60 Books In 2019 #4: The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker

My grandpa, Grampy, we called him, passed away this weekend. Which means I’ll always remember The Golem And The Jinni, which I kept thinking, “he’d have loved this book,” as I read through it.

“It was a fine day that we came to this country,” was a favorite saying of Grampy’s, he’d affect a brogue, an accent that never quite suited him the way his natural Manhattan flat vowels and nasally tones did. But he was right, of course. America has been unfathomably good to our family, and frankly, to our people. My background is primarily New York Irish, (not to be confused with Boston or Chicago Irish, the culture is a bit different.) with smatterings of German, British and Jewish.

The children of immigrants, yearning always for both America and home. And The Golem And The Jinni is about that, and so much more. A Golem, a being of clay, created by Jewish mysticism, and Jinni, a demon of fire, from the deserts of Syria, find themselves in the great city of immigrants, New York, and find each other.

This is a wonderful book. It’s the closest I’ve seen to American Magical realism in a while. (I always hold up Shoeless Joe and it’s adaptation Field Of Dreams as the best examples.) Chava, the golem, and Ahmad, the Jinni, are magical beings in the very real Manhattan of the 1890’s, Chava making her way as a baker in the Jewish community of the Lower East Side, taken in by a kind retired rabbi and his activist nephew, Ahmad working as a silversmith in the Syrian community, lost in a time and place he finds exasperating and stifling.

In the end both realize there is a great deal of the old that needs to be given up, to make a new home, the knowledge forgone, but the worthwhileness of the new place, freed from old bounds.

It was a fine day we came to this country. Home should never be forgotten though, and I’m grateful to have family that’s centered so much of who we are around that connection to home.

Anyway, this book is awesome.

Up next is Circe by Madeline Miller. I know it was like the book in 2018, so I’m only a little behind on this one. (Seriously, y’all, I’m trying.)

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Ready For Endgame: Thor And Captain America: The First Avenger

There are certain movies that are very hard for me to separate from the first time I saw them. These are usually because of the people I saw them with, or because I saw them as a kid. But with Thor and  Captain America: The First Avenger, it’s really because of timing.

People might not remember that these movies came out within months of each other, when The Avengers was a certainty but still a whisper. And everyone was still scoffing at them. “Right, like a Thor movie is going to work.” And because I was getting ready to finish my English Lit degree, I even added, “what is Kenneth Branagh doing?” (The film nerd in me was less skeptical about Joe Johnston because I’d grown up with The Rocketeer, and that the guy who made that was making a Captain America movie made perfect sense to me.)

But there’s something about these movies and the way that they act as a doorway for the MCU and the fact that they came out the summer I finished college that feels kind of perfect to me. There’s of course my epic, “Glen literally pulled Chrissy and me out of a bar at the end of a bar crawl to go see it,” Thor story. He was pissed as hell, because we hadn’t told him we were going on the crawl, his words, “I’d have gotten tickets for tomorrow if I’d known this was your plan.” Of course our very cogent response was, “PFFFF, we’re not that drunk! Let’s get pretzels, and HOLY SHIT THAT IS ONE HOT MAN RIGHT THERE ON THE MOVIE SCREEN!” I told this story in my toast at their wedding. I left out the hot man parts. The fact that these two people are parents now brings me such joy.

Captain America, I saw with my friend Lisa, which was the first time we’d hung out since graduation. I then saw it like 5 more times, because I wasn’t really working that summer, so had a bunch of spare time. It was what cemented Cap as my Marvel Guy. (At the time Batman was still my DC guy. I hadn’t fully fallen for Dick yet.) And whenever I go back and look at Phase 1, I realize it’s still the movie that I’ve watched the most. (Iron Man is close behind, btw.)

Anyway, my personal experience of these films aside, they’re both solid, and deeply enjoyable. Thor especially, is a treat. I think people tend to forget how charming it is. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are all in on Thor and Loki from their first moments on screen, and while it’s small scale is probably because no one was sure if this whole thing was going to work, it’s in the movie’s favor that it gets a quiet intimate scene where Thor explains the nine realms to Jane on a rooftop, or Thor and Selvig getting drunk together, or Sif, Loki and The Warriors Three sitting beside a fire discussing Thor’s banishment. Branagh uses his Shakespearian ear perfectly in these scenes, letting them breath and the actors relish in their ridiculous dialog, and melodramatic plots.

