other false information.

In response to the unreliable media, there are attempts to fight back with more accurate news, even from unexpected places. The Quibbler, a questionable magazine at the best of times, becomes a venue for Harry to share the truth about what really happened at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, when he saw Voldemort come back. Fellow Hogwarts student Luna Lovegood becomes friends with Harry during his fifth year at Hogwarts, and as her runs and edits The Quibbler, she’s able to get an interview of Harry printed there.[17] After Rita Skeeter’s false reporting the previous year, Hermione figured out her secret (that Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus, able to turn into a beetle, which is how she eavesdrops on people in order to write her stories)[18] and blackmails her into writing the article for The Quibbler.[19] Although Dolores Umbridge bans The Quibbler at Hogwarts, many of the students still read it. As Hermione comments, “If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!”[20] Throughout the year, the students and faculty of Hogwarts have been lied to and harassed by Umbridge. We see how banning information makes people more curious to read the banned material. When authority figures abuse the trust of others, people are eager to hear from someone else.

During the last year of the war, an underground radio program called Potterwatch becomes a source of news about the resistance against Voldemort. Hosted by Lee Jordan, the program includes guests who are part of the Order of the Phoenix, a secret organization that’s fighting against Voldemort and his supporters. The hosts and guests on the program use pseudonyms, because the Death Eaters would come after them if they knew their identities. There are passwords related to the Order which allow people to hear the program. When Ron returns to Harry and Hermione and tells them about Potterwatch, hearing the radio program is a source of connection to the outside world for these characters who’ve been on the run for months. In one of the installments, the guests encourage witches and wizards to help the Muggles who live near them.[21] This shows how even a message emphasizing kindness and solidarity can become a dangerous thing to say. When bigotry becomes mainstream, people risk their lives to promote a more hopeful message.

Unreliable media shows up repeatedly throughout the Harry Potter series because it ties in with a major theme of the story: that of fighting against discrimination and misinformation, even when powerful institutions in society support it. As previously-trusted news sources are revealed to be unreliable, alternate media sources become places for people to share more accurate information, and sometimes people have to risk their lives to share real news. We see the power of media to influence people’s opinions and society, as media content can cause both good and bad consequences.

#

Note

This essay was completed and posted on 7 October 2014. It is dated 31 July 2014 to keep my archives in order.

###

References

[1] To see all of my essays in the 31 July series category, go to http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/31-july-series/.

[2] Sims, Andrew. “J.K. Rowling writes new story about Harry, Ron, Hermione at the Quidditch World Cup”. Hypable, 8 July 2014. Retrieved on 2 August 2014 from http://www.hypable.com/2014/07/08/harry-potter-new-short-story-jk-rowling/.

[3] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997, Ch 5, p. 49-51.

[4] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000, Ch 12 pp. 165-7.

[5] Goblet of Fire, Ch 18, p. 266-Ch 19, p. 277.

[6] Goble of Fire, Ch 31, p. 531-2.

[7] Goblet of Fire, Ch 25, pp. 380-97.

[8] Goblet of Fire, Ch 27, pp. 444-5.

[9] Goblet of Fire, Ch 31 p. 537.

[10] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London, Bloomsbury, 2003, Ch 4, pp. 70-1; Ch 5, p. 90.

[11] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 11, pp. 190-3; Ch 15, p. 274-6 [direct quote from p. 193].

[12] See, e.g., Order of the Phoenix, Ch 11, pp. 190-3; Ch 12, pp. 215-22; Ch 13, pp. 238-41; Ch 15, p. 274-6 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-two; Educational Decree Number Twenty-three); Ch 17, p. 313 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-four); Ch 19, pp. 367-9 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-five); Ch 25, pp. 486 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-six); Ch 26, pp. 509-12 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-seven); Ch 27, pp. 535-49; Ch 28, pp. 550-6 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-eight; Educational Decree Number Twenty-nine, never actually passed). (Umbridge and the Ministry do this for most of the book. These are just some examples, including the Educational Decrees and other relevant moments from the story.)

[13] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 4, pp. 69-70.

[14] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 14, pp. 265-9.

[15] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 2007, Ch 13, p. 205-20.

[16] Deathly Hallows, Ch18, pp. 286-295.

[17] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 25, p498-502; Ch 26, p. 503.

[18] Goblet of Fire, Ch 37, pp. 630-2.

[19] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 25, pp. 498-502.

[20] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 26, pp. 509-12.

[21] Deathly Hallows, Ch 22, pp. 354-60.

Book Review: “Young Avengers” Volume 1 (By Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, et al)

“Who the #*&% are the Young Avengers?” (J. Jonah Jameson, Young Avengers, Vol. 1 #1)[1]

“You were right. They are fanboys.” (Kat Farrell to Jessica Jones, Young Avengers, Vol. 1 #1)[2]

Who are the Young Avengers? They’re a team of teenage superheroes who’ve been showing up in the news, including in a Daily Bugle article written by Kat Farrell, who christened them with their team name. I really enjoyed volume two of this superhero team’s comics,[3] and so was very excited to read about how their story first began. This volume unfolds over thirteen issues (twelve in the main series, with Young Avengers Special #1 in between #8 and #9) and it was in many ways similar to and in many ways different from the story I’d already read. I thought it was about time that I write a review, as I’m continuing to read the Young Avengers canon.

