A Review of “Wonder Woman, Volume 1: Blood”

Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: BloodWonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood by Brian Azzarello

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonder Woman has never been a title that I read on its own. In fact, I can only recall buying one issue in my life, and that was somewhere back in the the mists of my childhood because the cover grabbed me. Like many DC titles, however, I became at least mildly interested after the launch of the New 52, inasmuch as I followed it’s flagship title, Justice League. In those pages, I became interested in Wonder Woman as one of the primary three heroes in the DC Universe, now presented not as a character about whom my wife complains (“A Lasso of Truth? Really?”) as still being presented as inferior to male characters, but here painted as a strong character worthy of her Amazonian past.

So, I was glad to (finally) make the time to read the collected first volume of her initial story arc in the New 52.

I was impressed, but I’ll say up front that this collection didn’t absorb me like some of the other New 52 titles. The art I found to be a bit sporadic. While the cover art, being particularly poor, isn’t representative of the interior pages, I still found many of the pages displaying clunky characters drawn with heavy-handed lines and confusing movement from panel to panel. That said, there are moments of brilliance, particularly in the facial expressions of Queen Hera.

The writing far outshines the art, with delicate foreshadowing and powerful dialogue between many characters, but especially on the part of our protagonist (“Peace? Your mocking lips spit a word your tongue has never tasted.”). The movement of the story is well paced as collected into a graphic novel, though I’m not sure how it would have felt in individual issues. The balance between narrative, dialogue, and action is thoughtfully and intentionally achieved, and the action sequences are violently intense when present.

The first installment of Wonder Woman’s origin story is told here, as she realizes that the legend of the childhood in which she has grown up believing is a lie, and as she races to protect a girl pregnant with Zeus’ illegitimate child as the wrath of Olympus threatens to kill her where she stands. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of this story is the way in which the legendary Greek gods and goddesses are portrayed, at times very thought-provoking (Hades with his face obscured by the burning candles on his head, or Ares as a rail-thin African warlord drinking in a bar), and at times with particular humor (Hermes sitting on a sofa with a remote control in hand and his leg in a splint).

I originally rated this story at three stars. Why? Well, first off, stars are so arbitrary, but necessary on Goodreads. Secondly, because this story, while well written, just didn’t move me along in it’s premise. As a hero story goes, it felt…dry to me, as much as the craft of the writing may have had shining moments. My final decision when writing this, though, is a four-star review, because the character development sinks in after letting the book sit for a day or two. In these pages, we meet Wonder Woman as a hero for today. She is a warrior, one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe (watching her lift a car is impressive enough, but the first panel in which she enters with a shield and battle axe will alter your perception of the character forever). I wish that I had read these issues when the New 52 originally launched, as it would have helped me to make more sense of the character in the pages of Justice League. Here, I was about twenty pages in before I truly heard her voice, but then there was no turning back. Because we also see Wonder Woman as a woman, insecure in her heritage, mourning the loss of her mother before she could make amends, strongly drawn to familial connections, and strongly persevering through her losses. If you imagined a flat or two-dimensional character here…if your perception of Wonder Woman as been that of my wife’s, a character with unrealized potential left to languish on the fringes of a male-dominated hero universe…then for that reason alone, I would recommend this book. Even if the story leaves you lagging behind a bit as it did me, you’ll be glad that you now truly know Diana, the Princess of the Amazons.

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The Common Core, A Common Problem

I am not an educator. Let me just say that up front.

I know many educators, though, my wife among them. Some of my closest friends are, or have been, educators by profession. The common thread among all of them is that, with the possible exception of one, they all hold the No Child Left Behind law in extremely poor regard.

No, I’m not going to violate my rule about not posting about politics here. This isn’t political, I promise.

Before moving to New England, I spent four years in a position that contracted into the public school system. I saw my share of classrooms first hand. I met many colleagues who are extremely competent educators, and whose hands are tied by the limits of objective test scores and narrow-minded curricula. Because of what Karen and I have both experienced in public school classrooms, we are seriously considering pursuing home-schooling options for our daughter, because neither of us trust the quality of education that will be received in the public system. The things that aren’t taught leave a gaping absence in my mind. This is a difficult decision for me, because I think that the social experiences of public school are very important, and I myself am the product of primarily public education. The point of the experience, though, is just that…education. If our children aren’t learning enough of the right things…acquiring an acceptable fund of knowledge, to use the jargon…then there sort of isn’t any point.

I’ve been reading a lot about the common core standards of late. Again, I’m no educator, but I am (and I don’t say this to be in any way narcissistic) well-educated, and I am at a point in my life at which I can think back to how I got that way. I am also a stake-holder in this situation now that I’m a father, and I’ve seen my share of how American students receive a sub-standard education that is quantified by test scores, up close and personal. The common core standards, as I understand them, are designed in part to push back on No Child Left Behind. From what I read, I’m hesitant.

