Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Youth and Comics

I’ve been reading comic books for so long I don’t remember my first one anymore. I remember when I was a kid I didn’t have a lot of friends and I was bullied, comic books were the one place I could escape to. Comics were my escape into a better world where there was somebody looking out for the little guy. They were a place I could go to be happy.

Once a week my mother would drive my siblings and I to a mom & pop quick stop that closed so long ago I can no longer remember the name. I would scan the spinning wire rack by the door looking through twenty different titles to find my favorites. At the time I was reading The Mighty Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The West Coast Avengers, and the brand new Secret Wars. I would read at least one of them on the ride home. I’d run into my room as soon as I got back leap on my bed and read the rest. I would share them with my brother and we’d talk about how cool the superheroes in the stories were.

Some of the other kids at school read comics as well; most of the popular titles when I was a kid were Spider-man, Batman, and Superman. I never enjoyed those books as a child because they were all so sad. The heroes in them complained about how hard it was to be a superhero and how they wished they weren’t burdened with it. My heroes had fun, they loved having superpowers; being able to hurl cars, fly through the sky, and fight bad guys, and they loved it. Not so much Bruce Banner, but he was hardly in the book and the Hulk was clearly having fun.

In my mind I always connected more with the Hulk than the others. I was a big kid and I got picked on by most of the kids at my school. I saw myself in the Hulk, who if they had just left him alone would have gone off and never bothered anyone. His book to me was always him off by himself not hurting anyone, usually in the middle of the desert, and then here comes the biggest bully there was, General Thunderbolt Ross. He’d show up with tanks and helicopters, dozens of soldiers and Special Forces, and they’d attack the Hulk. When I was a kid it looked to me like they were attacking him because he was different. I could relate to that.

Over the years my little mom & pop store closed and I found actual comic shops. What a revelation they were. I wasn’t alone anymore; here were people like me who were a little different, kind of quiet, and really geeky. They didn’t care that I was a little bigger than anyone else. They accepted me for who I was; one of them.

Since then I’ve gone through various books and stories, I’ve read the Mutant Massacre, the Contest of Champions, The Age of Apocalypse, and Kingdom Come and beyond. I’ve looked at books published by every company from Marvel to DC, from Image to Archie (who once teamed up with the Punisher and it was amazing). Some of the stores I’ve shopped at have closed and some have moved and grown. I now shop at two different stores and I’m happy to call them both a solace, my Fortress of Solidarity if you will.

This weekend is a celebration of comic books and the store that support them and the people who read them. This Saturday, May the third, is Free Comic Book Day. It’s a day where we celebrate the ever growing day of geekery that is superheroes and comic books. It’s a day to gather in celebration of a shared love. Mostly it’s a day to celebrate and support our local comic book stores. I’m thankful for the existence of The Bookery in Fairborn and Epic Loot in Miamisburg. I hope they know how much I appreciate them.
If there’s a comic shop near you, check them out this weekend maybe they’re doing something for free comic book day. If you’re curious if there is anything in your area then head over to the free comic book day website and look around. It’s a great day, and even if you’ve never read a comic book before, it’s worth a try. Hopefully you’ll find your Incredible Hulk.


Check out more on free comic book day.
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Angels & Demons on my Shoulders

This is a piece I wrote for school that I'm very proud of.

I am told I have an unusual view on Shakespeare’s plays; I think the majority of them are very pro-woman. I think Will has a high regard for women and shows this in most of his plays. Certainly some characters such as Ophelia are very much products of both the narrative and their time. It’s also entirely possible that my view of these plays all the way from the back row of 2014 is afforded me a view of things that just aren’t there. As such I can not argue with anyone that feels that Shakespeare feels women are weak and in need of saving. Since this is my paper, we’ll go with my theory and a feminist lens.

I think the way Shakespeare uses Othello to show women as the stronger of the sexes is through the plays primary device. Othello toys with the idea of when people are willing and able to do the right thing. The play itself is a series of people being given two choices, one right and one dubious. The trick of Othello is that every time a choice is offered, it’s packaged in a way that makes them look the other way around. The fun of it is asking the characters and the audience, can you tell what the right choice is?

That’s why this play works; the morale dilemmas start small. “Do you think you should tell her father? Why don’t you guys spend more time together, you’re old friends? Why are they spending some much time together?” Then the characters start down these paths of slowly escalating morale decisions until they’ve arrived at the top of a cliff and they have no idea how they got there. That’s when the big questions come. “She can’t possibly be happy; do you think you should save her from her marriage? Isn’t that your handkerchief? I think Desdemona is cheating on you, do you think you should do something about that?”
It’s these morale decisions and how they are handled the various characters that make it so a pro-woman narrative. Part of this is that I believe Shakespeare knew this was going to be viewed differently by men and women. A clue to this is that the only characters who make the morale choice every time are the women. They unfailingly make the morale choice even when it threatens their lives.

The second reason for this is Desdemona. She is the single most important aspect in this play. Arguably, without her nothing else in this play would happen. Everything hinges on the fact that she exists. It’s also notable that other than to her father at the very beginning of the play, I don’t remember anyone talking about her beauty. The characters of the play talk about a number of other aspects: charm, grace, cleverness, and caring. She is portrayed as a gentle and loving soul; it is assumed she is beautiful.

For all Desdemona’s importance she is also a very flat character with little development and is relegated to second or even third tier status. It should also be pointed out that the only characters who have developed personalities in the play are Othello, Iago, and Emilia, though to a lesser extent. As with Desdemona, Emilia always makes the right choice, she is also the only character that figures out Iago’s plot. She then reveals it knowing that he has made her an accomplice to it through lies and will most likely be put to death.

I think Shakespeare wrote this way on purpose. Partially it would be because he would have written this play for Queen Elizabeth. Some of the things I’ve read over the years would indicate she was very clever, the fact that she ruled England at a time when nobody thought she could sort of speaks to this. I think having been exposed to her Shakespeare would have realized this and counted on her picking up these little things.
I also think Shakespeare tended to write strong female characters knowing that women were going to see his plays he wanted to have something in them for that portion of the audience. That’s why he tends to write very strong female characters. Everyone from Juliette, who bucked the system and her family’s generations old feud to marry the man she loved, despite being overtly emotional and teenagerie. You follow her through to Kate who was not only the title character of her play, all be it an insulting title, depending on how you read the final speech in that play Kate wins.

I think Shakespeare knew the secret to being a popular playwright and entertainer and that was to include things in your work for both men and women. That way both groups would want to come see his plays, which we have proven today in movie theaters that when you can accomplish that you will do better. It’s why every superhero movie has a love interest crammed into it whether it makes sense or not.

Shakespeare wrote his plays with characters for the men to root for and ones for the women to root for. At the end of every play the men won, unless you were able to look at the play through a slightly tilted angle. I think Shakespeare relied on women to be able to tilt just enough.

These are the reasons I think Shakespeare wrote the way he did. Not only in Othello but in all of his plays Shakespeare has a tradition of strong women. Look at “Twelfth Night” where the lead character of Viola pretends to be a man, holds a job, inadvertently steals a woman from the Duke, and wins a duel. After which the Duke learns that his servant and best friend with whom he drinks, fences, and gambles is woman. His reaction to this is to immediately marry her. If that isn’t Will saying women are just as strong, capable, and cunning as us and when you find one that con go toe to toe with you, marry her; then I don’t know what is.

Let me know what you think. Post below or head over to my Facebook page and leave a message there. You can also follow me on Twitter @stevemayne2. Also feel free to look at my Youtube.