The story begins with news reports about a team of teenagers that have been dressing up like the Avengers and acting like superheroes. The group comes together after the Avengers disbanded in a previous Marvel Comics crossover event story.[4] Lots of people are wondering who they are and what they’re up to. Kat Farrell wants an interview, and so Jessica Jones/Jewel has the assignment of getting the Young Avengers to agree to talk to her. The older Avengers want to find and stop the Young Avengers, out of concern for their safety. There are all kinds of weird things going on, including one of the team being revealed as the person who will grow up to be the villain Kang the Conqueror and an epic battle between the Skrull and Kree empires over a character who doesn’t want to side with either of them. The interactions between the Avengers and Young Avengers were interesting to read, with realistic motivations on both sides. Regarding the Kang storyline, I’m generally frustrated by stories with a character who’s destined to become evil (and not too fond of fate or prophecy elements in general) but it’s very heart-wrenching as we see a character make certain decisions about his own future in the hopes of saving his friends in the present. The battle between the two empires gives us some information about Teddy, and I like the element of him wanting to decide his future for himself. There’s a rather fun and funny ending, despite how dire the situation seems at first. Overall, the plot of the story is a little hectic at times, but definitely interesting and fun, with a decent amount of quieter moments and character development to get the reader invested in our superhero team.

The Young Avengers are all really interesting. Some characters are the same as the ones in volume two, while others are different. The story begins with a group of four: Nathaniel Richards/Iron Lad, Elijah “Eli” Bradley/Patriot, William “Billy” Kaplan, and Theodore “Teddy” Altman. Nathaniel is interesting, and his story is very sad. Faced with knowledge about the villain he’ll become, he has to decide what to do and what to tell his friends. Despite not usually liking storylines about fate, and despite some confusing parts of the story, I found him a very sympathetic character as he tries to figure out the best course of action. Eli is the grandson of the original Captain America, Isaiah Bradley. The formula that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America was originally tested on African-Americans, and Isaiah Bradley was one of the test subjects. He ended up being the last one alive and secretly went on a mission to stop the Nazi Super Soldier program. For his trouble, he was imprisoned at Leavenworth, and then released years later. The story is meant as a reference to the actual use of African-Americans as test subjects in unethical medical testing throughout our history. Eli becomes a superhero and calls himself Patriot to honor his grandfather and continue fighting the good fight. He’s a great character with a great backstory, but I was troubled by how the explanation of his powers was handled. The original explanation was great just the way it was (a good combination of fun and serious elements, addressing discrimination in a fascinating story) but the creators went down an unnecessary plot-twist tangent that (perhaps unintentionally) contained some stereotypes that often show up in stories with African-American characters. What makes it even more frustrating was that the story went full circle, with him eventually getting his powers in the same way that was originally explained, so I’m not sure why they went down that tangent in the first place, instead of using that space for a different story arc for Eli, perhaps regarding his relationships with his family or friends. Overall, Eli himself is a great character I’d love to read more about. Billy gets some more backstory in this volume, as we find out about him being bullied in school and finding out that he’s the son of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. Teddy also gets some backstory, as well as a big story arc in this volume. We find out he used to use his powers to impersonate celebrities to gain popularity with his friends, but he eventually decided it wasn’t right. Teddy finds out that he’s not human, and neither is the mother who raised him his whole life. He is half-Kree, half-Skrull. His mom Mrs. Altman is Skrull and was Teddy’s birth mother’s nursemaid. Teddy’s original title and name is Prince Dorrek VIII, and his allegiance is wanted by both the Kree and Skrull empires. He’s not particularly interested in either proposition, thinking of Earth as his home. It’s a nice story with references to finding one’s own identity. Later, in volume two, Noh-Varr calls him as “Teddy, Adoptive of Earth”, a fitting title.[5] The relationship between Billy and Teddy is fun, as usual. There’s a hilarious coming out passage, in which Billy is about to tell his parents he’s a superhero, but they think he’s trying to come out about his sexual orientation, which they already know. They hug and welcome Teddy to the family. It’s the kind of coming out, met with acceptance and love, that many LGBTQ kids and teens wish they could have. In the article “Comics Pride: 50 Comics and Characters That Resonate with LGBT Readers”, Andrew Wheeler described their story as “an It Gets Better for the superhero set”[6] and I wholeheartedly agree.