 The MCU in general is a miracle of casting but Captain America: The First Avenger might be the most clean example of this. Everyone in this movie is pitch perfect for it’s throwback tone. None more so than Hayley Atwell and Chris Evans though. Dear lord are they magical. Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers might be the only two love interests I’ve ever cosplayed BOTH of, because I love them both so much. (Having cut my hair again, I might bring Peggy back this year…) But seriously, there’s so much about this movie that’s absolutely right, that I have trouble not smiling.

I’ve written literally thousands of words about The MCU, and it’s hard to explain though, that the reason is because of these two movies and the people I was hanging out with at the time being so excited for them. I seriously doubt I’d have gone to see them in the theater if it weren’t for these folks, which is why it’s very hard for me to separate the movies themselves, which are great, by the way, from the experience of watching them for the first time. So I fail as a critic in this essay, because I’m too attached. (Also, if I’m frank, I watched them on a Saturday afternoon and I’ve had some wine, and I’m a little buzzy. Blogging is all about honesty right?)

Next week we talk about The Avengers, which, if you’ll recall was the first movie I ever reviewed here on The Fangirl’s Dilemma, and that was 10 years ago and that is disgusting. 

Lonely Boy: Things That Spark My Nerd Rage

I don’t get terribly nerd ragey. Life’s too short, and I’m too educated and sometimes when things change in nerd culture it’s for the better and we get Sansa Stark, Vengeance Lady Of Winterfell and Kamala Khan and Miles Morales, ya know?

But there are a few things that push my buttons and make me all ranty, and one of them got pushed real hard, several times, in the past few weeks.

Everyone’s watching that show You, and it features Penn Badgely as an obsessive stalker boyfriend. Having watched nearly a decade of that, I’m on board with said casting.

But I’ve seen several joking tweets about Badgely in particular, mostly pointing out that this role tracks, since he was Gossip Girl and everything.

There are few things in pop culture that have made me more angry than the complete and utter bullshit twist that Dan Humphrey was Gossip Girl all along.

I didn’t expect the reveal to make much (if any) sense. While my headcanon remains that Gossip Girl is in fact Veronica Mars, (that’s why she has her voice) there were several acceptable candidates, actually on the show. (Vanessa, Jack Bass, Georgina, Carter Baizen, any of Nate’s older lady conquests but especially the one played by Elizabeth Hurley who gave him a newspaper because he’s good at sex, Serena’s Grandmother Cece, and Dorota.)

But then it was revealed that Gossip Girl was the Humphrey’s and I never got over it. It made no sense whatsoever. It destroyed several character arcs. (Jenny’s especially.) It made Dan and Serena’s reconcilliation and eventual marriage COMPLETELY ridiculous.

I hate. I get so angry. It ruins the show for me. It ruins the show for me even more than Ed Westwick being a rapist. Which is totally irrational.

You know, like all good Nerd Rage!

Nerd Homework: Birds Of Prey (2002)

Sometimes, I do the nerd homework because it’s something good or essential, sometimes I do it because it’s fun, and sometimes I do it to remind myself that, nope, you made the right call back when you were 14 and this show about Batgirl premiered on The WB and you thought it was dumb.

Birds Of Prey is a bizarre artifact from it’s time period, full of pleather and reheated guitar pop and bad acting and some really muddled DC-verse mythology. If you’re a DC fan, you know The Birds, the all female Gotham-based team, usually lead by Barbara Gordon (Either as Batgirl or Oracle) and Black Canary. They’re fun, sassy and kick copious ass.

The Huntress has been on and off the team in both her iterations, as the alt-verse daughter of Batman and Catwoman, Helena Wayne (my preferred version) or the mob princess turned crime fighter Helena Bertenilli (Also great!).

I don’t think I need to outline my love for Babs and Dinah Lance, because you know, I’ve done that a lot.

Birds Of Prey, the TV show, presents us with Barbara Gordon, as Oracle, seven years since she was paralyzed after being shot by The Joker and Batman disappeared from the city. She’s about the only thing that the show gets right. Intelligent, empathetic, brilliant and driven, this is the Barbara Gordon I know and love.

She’s mentoring Helena Kyle (she refuses to claim the Wayne name) and Dinah Lance, a runaway.

This is where things get infuriating to a DC fan/Confusing to a Filthy Casual.

