31 March 2016

Review: Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England by George Levine

Hardcover, 326 pages
Published 2002
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2013
Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England
by George Levine

George Levine's book here is one of the three to have the most influence on me and my scholarship. Something that frustrates me about the field of Victorian literature and science is how focused it is on disciplines and discoveries: people write about evolution and literature (Levine included), astronomy and literature, thermodynamics and literature, geology and literature. Much of this work is great, but to only pursue this kind of work neglects the fact that science is more than a series of discoveries that scientists pick over to employ in their novels-- it's an epistemology and an orientation towards truth.

Levine's book is probably the most prominent monograph that looks at the Victorian scientist in literature from a general epistemological perspective rather than as embodiments of particular disciplines. Levine examines how self-abnegation figures into epistemology beginning in the 1830s, both within literature and within the work of actual scientists, drawing on the writing of scientists such as Tyndall who claimed “a self-renunciation that has something lofty in it… is often enacted in the private experience of the true votary of science” (qtd. in Levine 4). Levine does not examine any specific discipline, but examines both scientists and scientist-like figures during the Victorian period to see how self-abnegation functions as a narrative: how does science create a narrative of self-abnegation, and how do literary narratives incorporate self-abnegation?

This is important (Levine argues, and I agree) because the Victorian realist novel's very project is about finding epistemologies. Levine argues that “the problem of how to find things out, of uncovering what is hidden, is pervasive in Victorian fiction” (148). He goes on to note that there is a “remarkable consistency with which ‘truth’ is registered in Victorian fiction as the most fundamental of Victorian values” (149), citing novels as diverse as Bleak House, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Middlemarch, Adam Bede, Vanity Fair, and Shirley. Drawing on these works, Levine says that the practice of realism “suggest[s] how central to the Victorian novel was the enterprise of knowledge seeking and truth telling, how often plots turn on the power of protagonists to develop the proper temper and state of mind to allow realistic confrontations with the ‘object’—what one might see as the acquisition of the proper ‘method’” (149). And our ways of telling truths and seeking knowledge have a moral dimension: he says in a discussion of Sartor Resartus that “the ethical and the epistemological are, in the nineteenth century, sanctioned by the same values” (70).

There's a lot to like in Levine, in that in his focus on what novels aim to do moralistically, he highlights a lot of what I like about realist novels, especially those by George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. (Though Dying to Know doesn't mention Gaskell, which feels to me its a glaring omission. But then it would.) This is the best sort of literary criticism: the kind that leads you to return to familiar texts with a greater understanding of what makes you like them so much. I really must get around to properly reading his The Realistic Imagination: English Fiction from Frankenstein to Lady Chatterley (1981) someday, which Dying to Know continues the project of.

30 March 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XLIX: Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2010 (contents: 2009)

Borrowed from the library
Read August 2015
Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance

Writer: Joe Casey
Pencillers: ChrisCross, André Coelho, Eduardo Pansica
Inkers: Rob Stull, Mick Gray, Wayne Faucher, ChrisCross, André Coelho, Sandro Ribeiro, Marc Deering
Colorists: Snakebite, Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Sal Cipriano

The Super Young Team was one of the more interesting aspects of Final Crisis, a group of Japanese super-teens designed as a contemporary version of Jack Kirby's Forever People, and as a result, Dance was the Final Crisis Aftermath tale that I was looking forward to the most.

Though this came out in 2009, Dance feels like it could sit alongside what Phil Sandifer calls the "New Pop" style of contemporary comics, like Batgirl and Young Avengers. Except that... it's just not as good. There could be some interesting ideas about the boldness of youth, what it means to grow up, how to be a superhero in the era of Twitter, but none of that's actually here. Rather, we watch the Super Young Team be manipulated by hackneyed PR managers for five issues when they suddenly get their crap together and save the day. It's not quite as cliche as it sounds-- I did like that Most Excellent Superbat doesn't decide to give up Twitter, but instead invents a replacement for it that joins people brain-to-brain, and I also liked the reveal of the grave threat facing Japan-- but it didn't really have anything to say.

There are glimpses of big ideas in it, but they don't come to fruition. Both Most Excellent Superbat and Shiny Happy Aquazon ultimately turn down heroes from the previous generation to forge their own paths, but there's no sense of why it's important, of what the younger generation gains by rejecting the older generation's identity and forging its own. Or, what about the fact that the supposed deficiencies of this generation come from the previous one: we're just living in the PR-fueled world our parents created. Nothing like this is really grappled with. The book just becomes generic superheroics without anything to say that you haven't seen before, even if it does occasionally want to try.

I feel like there's potential in these characters, so it's a shame this was it for them, as far as I know; the "New 52" reboot restored the original Forever People in an insta-cancelled series by Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen. All five of them seemed like they could be really interesting given the chance, and I also really liked the sense of a history of Japanese superheroics created by Morrison and Casey, with the JLA-esque Big Science Action, who shout delightful things like "Big Science Emergency"! The appearances of ur-hero Ultimon-Alpha, with his stereotypical doomsaying, was one of my favorite parts of the books. Hopefully someone tries something with the Super Young Team again one day; I really like it when DC takes that very American idea of the superhero and filters it through the sensibilities of other cultures.

Next Week: What will become of the Tattooed Man now that he's turned from villain to hero? Find out in Ink!

29 March 2016

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XXVII: Refugee by Sean Williams and Shane Dix

Mass market paperback, 397 pages
Published 2003

Acquired 2003(?)
Reread June 2015
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Force Heretic II: Refugee
by Sean Williams and Shane Dix

Year Four of the Invasion (Month 9)
"Force Heretic" continues its inexplicable move of making sure we know how planets from the least-interesting Bantam-era novels are holding up; Refugee specifically fills us in on the Ssi-ruvvi, the violent xenophobic reptiles last seen in The Truce at Bakura. It is not remotely interesting.

Also Luke and Mara and company get bogged down in Chiss politics while visiting a library. This subplot is possibly even duller than that synopsis makes it sound. I can't even begin to describe how uninteresting it is.

Next Week: A dangling loose end you didn't care about is tied up in "Or Die Trying"!

28 March 2016

Review: The Walking Dead: Compendium Three by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Stefano Gaudiano

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 2012-15) 

Acquired October 2015
Read February 2016
The Walking Dead: Compendium Three

Creator, Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler, Inker: Charlie Adlard
Inker: Stefano Gaudiano
Gray Tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letterer: Rus Wooton

I have sort of a hate-love relationship with The Walking Dead. I don't know if it's Stockholm Syndrome, but I found this volume pretty enjoyable. Basically, my main problem with it at this point is all the boring characters. Like, huge swathes of the cast are interchangeable nobodies that I can't muster enough enthusiasm about to even tell them apart from one another. But Robert Kirkman must realize this himself, because Compendium Three sees a bunch of them get killed, and other just fade out of the narrative, leaving mostly the interesting and distinctive characters, as well as adding some good ones.

