Minireview: The Reconcilers Graphic Novel Volume 1

The Reconcilers Vol. 1.
The Reconcilers Vol. 1.

While Y and I were sitting for several hours in an airplane–on the ground, I had the pleasure of meeting the writer, actor, and director Erik Jensen. After I mentioned to him that my specific area of training is in Science Fiction, he gave me a graphic novel saying, “here’s some Science Fiction for you.” I was thankful for the gift and thankful for the time on the tarmac to read it!

The graphic novel that he gave me is volume one of The Reconcilers (2010) co-created by R. Emery Bright, Jens Pil Pilegaard, and Jensen. Volume one is written by Jensen and drawn by Shepherd Hendrix. Neal Adams created the cover art.

The narrative takes place in 2165 after the ascendency of religion-like mega-corporations and the gradual establishment of elaborate gladiatorial matches fought by “Reconcilers” to decide disputes between corporate entities. The story  follows Sokor Industries attempting an extra-legal takeover of Hansen Engineering’s claim to the motherlode of exotic, energy-rich “liberty ore.” Hexhammer, Hansen’s miner who discovered the the vein, leads their underdog team against Sokol’s seasoned fighters to keep what they had earned. However, Hexhammer’s past choices threaten his ability to overcome his final confrontation with Sokor’s best Reconciler, “Masakor.”

The megacorporations of Fredrik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, as does Weyland-Yutani of the Alien film series also, inform The Reconcilers.

The Reconcilers has a lot of interesting material for thinking through the convergence of corporate personhood, entertainment, religion, capital, and rule of law. I believe that it would be informative to research and engaging to students.


DC Reboots Full Line of Comics to No. 1 in 2011

Seth and I were talking about DC’s planned reboot of its comic lines after we saw X-Men: First Class with Y and Joy tonight at the Kent University Plaza Theater.

After I got home, I saw this article by George Gene Gustines on the New York Times that discusses the scope of DC’s plans:

Audacious. That is the best way to describe the recent DC Comics announcement that it was renumbering its entire DC Universe line of comics: by September 52 series will have begun anew, each with an issue No. 1.

Via: Restarting Comics’ Clock Is Issue No. 1

This move by DC is intended to give the comic publisher’s major titles a fresh start for new readers to catch up. Looked at from another angle, it is a stunt to revitalize the lines and grow the circulation.

I haven’t read many comics in recent years. I did read all of the Sin City comics before the film came out. I also read all of Frank Miller’s Bat Man before the Nolan’s reboot of the film version of that comic line. Personally, I haven’t been interested in keeping up with the latest story lines by the major comic publishing houses. Perhaps this is partially due to a lack of time on my part and not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the comics. However, I don’t think this major decision of issue continuity and character redesign results in long term rewards for the comics. Perhaps this isn’t the ultimate goal of DC. They need to sell comics and a windfall in the short term may sustain the company for a time. On the other hand, this move by DC might grow the number of comic readers. Also, I think they are smart to release digital issues on the same day as print releases.

Good luck to DC on this bold move!

Notes from Taiwan, Three Versions of Home Guy and Japanese/Taiwanese Otaku Differentiation

Today, Y and I met up with her best friends from high school for a vegetarian lunch followed by a temple visit and then hanging out at Anita’s home. During the day, I had a wonderful conversation with Y’s good friend Amy Yau, who is an editor of computer and design books in Taipei, about science fiction fandom, otaku, and “home guys.”

I wrote about the Taiwanese “home guy” back in 2009 here. In that earlier post, I wrote about people in Taiwan who are technology and video game enthusiasts who in the States we might call nerds or geeks: “Home guy (阿宅) is a term that was originally reserved for folks who majored in computer science in school, but now the term has an expanded meaning that encompasses someone who is shy, plays video games, and reads comic books (girls are a marginalized minority in this group but there are definitely some out there)” (Ellis par. 4). I also wrote about the home guy movement’s self-proclaimed spokesman or leader, 朱學恒 (Xuei-Hen Ju).

I am a novice when it comes to Taiwanese fandom, and I am glad that I had a chance to speak with Amy today to further develop what I wrote earlier about home guys. She provided me with additional information about different kinds of home guy, and she pointed out a very important distinction between Japanese and Taiwanese otaku.

The three types of home guy are more nuanced that I originally described in my earlier post. According to Amy, the first kind of home guy is what the media has constructed from existing stereotypes. The media home guy is a man who stays at home, plays video games, wears t-shirts and lousy clothes, avoids showers, and most imporantly, is very shy.