Soon after the story starts, Katherine “Kate” Bishop/Hawkeye and Cassandra “Cassie” Lang/Stature join the team. Kate gets some character development in this volume, as we find out what motivated her to become a superhero and how she inherits Clint Barton/Hawkeye’s bow and superhero name. She’s the only member of the team without superpowers, but her story shows that bravery and morality (not superpowers) are what matter most. Her interactions with the other characters are fun to read as well. Hers was another origin story that contained some elements that are stereotypical, this time for female characters. We find out that she was motivated to become a superhero after she herself was attacked, and it’s a common trope for female character to become motivated after being attacked, especially after sexual assault. This part of her story isn’t really addressed further, though I do like the little acknowledgement that it’s not the victim’s fault and that bad things can happen to everyone. Cassie has an interesting family story, as the daughter of a superhero who’s no longer alive. She doesn’t get along with her stepfather, and her mother is concerned about her. (There’s an interesting bit in which we find out Cassie’s mother’s reason for being concerned about her, and it adds some depth, instead of just being a case of the parents conveniently getting in the way to provide an obstacle for the teenage character.) Cassie is determined and doesn’t let anything stand in her way, not even the Avengers themselves. The next to join the team is the Vision, who’s a bit of a confusing character, having as he does the Vision’s programming and Nathaniel’s emotions and memory, but his story is an interesting introduction with potential for exploring how a person figures out who they really are. The last person to join the team in this volume is Thomas “Tommy” Shepherd/Speed, the twin brother of Billy Kaplan. Tommy is behind bars after destroying his school, but the Young Avengers break him out, so he can help them rescue Teddy. He doesn’t get a big story, but there is some interaction between the twin brothers.

The way the older Avengers were incorporated into the story was done well. When a new set of characters are introduced into a universe, it can be tempting to rely too much on already-beloved characters to carry the story, taking the safe option by focusing on characters with a large fanbase. The creators of this comic judiciously avoided that problem by maintaining the focus on the teenage cast, with participation by the older characters in a way that made sense. Most prominent among the older Avengers is Steve Rogers/Captain America (who acts very much like a concerned parent). His concern for the younger superheroes is not just there for a few laughs and to provide a convenient obstacle (though the situation does have these effects as well). It’s explained in the beginning that Captain America’s sidekick Bucky Barnes was killed during World War Two. As J. Jonah Jameson remarks about the aftermath of Bucky’s death (in a funny line for such a serious situation) “From then on, kid sidekicks only showed up in comic books.”[7] It was interesting to read a story in which a group of superheroes are actually discouraging teenagers from joining their own chosen profession.

The writing and artwork is really enjoyable. It definitely kept me reading. There are some really hilarious and moving conversations between the characters, as well as panels with beautiful artwork. It’s been really enjoyable to read these characters as written and drawn by various creators, as imagined by different people. Despite creative differences between the volumes, I found it very easy to get back into the world.

With regards to diversity, I enjoyed the attempts to be inclusive in both volumes one and two, despite some of the issues. Racial diversity was addressed with Eli’s backstory, and despite the misstep with the odd tangent, there are lots of passages that acknowledge racial discrimination in a relevant way. Unfortunately, unlike volume two, there aren’t multiple non-white characters in the main team. (Technically, Teddy’s a shape-shifted who can look however he wants, but he usually has light skin.) The creators of both volumes have kept up the tradition of a United States-themed superhero leading the team, just as Steve Rogers/Captain America led the Avengers. The fact that Eli Bradley (in volume one) and America Chavez (in volume two) are both non-white characters is welcome and reflects the idea that anyone, of any race, can be a leader and anyone can don the red, white, and blue of the United States. (As a side note, there’s an excellent line by Luke Cage addressing the lack of racial diversity in superhero stories. The Avengers see news reports about the Young Avengers yet again, indicating that the teens didn’t follow the adults’ instructions to disband their group. While watching the news broadcast, Peter Parker/Spider-Man says, in response to a comment by Cage regarding Patriot’s uniform, “You know his name?” Cage responds, “You think there are so many black super heroes running around that I can’t remember their names?”[8] Hopefully, we’re moving toward a future when we can honestly answer “Yes” in response to that rhetorical question.) With regards to LGBTQ characters, there aren’t as many in this volume as there are in volume two (which reversed the usual convention by making the entire team non-heterosexual), and once again, there aren’t any transgender characters (a demographic that often gets even less representation than homosexual characters). On the positive side, the same-sex relationship in the story was the main romance, not pushed to the side in favor of focusing on heterosexual characters’ romances. There are multiple female characters, though there are still more male than female characters on the team. The interactions between the female characters were really great to read. Generally, there are valid criticisms that can be made, in addition to the ones already mentioned, but the Young Avengers series is one that’s moving superhero comics in a good direction.

Overall, volume one was really fun to read. It has its merits and flaws, just as the second volume does, though they differ in their strengths and weaknesses. The Young Avengers have become one of my favorite superhero teams, and it’s always great to find a new story that earns a special place in my heart.

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References

[1] Heinberg, Allan; Cheung, Jim; et al. “Young Avengers Vol. 1 #1: ‘Sidekicks’”. 9 February 2005. In: Young Avengers: Ultimate Collection. Marvel, 2013 (second printing). [ISBN: 978-0-7851-4907-1]

[2] Young Avengers Vol. 1 #1: “Sidekicks”

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. :Book Review: ‘Young Avengers’ Volume 2 (By Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al)”. Posted on 30 May 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 24 July 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/book-review-young-avengers-volume-2-by-kieron-gillen-jamie-mckelvie-et-al/.

[4] “Avengers Disassembled”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 24 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Avengers_Disassembled.

