Batgirl’s Psychologist – The Atlantic
Monthly Archives: February 2015
Flurries of Change
There was a time when I hated snow. Detested it. Loathed it.
Having grown up with more than my share of ugly winters, I jumped at the chance to move south for grad school. I still remember my first January in Virginia, driving around my new city with no jacket on and my sunroof open. I felt as though I had arrived in a paradise.
You see, somewhere around my sophomore year in college (the best that I can remember), I began to struggle progressively more with each winter. The grey skies brought with them a deepening depression with each year of my life. That’s why a southern move was such an enormous relief to me. Instead of attempting to cope for months on end each year, I was now faced with this struggle perhaps once each year, and then only for a day or two. This seemed like a good situation in which to be.
Fast forward several years…getting married, having our daughter, moving to the Boston area, and now having landed back in North Carolina. These moves and events have been a whirlwind of occasionally contradictory experiences. My first New England winter was brutal, but I learned to cope. I bought the gear, and I re-acclimated with the rituals of my childhood: shoveling, scraping, and leaving early (at least, in my new career, working from home is sort of the norm). You see, if you grow up living with winter hardships, it’s sort of like riding a bicycle. You never forget how to drive in these circumstances. You may be rusty for a few minutes, but when the white stuff starts falling, you just sort of know what to do. I found that these sorts of things aren’t things that many people know about in the South (like brushing off your car halfway through a storm in order to significantly lighten the workload when it’s over, or keeping a steady momentum at all costs when going up a slick incline).
That said, this has been a good winter to have spent in the South, as my friends back in the Boston area tell me about the six feet of snow that they have (with more coming each weekend, it seems). Last weekend, though, I had one of those moments in which your brain sort of…short circuits. In February…a month in which I’m used to wearing base layers and heavy wool…I was wearing a t-shirt and no jacket as I walked into our Sunday morning worship service. That day came in at just short of 70 degrees.
Now, as I write this, we’re in the grip of an ice storm, and life is forced to slow down a bit. This is the exception, though, not the rule at all. Life doesn’t slow down here. There is no season of rest, no season of early darkness in which to drink cider and talk with friends and family, no easy time to catch up on your reading by the dim light. All of those things that I never thought that I would miss, I now do. And, while snow is not among them, the quiet that results from it is.
Perhaps it’s an overly positive recollection of an area with which I was quite enamored. I miss New England so much it hurts some days, and I remember the times that we had there during the harsh winters…much harsher than the ones that I experienced as a child. It’s a season of life that’s important, one that I didn’t truly miss until I had experienced it. There’s much to be said for slowing down, for pausing, for appreciating the seasonal flow of the life around us.
Could it be that I miss the snow?
I should probably stop just short of admitting that…
A Review of “Black Widow: Deadly Origin”
Black Widow: Deadly Origin by Paul Cornell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The Black Widow has long been one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe. Before the world at large was introduced to her in Iron Man 2, I was reading her adventures. I was thrilled to have her introduced into the cinematic canon because she’s a strong female character, a hero of tragic origin with a darkness that brings an enormous amount of depth to her stories. Natasha Romanoff has been involved in many adventures within Marvel comics through the decades, playing an important part in various continuities. I hadn’t read the Deadly Origin issues, though, and I was looking forward, as I always do, to reading anything Black Widow when I picked this collection up at my local bookstore.
This story alternates between a plot called the “Icepick Protocol” to kill everyone that Romanoff loves and hinging around the man who was a father figure to her, Ivan…and flashbacks to her past, from her origins as part of the Red Room through her involvement in the Civil War story arc. This is the retconned history for the Black Widow, in which biotechnological enhancements prolong her life substantially, and thus she has lived through a great deal. We see her husband, the Red Guardian, and other interesting glimpses into the Widow’s past that has crafted her into the strong and fractured character that she is. The flashbacks seemed to be well-paced within the context of the rest of the story to me, but the dialogue seemed out of character in both present and past on many occasions. The sweep of the story is too broad for so confined a collection…we’re simply covering too much of Romanoff’s life because we have to see how it collides with present events. The present events are then reduced to a cacophony of violent confrontations that don’t leave room for the sort of character evolution that I would hope to see in an origin story.