Helena is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Good. OK. Batman’s disappeared from New Gotham (why New? This isn’t a far flung Batman Beyond style future, it hasn’t even been a decade! So weird…) Selina Kyle was killed by The Joker to get at Batman (I mean, fine?) And we’re going by the Batman Returns style Catwoman had cat like powers, which, Helena has inherited. (Ehhh, I like my Bat-characters without powers, for the most part, but again, at least consistent) Helena refers to herself as a Half-Meta. (THAT IS NOT HOW META HUMANS WORK IN ANY VERSION! YOU CAN’T BE HALF META) She also doesn’t wear a costume or mask of any kind. Which is just an exceptionally bad idea.

Then there’s Dinah.

Oh boy did I get screamy about this. Oh, but Dinah didn’t. Yes, rather than Dinah Lance’s actually fun power of emitting disabling sonic booms with her vocal cords, Birds Of Prey makes her a pre-cog.

THERE ARE PLENTY OF DC CHARACTERS WITH PSYCHIC ABILITIES, WHY WOULD YOU GRAFT THAT ON TO A BRAWLER LIKE CANARY?

Also, Alfred is around, because I guess with Bruce all disappeared he’s doesn’t have anything to do.

The big bad is Harley Quinn (An excellent call) except she’s still functioning as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, and she’s like a criminal mastermind, mob boss type? Which is not Harley’s MO at all, and if she’s still practicing, she wouldn’t be Harley at all, you know? It’s confusing.

All of this deviation could be excused if Birds Of  Prey were any good, (Smallville, at least at it’s best is an example of that. Also the whole Arrowverse.) but it isn’t. It feels a little bit like some Charmed and Angel spec scripts had DC grafted on to them and then also you lost the charismatic cast that made Charmed work at all, and Joss Whedon and Tim Minear’s story sense that made Angel one of the greats.

It all feels cheap and dated and my god is it dull. Which is a bummer, because it has solid bones. Doing The Birds Of Prey is an excellent choice for a “Batman without Batman” show, the dynamic of Barbara Gordon in her 30’s, Helena Wayne in her 20’s and a teenage Dinah creates an interesting relationship model. And they really do get Barbara right, so that’s worth something.

But it also screams the Smallville “no tights, no flights,” ethos taken at it’s stupidest. No costumes for Huntress and Harley, in a city that’s already had Batman and Batgirl and the various Robins is a baffling choice. When Helena is considering quitting, which she does three times an episode, at one point, Barbara points out that heroing is an important legacy, carried on by people with potential, people like her, and Dick Grayson! And Tim Drake! And Jason Todd! ALL THOSE PEOPLE! But where are they? Bruce disappeared and the boys are just gone? I can handwave Dick ( In Bludhaven, maybe going through one of his “I work alone” phases) and Jason (Still dead? When was Under The Hood?) but Tim? Tim Drake wouldn’t quit after Barbara became Oracle and Bruce disappeared! Tim Drake would organize and then get all huffy when no one wanted to organize with him. He should be popping out of shadows telling Helena that she’s sloppy and to put a mask on for God’s sake every five minutes. Oh, that might be why he’s not a character on this show. Because that would actually be fun and entertaining, and this show seems allergic to both of those things.

Anyway, it’s nice to know that even as a teenaged girl, I could recognize that this show was shitty nonsense and I remain eternally grateful to Batman The Animated Series and Batman Beyond for exposing me to proper adaptations of this material early on. Also, I’m proud of nerd kind for rejecting it outright, even back in the dark ages when we thought that Brian Singer’s X-Men was the closest we’d get to the source material. (Though I can’t help but wonder if it’s forgotten for being both terrible and lady centric.)

I have a lot of affection for The WB, the network of my teen years. Both sides, what I call the Buffy side (Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Smallville, Supernatural) and the Dawson’s side (Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls, also Smallville) (That Smallville straddles both is really the show’s greatest achievement.) but they, for the most part relied on a formula, and any half assing of a formula is going to be bleak.

Justin Hartley Green Arrow

Smallville’s SECOND greatest achievement. Making me give a shit about Green Arrow(‘s abs)

The Nerd Homework feature has been all about challenging my preconceptions of stuff in my wheelhouse, that I’ve previously put off or ruled out. That is the Raison d’etre for these projects. Star Trek, Battlestar, Anime, the work of Stephen King. Which is why Birds Of Prey being on DC Universe felt like a blessing. I’d outright rejected the show twice before after watching the pilot (when it first aired and then after Arrow premiered when CW Seen was pushing it.) but maybe now I’d enjoy it.