[5] Gillen, Kieron; McKelvie, Jamie; et al. “Young Avengers Vol. 1 #7: ‘Breakfast Meet’”. 2013. In: Young Avengers, Vol. 2: Alternative Culture. Marvel, 2014. [ISBN: 978-0-7851-6709-9]

[6] Wheeler, Andrew. “Comics Pride: 50 Comics and Characters That Resonate with LGBT Readers”. Posted on 29 June 2012 at Comics Alliance. Retrieved on 25 July 2014 from http://comicsalliance.com/comics-pride-month-50-most-important-lgbt-comics-characters/.

[7] Young Avengers Vol. 1 #1 “Sidekicks”.

[8] Heinberg, Allan; Cheung, Jim; et al. “Young Avengers Vol. 1 #7: ‘Secret Identities (Part 1 of 2)’”. 2005. In: Young Avengers: Ultimate Collection. Marvel, 2013 (second printing).

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #4 “Past Curfew” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“Ammi and Abu taught me to always think about the greater good. To defend people who can’t defend themselves, even if it means putting yourself at risk. I wish they could see that that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.” (Kamla Khan, Ms. Marvel #4)[1]

“Who am I? It seems like an easy question. And then I realize … Maybe what I said to those cops wasn’t a joke. Maybe the name belongs to whoever has the courage to fight. And so I tell them.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel #4)[2]

Issue #4 “Past Curfew” begins after the cliffhanger of the previous issue,[3] as Kamala is lying injured on the floor of the Circle Q. Bruno is freaking out because his brother Vick just shot Ms. Marvel. Bruno frantically calls the police and Vick hurriedly leave the premises.

As Bruno is one the phone, Kamala changes her appearance from Carol Danvers back to herself, revealing to Bruno that she had superpowers and is the one who saved Zoe. It’s here that Kamala finds out she has another power: she’s able to heal really quickly; the bullet wound is already healing, and she feels fine. However, she’s worried about the cops showing up, since Bruno has called them. There’s a little moment that acknowledges the profiling of Muslims, as Kamala doesn’t want the police officers who show up at the scene to know she’s a superhero because, in her words, “My parents will freak, the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something, and then they’ll sell me off to science!” It’s a common thing for superheroes to keep their identities secret, but this is one of the few instances (along with the X-Men and Spider-Man) in which the canon story contains an understandable reason for the character to be concerned about others knowing who they really are, so there’s some additional substance there (in addition to the humorous element). Bruno has the usual friend reaction, not believing that Kamala wouldn’t tell him she has superpowers. It was a really sweet moment, as Bruno praises Kamala and then blushes.

When two cops and a paramedic show up, Kamala figures out that the healing power only works when she’s not shape-shift, so she can’t hide her identity by making herself look like Carol Danvers again, because the wound isn’t completely healed yet. Bruno and Kamala improvise a (rather silly) way to prevent the cops from finding out Kamala’s identity. I really couldn’t believe that their plan worked in fooling the cops. One of the officers does say to expect a subpoena for the security tapes. I don’t know how or if that’ll be addressed in future issues, as the security tapes might reveal Kamala’s identity if she was in the camera shot when she changed her appearance back to how she actually looks. As the responders are leaving, the paramedic makes a comment about how they keep getting calls related to superheroes, and we get a fun reference to fellow superhero Hawkeye (presumably Clint Barton,[4] not Kate Bishop,[5] based on the pronoun). It was a humorous moment that shows Kamala is a superhero in a universe filled with superheroes.

After Bruno knows Kamala’s secret, they work together. The setup is there for him to be the friendly sidekick (and perhaps a future love interest, based on some hints in this issue and issue #1). Their first mission is to figure out what Bruno’s brother Vick is up to. Kamala decides she needs a superhero costume, and there there’s a hilarious interaction between her and her mother related to this. Kamala is digging through looking for her burkini (a modest swimsuit), and her mother (in usual parental fashion) knows exactly where it is and brings it to her. Kamala’s mother is suspicious, because Kamala had previously said she’d never wear the burkini, and tells Kamala she’s going to set her alarm for 1:00 am to check if Kamala is still in her room in the middle of the night, threatening to get Sheikh Abdullah involved if Kamala sneaks out again. Undeterred, but realizing she has a limited amount of time, Kamala calls Bruno and they go on their first superhero mission together. Kamala and Bruno head over to an abandoned house in Greenville, where Bruno knows Vick has been going recently. The two have some fun acting like secret agents, sneaking up to the house and noticing that there are two people lazily standing guard on the porch.

It’s here that we get the first moment of Kamala taking on her new superhero name. Before, she was using her powers to look like Carol Danvers, the hero previously known as Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel). At this moment, Kamala considers herself the new Ms. Marvel, and that’s the name she gives when the people on the porch ask who she is. We also get to see Kamala in a superhero pose in her home-made superhero costume: a blue-and-red burkini, yellow fanny pack with pink flower design, white sneakers, and black domino mask. It’s an important moment in her story, and the fact that it’s written and drawn the way it is adds to the charm.

After Kamala gets past the two people who’ve been stationed as guards on the porch, she barges into the house, and fights a bunch of insect-like robots (telling herself it’s just like the video game World of Battlecraft as a form of motivation), and heading down to the basement where Vick is being held prisoner (with the words “Property of the Inventor” written on the wall above his head). The issue ends on another cliffhanger, as three people (the two from the porch and one more) confront Kamala.