Some of my friends are in support of the common core standards. Some are not. I’m firmly undecided, but skeptical, as the core issues at hand…namely, that education is operated as a business and driven toward numerical measurements of success, primarily in mathematics and sciences at the near exclusion of the humanities…seem to remain unaddressed.

The aspect of the common core that gives me the most pause is it’s emphasis on “informational texts.” A significant percentage of time is expected to be spent by students reading these so-called informational texts…that is, texts that talk about what they just studied. I have no difficulty envisioning less time spent with the primary sources (which is the subject actually being engaged), and more with other scholar’s (perhaps of arguable reputation depending upon the political bent of the school board in question) opinions about those primary sources.

That is, before my daughter reads a critic’s analysis of Salinger, I want her to have read and engaged a significant sampling of Salinger herself, because that’s how independent critical thinking develops. And, if American culture is painfully short on anything, it’s critical thinking.

Perhaps I’m paranoid. Perhaps I’m pessimistic. I’ve certainly been accused of both in the past. Perhaps I’m also of the age where I’m beginning to despair at the disparities between the children of today and my own experiences. Those potentialities notwithstanding, I remember my senior year in high school, when I took “Advanced Placement” English. I was exposed to some of the most influential literature of my life that year (we had to read four books the preceding summer as a condition of admission to the class, and continue to read a book on our own and generate a critical paper every three weeks during the year, aside from what the class covered as a unit). I learned to think critically about literature. I learned how to write critically. As a result, I learned a lot about life. None of my undergraduate English courses were as difficult…or as rewarding…as that high school English course.

I resonate with my friends who find their students at the undergraduate level woefully unprepared for the level of thinking a university requires. I want to have enough faith in the public education system to not be concerned about sending our daughter there in the future. I want to see the arts and humanities in their rightfully equal footing with the sciences and math. I want to know that our daughter will be pushed to read great literature like I was my last year in high school.

In my admittedly limited scope of knowledge, but substantial scope of experience, on the subject, I’m not at all convinced that the common core standards are moving us in the right direction.

That said, with our education system in the condition that it is, the bar for improvement is decidedly…and tragically…low.

I believe that we would become a much more civilized culture if we rid ourselves of the misconception that individuals with certain titles, while those titles may well be deserving of respect, are not somehow better than the rest of us.

The Nature of a Hero in “Flashpoint”

Screenshot of Flashpoint coverI’m not one to watch much television. Really, I’m not (I feel defensive considering what I’m about to write). I’m certainly not one to watch more than two episodes of anything in a night, and definitely not one to blow through a season of a program on Netflix in a week.

Seriously, I’m not.

So, here’s how this went down.

Just before moving into our new apartment, Karen and I sat down late one night too tired to do anything productive, and looking for something mindless to watch for a bit. She asked what I was in the mood for, and, being a sucker for police procedural dramas, I rattled off a couple of old standbys, none of which had anything available, or at least nothing current. So, Karen did some quick exploration, and asked about a program neither of us had ever heard of called Flashpoint.
Sure, I said, it looked good. It was only for an hour, after all,  and then we were going to bed. Except we were on the edges of our seats for that hour. And the next hour. And the next.

And now, a few weeks later, I only have a few episodes left of the last season available for streaming, and I’ve lost way too much sleep to this show.

Why? Because, seriously, this is out of character for me.

It’s not just the realistic and excellently choreographed action sequences. There’s some deep character development going on here, as well. And, while I’ll be the first to point out that the screenwriters have been slacking on the dialogue quality in this most recent season, there’s explorations of things that we all consider, things with which we all struggle. In short, there’s a lot to be said about the human condition in this program.

I’ve written before about how police programs…realistic ones, at least…tend to present the nature of a hero in the most accessible way, the way in which we all desire to be the hero and the way in which we most realistically could reach this desire. These are the heroes that are not bound to the pages of fiction or graphic novels, but that run toward the real violence and danger that lurks near us to hold it at bay while the rest of us run away. As police programs go, SWAT teams are perhaps the most interesting choice for this type of exploration, because they are the heroes for the heroes, the best of the best who are called upon to handle the worst of the worst. When these teams arrive, the last resort has already been reached.

Flashpoint presents realistic heroes in this profession. They struggle with the ramifications of violent actions. They fight to push down their own instincts and desires to protect the lives that they are sworn to protect, and they don’t always win that fight. They are there, as the characters proclaim more than once, to “keep the peace,” but, moreover, to “respect, connect, protect.”