Then, there’s the art.
Two different artists draw this collection: one the modern events, another the flashbacks. The flashback art by Leon is brilliant. The emotions of the characters carry far past the dialogue, and there are moments where I feel I know the Black Widow’s character better based only on her facial expression or posture in tableau from these flashback sequences. Comparing this to the majority of the collection…the current events…is striking enough to be painful. In modern day, Romanoff looks as though she’s seventeen rather than the woman she is, her apparent age completely incongruous with the skills she evidences in the fighting sequences. Which is sort of noticeable, as fighting sequences are really all we see in the present events.
Overall, I also find the events of the story a bit too steeped in the “off-camera” sex. Yes, the Widow is a product of the Red Room, but she has become so much more as a hero, and this just doesn’t do her justice. I think the motivation of the writer was to paint Romanoff as the woman she’s become, but this missed the mark entirely.
Deadly Origin’s writing is, unfortunately, a lot of failing to do the character of the Black Widow justice. Combined with profoundly disappointing artwork for more than half of the collection, and this is a book that will likely gather dust on my shelf without ever being re-read. If you love the Black Widow, you’ll want better.
A Review of “Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul”
Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul by Mark D. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My curiosity has been easily piqued by books in this vein…that is, popular culture and philosophy examinations. I’m interested in them because the characters and worlds of the books that we read, and programs and films that we watch, provide so much insight into the philosophical and theological through-lines of our generation and culture. Batman has long been one of my favorite superheroes, because his existence on the edge between hero and antihero…the way in which he embraces the darkness in order to attempt to use it for good…is simultaneously disturbing and enthralling.
I anticipated Batman and Philosophy to be an interesting and fun read, but didn’t think that it would be quite as thought-provoking as it turned out to be. I’ll say up front that, if you’ve done any serious study of philosophy or theology, then you will likely, as I did, anticipate a more academic tone in the writing, but remember that this is geared to a more general audience. I think that’s a good thing, because it doesn’t become bogged down in the trappings of academic writing, but I don’t think that it will feel shallow to any reader. The writing styles, as with any collected volume, vary greatly, and are disappointing at times. While some of the contributors don’t shy away from the more formal tone of their discipline, others make attempts at interjecting humor that left me scratching my head more than laughing.
That said, there are extremely well-crafted analyses of the Dark Knight and his world lying behind that forced humor, and I found myself in deep thought more often than not as I worked my way through these pages. In fact, I’ll admit that, in all of the thought and exploration and appreciation that I have given the character of Batman through the years, some of the deeper questions raised by the writers of these chapters had never occurred to me. Moreover, once they’re presented for your consideration, you’re left with that wonderful feeling of having so much more left to think about on the topic.
My favorite chapter was “Alfred, the Dark Knight of Faith: Batman and Kierkegaard”, in which Alfred appears as the true hero through the lens of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (I’ve always had an existentialist tendency, I’ll confess). I also found the chapter, “Could Batman Have Been the Joker?” and it’s exploration of modal logic and possible worlds in relation to the genre of comic book literature at large to be absolutely fascinating. There are thought-provoking discussions of identity, as well…one of the central tenants of many superhero characters. And, of course, the discussion of whether or not Batman is better than Superman…well, that’s just fun.
Some chapters dwelt a bit too heavily in a humanist philosophy for my taste, and others left obvious holes in their arguments (debating whether or not Batman was ethically justified in permitting Robin to accompany him ducks the fact that Robin is a moral free agent).