This is the guy who's having the most fun in the postapocalypse.
from The Walking Dead #108 (art by Charlie Adlard)

Basically, my favorites were introduced in this volume. The first is Ezekiel, ruler of a community called "The Kingdom," a guy who has set himself up as a king and has a pet tiger and knights who ride around on horses. He adds a splash of color to this usually subdued and grim series, and it is amazing every second of it. Kirkman backs off on this as the volume goes, though, unfortunately, and Ezekiel becomes more "normal." Second there's Negan. Now, Negan might be an awful person (he totally is), but he's hugely entertaining because he's entertained. He seems to treat this whole postapocalyptic survival thing as a personal lark, and he finds everything funny, and I found that funny. The Governor irked me to no end, but Negan is amazing. Mostly I think it's the cursing.

The cursing, and that I love villains who are the smartest guy in the room.
from The Walking Dead #114 (art by Charlie Adlard)

Do you know who's not amazing? Rick Grimes. There's a part of this book where everyone's like, "Rick Grimes will save us!" and I like, "Why would you think that?" Whenever Rick has a plan, it's a terrible plan. Yet he's the leader, I guess because everyone knows he's the main character. I can't decide if this is Kirkman's commentary on a certain type of straight white cismale, or if Kirkman's just bad at writing Rick as a good leader.

Like, why is anyone surprised by this? Has Rick Grimes ever known what to do? Has he ever had a good plan?
from The Walking Dead #98 (art by Charlie Adlard)

The story seems to be shifting, from one of sheer survival to one about rebuilding, though the ending promises some wrinkles in that. This has potential, though so far, it's pretty un-nuanced: whenever someone disagrees with Rick or Maggie's decisions, Kirkman writes them as sniveling, evil idiots. It'd be nice to see how the new society emerging here handles disagreements between reasonable people.

26 March 2016

DC Darkstars Reading Order

Here's an appendix to yesterday's essay:

Of all the ongoing series I've read over the past couple years, The Darkstars has been the hardest to follow, thanks to an incessant series of crossovers throughout its run. And since there's not much out there on the Internet about it, I didn't have a lot to go off when buying it, and I inevitably ended up missing stuff, and would only realize when I read an issue and it made a footnote referring to an issue of another series. So, for anyone who comes after me (?), here's a complete reading order including major and minor crossovers.
  • Prequels / Side Stories
    • Showcase '95 #10
    • Martian Manhunter Special #1
  • Darkstars #1-6
  • Green Lantern (vol. 3) #40
  • Darkstars #7-10
  • Trinity
    • DC Universe: Trinity #1
    • Green Lantern (vol. 3) #44
    • L.E.G.I.O.N. '93 #57
    • Darkstars #11
    • Green Lantern (vol. 3) #45
    • L.E.G.I.O.N. '93 #58
    • Darkstars #12
    • DC Universe: Trinity #2
  • Darkstars #13-20
  • Guy Gardner: Warrior #20-21
  • Darkstars #21-24
  • Darkstars #0
  • Darkstars #25-29
  • Green Lantern (vol. 3) #61
  • Darkstars #30-31
  • The Crimelord-Syndicate War
    • Deathstroke (vol. 1) #48
    • New Titans #122
    • Darkstars #32
    • Deathstroke (vol. 1) #49
  • Darkstars #33
  • The Siege of the Zi Charam
    • New Titans #124
    • Green Lantern (vol. 3) #65
    • Darkstars #34
    • Damage #16
    • New Titans #125
  • Darkstars #35-36
  • Green Lantern (vol. 3) #69
  • Darkstars #37
  • Guy Gardner: Warrior #37
  • Darkstars #38
  • Green Lantern (vol. 3) #70
  • Green Lantern (vol. 3) #74-75

25 March 2016

The Darkstars: A Forgotten DC Space Heroes Comic

Over the past year or so I've been reading uncollected DC Comics superhero comics that take place in space; thus far, I've read The Omega Men (1983-86) and L.E.G.I.O.N. (1989-94). None of these have exactly been well-known to contemporary comics readers, but they have their dedicated fans. But most recently I read The Darkstars (1992-96), which pushed obscurity to a whole new level. Both Omega Men and L.E.G.I.O.N. have had multiple, subsequent revivals; Darkstars is lucky if anyone even remembers characters were in it.

Darkstars #1 (Oct. 1992, cover by Travis Charest, Larry Stroman, and Scott Hanna)
Darkstars was the brainchild of Michael Jan Friedman, best known as the author of numerous Star Trek stories in both prose and comics; at the time, he was the writer of DC's Star Trek: The Next Generation comics (a position he held from 1989 to 1996). Pretty impressively, Friedman wrote all 39 issues of Darkstars himself, without a single fill-in. But exactly what Darkstars was supposed to be is unclear from the beginning. The premise is that the Darkstars are a space law-enforcement organization, part of an organization called NEMO (the Network for the Establishment and Maintenance of Order), created by the Controllers, an offshoot of the same alien race as the Guardians of Oa, the power behind the Green Lantern Corps. They fly around the galaxy fighting crime with the aid of their exo-mantles, suits with built-in masers and force fields.

The problem with this is that it's never really clear what makes Darkstars distinct from Green Lantern. They're both about lone members of big space organizations working on Earth. The Darkstar of Darkstars is Ferrin Colos, recently off a failure to save the planet of Genuwyne, which he angsts over occasionally; he sets up in Dallas, Texas when he finds out that the alien Syndicate he's been pursuing has set up on operation there on Earth. Darkstars is a little distinguished from Green Lantern in that Darkstars deputize locals with their own exo-mantles: in Colos's case, John Flint, a local cop with an "attitude" problem, and Mo Douglas, a homeless man.

This cover shows off both the original main characters (Colos, Mo, Carla, Flint) and the weird faces.
Darkstars #7 (Apr. 1993, cover by Travis Charest)
"Green Lantern with attitude" is how the notes of the writer and editor describe the series on occasion... but with all due respect, Michael Jan Friedman is the exact wrong man to hire to write such a series. I grew up with his Star Trek work, and the only attitude Friedman possesses is "nice," and the same usually goes for his characters. Which makes him a great fit for Star Trek: The Next Generation and spin-offs thereof (I was a fan of his Stargazer prequel novels), but I would never on my life hire him for anything described as "[x] with attitude" (which is maybe the most 1990s description I can imagine).