I did not. It’s terrible. It deserves it’s fate of obscurity and mocking.

60 Books In 2018 #3: Crisis On Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez

OK so, I picked this up so that I would have a basis of comparison for when the Arrowverse version coming next fall.

Also, just because as I get back into superheroes (not that I was ever not into them, but you know what I mean!) and back into reading superhero comics this seemed a good place to start. (Seriously, last year the only superhero book I read was Grayson.) Like all it’s later immitators, Crisis On Infinite Earths is both wonderful and befuddling, and delightful and dull, all at once.

Wolfman’s story meant to forever simplify the DC Universe by streamlining it’s many alternate worlds into one, but only served to show the company that big crossovers will sell books and also that killing a Flash from time to time is to be expected, is given a huge leg up but Perez’s art. Seriously, I’m not even big into that era of comic book art, (I came to comics post Image and the glossy style of Jim Lee & Co really shaped my taste.) but Perez just so so good.

The story, though, well, let’s talk about that. The Monitor and Anti-Monitor are battling for the universe, and The Monitor calls the greatest heroes from across the multiverse to his side. Two Supermen, Supergirl, The Flash, Captain Marvel and many others, join in the battle, which in the end destroys worlds, and everyone forgets and the DC Universe spins on, but simpler, until it isn’t.

What Crisis really represents is a the last gasp of a certain time in comics. It was published in 1985, just before the earth shaking forces of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns changed everything. Crisis was trying to simplify a status quo that was about to be obliterated anyway, but on it’s own, it’s a fun exciting superhero story.

When it comes to The Arrowverse, my guess is that it’s going to end with Kara Zor-El’s world merging with those of Barry Allen and Oliver Queen.

But by this time next year, we’ll know.

Up next is The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker. I’ve joined the book club at my library and this is the book this month, so I’ve gotta get it read.

Ready For Endgame: Iron Man 2 

Man, Iron Man 2 is bad. I shouldn’t say that, it’s not terrible, really, it’s just so aggressively mediocre, and overstuffed and such a disappointment after the first one.

But, for all of it’s flaws we get some good things here, we get the introduction of The Avenger’s initiative, we get Natasha Romanoff, we get some great Nick Fury moments and my favorite MCU tweak, Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard (though I understand that the circumstances around the recasting had, uh, issues.) (I think racism is bad! But Don Cheadle is good!)

Iron Man 2 is worth revisiting for these things, as well as for once again, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. He is so in sync with this character at all moments, and I’m dumbfounded by it. Especially having watching Infinity War over the past week, Tony’s come so far and yet feels of a piece with what Downey is doing here, it’s exceptional.

And, there’s something else that Iron Man 2 gives us, and that’s Howard Stark. I mean, the Howard Stark who’s shadow looms over the rest of the enterprise. He’s mentioned in Iron Man, Tony wanting to sure up his father’s legacy, and the arc reactor are both big points, but it’s here, in John Slattery’s quick performance that we get the outline that Dominic Cooper will later work off of, and Slattery will play again for Ant-Man and Civil War. 

Granted, I am always always happy to see Slattery, or pretty much anyone from Sterling Cooper pop up in my media.  (Except Vincent Cartheiser, which isn’t his fault. He’s a very good actor, I just really hate Pete Campbell.)

Now, onto Cheadle. Rhodey is stealth my favorite MCU character. I don’t know when it happened or how, but I always think, “Oh, yay! Rhodey’s in this one!” whenever he pops up. Terrance Howard did a good job with the character, but Don Cheadle explodes with him. Part of it is the chemistry with RDJ, but part of it is also just, buying him as an authority more. He’s in control of a room the minute he walks in.

And then there’s Natasha. Wonderful, wonderful, Natasha Romanoff. She doesn’t get a lot to do here, but she does get a “hallway fight,” which of course later became a staple of Marvel/Netflix. (It’s not a one take, but it still smells like one. It’s the fritatta to the hallway fight’s omelette.)

But the most important parts of Iron Man 2, are the things that the MCU takes a lot of heat for in it’s later installments, is that this one doesn’t really work as a movie on it’s own, just a piece of the bigger whole. (Age of Ultron also gets bogged down in this.)

Next week we’ll talk about Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, I’ll think about graduating college a whole bunch, and Phase I nearly completes.

