Archive | January, 2014

Battling Boy

24 Jan

Battling-Boy-cover
The monster-infested city of Arcopolis finds itself without a hero when the vigilante monster fighter, Haggard West, is killed in battle. Luckily for them, there’s a 12-year-old demi-god, known as Battling Boy, in need of a little hero initiation (his “rambling”), and his parents have picked Arcopolis as his training ground. Armed with magical, totemic t-shirts, Battling Boy answers the call to adventure and begins battling the city’s monsters. Meanwhile, Aurora West, daughter of the late Haggard West, trains to take over her father’s mission, and the city’s monsters respond to the news of the city’s new hero.

Battling Boy is the first installment in a new series from Paul Pope; the only downside to this is that I don’t have the second book in my hands at this very moment. Paul Pope’s artwork is brilliant, eye-catching, and like nothing I’ve seen before; while this is not the first Paul Pope comic, it was my personal introduction to his work. The artwork alone is reason enough to enjoy this graphic novel, but in addition, the story is engaging, the characters are memorable, and the themes of fear of failure and the pressure of living up to parents’ expectations are ones that many young readers will relate to.

Pope_Humbaba

While Battling Boy is clearly our main hero, he’s still learning the ropes, making mistakes, and calling in for help when needed – he’s in training after all. Aurora West doesn’t get nearly as much attention, but we see enough to feel invested in her character and to hope for a partnership between these two young heroes as they continue to fight, learn, and grow in future volumes. Both Battling Boy and Aurora West are genuinely unique and likable, so there was no wishing the story would focus more attention on one or the other, as I’ve found at times with other dual hero stories. And let’s not forget the monsters! The main villains/henchmen throughout are Sadisto and his gang of schemers, kidnappers, and murderers, and they are plenty entertaining and evil, but the giant car-chomping Humbaba is just about my favorite comic book monster that I’ve ever seen!

I can’t wait to dive into this world again, and thankfully won’t have to wait too long as Fall 2014 brings us a prequel, The Rise of Aurora West! More more more more more. Please.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author/Illustrator: Paul Pope
Publisher: First Second (Oct. 2013)

Doll Bones

20 Jan

Doll Bones
Zach may be too old to play with dolls, but he doesn’t let that stop him. He and his friends Alice and Poppy have been acting out an adventurous storyline with dolls and action figures for almost as long as they have been friends. When Zach’s dad throws all his toys away, it looks like their storytelling days are over. Only, there’s still one great adventure to tell, and it stars the friends themselves. Poppy claims to be haunted by a dead girl, a ghost who claims that The Queen (a bone china doll that’s off limits from game play) is made from her ashes. The ghost demands that the children bring the doll to the cemetery in the town where she lived and give her the burial she deserves. Otherwise, the dead girl will haunt the friends forever.

Focusing on Zach’s experience of events and performed by Nick Podehl, this story is more about growing up, friendship, and creativity than it is a ghost story. There is plenty of adventure and some creepy moments with the doll, but the story always comes back to the three friends navigating the transition between childhood and adolescence. Nick Podehl skillfully captures the story’s pace and the changes that the characters, both male and female, go through during their adventures. Doll Bones is a great choice for young readers who want to read something scary, but can’t quite handle a real horror story yet. But other readers will also find much to love here, from the solid character development to the friends’ quest to find their way to the doll’s burial ground.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Holly Black
Reader: Nick Podehl
Publishers:Listening Library and Margaret K. McElderry Books (2013)

Dear Girls: You are unique and powerful so please go away. Love, Disney

18 Jan

Disney's Frozen

Thanks to many positive early reviews, I got it in my head that Frozen was a film to be excited about – a Disney film that for the first time usurped the traditional princess fairy tale of being rescued by a knight in shining armor for a more feminist telling celebrating the bonds of sisterhood.

Not so fast, Disney. I’m calling bulls**t.

Though Frozen boasts two female lead characters, passes the Bechdel Test (barely) and defines “true love” as an act of sisterhood, the most straightforward message in this purportedly feminist film – a film whose target audience is young girls – is that that which is unique, special, and powerful about you is also dangerous, shameful and must be hidden. A subtler message: girls are emotional time-bombs who can’t be trusted to control their bodies or their minds.

Princess sisters - Anna and Elsa

Princess #1, Elsa, has a unique and powerful ability – she can “freeze things.” Princess #2, Anna, is an innocent (i.e.: normal) girl. Together, in the privacy of their castle, the sisters play in a winter wonderland of Elsa’s creation until a misdirected freeze ray accidentally hits Anna in the head. So, the King and Queen, decide to close the castle gates and keep Elsa quarantined from EVERYONE, including Anna. Not only does this alienate Elsa from the entire world but also it robs Anna of her playmate and sister with no explanation whatsoever. Did you know that the first step in the cycle of abuse and colonization is isolation? I’m just saying.