Phase I: Ferrin Colos on Earth (Issues #1-22)

Darkstars divides neatly into two distinct phases. The first concerns Colos and his two human deputies on Earth. At first these are Flint and Mo, as I said above; later, Colos fires Flint because he's reckless and replaces him with Carla White, a black lawyer who quit her job because she realized she was defending the wrong people. (Flint is later kidnapped by aliens and mutated into a killing machine.) This part of the comic is pretty fun, if you put aside the hints of "attitude," it's mostly a light-hearted superhero adventure comic. The best issue is clearly #8, "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys!", where Carla takes Colos to a local dive bar for fun, and Colos ends up arguing with locals, riding the mechanical bull, and fighting an alien bounty hunter. I don't know if this is what Friedman was aiming for, but it felt like the platonic ideal of the comic to me.

The cover is sort of amazingly terrible, whereas the story is terribly amazing.
Darkstars #8 (May 1993, cover by Travis Charest)
The characters are mostly pretty fun, too. Colos is your typical sort of alien straight-man, except for his occasional angst about the deaths he didn't stop on Genuwyne, which was always difficult for me to take seriously, because "Genuwyne" seems like what Peter David would name a planet as a set-up for a terrible pun on "genuine." I liked both Mo and Carla, though I felt the characters never got to live up to their potential because most of the plots in the early issues are generic punch-ups, usually against original, undistinguished villains, henchmen of the alien Syndicate. (The leader of the Syndicate himself, Sla Daniiki, was fun, but he rarely directly meets our heroes.)

The extent to which they're minimized as characters is perhaps most driven home in Trinity, an eight-part crossover with L.E.G.I.O.N. and Green Lantern (issues #11-12 of Darkstars) where the two of them just stand around and nothing at all is done with them being humans on an alien planet for the first time. They both have interesting backstories that rarely are dealt with: like, what was the effect of homelessness and then the lack thereof on Mo? Who knows. I also really liked Annie, the non-superhero who they hire to be their secretary. She never had enough to do, but was always fun when she was there with her matter-of-fact attitude toward the odd job she'd been hired for.

What the hell is this?
Darkstars #11 (Aug. 1993, cover by Travis Charest)
The thing that really hurts the early issues is the series's inability to maintain a consistent art team, which is comically embarrassing. No one lasts more than one or two issues, even though the editor is constantly trumpeting each new penciller/inker combo as the new team. Here's how they fare:
  • #1-3: Larry Stroman and Scott Hanna (3 issues)
  • #4-7: Travis Charest and Scott Hanna (4 issues)
  • #8-9: Patrick Zircher and John Lowe (2 issues)
  • #11-12 & 14: Mitch Byrd and Ken Branch (3 issues)
  • #15 & 17: Christopher Taylor and Ken Branch (2 issues)
  • #19-38 & 0: Michael Collins and Ken Branch (21 issues)
This obviously doesn't count one-issue fill-ins (on issues #10, 13, 16, & 18) or art assists (on issues #7-8 & 14). Thankfully, once Michael Collins turns up, he never misses an issue and never requires an assist, but more on him later. The inconsistent art is also a problem because most of the early artists are terrible, working in the 1990s Rob Liefield idiom of warped waists and squashed faces.

I like this cover artist in a general sense, but he felt like a tonal mismatch for Darkstars.
Darkstars #18 (Mar. 1994, cover by Randy DuBurke)
Despite its issues, the early issues of Darkstars show potential for enjoyable light comic, even if it seems slightly purposeless.

Phase II: Donna Troy in Space (Issues #23-24, 0, 25-38)

Then, suddenly everything changes. I don't know if Darkstars was in a steep sales decline (figures on The Comics Chronicles begin with issue #29, alas), but Colos is implicated (unjustly) in a conspiracy and suddenly ends up exiled to another universe. Just as suddenly, Donna Troy (formerly Wonder Girl and then Troia of the Teen Titans/New Teen Titans/New Titans, but now powerless) is recruited as the new Darkstar of Earth, and John Stewart (formerly a Green Lantern, but since the cancellation of Green Lantern: Mosaic and the destruction of the Green Lantern Corps in Emerald Twilight, without a book or purpose) is recruited as the new head of NEMO by the Controllers.
I also looked for a John Stewart cover, but apparently the guy never got one, despite essentially being co-lead with Donna.
Darkstars #23 (Aug. 1994, cover by Mike Deodata, Jr.)
The book goes from being its own little corner of the DC universe (with occasional, but largely self-contained crossovers with Hawkman, Green Lantern, and The Flash) to being a home for left-over characters from other books and being constantly involved in crossovers, especially with New Titans (as Donna is also a member there) and Green Lantern (as Donna is dating new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner). It makes the book a pretty difficult read, as you have to follow three or four other books to get the full story of crossovers like The Crimelord-Syndicate War (which finishes off some key plot points from Darkstars) and The Siege of the Zi Charam (which is terrible). Plus Darkstars is not Donna's primary book, so most of the important things that happen to the main character of this book are going on over in New Titans, which just leaves Darkstars as a repository for emotionally empty fight scenes. Darkstars is constantly reacting to the agenda of other books, never setting its own. [Tomorrow, I'll be posting a full reading order for Darkstars that shows the ridic number of crossovers it was involved in.]

So much crossover!
Darkstars #34 (Sept. 1995, cover by Michael Collins and Ken Branch)
Sadly, Mo Douglas and Carla White are written out pretty perfunctorily in issue #29, with Mo joining a Battlestar Galactica-esque refugee space fleet and Carla returning to legal work. Mo puts in the occasional two-page appearance throughout the rest of the run, but Carla gets a one-page cameo on the last page of #38 and that's it. Annie pops up here and there occasionally (she even moves into the New Titans HQ at one point), but vanishes too. One gets the feeling the Friedman never got to write these characters (or the other recurring characters, like Prigatz, the immediate supervisor of Colos and Donna, or the nun who was friends with Mo) the way he really wanted to.

Interestingly, interior artist Michael Collins would later homage this cover with his cover for Star Trek: Early Voyages #12
Darkstars #29 (Mar. 1995, cover by Mike Deodata, Jr.)
This did improve sales figures:
data courtesy The Comics Chronicles
I don't know what figures were like prior to #29 (Jan. 1995), but you'll see that the crossovers The Crimelord-Syndicate War in #32 (Jul. 1995) and The Siege of the Zi Charam in #34 (Sept. 1995) both pull the series from an average sales rank in the 240s up to one in the 170s. But it must have been too little or too late, as the series was cancelled with #38 (Nov. 1995).

The one bright spot in this era is the consistent artwork of Michael Collins. Collins has a bold, traditional superhero style that really suits Friedman's writing; I know Collins's later work on titles like Star Trek: Early Voyages and a huge number of stories for Doctor Who Magazine, so I was pleased to see him here.

I really like the visual callback to the cover of issue #1, with the background now including all of the series's significant guest stars.
Darkstars #38 (Jan. 1996, cover by Michael Collins and Ken Branch)
I will admit that the last issue made me a little misty-eyed, as Colos finally reunites with Carla White (apparently they're in love, but I was never really sure why). Despite this series's myriad problems, it had potential, and I like its protagonists.