 

Don’t Be Robin, Be Someone Else

I’m the first to admit that my hype for Titans went from, “THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT,” to “Oh no,” to “people are saying it’s pretty good and I’m getting DC Universe for Young Justice: Outsiders anyway, so I’ll get around to it.”

Look, that “Fuck Batman,” trailer was rough, no way around it. And I’m still not sold on the designs for Starfire and Beast Boy. And that Donna Troy never suits up is kind of a bummer. (Spoilers, sorry…)

But, Internet Nerds, we have greatly misjudged this show. It’s pretty wonderful. As an adaptation of Teen Titans, it’s only OK, but as a genre show in it’s own right, a version and riff on the concept, it’s good. It’s full of game performances, excellent character work, and a steady build up of suspenseful writing leading to a hell of a cliff hanger.

I’m not going to say it’s the best first season of a live action superhero show. Daredevil season 1 exists after all, but it’s damn sure of it’s self and super entertaining all the way through, which is more than I can say for any other DC TV project from the past 10 years. (I loved the first seasons of The Flash and Supergirl but they still had their bumpy finding their feet moments.)

And it has it’s problems. The costume designs really are awful. Minka Kelly’s wig as Dove is one for the DCTV bad wig hall of fame. Geoff Johns seems a little too happy to drop the F-bomb. It’s refreshing that the young heroes actually talk like young people, but it’s also, you know, kind of heavy handed at times. The FX are laughably bad at points. The violence is a lot, but not unexamined. I was mostly concerned about this from the perspective of Dick.

Kori and Rachel (Raven) being more violent is consistent. Starfire, being an alien and all, has different values about life than humans do. Raven’s powers are all about darkness and containing bursts of violence. Titans examines both of these perspectives, Rachel desperately trying to contain her power, and Kori accepting it as a part of herself.

Dick though, it’s handled masterfully. The show begins by showing it’s been a year since he walked away from being Batman’s partner, because he felt himself losing control. But he’s basically addicted to the violence, and he’s not happy about it. The entire season and his entire arc (and the show really does belong the Brenton Thwaites) is him grappling with this side of himself. He knows he can’t really be Robin anymore, but he doesn’t know how to deal with this any other way.

This all really hits home in two episodes, which are easily my favorites, episode 6, “Jason Todd,” and Episode 8, “Donna Troy.” Jason, a year into his tenure as Robin is eager and excited to spend time with his predecessor. Dick is mostly annoyed by Jason’s, well, Jason-ness (Seriously, he’s perfect.), Bruce’s seeming trust of his new partner, (“You’re allowed to drive the Batmobile?”) and most especially, the kid’s sanity and safety. I burst into tears when Dick warned Jason, “the cost is too great.” THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW  THE COST YET! Even in Dick’s “darkest timeline,” created in his mind by Trigon in the finale, Jason is paralyzed, not brutally murdered, then resurrected and insane. (This show is uniquely well set up to do Red Hood as a storyline though.)

“Donna Troy,” meanwhile, just made me gloriously happy as a Dick Grayson fan. Donna’s retired from being Wonder Girl, but she’s still doing her part, and working as a photographer. Dick goes to see her, they talk a lot, there’s a really good flashback to when they were kids where she gives him a pep talk and there’s also a scene where they go to a party and Dick babbles like an idiot to some unsuspecting friends of hers. He says things like, “my dad used to work with her mom sometimes.” (STAHP! MY FANGIRL INSIDES CANNOT HANDLE IT) She says things like, “Wonder Woman was created to protect the innocent, Batman to punish the guilty.” They giggle and do backflips, they track down some big game poachers. They drink beers and confide. This is a very good depiction of friendship between superheroes.

Also, Donna continues to be awesome throughout her run on the show.

So, to recap, things that Titans isn’t great on

  • Design – It’s an ugly show. That can be improved as we move forward though. I also did like Jason’s Robin suit.
  • Effects – They’re groan worthy in places, but again, now that it’s a hit (apparently? Streaming’s weird that way) maybe they’ll get a budget increase to help with that.
  • Tone – Scale back on the angst a bit, it worked but tipped too far a few times

Things that are good

  • Characters & Writing – Everything’s consistent and well thought out.
  • Violence – It’s a violent show, but it actually grapples with that violence. Which is a nice change of pace.
  • Dick Grayson – Seriously, this is a very good version of this character. Who I love. Kind of a lot.