Counterposed to the media home guy is the actual home guy, who is a technology enthusiast, comic reader, and video game player. Amy considers herself a home guy in this regard. She is a successful young person with a promising career who enjoys a technology and new media lifestyle. She goes out with her friends regularly, and I can attest to the fact that she a kind and outgoing person who does not fit the less pleasant aspects of the media home guy. She and many other home guys break the stereotype that the media continue to promote here in Taiwan.

Finally, there is the third type of home guy or what I call the Lucifer Home Guy. Xuei-Hen Ju is the self-proclaimed leader of Taiwanese home guys or what you can call the “Home God.” In his formulation of the home guy, it is a person who enjoys new media and technology but also goes out to do things socially, especially in groups. He wants to bring people together to do things. These are generally good things, because they are also breaking the media promoted stereotypes. However, there are two concerns about his assumption of the home guy leadership if any such thing is even needed. They are: who elected him to Home God, and his problematic promotion of other home guy stereotypes.

First, Xuei-Hen Ju has become a spokesperson of sorts for home guys through his blog and his organization of home guy social events (including the one that I wrote about before here). Amy said that he should not be the representative of home guys, because he does not really represent all home guys. He is one person among many, many home guys with different levels of home guy participation. Imagine home guys as a spectrum that involves not only involvement but also different kinds of fandom (technology, comics, video games–supposedly fringe or marginal entertainments and engineering that are in fact mainstream now). Xuei-Hen Ju is one among many home guys, and he should not be emblematic of the group as a whole.

Second, Xuei-Hen Ju participates in some media home guys stereotypes such as wearing too casual clothing and t-shirts. He may be attempting to reach out to home guys who do appear that way, but he clearly wants to create his own home guy stereotype. Why not challenge the most obvious signifier of the home guy: what they wear? However, there are some things that he does that Amy lauds such as his translation work that brings Harvard and MIT lectures to Chinese speaking people for free.

Regardless of the differences of opinion between home guys and Xuei-Hen Ju’s version of home guy, both groups do not like their portrayal by the Taiwanese media. In this at least they are united.

The second part of our conversation, Amy told me about the core differentiating characteristic between Japanese otaku and Taiwanese otaku. Otaku is from Japanese and it means an obsessive enthusiast, particularly someone who enjoys manga (comics), anime (animation), or video games. Taiwanese otaku is another way of saying home guy. What makes these two groups different, at least concerning men in both groups, is that Japanese otaku obsess over and actually fall in love with virtual girls while Taiwanese otaku or home guys only like real girls. Evidence for this can be found by regularly reading Danny Choo’s website (his website here is a portal to Japanese otaku). Virtual girl fetishization seems to be a way of life for young men in Japan: body pillow cases, virtual girl friend games including Love Plus, female figures and action figure toys, etc. On the other hand, Amy claims that male Taiwanese otaku do not fall for virtual girl friends. For example, Xuei-Hen Ju favors posting images of real girls rather than artistically created virtual girls on his website here.

Like my earlier post about home guys, this is only a quick sketch of a term endeared by some and reviled by others. Amy helped me develop a more nuanced approach to the home guy phenomenon, and she helped me understand some imporant distinctions that I was not aware of before.

CFP, Surrealism, Science Fiction, and Comic Books Conference

Andy Sawyer forwarded this to the SFRA mailing list:

Call for Papers: ‘Surrealism, Science Fiction, and Comic Books’

In his 1976 essay ‘Science Fiction and Allied Literature,’ David Ketterer wrote ‘it is rather surprising that the considerable affinity which exists between Surrealism and SF has not attracted more attention.’ This observation was repeated in 1997 by Roger Bozzetto and Arthur B. Evans, who lamented that the relations between Surrealism and science fiction ‘continue to be largely unexplored in SF scholarship,’ and that ‘there currently exists no in-depth study of SF and Surrealism.’ The points of contact and areas of overlap, along with the influences, differences, and antagonisms that lie between Surrealism, science fiction, and the related literature of the comic book will be explored in this conference to be held 22 January 2011 at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Such observations take on extra force when we consider Surrealism’s historical context, along with its literary and pictorial culture. Emerging in France between the two world wars, it was well positioned to receive the writings of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells that initiated and defined the genre boundaries of early science fiction, along with the popularisation of the fourth dimension and the advent of the Theory of Relativity that such literature drew upon, whilst the writings of Alfred Jarry, Franz Kafka, and Raymond Roussel gave them a related comic, absurd, or fantastic perspective on the machine and technology. Indeed, Roussel’s boundless admiration for Verne was equalled by the similar veneration felt for Roussel by Marcel Duchamp and Roberto Matta, expressed in their art between 1912 and the 1940s. Furthermore, one of the most important figures in early French SF (and now almost forgotten), Jacques Spitz, was close to the Surrealists in the 1930s, and his books of the interwar years show a marked Surrealist tendency. In the 1940s, Matta’s work was affected more specifically by the worlds described in science fiction and also by comic books, which were a significant discovery for André Breton and the Surrealists in New York. Important to René Magritte’s art in the 1940s, comic books were also a key popular form for postwar Surrealism in Europe and America.