Donna Troy and John Stewart are still Darkstars when the series ends, and they pop up occasionally in that capacity for a little bit, until a two-part story in Green Lantern (vol. 3) #74-75, where Kyle Rayner fights the illegitimate son of Darkseid. Basically the Darkstars turn up to be gunned down to prove the situation is serious. When the story begins, all but a dozen are already dead, and all but four are dead by the end of the series. Given Mo Douglas was still a Darkstar in Darkstars #38 but doesn't appear here, that means one of our main characters got killed offscreen without even a mention. Some of the surviving Darkstars, which include Colos, do put in occasional appearances in other DC space stories, but Carla White is never seen again, apparently, so who knows what happened to her.

Um, none of these characters, actually.
Green Lantern (vol. 3) #74 (June 1996, cover by Darryl Banks and Romeo Tanghal)
Donna and John retire at the end of this story, and Darkstars really only continues to remembered as a footnote in their convoluted histories, like in this installment of Comics, Everybody! about Donna.

Poor Darkstars. You could have been something great.

24 March 2016

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: The Next Crusade by Robert Cromie

Brief prelude to point out that my attempt to catch up on audio reviewing continues, with the second meeting of the Eighth Doctor and River Song this month, in the second volume of DOOOOOOOOOOOM COALITION.

Hardcover, 240 pages
Published 1896
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
The Next Crusade by Robert Cromie

This is, without a doubt, the best of the books I read at the Eaton Collection. It's apparently a sequel to an 1889 novel called For England's Sake, but stands alone from it, as I never was confused. I don't know if they share any characters, or just a future history. I did like what Cromie says of his project in the preface: "I make no apology for taking upon myself to write the history of the future. This method already has many students; and certainly some advantages over that of writing the history of the past. It can hardly be so full of errors" (v). Basically, it's Turkey and Russia and Germany vs. England and Austria, which isn't quite the way the next war lined up, but whatever.

Cromie's story doesn't have the fantastic inventions that George Griffith would bring to the future war genre the next year, but Cromie groks what few of his contemporaries did: that he could have actual character stories playing out against his future-history backdrop. The Next Crusade isn't really the tale of the Anglo-Turkish War, but of the poor gentleman Charlie Cameron, his friend John Jackson, and the delightfully crotchety sergeant-major Joe Huggins. In some ways it's a very pessimistic story, in other ways it's very jingoistic (Cromie really hates on the Turks*), but on the whole, it's a rollicking war story of one of the better kinds: good characters and great naval battles!

* "The purpose of this enterprise was intrinsically barbaric and brutal, but, alas! necessary. Absolutely it was wrong. Relatively it was right. It was the least wrong possible, for it would displace a greater wrong. It was a New Crusade, the grandest that had ever sailed from the West unto the East" (72-3).

23 March 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XLVIII: Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!

Comic trade paperback, 144 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 2009)

Borrowed from the library
Read July 2015
Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!

Writer: Matthew Sturges
Artist: Freddie Williams II
Colorists: The Hories
Letterer: Travis Lanham

A few months after the end of Final Crisis, the Human Flame-- for whom Libra murdered the Martian Manhunter, thus convincing Earth's criminal fraternity to join his side-- wakes up in the hospital. He decides, small-time idiot that he is, to go on the run. And soon, everyone's after him: the Justice League, bounty hunters, criminals angry that Libra's plan didn't work out. And he picks up more enemies as he goes, including mobsters and the Endangered Army of General Immortus.

The Human Flame is purposefully portrayed as a pathetic villain here: not a has-been, but a never-was. He's not smart, he's not funny, he's not lovable. He's just a scumbag who thought he got lucky, but it blew up in his face, as almost everything does. Run! keeps him continuously on the move, escalating his situation, with more and more people pursuing him as he gains more and more power. I can't say I finished Final Crisis wondering what would happen to the Human Flame next, but this is a pretty diverting way to find out. The book is amusing, but not a laugh riot. I enjoyed the art of Freddie Williams II; it's somewhat grotesque, but also somewhat cartoonish, which is perfect for the subject matter. There's some gruesome violence here, but by and large it doesn't convince you of its reality, which is what I think this book really calls for.

Its essential problem is twofold: on the whole the book is pretty substanceless. You don't really learn anything about the Human Flame by chapter 6 that you didn't already know in chapter 1. Run! isn't really a book with anything to say. This might be okay, except that the book is six issues long. You could have substanceless three-issue runaround, or a substantial six-issue one, but as it is, it feels like a decent idea has been spread too thinly. Hopefully future Final Crisis Aftermath stories (they're all six issues long) have more to say than this one.

I did, however, really enjoy the Human Flame's short-lived ally, the Condiment King. A villain whose entire modus operandi is based around condiment puns ("mayo I intercede," "I'm soy glad to meet you," "you mustard up the courage"), this guy deserves all the exposure he can get. And surely he ought to ally himself with the greatest of supervillain teams, the Wurstwaffe.

Next Week: The aftermath of the Final Crisis continues as we catch up with the Super Young Team in Dance.

22 March 2016

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XXVI: "Equals & Opposites" by Nathan P. Butler and James Raiz

Digital comic issue, 58 pages
Published 2004
Acquired December 2014

Read June 2015
Star Wars Tales #21: "Equals & Opposites"

Script: Nathan P. Butler
Art: James Raiz
Colors: Michael Atiyeh
Letters: Michael Heisler

Year Four of the Invasion (Month 8)
This issue of the Star Wars Tales comic contains another New Jedi Order-era tale, specifically, "Equals & Opposites," which takes place between volumes I and II of "Force Heretic." This story is about Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors, stars of the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight computer games, which I've never played-- but I have read the novellas and heard the audio dramas based on them. They're en route to an intelligence conference in the Empire, following the alliance forged by Luke and company in Remnant, when they divert to help an Imperial platoon save an insignificant planet from the Yuuzhan Vong and the Peace Brigade.

This story is, as far as I know, Nathan P. Butler's first and only professional fiction work; he and I used to be members of the "fan audio" community together, where Butler wrote a timeline, was a prolific podcaster, and wrote/directed/edited a number of fan audio dramas. Unfortunately, "Equals & Opposites" is a bit on the clunky side. Like this:
KYLE KATARN FACT: Kyle Katarn doesn't feel pain, pain feels Kyle Katarn.

Like, maybe the reason he mentioned the first kid is because she was standing right in front of you. It's an attempt at subtlety in characterization that sledgehammers in its actual consequences. Aside from that moment, there's not much to this 14-page story, which features two multi-page fight sequences and a number of banal aphorisms from Kyle to a green Imperial lieutenant. Of course, this might not be Butler's fault entirely: he is trying to make use of a character primarily designed as a blank for videogames, not as someone with a lived interior life. James Raiz's artwork is often equally clunky, as you can see from Kyle's extremely wonky proportions in the second panel above.

