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Wonder Woman, space cadet (#SFWApro)

One of the things that make Wonder Woman’s Bronze Age run so messy is that not only did she suffer multiple soft reboots, but they came so damn fast.

Following the end of her powerless period, we got the start of the UN run with the non-white characters we never saw again. After just three issues, we got a year of Kanigher’s recycled stories, then the Twelve Trials, then WW II. Then new writer Jack Harris took two or three issues to wrap up Wonder Woman’s situation, killing off Steve Trevor again and having Diana quit her UN job. Instead, we got a whole new life for Diana Prince — as an astronaut in training to fly the space shuttle!

And that lasted all of seven issues, #250-6 (cover by Jose Delbo, all rights to current holder). I suspect this may be due to staff musical chairs. Ross Andru takes over from Larry Hama as editor and what looked like a long-running plotline suddenly wraps up. Paul Levitz replaces Harris and WW immediately starts dreaming of going back to the Big Apple.

The new setting, like the use of the shuttle in Moonraker reflects that the shuttle was insanely cool back when it was announced. Imagine, a rocket that can go back and forth into space, just like in movies, instead of launching a one-time-only missile with a capsule on it!  Diana is on a training crew along with Stacy Macklin (The Female Friend), Mike Bailey (The Somewhat Macho Love Interest) and their gruff CO (The Gruff CO). And that’s about all there was to it, or to them, though that may reflect that Harris had little time to develop them. Mike puts moves on Diana, who despite just losing Steve, soon melts (after Stacy complains that Diana turned Mike down too fast). He’s written as much more forward than Steve so presumably Harris thought that would make a better romance for Di. But it felt awfully canned, in the tradition that the lead and the attractive member of the opposite sex must automatically get together.

In the opening arc, the grumpy male Olympians demand that Diana prove herself by competing again to prove she’s worthy of the Wonder Woman role. Diana wins, but gets denied on a technicality; another Amazon takes her place, Orana. Despite which, Diana flies back to Man’s World, not to be a superhero but to live her own private life.

It looked like this was going to be a running plot, like the Amazon Artemis replacing WW many years later, but we got that editorial change and zap, it was done (though that may have been the plan all along—I don’t actually know): Orana keeps screwing up, Diana intervenes to help out, Orana nonetheless dies and Diana reclaims the Wonder Woman mantle (Ares, declaring she’s acting purely from vanity, subsequently tries to punish her, working through her old foe Angle Man). There’s another two parter involving a long-lost sister of Hippolyta, then Paul Levitz takes over with #255. Diana visits the UN for a space conference, comes up against an assassin called Bushmaster, runs into Morgan Tracy again (she’s still PO’d at him for not looking out for Steve better) and triggers some sort of red flag which has the UN contacting NASA about her security clearance. She also spends a lot of time enjoying being back in New York.

The following issue, Diana runs into the second-banana crime team the Royal Flush Gang and discovers Mike is the current Ten of Spades. Frustrated, she quits the astronaut program (in a later story she wonders why a woman who’s traveled to the stars even thought space-shuttle pilot would be a fun gig) and in the very next issue is back at the UN. The security issues appear to have been dropped (we’ll see). It all had the feel of Levitz deciding “Well this reboot sucks, let’s go back to the UN!” (again, don’t know that for a fact).

On the plus side, Levitz is a better writer than Harris. I’ll be back to review his run as soon as we get to the next reboot. Sigh.

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Goals for May (#SFWApro)

I’m pleased to see I did much better than April, hitting 63 percent. That’s about where it’s been every month except April and January (79 percent).

In addition to my Screen Rant articles, I delivered a finance story to the Go Banking website, pitched column ideas to some big markets (no go), kept up my exercise and meditated. It’s only one or two minute chunks, and so far ineffective (I have serious monkey-mind issues) but if I keep practicing, hopefully I’ll improve.

I did not get most of my fiction goals done, but my #1 goal for the month was to reach 55,000 words on Southern Discomfort and I did that and then some. This month I intend to actually finish this draft.

Outside of writing, my top goal was to get back to bicycling regularly with TYG on the weekend. It’s erratic (her job is crazy) but we succeeded a couple of times in May. Too bad it looks like a really hot summer — I’m not sure I’ll achieve my goal of once again making it to the trail head in Raleigh (28 mile round trip) this year. As we have to walk the dogs before we go bicycling, and that’s the only chance to give them a long walk when the weather is hot, we can’t leave as early as we used to.

That was pretty much it. So here’s a photo of Trixie encountering a strange alien life form.