Because barely any scholarship exists on how far the art and writings of Surrealists in the forties and since were affected by SF and comic books, it is expected that postwar art and writings will form a significant strand of this conference (for instance, the writings of Malcolm de Chazal were described by their English translator as ‘science fictions’), as will the investigation of how the project to expand reality proposed by Surrealism in its imagery and poetry was extended by important SF writers such as Stanislaw Lem and J.G. Ballard, as well as for related novelists like Jorge Luis Borges, Alan Burns, and Thomas Pynchon.

Potential areas of exploration are:

• Surrealism, SF, and the imagery of spiritualism

• The comic book as a subversive accomplice of Surrealism

• Surrealism, physics, and fiction

• The spaces of Surrealist painting and the SF imagination

• Legacies of Surrealism in contemporary comic books

• The fourth dimension in Surrealism, modernism, and SF

• Surrealist and SF geographies

• The Gothic imagination in Surrealism, SF, and comics

• Futurity in Surrealism and SF

• SF and Surrealism in the postmodern novel

Paper proposals of about 250 words should be sent to The deadline is August 1, 2010.

The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 22 January 2011

Disney Buys Marvel

Whoa! I wasn’t expecting to read in the New York Times this morning that Disney is buying Marvel (Comics) Entertainment:

The Walt Disney Company said Monday that it would buy the comic book giant Marvel Entertainment for about $4 billion.

I guess something like this was inevitable after Marvel went public in the 1990s and its subsequent economic fumbles and successes. There is one downside to this merger that I fear these kinds of mashups loom in the future: Hannah Montana fights crime with Spider-Man, The Mickey Mouse Club becomes a front for Xavier’s School for Gifted Children, Iron Man will spin off the Iron Mouse, etc.

Read about the acquisition here on the New York Times.

Review, Watchmen

This past weekend, Yufang, Seth, Kolter, Masaya, Brandon, and I went to see Watchmen at the Independence Regal South of Akron.  Having read the original comic, I enjoyed seeing a live action rendition of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel on the silver screen.  I believe that Zack Snyder produced the best possible filmic interpretation of the source material short of the original media and barring a big-budget mini-series.  As in other cases (e.g., The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Right Stuff, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and We Will Remember It For You Wholesale, etc.), I enjoy the experience of seeing someone (or a committee of someones) else’s imaginative vision and interpretation of a story (from whatever media–text, music, art, video games, etc.).  I have my own interpretations from my first, second, and subsequent visitations to a story, as do others who also enjoy those cultural artifacts.  I find it enriching for my own imagination to experience, however tangentially it may be, the imagination of another person.  Snyder definitely has a vision or project that he brings to his films–an almost splatter-gore sensibility tempered with an American erotic titillation–that will color or taint (depending on your point of view) any project that he directs.  I knew this going into Watchmen, and I wasn’t disappointed.  If you dare to experience the mind’s eye of a director capable of loyalty to his source while asserting his own artistic manifesto, then I suggest you see Watchmen in the theater and don’t forget to read the comic series while you’re at it.

I have heard from a number of friends that have taken issue with the film’s dedication to its source, the graphic depiction of violence, the casting, the soundtrack, etc., ad nauseum.  I had almost lost all hope until I saw that Patrick Sharp gave props to the film and Haley’s performance as Rorschach on Facebook.  And today, I ran across Patton Oswalt’s shining emblem of Nerdlore head-smackery in his discussion of Watchmen and film interpretations:

Because Zack Snyder STEPPED UP, motherfuckers. THE WATCHMEN was going to get made, one way or another. And instead of bleating on his Facebook status updates or Tweeting about how shitty the upcoming adaptation’s going to be, he TOOK THE BULLET and tried to do it right. . . . Zack delivered a 2 1/2 hour, honest attempt, and broke his ass cranking out tons of free extras. . . . Plus, he gave you a kick-ass DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, plus 300, plus whatever else he’s got coming down the pike. He’s the best friend the Nerd Mafia’s had since Joss Whedon and Brian Michael Bendis, so everyone please crack the tab on a frosty can of Go Fuck Yourself and go see the movie version of THE WATCHMEN.