Next Week: Back to Luke and Mara, Leia and Han, Nom Anor, and companies in Force Heretic II: Refugee!

21 March 2016

Review: The Mighy Thor, Vol. 1 by Walter Simonson

Comic trade paperback, 215 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 1983-84)

Acquired December 2015
Read February 2016
The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1

Writer & Artist: Walter Simonson
Inker: Terry Austin
Remastered Coloring: Steve Oliff
Letterer: John Workman

Thor is, I kid you not, my favorite of the Marvel film series (well, though Guardians of the Galaxy may dethrone it). It's goofy, it has space aliens, it has lots of jokes, it has people stealing spaceships, it has mythology: it's basically everything I demand from cinematic entertainment. The actors who play Thor and the Warriors Three seem as if they really do come from a fantasy realm.

Since seeing the first one, I've been curious about the comics, and when it comes to Thor comics, it seems like all roads lead to Walter Simonson. Simonson's one of those people whose work I more know of than actually know. I own his Orion Omnibus and his Star Wars work but haven't actually read it; what I have read is limited to small contributions to things like World Without a Superman, 52: The Companion, and Batman: Strange Apparitions. But Simonson's Thor work is spoken of in hushed tones, and what I knew lead me to expect cosmic mythology, the exact register I would hope for.
Any guy whose power is to defeat his enemies by sitting on them and telling them a story is the kind of guy who gets my respect.
from Thor vol. 1 #339 (art by Walter Simonson)

Vol. 1 of The Mighty Thor did not disappoint. The whole thing is premised on Walter Simonson being the first writer to look at the inscription on Thor's Hammer, "WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER, IF HE BE WORTHY, SHALL POSSESS THE POWER OF THOR," and wonder, who would be worthy? Answer: Beta Ray Bill, warrior cyborg of an alien race. I like Simonson's answer; though being worthy is at least in part about moral purity, it must also be about warrior spirit-- something I would argue that, say, Captain America does not possess. The first four issues here are jam-packed, as Thor is drafted by Nick Fury, Thor goes into space after Bill's spaceship, Thor fights Bill, Bill seizes the hammer and acquires the power of Thor, Odin forces Thor and Bill to fight each other again, a warrior arrives in Asgard to challenge Balder the Brave only to be sat upon by Volstagg, Loki schemes with Lorelei, Lady Sif goes on a quest to the land of the dwarves, a new hammer called Storm Breaker is forged, Thor travels with Sif and Bill to battle alien demons, and Odin redistributes everyone's powers.
Lady Sif is the greatest.
from Thor vol. 1 #339 (art by Walter Simonson)

And after that there's still five issues to go! They don't make them like that any more. (This is why the mid-1980s are a peak era for comics: more sophisticated storytelling, but bloated decompression and gratuitous darkness haven't yet set in.) Like Jack Kirby, Simonson has the talent of packing in an incredibly large number of ideas into a small space, and casting them with a mythological tone that makes them feel even bigger than they are, and like Jack Kirby, he combines his command of word and image to achieve total comic book excellence. The Beta Ray Bill stories are definitely the best part of this collection, the rest of it being much more day-in-the-life-of-Thor-as-superhero-on-Midgard* stuff. He fights sea monsters, is wooed by a woman (who is really Lorelei is disguise), works as a construction worker, and gets involved in some kinda complicated plot involving people who can't eat food that I guess I have to wait for Vol. 2 to fully understand.

Normally this kind of stuff makes me roll my eyes, but I laughed here.
from Thor vol. 1 #341 (art by Walter Simonson)

It's not without its charms: hunky Thor trying to hide his might while working construction, Thor answering the call of the last scion of a Viking line in Antarctica, Thor running into Clark Kent and Lois Lane but no one recognizes each other because of the glasses. And Simonson is one of those writers who keeps a number of running subplots on the boil that come to the forefront in turn, my favorite being that of Balder the Brave who has forsworn killing, and the tragic moment where Loki forces him to confront that choice. Poor guy.
Another way to get my respect is to be a guy who considers the unleashing of his own violence the most regretful thing that could ever happen.
from Thor vol. 1 #344 (art by Walter Simonson)

Like I said, Simonson's art is amazing; his scripting may remind one of Kirby, but he has a bold visual style all his own, stopping this from feeling like pastiche. And John Workman provides some of the best lettering I've ever seen in a comic book, perfectly integrating with the image to drive home the scale of the cosmic events we're seeing. I never thought I'd write a sentence like that!
I originally scanned this page for the bad-ass parallel Thor and Beta Ray Bill pictures on top, but then I realized it was one of a great many examples of Workman's dramatic lettering, so I cropped it less than I had planned.
from Thor vol. 1 #340 (art by Walter Simonson)
* Earth.

18 March 2016

Frank Attfield Fawkes: Victorian Writer, Carpenter, Industrialist, Engineer, Anti-Spiritualist, Pharmacist, "Blue Teapot" Man, and Utopian (1849-1941)

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a review of an early sci-fi novel by Frank Attfield Fawkes (though he wrote it under the pseudonym of "X"). The Science Fiction Encyclopedia calls him an "industrialist," and I was curious what this actually meant, and soon began to discover a whole set of information that seem largely nonexistent elsewhere. (Fawkes doesn't even have an entry in Bleiler's usually comprehensive Science-Fiction: The Early Years.) So, here for you, I'm going to assemble everything I could find out in one place.


First off, he was a prolific writer, and his works spanned a ton of genres. Here is as near a complete list as I can manage, in publication order.

1879: Triumphal March for the Pianoforte (musical score)
1881: Horticultural Buildings: Their Construction, Heating, Interior Fittings, &c., with Remarks on Some of the Principles Involved and Their Application 
1882: Hot Water Heating on the Low-Pressure System: Comprising Some of the Principles Involved; An Explanation of the Apparatus and Its Parts; Also Its Application to Buildings of Various Descriptions
1883: Babies: How to Rear Them in Health and Happiness: A Few Unconventional Suggestions to Parents for the Physical Treatment, Religious Education, and General Training of Their Infants
1888: Architects' Joinery and its Ornament (revised and enlarged in 1896 as Architects' Joinery and its Ornamentation)
1890: Photographs of a few Chimney Pieces, Overmantels, Doorways, Panelling, &c.
1890: Three Christian Tests
1895: Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe: Being a Record of Some Strange Adventures in the Remarkable Career of a Political and Social Reformer Who Was Famous at the Commencement of the Twentieth Century (published under the pseudonym of "X"; translated into German in 1896 as Der Kaiser von Europa*)
1903: The Mystery of Human Life: An Attempt to Throw a Little Light Upon the Great Problems: What Am I? Whence Do I Come? Why Am I Here? Whither Do I Go?
1912: Found—a Man: The Romance of a Dream and Its Realisation
1920: How to Organize Bazaars, Concerts, Fêtes, Exhibitions and Various Charitable and Other Functions
1920: Spiritualism Exposed
1923: The Riddle of Life after Death
1924: Shaping a New World: A Philosophy of Tools
1928: How to Live Long and Keep Young, etc.
1931: Adventures of a Chemist: A Series of Unusual Detective Short Stories Embracing Drama, Comedy, Tragedy, Love, Humour, Infatuation, Passion, and Revenge