The writing and art continue to be great. Kamala and Bruno have some great interaction in this issue, and I love their conversations. Kamala’s narration is also really fun to read, as she gets into the whole superhero lifestyle and decides to put her geek knowledge to work. Something else I want to mention is how much I enjoy the little details in the artwork. For instance, we see the titles of magazines for sale in the Circle Q, the cover on the hangar with the burkini indicating that it’s from Auntie’s Modest Swimwear, the (literal) writing on the wall and floor when Kamala goes into the abandoned house, the (hilarious) slogan on the shirt of one of the Inventor’s supporters who confronts Kamala. There are similar little details in the previous issues as well. This provides some additional worldbuilding and humor.

Overall, this is a fun continuation of the story and a really enjoyable read. We’re in the middle of Kamala’s first somewhat planned mission as a superhero, as she tries to figure out how to do these things she’s undoubtedly read about and written about, but doesn’t have much experience with personally. The series continues to be impressive.

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References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Past Curfew”. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #4. Marvel, 28 May 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #4.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 ‘Side Entrance’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 12 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 17 July 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-3-side-entrance-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[4] “Clinton Barton (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 21 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Clinton_Barton_(Earth-616).

[5] “Katherine Bishop (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 21 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Katherine_Bishop_(Earth-616).

Foundations of My Bookshelf, Essay 1: For The Baby-sitters Club

When I was in elementary school, I loved Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-sitters Club book series. It’s the story of a group of friends who are middle school students in Stoneybrook, Connecticut and who start a baby-sitting service. There are hundreds of novels, including spin-off series. The books were written by multiple authors and were originally published between 1986 and 2000.[1] The Baby-sitters Club was the first book series I remember becoming obsessed with, the first story for which I eagerly looked for more books in the series. I aimed to read all of the books, and though I don’t think I managed to, I did read many of them.

There did come a day when, at long last, I emptied the shelf in my room that was filled with Baby-sitters Club books, stacked the books in a brown paper bag, and donated the lot to the local library. I’ve since seen the kids’ table at the library’s used books sale, and would like to imagine that my old books have found their way into the collection of a child who will learn a love of reading from the same books I once loved. I still look back on the series with some nostalgia; the books mean a lot to me for what they meant to my younger self and how they influenced the reader I became.

This series is the first that I remember obsessively reading, going from one book to the next with a fervent zeal. These books were partly responsible for my love of reading. The fact that they were not part of a school assignment certainly played a role in this; though I was generally a student who enjoyed most of what we read for school, this was true to a lesser extent in elementary school, and so finding books that I enjoyed reading on my own, and which made me eager to go to the library frequently, was important in shaping my love of reading.

The world of these stories also provided one of my earlier literary hideaways, somewhere I could escape to. If I was upset about something, I could enjoy the story about these fun characters as they spent time with friends and dealt with various challenges. I remember there was one day when I reread the first four books of the series, one right after the other. Not only were they an escape, they allowed me to look into experiences different from my own. Through the characters in the Club, I read about experiences that I didn’t have.

In hindsight, I believe that these books also gave me some idea about the writing in different types of series. Those who remember reading about the series will recall that these books (like others in similar series aimed for young kids) often began with a section that introduced the stories and the characters. A reader can pick up any book and understand the story, because we get little introductions to each of the characters. In a series of hundreds of books, this is an understandable technique. The books were designed this way so that kids didn’t have to start right at the beginning and read straight through. I couldn’t help noticing, even then, that I was reading the same introductory material in each book of the series. Related to this, I also gained some understanding of how a book can be a stand-alone story but still be related to other books in the series, as the characters in the Club had a different problem to resolve in each book, but reading multiple books would cause readers to make certain connections between the stories, as certain major events happened in the characters’ lives in certain books. I think that reading other books after the Baby-sitters Club gave me some (preliminary) appreciation for the fact that some series are designed in a way that is meant to facilitate reading in any order while others are meant to be read in order for better understanding of the overall plot.

Also notable is that the Baby-sitters Club books have a diverse cast of characters, and this was certainly one of the earlier stories that made me enjoy books with characters from different background and with different experiences in their lives. I have a passion for diversity in literature, because media representation matters,[2] and I always enjoyed the fact that the characters in the Club were friends with each other despite their differences. The media we enjoy as kids influences us, and I think this book series influenced me in a good way. There are stories that mention or discuss race, religion, chronic illness, death in the family, non-traditional family structures, and other topics in a way that kids can understand and learn from. Jessica Ramsey (who is a dedicated ballet dancer) faces racism when her family first movies to Stoneybrook; people discriminate against them because they are African-American. Both Jessica and Claudia Kishi (who is Japanese-American) face racism when a family doesn’t want them to baby-sit for their children due to their races (#56). Claudia is devastated when her beloved grandmother Mimi has a stroke (#7) and later dies. (#26) She must also deal with her parents’ expectations of her and having difficulty in school. Abby Stevenson’s family is Jewish; she and her twin sister Anna have a Bat Mitzvah in one of the books (#96). Stacey McGill is from New York and has to get used to living in a suburban area after living in the big city; she actually moves back to New York at one point (#13), but then returns to Stoneybrook with her mother after her parents’ divorce (#28). She also has diabetes and is initially afraid to tell her friends about it, because people have made fun of her in the past due to her illness (#1). Kristy Thomas and Dawn Schafer both have divorced parents and deal with the joys and difficulties of having large extended families. Kristy has a difficult time due to her father leaving the family but loves her stepfather and stepsiblings. Dawn’s family is divided between Connecticut and California, which causes difficulty as she feels like she doesn’t get to see members of her family for a long time (#23). She moves back and forth throughout the series and there are some books which focus on her story while she’s in California. Dawn is also a vegetarian. Mary Anne Spier is being raised by a single father after the death of her mother. Mallory Pike’s family has to deal with financial troubles when her father loses his job (#39). She also has to stand up for herself when her parents expect her to constantly baby-sit her many siblings by herself and it interferes with her writing (#47). These are just a few examples that I particularly remember from years ago; like many children’s book series, many of the long list of stories attempt to include some good message for kids.[3]