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Once again, the review is personal: Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger (#SFWApro)

I’m always a little nervous when a friend asks me to review a book on my blog (and sends me an ARC) because what if I hate it? Sure, I liked the last story I reviewed for my friend Michele Tracy Berger, but would I like her novella REENU-YOU (cover by Emma Glaze, all rights remain with current holder)? Happily I did.

Reenu-You is a miracle hair straightener that the protagonists, Kat and Constancia, both use. Unfortunately, it turned out to have A Few Side Effects like grotesque scabs, and before long they and a few other women of color are quarantined, then forced to go on the run from health authorities.

It’s not a thriller though. The plot is less important than the characters, their interactions (Kat, an Aspen ski instructor, and Constancia, a younger New Yorker, are very different) and their thoughts about hair, beauty and the beauty standards society imposes on them (Michele discusses this on one of John Scalzi’s Big Idea posts). I know from other reading that hair is (and has been for a long time) a really complicated subject for many black Americans, but it’s not something I run into much in fiction except in passing (this may, of course, say as much about what I read as what’s been written). And while stories that spends a lot of time on people simply sitting around and talking about stuff like that often doesn’t work for me, this one did.

I was a little thrown by the ending, which on first glance didn’t seem to fit where I thought things were going. When I looked at it again, yes, it worked.

You can find Reenu-You on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Gladiators, Drag Queens, Mystics and Victorian Detectives: movies and TV (#SFWApro)

ARENA (1989) was a surprisingly entertaining direct-to-video film by Danny Bilson and Paul Demio that combines the elements of an old boxing film (think Body and Soul or The Set-Up) with SF: a young man with dreams of winning the interstellar boxing game becomes humanity’s first chance to take back the championship from ETs. That displeases a crooked fight promoter, who deploys everything from drugs to dirty tricks to a seductive blonde to get the hero off his game. Fun, though the humanity vs. aliens aspect does feel uncomfortably like The Great White Hope (i.e., the fantasies whites had about someone snatching the championship away from n-word heavyweight champ Jim Johnson a century ago). With Claudia Christian as the hero’s manager and Armin Shimmerman as a weaselly ET (kind of a proto-Quark). “The second round — now we humiliate him.”

I’d vaguely believed THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994) was a pulp/cliffhanger parody but in reality it’s a remarkably well-done dramedy in which Aussie drag queens Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving head across the desert to perform in a show for Weaving’s ex-wife, running into baffled small-towners and bicurious mechanics along the way. Well done; the heavy use of Abba on the soundtrack makes me propose Mama Mia for a double bill. “Just what the center of Australia needs — a cock on a rock in a frock.”

For my Arthurian Screen Rant column I rewatched DOCTOR STRANGE (1978) in which compassionate psychiatrist Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten) learns he’s been chosen to replace John Mills’ “Dr. Lindmer” (so obviously Merlin, I wonder why they bothered with the extra “d”) to battle Morgan leFay (Jessica Walters) and her dark masters. Easily the best of Marvel’s 1970s TV efforts (Captain America, Captain America II, Spider-Man, etc.); while I’m disappointed they turn Stephen into a nice guy, they do a remarkable job, given the limited budget, duplicating Steve Ditko’s psychedelic visuals from Strange Tales.  “I’m several hundred years too hold to be alright.”

The first season of THE RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES presents various Victorian investigators and conniving criminals such as Martin Hewitt, Madame Sara, Lady Molly, Romney Pringle, Dr. Thorndyke and Dorrington. The ruthless nature of Dorrington makes his episodes the best; the others are adequate Victorian mysteries but don’t particularly stand out. “The usual story, police baffled — a sorry state of affairs I must say.”

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A French? photographer, an Indian housewife: this week’s films (#SFWApro)

MAHANAGAR (1963) — Big City in English — is Indian director Satyajit Ray’s take on a familiar US theme, My Wife Got a Job!, but it’s better than any US film in that line that I can think of (all rights to image remain with current holder). The protagonist is a bank clerk’s wife who gets a door-to-door sales job, then almost quits at her husband’s insistence. Only when he loses his job, she has to stay on as the sole source of support, giving her a taste of independence and money of her own. The discomfort and insecurity of the male members of her family are handled much more matter-of-factly than most American films, and ultimately this is more accepting of Mom’s role than I think an American film of that period would be. Very good. “We have let earning a living make us cowards.”
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (2013) is a documentary about the eponymous nanny  who spent her life taking photos of strangers on the street, amassing a collection of photographs that turned her into a retroactive celebrity when a guy who acquired them in an estate sale started posting them online. This is not a great documentary but it is interesting watching the guy and the various people who knew her attempt to reconstruct her mysterious past (“I’m a linguist. I know that was a fake French accent.”) and speculate about what made her the obsessively private person she was. “I really feel guilty saying these things.”