As one can see, Fawkes published many books on diverse topics. His books fall into a few distinct categories: most are nonfiction about his line of work, or catalogs/advertisements for it. But starting in 1883, he branches out into other kinds of nonfiction, with a guidebook on the rearing of children. In 1891, he publishes the first of his most consistent sideline: Christian texts. This sticks with him through to the end of his life, including a number of books arguing against spiritualism. As far as I can tell, he wrote only two works of fiction: the proto-sf Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe and the collection of detective stories, Adventures of a Chemist. (I'm not sure what Found—a Man is, though; all I can discover about it is that it exists.)

Incidentally, "X" is what Eric Blair wanted to publish Down and Out in Paris and London under, but his publishers told him no, resulting in him coining "George Orwell" instead. But 1984 by X has a certain appeal to it!

Early Life and Marriage

Frank Attfield Fawkes was born in 1849 to Thomas Fawkes and Harriet Attfield Fawkes, in Camberwell, then considered part of Surrey, but now a district of South London. I haven't seen a whole lot about his early life, but by 1861, he's living with his mother's father, John Attfield, on the other side of London, in Whetstone. Thomas's occupation is variously recorded as plumber, gas fitter, builder, and decorator, so it would seem that young Frank was following in his father's footsteps when he entered into a partnership to manufacture horticultural equipment. We don't know when the partnership was created, but it was dissolved in 1878. The next year brings his first publication, Triumphal March for the Pianoforte, a musical score, at the age of 30.

The 1881 census records Frank in the occupation of civil engineer. It also records him as living with his parents and unmarried, but on May 3rd of that year, he married Sarah Smith Hartridge; they were both 32 at the time. (Her father was variously a shepherd, a pub-keeper, a stationmaster, and a wine merchant.) They had their first child, a daughter named Avis, in December 1882. He must have felt pretty confident in his child-rearing abilities, because his child-rearing guidebook was published in 1883, before Avis even turned one year old! They have four more kids together: Marmaduke (born 1884), Attfield (1885), Irene (1886), and Norman (1891). You might notice that Marmaduke loans his name to the protagonist of Frank's sci-fi novel, Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe. He seems to spend the bulk of his adult life in Chelmsford; he's living there as of 1886, and resides there until 1910.

Professional Life

Like I said above, many of his publications are catalogs and advertisements. Photographs of a few Chimney Pieces (1890), for example, includes not just the promised photographs, but price lists and recommendations from former customers, which indicate that his work was usually received as tasteful and inexpensive. His work was displayed at the Tenth Annual Building Exhibition in Islington in March 1892; the Furniture Gazette's report of the event says he was "well known" for his "tasteful mouldings and enrichments" and said every furniture house ought to have Architects' Joinery and its Ornament (1888) in its library.

1908 advertisement for his firm, from the Gardeners' Chronicle
I want one of these on the side of my house!
Not everyone was quite so enamored with his work: a review of his book Horticultural Buildings (1881) complains that it reads too much like an advertisement and opines that, "There is a suspicion, indeed, that on the subject of 'art' [...] his is just a trifle tainted with the 'Postlethwaite' school, so much and so often satirised by 'Punch' of late. We should say Mr Fawkes was, if anything, a 'blue teapot' man. [...] [S]ome of his 'artistic' garden structures are tainted by the 'quite too—too'—overpowering—high art school." I have no idea what any of that means, but it sounds quite scathing.

Fawkes's most impressive piece of carpentry is that he was responsible for the design of the canopy behind the throne of Westminster Cathedral. The throne is a (smaller) replica of the papal throne in the the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, but that throne has no canopy, and so Fawkes was hired to design it. (It's unclear to me exactly when this happened, but the throne arrived at the cathedral shortly after the cathedral architect, John Francis Bentley, died in March 1903, and Fawkes designed the canopy after that.) The same canopy is still there, and it looks rather nice from the photos I can find of it. No one ever takes a photo of just canopy, of course, but it's visible in wide photos of the throne itself:
photo courtesy Brian J. McMorrow
another good photograph can be found here

The canopy is "[c]onstructed in fumed oak and walnut, inlaid with holly and ebony" (Browne and Dean 67). Seems like quite a design coup for his little Chelmsford firm to get this commission. I did actually tour Westminster Cathedral back in 2007 (it's free, unlike the more famous Westminster Abbey), so I suppose I have seen his handiwork in real life!

Writing Career

Meanwhile to all this exciting building work, Fawkes built a career as a varied writer. Like I said, he has his guidebook to raising children, his science fiction novel, and a few Christian books such as Three Christian Tests (1890). His 1903 book The Mystery of Human Life: An Attempt to Throw a Little Light Upon the Great Problems: What Am I? Whence Do I Come? Why Am I Here? Whither Do I Go? (oh, what a way with titles he had, even for a Victorian) was apparently a revision of a lecture he gave to the Chelmsford Literary and Scientific Society.

A review in the Essex Review indicates that the book is well-argued, but based on flimsy foundations: Fawkes's arguments all stem from the idea that human beings are "fallen angels," which he apparently proves by recourse to Milton and Shakespeare. We do know from his books that Fawkes was Christian (Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe, for example, is about the coming of a Christian utopia), but he seems a somewhat unconventional Christian, given the review's explanation of one of his conclusions: "That there must be transmigration of souls through successive incarnations"; they get a little snarky when they say, "The writer at any rate seems well satisfied with his argument" and quote his statement that his "scheme of regenerative redemption [...] exactly fits the wants of a fallen world." From both reading Marmaduke and reading reviews of others of his works, I can see that the formation of a new Christian brotherhood was a paramount importance to him.

Weirdly, he's cited in Friedrich Heer's Europe, Mother of Revolutions (1964) as if one should just know who he is: "F. A. Fawkes writes of the same subject [world peace]: 'I believe that the speed of communication achieved through steam and telegraph has contributed more than all the books and newspapers, more than all the religions, to destroy the old, melancholy era of wars and to produce a new, sound morality...'" (227). Heer provides no citation for this quotation, and I can find no other trace of it; this is the only mention of Fawkes in the book. Heer was Austrian, though, so perhaps he read the German translation of Marmaduke (see first footnote below). Maybe Der Kaiser von Europa was popular enough in Austria that everyone there just knew who Fawkes was in 1964? And perhaps this sentence was translated from English to German and back to English and that's why I can find no other trace of it?

