I didn't intend to be silent for so long, but I spent a good deal of the time outside. I've travelled, been a tourist, met new people, and done things out of my comfort zone. I had quite a lot of fun, way more than I had expected when I first arrived here. In February I read a lot. In March, less so. I also went through a lot of shit for my PhD. Many things have happened over the last two months that have had me contemplating whether I wanted to quit. And I don't, because I truly love research, but I'm not happy where I am. Unfortunately, transferring doesn't seem to be an option. My next two years are going to require a lot of ploughing and resilience, but I hope that the next step in this career will be a happier one. This is not how I envisaged my PhD, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. And while I don't mean this as an excuse (I don't have to, since this blog is something that I do primarily for myself), I wanted to write about this, to process it and as an explanation of that silence. The kind of bullshit that has happened to me is the kind of problem that makes me read less, be less me. It leaves me exhausted.
Here's hoping that reflecting about this is going to help me come back to my reading self. In the meantime, here are some Elektra comics from the early 2000s with extremely awful soft-porn covers! Sorry for the covers, really. But some of the stories are even decent.
12. Elektra: The Scorpio Key - Brian Michael Bendis & Chuck Austen (2002)
What is it about? The Scorpio Key tells how Nick Fury hires Elektra to get the powerful McGuffin Key for him from the hands of awful poilitical leader/dictator of Iraq, Saddam. Um what.
Why did I read it? Long story short: I used to read capes and tights comics way back when, fell out of the loop and found it too sprawling to re-enter. Now, armed with a Marvel Unlimited subscription and Comic Book Herald's Complete Marvel Reading Order Guide, I'm rediscovering the campy world that is Earth-616. Also, it's Elektra! My first love of Marvel women who kick ass, because I idealized Frank Miller's Elektra and made up stories for her.
What did I think? I found the story extremely distasteful, especially considering that it was written around the time when the actual war of the US against Iraq was being promoted by Bush as a necessity. This read as terrible propaganda. And misrepresented Iraqi people, separating them in victims in need of a white American savior, or brutal fundamentalists. And then, as befits the Marvel Knights era, the treatment of Elektra is very sad. What could we do with a cool ninja assassin? Treat her as less because she is a woman. Let's tell the story from the POV of a male and let every male say how much ass she kicks. That will surely show how cool she is. And let's treat her characteristic outfit as a sexual tease, instead of an empowering outfit (albeit useless, in my opinion, but I guess Elektra has her reasons). To all of that, add insult to injury: Nick Fury manipulates Elektra by using a negotiator built upon the image of Matt Murdock, with whom she had a romantic relationship before her untimely death.
What did I think of the art? I'm not a fan of Chuck Austen's art. The cel-shaded look of early 2000s is not good-looking, and definitely too static for an action comic, which is what this story tries to be.
Verdict: 1/5. If you can get past the terrible art, awful agenda, and extreme racism, the story is still not good. The dialogue is stilted and boring, the development of the plot relies on action scenes that haven't been built up enough to justify them. It's hard to care what happens to the people fighting.
13. Elektra, Vol.1: Introspect - Greg Rucka & Carlo Pagulayan (2002)
What is it about? Introspect explores what constitutes the identity of Elektra and what happens when someone takes away her assassin self.
Why did I read it? Aside from being the following volume in Elektra during the Marvel Knights era, this is the kind of story that interests me in superhero comics, because the hero(ine) is thrown into situations where they can't resort to their usual easy way out. What will they do? What impact will it have on their personality and on their character?
What did I think? I have two big problems with this. Elektra gets a lot of flak for being an assassin. She is a monster because she kills, or so Rucka says. But previous arcs have shown us that Elektra kills when she has to and tries to be as compassive as she can without risking her life while leading a successful career as an assassin for hire. She is not a murderer, she is a mercenary. And she only takes works when she believes in the outcome. Her life is fraught with morally dubious choices, but it isn't quite right to pin her down as a monster, because she is clearly not one. Presenting Elektra in this light is a complete misunderstanding of the character, and that bugs me.
And I can't quite keep out of my mind that she is getting this reformation arc because she is a woman. It seems that being an assassin is more reprehensible because she is female, and Marvel women can only be saints or whores. This feeling is reinforced because she is abducted by a white man who knows better, who wants to break her, enlighten her poor lost soul, and lead her to a new life of selflessness. A man whose fiancée had died to give him plausible motivation. A man who takes Elektra's agency because he is convinced he is morally superior and thus capable of saving Elketra. Deadpool would never get an arc like this one, for example. So let me say something: women can be as soulless as men, they can be evil, good, complex, selfish, selfless, whatever. Women have the whole range of personality traits because they are human. So can we please have a female assassin who is not shamed because she is a female assassin?
What did I think of the art? I actually love Pagulayan's Elektra, and the action sequences make sense and are beautiful to look at.
Verdict: 2/5. A Marvel comic to make one think, but with several problems that don't let me truly enjoy this to its fullest.
14. Elektra, Vol.2: Everything Old is New Again - Greg Rucka, Carlo Pagulayan & Carlos Meglia (2003)What is it about? After being confronted with the choice to change or die, Elektra chooses to amend her murderous ways. But I say, what kind of choice is it, to change or die?
Why did I read it? It's the continuation of Introspect. I just needed to know how this arc ended.
What did I think? The story itself addressed the concerns I had about white men acting as saviors of Elektra and of 'lost women' at large. Some characters actually talk about this several times throughout the trade - this made me very happy, since Rucka is acknowledging that this arc might be problematic. The ending fits in nicely with this interpretation - let Elektra be herself. Yet it comes off as unbelievable, since Elektra has been a different person in every issue: cold-hearted, just, weak, strong, needy. Who is Elektra? After 22 issues I'm still not sure, but it would be great if someone wrote a good run for this fantastic assassin because she deserves it.
What did I think of the art? I really really like Carlo Pagulayan's Elektra: dynamic, not white, not sexualized, awesome hair. The switch to Carlos Meglia's style is jarring, but I do like his cartoonish style, which weirdly fits the middle issues of this story. It's a hit or miss, and it was a hit for me.
Verdict: 3/5. The best Elektra story I've read. This is a bit sad, when one thinks of it, but it's an amzing conclusion to the arc Rucka started in Introspect.
15. Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014 - VV.AA., edited by Ellen Datlow & Carl Engle-Laird (2015)A selection of the best short speculative fiction (sci-fi & fantasy) published in Tor.com during 2014.
Why did I read it? I enjoy speculative fiction, but it can get same-y. Tor.com always publishes diverse and different fiction. Through them I've known some of my favorite current spec fic authors: Veronica Schanoes, Angela Slatter, Ken Liu. A free anthology by them? Sign me up!
What did I think? You can read all my detailed status updates and my favorite stories here. My top three were: Veronica Schanoes' Among the Thorns, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen's Where the Trains Turn, and Ken Liu's Reborn.
Verdict: 4/5. This anthology, as any other short story collection out there, is a mixed bag. A 3-star rating would be just, since it includes stories I hated or disliked and stories I enjoyed and loved. However, there is a discrepancy between what would be the average rating and what I feel this collection deserves. I really, really liked this. It honestly felt like a 4-star book, which I guess means the good stories outweigh the bad ones: there is great fantasy and sci-fi here. It's diverse, imaginative, and represents a wide range of women and men and everything in between. And it has been terrible for the state of my TBR pile, which is always a good sign!