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Slipping into the workflow (#SFWApro)

So as I mentioned last Friday, I’m dealing with several paying gigs for the first time in a while. Though I haven’t heard from one of them, which makes me wonder if it’ll be one of those that just never gets around to giving me assignments (no big, it’s not like it cost me anything but time to try).

What I’m pleased about is that I don’t seem to be following my usual pattern which is to let my mind wander off and drag out the work. I was very bad about this with my work for Raleigh Public Record a few years ago; I did good work, and I didn’t miss deadline, but it always took far more time than it should have.

Now if my mind glitches on one project, I switch to another instead of wool-gathering. When I didn’t have some information I needed yesterday, I started doing some work on Southern Discomfort. This is a good thing; the more work I have the more I need to use my time efficiently. Particularly to get the fiction done. I think that may be the main reason I’m so focused — I really, really don’t want to lose any more time for fiction than I have to.

So let’s hope it keeps up. Fingers crossed.

In unrelated news, I made a vegan chocolate cake with fudgy icing and hazelnut topping this weekend. Went over like gangbusters at the vegan potluck we attended.

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Paper Girls, Talking Apes, Wonder Woman and More: TPBS and Books (#SFWApro)

I’ve frequently complained that DC super-hero trade paperbacks are hard to follow, so I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to pick up PAPER GIRLS 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang without having read #1. It seems that in that one, a group of 12-year-old paper girls stumbled into a time war; in this volume, they wind up in the present, which has the usual cultural shocks (“Spencer’s Gifts is gone but that doesn’t mean the future is post-apocalyptic.”) plus Erin meeting her future self and being decidedly unimpressed. Plus there’s another Erin counterpart, time coming undone, a floating hockey stick … and it all makes for great reading. The 1980s references (“You look straight out of AIRWOLF!”) reminded me of Stranger Things but I liked this a lot better.

HARROW COUNTY: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook is a good rural Gothic horror. The protagonist, Emmy, thinks she’s a normal girl despite some odd incidents, but her father, much as he denies it, sees a connection between Emmy and the witch the locals killed right before Emmy was born … Well done.

THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McElvie worked much better for me than the preceding The Faust Act as Laura tries to figure out what the ending of that volume means for her, and for the pantheon. Plus the gods have to deal with a crazed stalker fan who seems intent on picking them off — or is someone trying the Prometheus Gambit (kill a god, gain their power). Not really a lot happening, but this held me despite that.

WONDER WOMAN: Flesh by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is a big improvement over the previous volume, War, as the creators’ god-awful take on Orion only appears briefly. Here we get the history of the First Born of Zeus (quite good), Zola goes hunting for truffles (I was pleasantly surprised how that turned out) and the First Born making his move for the throne of Olympus. Unfortunately the scenes of Apollo torturing the First Born didn’t work for me for various reasons, which I’ll get into when I discuss the follow-up, Bones.

BANANA SUNDAY by Root Nibot and Colleen Coover has teenage Kirby struggling to fit in at her new school despite the awkwardness of having three genetically engineered talking monkeys following her around (actually it’s one monkey two apes). This is targeting a younger audience than me, I suspect, and the supporting human characters are weak, but the monkeys made this fun enough to keep reading — Go-Go the midget gorilla reminds me of Plushie with his priorities (“Banana! Nap”).

41m5aytyrnlI interlibrary-loaned SEERS, WITCHES AND PSYCHICS ON SCREEN: An Analysis of Women Visionary Characters in Recent Television and Film by Karin Beeler under the assumption this McFarland volume would cover everything from Medium to Bewitched but I should have read the description: Beeler’s focus is specifically on psychics/clairvoyants (“witches” gets in because of precog Phoebe in Charmed). It’s also geared for a much more academic audience than me, so I couldn’t get into it (and I must admit, I don’t agree with her analyses).

OUR MAN IN HAVANA (cover by Geoff Grandfield) was the Graham Greene spy spoof that inspired Tailor of Panama. The protagonist Wormold is a British vacuum-cleaner salesman in Havana recruited by British Intelligence for insight into local politics; as he needs money, Wormold simply makes crap up, which his credulous superiors swallow whole (though unlike the later novel, it’s more them buying into their own fantasies than any calculating motive). Very funny, though Greene can deftly switch to grim or violent without missing a beat; odd to read now as Wormold’s claims of a big sinister military project being built read like a foreshadowing of the Cuban missile crisis.

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