Retirement and Later Life

In 1910, he was listed as a co-owner of the Chelmsford horticultural building firm Crompton and F. A. Fawkes, Ltd., but by the 1911 census (at the age of 62), he had retired to Felixstowe, a seaside village in Suffolk (then a fashionable resort). He was active in his community, for example, organizing the 1920 Felixstowe Economy Exhibition. One supposes that this is when he became expert enough in organizing bazaars, concerts, fêtes, exhibitions and various charitable and other functions to publish a book on the topic.

His distinctive name makes it easy to trace him in Google Books, letting us discover, for example, that in 1911, "A Mr F. A. Fawkes, researching Siberia, wrote [to the Free Russian Library in Whitechapel] requesting information on how the internal exile system had been affected by the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway" (Henderson 80). Hard to imagine why he might have wanted such information, but goodness knows it has to be him! Maybe it somehow plays into the mysterious Found—a Man that came out the next year?

After his retirement is where things get a little hairy. In 1930, he published the amazingly-titled book, Adventures of a Chemist: A Series of Unusual Detective Short Stories Embracing Drama, Comedy, Tragedy, Love, Humour, Infatuation, Passion, and Revenge. This book exists in only one library in the world (the British Library, fact fans), but it received a review in the British trade periodical The Chemist and Druggist, which reveals that it's a "chemist" in the British sense of "pharmacist."† The book concerns, the review says, "several incidents being related to the personality of the proprietor of a shop in a small Midland town. The chemist has for his intimate friend a retired man of means, who makes a hobby of the discovery of crime. Given this setting, it can be easily conceived that many striking adventures befall the amateur discoverer of crime and his friend." Another review, in the Essex Review, claims that book has nothing "left out from the entire gamut of human expression, and yet so uniform are the strange vagaries of men's lives and characters that these fifteen tales cannot avoid showing a certain similarity." Oh, how I dearly wish I could read this book; it sounds incredible.

The Essex Review adds, "Mr. Fawkes, who was formerly well known at Chelmsford, now lives in East Anglia. The writing of this book, with its ingenious and humorous stories, must have been a congenial occupation of his retirement. [...] He tells a story well." So far, so good. But the review in Chemist and Druggist throws a wrinkle into everything we might claim to know about Frank Attfield Fawkes's career, as it claims he's a pharmacist! Did he turn to pharmacy after retiring from woodwork at the age of 62? Or is it simply a mistake? It's definitely the same guy, as the review gets his age right (approximately 80), and refers to him as the nephew of the late Dr. John Attfield-- and indeed, one of Frank's uncles was a professor of chemistry named John Attfield. Given the wide range of Frank's interests, it doesn't seem completely impossible that he would become a pharmacist, though it's awful late for a new career.

F.A. Fawkes in 1928, age 79
courtesy John Attfield
Frank's wife Sarah died in 1930, but he lived on until February 18, 1941, dying of bronchitis at the ripe old age of 91 in a nursing home in Cambridge. I suppose his long life justified the publication of his book How to Live Long and Keep Young, etc. in 1928, when he would have been 79.

Children's Lives

There are some interesting anecdotes in the life of his children. His first daughter, Avis, became a governess by 1911 (she would have been 28/29) and died, unmarried, in 1935.

Marmaduke became a medical practitioner; during the Great War, he served as a naval surgeon, and received an O.B.E. for his service. He married a woman named Linda Esperanza Funnell in 1910, and they had two children with the amazing names of Nirvana Ayscough de Fontenelle Fawkes and Marmaduke Ayscough Fawkes. Unfortunately, in August 1941, months after Frank died, Marmaduke died as well, due to "injuries caused by throwing himself from a window while of unsound mind." Linda never remarried.

His daughter Irene attended the Chelmsford School of Art and later worked as an illustrator in the 1920s and '30s. Her work includes a series of illustrations of Kew Gardens that were displayed in the London Underground. You can see one of her "Heather" posters to the right; the London Transport Museum website has a larger collection here.

* The book was translated by Bertha von Suttner, a Czech-Austrian pacifist and writer, who was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize! She was already big in the Austrian peace movement in the 1890s; it makes sense that Marmaduke, which depicts a future where the German kaiser's demilitarization inspires the world to peace, would appeal to her. She corresponded with Nobel up until his death, and probably influenced him to include "peace" as one of his prize categories to begin with.
† The review, by the way, is credited to "Xrayser III." "Xyraser" turns out to be a pseudonym still used by the opinion columnist of the magazine (now called Chemist + Druggist) to this day-- he even has a Twitter!
‡ This is the only photo I've been able to find of him on-line; it comes from the frontispiece of How to Live Long and Keep Young.


"Artist - Irene Fawkes." Poster and Artwork Collection Online. London Transport Museum, n.d. Web. <http://www.ltmcollection.org/posters/artist/artist.html?IXartist=Irene+Fawkes>.
Attfield, John. Attfield Family Tree. 23 Aug. 2015. Web. <http://www.john-attfield.com/paf_tree/attfield_current/index.html>.
Bleiler, Everett F., with Richard E. Bleiler. Science-Fiction: The Early Years: A Full Description of More than 3,000 Science-Fiction Stories from Earliest Times to the Appearance of the Genre Magazines in 1930, with Author, Title, and Motif Indexes. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1990.
Browne, John, and Timothy Dean. Westminster Cathedral: Building of Faith. London: Booth-Clibborn, 1995.
"The Building Trade Exhibition." Furniture Gazette 30.706 (15 Apr. 1892): 70-71.
Clute, John. "Fawkes, Frank Attfield." SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 3rd ed. Ed. Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. <http://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/fawkes_frank_attfield>.
Crompton & F. A. Fawkes, Ltd. Advertisement. Gardeners' Chronicle 1112 (27 June 1908): viii.
Fawkes, F. A. Photographs of a few Chimney Pieces, Overmantels, Doorways, Panelling, &c. London: B. T. Batsford, [1890].
"First he wanted to call himself 'X'." The Real George Orwell. Presented by D. J. Taylor. BBC, 14 Jan. 2013. iPlayer Radio. Web. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p013qs8w>.
Heer, Friedrich. Europe, Mother of Revolutions. Trans. Charles Kessler and Jennetta Adcock. New York: Praeger, 1972.
Henderson, Robert. "'For the Cause of Education': A History of the Free Russian Library in Whitechapel, 18981917." Russia in Britain, 18801940: From Melodrama to Modernism. Ed. Rebecca Beasley and Philip Ross Bullock. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. 71-86.
Langham, Mark. "The Cathedra." Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee: A Blog from Westminster Cathedral. 6 Aug. 2007. Web. <http://westminstercathedral.blogspot.com/2007/08/cathedra.html>.
McMorrow, Brian J. Bishop's Throne - Westminster Cathedral. Digital Image. PBase. PBase.com LLC, 17 Mar. 2010. Web. <http://www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow/image/131326112>.
Nelson, E. Charles. "Miss Irene Fawkes's Heather the 'cover story'." Heathers 3 (2006): 19-21.
"Notes from the Papers." The Gardener June 1881: 263-67.
Rev. of Adventures of a Chemist: Unusual Detective Stories, by F. A. Fawkes. Essex Review 39 (Jul. 1930): 211-12.
Rev. of The Mystery of Human Life, by F. A. Fawkes. Essex Review 13.49 (Jan. 1904): 62-63.
Xrayser III. "Observations and Reflections." The Chemist and Druggist 114.1 (3 Jan. 1931): 13.