I sometimes think back to these books and think about the recent campaigns to increase diversity in literature, especially in children’s literature. There were a lot of books I read as a kid that didn’t have this kind of diversity, so I’m very glad that The Baby-sitters Club was there. Although one could, of course, discuss the positives and negatives in the ways these issues were portrayed (which I don’t remember the books in enough detail to do here), the fact that the books did show this diversity was very important to me. I think it gave me high expectations and, since then, I’ve often been glad to see books with a diverse cast.

Ultimately, though I’m doubtful I’ll ever pick up and read one of these books again, I’m glad I read them as a kid. They had a great influence on me, for all the reasons I’ve explained, and that’s why I thought the Baby-sitters Club books deserved pride of place as the topic of the first essay in this series.

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Note

This essay is part of my Foundations of My Bookshelf series. The essays in this series can be found in the category of the same name[4] or on my Index of Series page.[5]

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References

[1] The Wikipedia page about The Baby-sitters Club can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baby-sitters_Club.

[2] To read my blog posts in the “Media Representation Matters” category, go to http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/media-representation-matters/.

[3] “List of The Baby-Sitters Club novels”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved 15 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Baby-sitters_Club_novels.

[4] To read my blog posts in the Foundations of my Bookshelf series, go to http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/foundations-of-my-bookshelf-series/.

[5] My Index of Series can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/index-of-series/.

My BookTube-A-Thon 2014 To-Be-Read (TBR) List

Recently, I’ve been watching and really enjoying some BookTube videos. Apparently, today is the first day of BookTube-A-Thon 2014, which is from July 14th to July 21st.[1] There’s a YouTube channel for the event with several videos that explain what the event is.[2] Basically, it’s a weeklong read-a-thon created by BookTuber Ariel Bisset.[3] There are seven Reading Challenges and Video Challenges associated with the event.[4] Obviously, as I don’t make videos, I can’t complete the Video Challenges, but I’m hoping to complete the Reading Challenges.

So, here are the seven Reading Challenges and which books I plan to read to complete each challenge, plus one extra item on the list.

  1. A book with pictures

Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note I (Black Edition): This manga series was highly recommended to me by a friend about a year ago, but I only recently picked up a paperback of the beginning of the series. This book actually contains volumes one and two (chapters one through sixteen) of a total of twelve volumes. I have mixed expectations going into this book. On the one hand, the premise sounds really interesting, and I know the book has been highly-praised and has sold many copies. On the other hand, I recently read Bakuman Vol. 1 (which is by the same writer and artist) and found it frustrating and insulting, due to the bad writing and sexist content. I’m really hoping this book is better.

  1. Start and finish a series

Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis: I’m counting this book as a series, because it was originally published in multiple volumes (four volumes in French and two volumes in English) bebefore being collected into one book. I picked this up recently due to my increased interest in comics and my preexisting interest in the subject matter. I’ve been focusing a lot more on the speculative fiction and superhero comics, so I’m excited to read a non-fiction comic.

  1. A book with red on the cover

Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim; Illustrated by Roswitha Quadflieg): This book has been on my bookshelf for a while, and it seems like the kind of thing a fantasy fan should read at some point.

  1. A book someone else picks out for you

Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory: This was the second book over at the Reblog Book Club on Tumbr. I read their first book Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl,[5] but never got around to The Impossible Knife of Memory. They’ve since moved on to their third book, so I’m hoping I can catch up if I read this during BookTube-A-Thon.

  1. A book from the genre you’ve read the least this year

Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands: I haven’t read any essay collections this year. I’ve been trying to read this book for a while now (in fact, I’ve started it at least twice before) but never finished it. This isn’t because it’s bad; I actually really love the parts I’ve read. For some reason, every time I’ve tried to read it, I’d get distracted by a different book or schoolwork. Then, when I’d pick it up again, I’d decide to just start over from the beginning, since it’s a short book and since I knew I’d enjoy rereading the parts I’d already read. This resulted in me never actually reaching the end of this rather tiny volume. Hopefully, I’ll remedy that this time around.