What I found particularly engaging about this collection is that the authors are well-read in the literature. Not only do they display their expertise in their discipline, but each chapter is well-noted with specific Batman story-arcs, including examples and dialogue, to provide cases to which to apply their analyses. In many instances, I found myself digging back through my bookshelves to re-read these stories (and, in one case, purchased a graphic novel that had been glaringly absent from my shelf).
Batman and Philosophy is a surprisingly deep and provocative exploration of the Dark Night Detective and his world, as well as his place in the larger DC Universe and comic book history and thought in general. The book is a light read at under 250 pages, accessible while not boring, and I found myself engaged with each chapter. If you’re a Batman fan, and especially if you enjoy philosophical discourse at all, I would recommend you treat yourself to this collection.
Location, Location, Location
Think about some of your favorite movies. Do you remember where you saw a particular film? I mean, what theatre you were in? What city? Who you were with?
I don’t recall these details for every movie, obviously…like you, I’ve seen quite a few in my life. The very influential films, however, stand out in my mind (read: nearly every superhero movie), and a few others, as well. Perhaps it’s more noticeable lately as the theatre experience grows progressively less prevalent and more of our viewing occurs on our own schedule and on our own screens. Still, most of us go to the large screen at some point to see a new release…at least a few times a year, although I wouldn’t have statistics to prove that…and that few times a year becomes more memorable to us as it become less frequent.
So…maybe the decrease in frequency is a good thing.
Each year for Christmas, I get a couple of DVD’s that I requested, favorite movies that I saw during the course of the year. This is a family tradition of which I am the sole beneficiary, and I have no regrets. For the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that I’m able to recall the theatre in which I saw every movie that I’ve received. The mid-sized New England town in which Karen and I lived just before our move South in which we saw Thor 2 and Captain America, the North Shore theatre in which I was profoundly disappointed in Days of Future Past with a friend, the nearby showing where Karen and I were swept away by Maleficent and the theatre here in North Carolina where we were surprised and impressed with Guardians of the Galaxy.
Now, certainly I’ve been easily prone to nostalgia here of late, but I don’t think that’s the case this time. I think that movies are just the culprit that I notice because of the afore-mentioned decrease in frequency of trips to the theatre. It’s become an unofficial journal, of sorts.
I firmly believe that there’s an atmosphere to a particular geographic location, something that I offhandedly refer to as it’s “vibe,” that shapes our experiences while in that location. While my thoughts on comic book mythology have grown and expanded over the years, the discussions and thoughts that I’ve recorded while living, for example, in Virginia, are a bit different than the ones I recorded while living outside Boston.
There’s a concept of the theology of place. Oversimplifying, the geographical locations in which we live are shaped by different local histories, cultural norms, even climates. These things impact how people living there interact interpersonally, intrapersonally, and theologically. What might the norm for interactions in New England could well be considered offensive to our friends in the South (something of which I find myself constantly on guard). Our ideas of each other, our ideas of our activities, our ideas of God…our ideas themselves…will manifest differently based upon the sculpting influence of our environment.
So, where we are isn’t just where we are. We will carry the way it shaped us…and the way that we shaped it…forward with us, a part of who we are, of how we think, of our life experiences. That’s why living in different places and experiencing different types of relationships is so critically important, and why humanity is the better for our ability to do so.
It’s also, I think, why recording reflections on these sorts of things…even if it’s only thoughts on the movies, for example, that we’ve seen…in a place where we can come back to them is so very important.
I want to be able to remember the locations of all manner of things that I’ve experienced, not just movies, because of the other memories that this triggers. The people and places of my life are so important, things to pass on to our daughter and to re-live occasionally ourselves, but also a starting point to help us remember that we shouldn’t be afraid of the past, shouldn’t dwell in what may perhaps be temporary negativity in the places where we live, and give us courage, if nothing else, to know that, based on prior experience, our current situations will all turn out to be okay.
Wherever those experiences happen to be occurring.
Photo Attribution: “Reston Movie Theater” by Adam Theo , used under Creative Commons