The usefulness of Google Books, UConn Document Delivery & Interlibrary Loan, and the Internet Archive in enabling me to assemble this entry cannot possibly be understated. The information technology of the 21st century is a helluva thing.

17 March 2016

Review: Science and Culture and Other Essays by Thomas Henry Huxley

PDF eBook, 349 pages
Published 1882 (contents: 1874-81)
Borrowed from the library
Read December 2012
Science and Culture and Other Essays
by Thomas Henry Huxley

This 1882 volume collects thirteen lectures by Thomas Henry Huxley, "Darwin's bulldog," most of which aren't about scientific subjects, but about science as a discipline or epistemology. The most famous and most significant one is the first one, the title piece: "Science and Culture" was originally an address Huxley gave in October 1880, at the opening of Mason Science College in Birmingham; it was printed that same month in Nature. Huxley, a big advocate for scientific education in general, thought that the school had an "excellent scheme," but proposed one alteration:
[I]n this country, practically governed as it is now by universal suffrage, every man who does his duty must exercise political functions. And if… the perpetual oscillation of nations between anarchy and despotism is to be replaced by the steady march of self-restraining freedom; it will be because men will gradually bring themselves to deal with the political, as they now deal with scientific questions …and to believe that the machinery of society is at least as delicate as that of a spinning-jenny, and not more likely to be improved by the meddling of those who have not taken the trouble to master the principles of its action.
In other words, you wouldn't trust a layman untrained in mechanics to fix your machinery, so why should a layman untrained in the science of society work on your society? And in the democratic age, every man already is working on society! Seeing like a scientist is essential for social progress. (This inspired Matthew Arnold's July 1882 lecture, "Literature and Science," where he said that science only gives knowledge without context, that has nothing to do with the "sense for beauty" or the "sense for conduct.") Similarly, in his lecture "On Elementary Instruction in Physiology" (1877), Huxley argues everyone who has a body would benefit from physiology. Much of Huxley's work rails against the idea that a classical education is the only useful education, and that scientific thinking is narrow or restrictive.

Huxley is a pretty big scientific optimist, but more nuanced than many who shared his views, like Herbert Spencer, and these writings capture a moment in the cultural rise of science as an epistemology: a moment where it seemed like science might dominate the very way we run our government and society. Though Huxley definitely won the scientific education debate, as evidenced by the contemporary perspective that going to college for anything other than STEM is fundamentally worthless, contemporary politics clearly show you don't have to know anything about science to run a society, so he didn't quite win to the extent he wished.

16 March 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XLVII: Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge

First off, my ongoing attempt to catch up on audio reviews continues, with The Diary of River Song: Series One at Unreality SF.

Secondly, for months now, you've been reading (whoever you are, dear reader) comics reviews written months after I read the comics in question, and since I get them from the library, usually without the comic in question to hand. That all changes today! Even though this review didn't appear until March 2016, I actually wrote it in July 2015, immediately after finishing the book. This means, I hope, better reviews with more detailed commentary.

Comic hardcover, 144 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 2002-08) 

Borrowed from the library
Read July 2015
Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Scott Kolins
Inkers: Scott Kolins, Dan Panosian, Doug Hazlewood
Colorists: Dave McCaig, James Sinclair
Letterers: Nick J. Napolitano, Gaspar Saladino, Kurt Hathaway

This is the last of the during-Final-Crisis tie-ins in my readthrough-- there are still some "aftermath" titles to review, though. Like Legion of 3 Worlds and Revelations, this story seems to primarily be using the events of Final Crisis as an excuse to catch up with some other characters, the basic hook here being that Libra is trying to recruit the Flash's Rogues Gallery into his organization (this is before Libra is revealed as the herald of Darkseid), but the Rogues want nothing of it: they just want to lay low, since they're still on the run for the murder of the Bart Allen Flash. They plan to take out Inertia, the evil speedster who co-ordinated their murder of Allen.

I don't have much familiarity with the Rogues, unlike the characters featured in Legion of 3 Worlds and Revelations, which definitely hindered my enjoyment of the story; all I really know about them comes from their appearances in Countdown to Final Crisis (where they're also on the run for Bart's murder). In reading Rogues' Revenge, I felt like I was on the edge of reading a good story, it was just that I didn't have the emotional investment in these characters that the story wants you to have. Johns doesn't do much to introduce the reader to them, but rather throws you in at the deep end of their characterizations and histories. What I did grasp had me interested: these are a group of messed-up criminals, to be sure, but they're people, not supervillains cackling and trying to take over the world. Captain Cold especially is put through the emotional wringer here, but he seems to emerge the stronger for it. You do get those Geoff Johns splash pages that seem designed to excite someone who knows more than me; "I'm Kid Zoom!" shouts Inertia triumphantly, as if that has some kind of intrinsic significance.

Scott Kolins's art is very good; he does interesting things with panel layout that are occasionally hard to follow, but usually work well in establishing the oppressive tone of the book; it's really on tone where this books succeeds, between Kolins's art and Dave McCaig's colors, everything is appropriately gloomy. There's the occasional flashback scene that's not clearly marked as such, but if such a technique is good enough for Chris Ware, then I'm sure Johns and Kolins can use it too. The pasts of the Rogues very much live on in their presents.

There are two extra stories in the back of the book, "Absolute Zero" and "Rogue Profile: Zoom," which lay out histories for Captain Cold and Zoom, respectively, both reprinted from Johns and Kolins's 2000-05 run on The Flash. I ought to have read them first, as they make stuff in the main story much more clear. I have Johns's Flash Omnibus volumes on my shelf, waiting to be read; perhaps I'll reread Rogues' Revenge once I have the grounding in Flash lore the story obviously expects.

Next Week: We finally move to the aftermath of the Final Crisis, and it's time to Run!