  1. A book to movie adaptation

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: I tend to perpetually reread the Harry Potter series in the background of whatever other books I’m reading, and I’ve just about finished rereading Prisoner of Azkaban, so Goblet of Fire is the next one up.

  1. Read seven books

Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways Vol. 1 #1-4 (By Zeb Wells, Stefano, et al): Since the two volumes of Satrapi’s Persepolis are in one book, I’m adding this book to round out the list. I just read Civil War Vol. 1 #1-7 (By Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Morry Hallowell, et al) and really enjoyed it. That series was kind of an introduction or framing story of the Civil War event in the Marvel universe; there are many other issues from many different titles which are part of this event and show what various characters were doing during the war. Since I already like the Young Avengers and am planning to read Runaways, I thought I’d read the Civil War series about these two teams.

  1. Other

Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 “Healing Factor”: The latest issue of Ms. Marvel will be released this Wednesday, 16 July 2014, and I’m extremely excited about it. Since I know I’ll definitely read this issue right when it’s released, I thought I’d add it to my TBR list.

So, that’s the list of books I’m planning to read this week. I don’t usually create a to-be-read list for a specific period of time, preferring to just pick up whatever interests me on a particular day, so we’ll see how this goes.

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References

[1] Ariel Bissett/BookTubeAThon. “BOOKTUBEATHON 2014!”. Posted on 17 June 2014 at the BookTubeAThon YouTube channel. Retrieved on 14 July 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JauBxxVGa24.

[2] The BookTube-A-Thon YouTube channel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/BookTubeAThon.

[3] Ariel Bissett’s YouTube channel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/ArielBissett.

[4] Ariel Bissett/BookTubeAThon. “OFFICIAL READING AND VIDEO CHALLENGES!” Posted on 7 July 2014 at the BookTubeAThon YouTube channel. Retrieved on 14 July 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_XOtGOUdUg.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Fangirl’”. Posted on 2 October 2013 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 14 July from http://eternalbookshelf.wordprss.com/2013/10/02/book-review-rainbow-rowells-fangirl/.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 “Side Entrance” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“I wish I could get something besides World of Battlecraft strategy guides when I Google ‘Polymorph–’” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3)[1]

“Wait a minute. I have superpowers. I saved somebody’s life on Friday. I am 911! But—everybody’s expecting Ms. Marvel. Ms. Marvel from the news. With the hair and spandex and the Avengers swag. Not a sixteen-year old brown girl with a 9 pm curfew.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3)[2]

“This … this was not what I planned…” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3)[3]

Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 “Side Entrance” starts with Kamala eating breakfast and (in usual superhero fashion) seeing a report about herself on the news. Since she looked like Carol Danvers while rescuing her classmate Zoe from drowning in the previous issue[4] (which I reviewed last week),[5] no one knows that it was really Kamala. While she’s trying to look up information about her superpowers on the internet, her brother interrupts and reminds he it’s time to go to the youth lecture at the local masjid (mosque). In this issue, we see Kamala in several situations: at the masjid, at school and then intervening to help someone again.

Kamala and her brother Aamir go to the Islamic Masjid of Jersey City for Sheikh Abdullah’s Saturday Youth Lecture. I was kind of dreading the passages showing Kamala at the mosque, worried about how it would be handled, but I think that the creators managed to do it well. There are often two opposite extremes in the way Islam is portrayed; some people’s portrayals suggest that all Muslims as terrorists and all mosques are places that harbor extremism, while others (often with the good intention of fighting against bigotry) go overboard by portraying things too perfectly, without any problems. The first portrayal is discriminatory; the second (while perhaps appropriate for certain anti-discrimination adverts) comes across as unrealistic, as every group has internal problems. I like the way that the creators handled the situation. We find out right away, through a comment from Aamir, that Kamala usually does not like to go to the youth lecture. This is similar to a theme found in many stories, showing children and teen characters who get frustrated with having to attend religious classes at the behest of their parents; readers of any faith can probably relate to this, whether they’re religious or not (as even someone who is religious has probably sat through some uninspiring sermons in their time). During the lecture, Sheikh Abdullah is preaching about the supposed immorality of an unmarried man and woman being alone together.

This issue really shows how having multiple Muslim characters, not just one, allows for character development and the breaking down of stereotypes. We get to see different Muslim characters with different views, so the setup is not Muslims vs. non-Muslims. We see people who disagree with each other about certain things, despite being from the same religion, and people who agree with each other on certain things, despite being from different religions. We have moments in this issue between Kamala and her brother Aamir, Kamala and her friend Nakia, and Kamala and Sheikh Abdullah. We see their interactions, talking about different topics, and they each get to be their own character, none of them expected to represent all Muslims. I really liked the conversation between Kamala and Nakia and would love to see more of their friendship in future issues.

There’s a passage in this issue, while Kamala is at the masjid, that addresses gender discrimination, and which does so in a great way. We find out that the girls have to sit in the back, separated from the boys by a barrier, and have to enter the masjid through a separate side entrance. During the lecture, Kamala tries to talk to Nakia, but the sheikh overhears them and tells them to quiet down. Kamala takes the opportunity to argue with Sheikh Abdullah (not for the first time, it seems) regarding the gender segregation in the masjid, using Islamic arguments. It’s a passage that made me want to cheer, quite honestly. While readers from any background will be able to relate to Kamala’s situation, I expect that Muslim girls and women (and probably girls and women from other religions as well) will be able to relate to the frustration of having to sit in the back, of being segregated away and treated as less important. For many of us who never had the courage to argue back about the gender segregation during religious classes, Kamala speaks for us, with an audience much larger than we could ever dream of having.