You should read the rest of Oswalt’s hilarious and on-target post on his MySpace page here.

In a side note:  I’m currently having my students experience interpretative tension between Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, and Philip Kaufman’s film of the same name.  In these two works, there seems to be more a conversation taking place between them instead of a directly derivative function of the latter.  My students in both classes today came up with some great ideas for their essays on this subject, and I’m eager to hear what more they have to say about interpretations in class on Friday.

Five Fists of Science

Today has been one of those days that try my back, but despite the pain, it has been a good day. It started early this morning when I got up and fixed some tea and crackers for breakfast (now, I’m out of pb&j). Then, I walked to the Health Centre for my 11:10am appointment. Luckily, it was a painless visit, and the doctor told me that the rash around my eyes is just very dry skin. She sent me to Boots Pharmacy (she pronounced it as “Bootsies”) to get a tub of Aqueous Cream B.P. I’ll put this junk around my eyes for the next four to six weeks to clear it up.

I went straight from there to McDonald’s in the city centre for lunch. I had some delicious chicken nuggets with curry sauce. I’m going to miss curry sauce when I go back to the states.

Next, I walked to Lime Street Station to pick up a cheap student return ticket to Manchester. I almost missed the train to Manchester, because the original train I was going to take got cancelled. An attendant on the platform saw me standing there by myself and he told me that the train on platform six was going to stop by Manchester, so I ran over there and hopped on the train as the doors were literally closing. On the way there, I continued reading Ian McDonald’s River of Gods.

After I arrived in Manchester, I headed to Travelling Man comics to pick up a graphic novel that I ordered before Christmas, The Five Fists of Science. While I was there, I also got a few issues of an interesting comic called Mouse Guard. Next, I went to Forbidden Planet to look around. I guess I was in a spending mood, because I picked up some Sandman comics. What followed was a very long walk. I went in search of Blyth’s Art Shop. According to my map of Manchester, it was in the heart of the “gay” district. I walked along the canal and around all of the blocks, but I couldn’t find that damn art shop. Then, I walked down an alley that had some signs jutting out, and under one of them was a smaller sign that said that the art shop was accessible from the other side of the building. I looked around and it was inside a building with an electronic access system and a tiny placard showing the art shop was indeed inside. I called up, and they let me in. After looking around for a bit in their cramped quarters, I found a nice easel and acrylic paint set that was marked down 20%. I purchased that, and then I walked back to the Manchester Piccadilly train station.

Again, a cancelled train screwed me over. When I entered the station, the board said that a train was leaving in four minutes from platform 14. I rushed there, and hopped on the train sitting there. After it pulled out from the station, the driver announced that it was headed for Wales. Luckily, it stopped at the Oxford Road station, so I hopped out. The Liverpool was cancelled, so I waited about twenty minutes for the next Liverpool Lime Street Station train to come along. I got on board, pulled out my book, and read until I made it back to Liverpool.

The hard winds of Liverpool greeted me with hard hands and shoves as I exited Lime Street station. Since I was across the street from Worlds Apart, I decided to go in there for a bit. Unfortunately, that was the third comic shop that I purchased something at today. I “weighed” each of the Please Twins surprise figurine boxes until I was satisfied that I had picked the one with the figurine I wanted. I also got a set of manga art prints that I had been wanting for awhile.

After walking back into the street and noticing how my back felt, I decided I better get home. I decided to cut through the central train station to Bold Street so that I could get a skinny latte to join me on the trek up the hill to my flat.

On the way back, I saw the usual suspects–the Arab guys in Hot’n’Tender Chicken (serving up doners), the homeless guy in front of the news stand (I didn’t have to say “sorry,” because he was talking to some guy), Quick Chef (just reopened), and Dennis at the porter’s lodge (no new mail–I have another book on the way from Ed at SFRA Review).

Back in my room, I applied the aqueous cream to my face, sent some emails, looked through my loot (I did pick the right Please Twins figure), and watched another episode of Star Trek (“Amok Time.” If they used titles like Friends, it would have been called, “The one with Spock’s cheatin’ wife”).

I’m going to cool it awhile and do some more reading. I’ll catch you on the flip side, which reminds me of eXistenZ (I watched it last night). God bless David Cronenberg!