This isn’t a program where every episode ends with violent action (although there does seem to be more violent resolutions in the most recent season), but rather violent solutions occur only in a realistic number of situations. While a level of seemingly callous separation is seen in the characters (when one of the snipers has a clear shot at a suspect, the radio call is, “I have the solution”), this is balanced with the characters attempting to deal with the aftermath when they do take a life to protect someone innocent.

What’s most fascinating about this program, however, is played out in the premise. What makes the “Strategic Response Unit” upon which the show is based different from any other SWAT team is their training in psychology and negotiations. They don’t simply arrive and attempt to talk down a subject while waiting in the wings to respond with force. They dig into what’s happening in the individual’s life. The writers continuously do an excellent job of bringing out the perceived villain as an everyman character, someone who represents an extreme response to situations that would bring frustration or anger to any of us. At the end, the viewer finds themselves condemning the person’s response to the situation, but understanding how they feel.

This attempt to understand leads to not only many peaceful resolutions for the Strategic Response Unit, but discoveries of other victims that may not have otherwise been made (frequently, the perpetrator is a victim), as well as forcing them to make serious examinations of their own lives.

I think that Flashpoint exhibits yet another aspect of the nature of a hero, that of seeking to understand the villain. In short, empathy. Even those who perpetrate the most heinous of acts did not arrive at the point at which they were capable of those acts in a vacuum. We are who we are, and we do what we do, for a reason. The hero understands that there is a thin line separating them from the villain (think Batman and Catwoman), and that only the choice of how to handle a particular event marks which side of that line one is on. In short, the hero recognizes human fallibility, understands that we all make mistakes, and sees every person, both those that they protect and the villains that they fight, as worthy of mercy and redemption.

Labor Day Trip

Last weekend was a holiday weekend in the U.S., Labor Day, a day which was originally intended for those in professions like customer service and retail to have a day off (my feelings about how its anything but that is the subject of another post). We Americans recognize Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer, as many public school systems start soon after that weekend if they already had not, and the weather begins to be cooler as we enter September.

For the long weekend, Karen and I had planned a final beach excursion for the summer. I’m thoroughly enjoying the fact that we can now be at the coast in 40 minutes or less, and our daughter has shown an early love of the water. Still, cold weather comes early to New England, so there won’t be many of these day trips left (true New Englanders call it “cool” now, but this is one of the ways that I can’t help but reveal that I’m a transplant).

We knew that our planned beach trip was off when we awoke to a steady rain on Monday morning, and so we set out to find other activities that we could do with our daughter (to whom I was already having to explain that she wouldn’t get to go to the beach as planned…did I mention she’s not yet two?). After realizing that lack of reservations and other logistical issues were ruling our some museum trips that we wanted to take, we had resigned ourselves to catch up on some reading when it happened. Our daughter, enthusiastically racing across the living room to show me something, tripped, and went full-tilt and face-first…or, more precisely, nose-first…into the sofa.

Now, I’m usually the excitable parent, while Karen is the calm and unshakable one. I’m the one who is generally ready to go to extreme solutions while Karen is the one shaking her head and telling me that said extreme solution isn’t necessary (I once wanted to call Poison Control because she put a sticker in her mouth. Don’t judge, okay? I’ve never done this parenting thing before). So, when Karen succinctly indicated that medical attention was likely warranted, I knew that I was correct in my assumption that we had a situation on our hands.

And, so, Labor Day 2013 saw our daughter’s first injury-related rush to an urgent care. Not an awesome way to spend the day.

It turns out that, as bad as it looked, there was nothing there that a cold pack, Tylenol, and some TLC wouldn’t cure. In fact, our daughter woke the next morning to tell me first thing that “My boo-boo feels much better” (did I mention she’s not yet two??).  Insert enormous sigh of relief here. I was thinking, though, that, as much of a bummer as it was to spend our Labor Day in such a way, it was much more tragic for our little girl. She was having a grand time running and playing and showing us things that she could do and build with her toys, when her grand time came to a screeching halt by a mere mis-step. Six inches the other way, and what had painfully disrupted her entire day would simply have been another toddler’s fall. There’s something absolutely heart-breaking about the entire situation when I pause to see this from her tiny perspective.

Many things change, I’ve found, when viewed from her perspective. Monday’s lost plans wouldn’t have been nearly as sad had the day not involved an injured little girl. It’s one of those ways in which being a father has changed me. I’ve never found myself so easily seeing the world from someone else’s point of view before now.

Something equally as huge is the way in which having a daughter makes me self-aware. I see myself through her eyes, as the superhero who can fix anything…any broken toy, the shoe that gets stuck and she can’t take off on her own. I’m the one who will carry her up the steps that she’s too tired to climb. In her words, “Daddy will fix it.” I’m in no way worthy of that adoration.

Both of these awarenesses…seeing the world and seeing myself from her perspective…has changed me a great deal as a human being.

The result is humbling in ways that I can’t even find words to write.