The title of the issue “Side Entrance” references the side entrance that the girls have to use when entering the masjid. I thought this was a nice acknowledgement of Kamala succeeding despite being underestimated. We see this teenage girl who is discriminated against in several ways — because of her religion, her race, and her gender — and yet she’s a superhero. There are many people who would look down on her, but they don’t realize that she’s overcoming their expectations and doing great things. Unbeknownst to them, she’s the girl who they’ve heard mentioned on the television, the girl who saved someone’s life. It takes the very common story of a person who’s not the most powerful in their everyday life becoming a superhero and adds more levels of meaning onto it.

In the middle of the issue, we see Kamala at Coles Academic High School on Monday. (This is presumably the Monday right after the Friday on which she saved Zoe.) During free period, she’s continuing her efforts to find information about superpowers, while ignoring Bruno (who she’s still upset with, because he told her parents about her going to the party in issue #1).[6] I thought this part was rather hilarious, as she keeps finding things from video games rather than real information. Bruno is working on a science project for his scholarship application to Rutgers (The State University of New Jersey).[7] Bruno’s younger brother Vick seems to be up to something; he asks Bruno to steal money from the cash register from his job at the Circle Q. Bruno refuses. Kamala’s powers start acting up, so she runs out of the classroom so that nobody sees. She hides in the locker room, where she tries to use her powers intentionally. She ends up (rather foolishly) destroying part of the locker room and getting detention. After school, Kamala is in detention and gets a phone call from her mother. Her mother is yelling at her over the phone in Urdu; though her mother’s lines are not translated, I think readers will get the general gist of what she’s saying. This is intended to be one of those superhero passages in which the new superhero is trying out their powers and does something foolish or irresponsible and gets in trouble for it, but they can’t explain because that would mean revealing that they’re a superhero. It was rather irresponsible of Kamala to tear up the benches in the locker room, honestly, but it does set the stage for her learning how to use her powers and hopefully not do that kind of the in the future.

The ending of the issue shows Kamala once again intervening in order to help someone, this time trying to stop a robbery at the Circle Q, where her friend Bruno works. She was headed over there anyway, to make up with him, and when she reaches the door, she sees a person in a mask with a gun. We see some panels letting us know that the robber is actually Bruno’s brother Vick (who’d been hoping a different employee would be there). Vick mentions something about the Inventor, foreshadowing future events. Kamala, not knowing that the robber is Vick, makes an entrance, looking like Carol Danvers again, with the hilarious statement, “Put the gun down and step away from the cashier, you wannabe hipster punk.”[8] In the ensuing struggle, Kamala initially appears to have the upper hand, but then Vick shoots her. The issue ends on that cliffhanger.

One again, I have to praise both the writing and the artwork in this issue. The characters speech and thoughts are incredibly realistic, resembling real life. The artwork is great and helps convey important backstory, character development, and worldbuilding. We see how the choices to show certain passages helps the different parts of the story hang together and also foreshadow future events. One of the people whose name isn’t on the cover of the comic (but is on the title page) who I’d like to mention here is one of the editors Sana Amanat. I’ve seen in articles and interviews about this series (such as the article “Mighty, Muslim and Leaping Off the Page” by George Gene Gustines)[9] indicating that Kamala Khan was partly inspired by a conversation between Amanat and fellow editor Steve Wacker about Amanat’s childhood growing up as a Muslim-American. There are so many elements of the story that I can relate to, growing up in a Muslim family in the United States, that I think Amanat’s contribution shows on the page. More generally, when reading Ms. Marvel Vol. 3, it really shows that the people working on the series appreciate how the story of a character can contain elements that are both universal and individual; they do a good job of showing experiences that Kamala has due to her background and also experiences that anyone can relate to.

Overall, this issue is really fun and inspiring continuation to the series. We see that the road to becoming a superhero isn’t as easy as Kamala may want it to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story. As with all things in life, to be a superhero, one has to keep trying. In the next issue, we’ll see what happens to Kamala after she’s been shot and how she resumes her efforts to get better at her heroics.

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References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Side Entrance”. Ms Marvel Vol. 3 #3. Marvel, 16 April 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3

[3] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3

[4] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “All Mankind”. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2. Marvel, 19 March 2014.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2 ‘All Mankind’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 3 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 12 July 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-2-all-mankind-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[6] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Metamorphosis”. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1. Marvel, 5 February 2014.

[7] “Rutgers University”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 12 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutgers_University.

[8] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3.

[9] Gustines, George Gene. “Mighty, Muslim and Leaping Off the Page: Marvel Comics Introducing a Muslim Girl Superhero”. The New York Times, 5 November 2013. Retrieved on 12 July 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/06/books/marvel-comics-introducing-a-muslim-girl-superhero.html.