Then the parents die and the two girls are truly alone – Anna left to wonder why her sister won’t speak, play or even talk to her and Elsa confined to her bedroom by fear of her uncontrollable “gift.” When the sisters finally emerge from the castle, years later for “Coronation Day”/Elsa’s 18th birthday, Anna’s desire for connection leads her to immediately become engaged to a visiting prince and Elsa’s inability to control her power leads her to banish herself to the top of a mountain.

And that’s only the first 30 minutes of the film! WHAT THE WHAT, DISNEY?!?

Overall, the majority of the critiques of Frozen can be attributed to poor storytelling but to use that, as an excuse would be to ignore that the holes in the story are a direct consequence of Disney’s commitment to reinforcing traditional gender roles that scare girls into submission. Here’s how in three easy steps:

Elsa

1. Being a girl is bad: Elsa has been raised to believe her power, her gift, that which makes her unique (SUBTEXT: HER GIRL-NESS) is what is wrong with her. She is the villain and for no reason at all except she was born different from everyone else. She doesn’t even get a fairy godmother or some dancing snowflake to share comical words of wisdom. I mean, DANG. Even Cinderella had birds helping her dress. Elsa has to be scared of her abilities because what would it mean to acknowledge a girl’s power and teach her how to use it? Seriously, Disney? Hollywood? America? Why aren’t we telling that story?

2. Feelings are bad: “Don’t feel. Conceal” becomes Elsa’s mantra in order for her to cope with her uniqueness. Disney is point blank telling girls that their thoughts – their emotions – are things to be ashamed of. The fact that this catchy little rhyme is actually repeated multiple times throughout the film guarantees that it will imprint on it’s audience – it’s audience full of young, impressionable girls. In an era where one of TV’s most revered female characters successes relies on listening to her “gut,” Disney is brainwashing little girls to ignore, distrust and devalue that voice. Instead they are telling them to “Let it Go.” Yep, the solo power ballad meant to celebrate Elsa’s claiming of her power is sung to an audience of none and comes complete with a “costume change” of the typical Disney transformation including loose hair and new dress with a sexy slit straight up her just turned 18-year-old thigh.

3. Power is bad: Elsa is never given any agency when it comes to her ability. It is a “gift” that alienates her to a life of solitude and serves no purpose for the greater good or even Elsa herself. The origin of her power is unclear (we assume she was born with it) but what is made icily clear is how her ability is triggered (by her emotions) or controlled (it isn’t). Sure, Clark Kent and Peter Parker were awkward social loners caught within the tension of their “normal” lives and their super powers. BUT, like most male characters with super-human powers, they actively participated in society because they were given the capability to control their powers. They had jobs, they had friends – even romantic relationships, and when they were called upon to use their unique power it was in protection of their communities. Don’t get it twisted, my pretty. Frozen isn’t a super hero story; it’s a princess story.

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Final proof that this film is about as feminist as Robin Thicke, the majority of the plot and subsequent screen time is dedicated to Anna’s journey to find Elsa which she does with the help of…you guessed it, A MAN! Thanks to a descriptive opening song and ample dialogue we know more about the character Sven than both girls combined.

UGH and SIGH.

Frozen is just another Hollywood vehicle reminding girls and women that if you are talented, especially innately (God-given), beyond explanation (witchcraft) or in a way that threatens the status quo (if Elsa can just make ice appear out of thin air what will the big, strong men do for work?) then you are doomed to a life of solitude and loneliness. You might still get to be Queen but your talent will be used only for entertainment or self-preservation rather than to solve problems or help you better lead your kingdom.

Just ask Hilary.

This post was originally posted on our sister site pop!goesalicia.

Sumo

5 Jan

Sumo
Scott’s dream of making it to the NFL didn’t come to fruition, and then his girlfriend of four years dumped him. When we first meet Scott, however, he’s in a much different place: he’s sporting a new look and training in a sumo heya in Japan. The story then jumps back and forth between his time training for and participating in an important bout, his departure from the States, and his arrival at the sumo training quarters and meeting Asami, the daughter of Scott’s trainer. The different time periods are marked by color – blue for his last moments in the States, green for his initial time at the sumo heya, and orange for his training and the important match that will determine whether he stays or returns home. His trainer tells him that the three most important things in sumo are the body, mind, and spirit. He clearly has the body advantage, but will he be able to find the center that he’s been missing for so long? Does he have what it takes?

Thien Pham’s minimalist artwork and the calm pacing of the story make for a rather poetic read. The quiet, slow, gracefulness of sumo wrestling comes across through the visual storytelling. While there is a calmness to the storytelling there is also a bit of action during the training scenes. On first reading, I was drawn to the subtle and efficient style and the overall mood of the book. However, I found Sumo even more enjoyable and interesting upon reread and after learning a bit about sumo wrestling.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author/Illustrator: Thien Pham
Publisher: First Second (Dec. 2012)

Between readings of Sumo my super fabulous cousin Liz became an amateur sumo champ! She competed in her first tournament over the summer representing the USA in the World Games, where she became the first female American to ever win a match! Later in the year she won both the Middleweight Gold and Openweight Gold at the US Open. You can watch her kicking butt in the video below (starting around the 1:40 mark).