Zeph's Bookish Rambles

and some other stuff maybe

I've been soooooo impatient for this book to come out. And now it's here and I've read it and I have Thoughts.

I decided I'm actually going to do two versions of this, a spoiler-free one I'll post tonight and a much longer, in-depth, very very spoiler-filled exploration I'll probably be working on for at least a few more days. Because, really. I have a LOT to say and I want to say it all and it's probably more than most people want to read.

Anyway, let's dive in!

It's a quick and enjoyable read, maybe lacking a bit of substance. If Carry On read like a fanfic, this one is even more so – a fanfic of a fanfic.

The plot is a little scattered and rushed, the characters and relationships don't really get the amount of focus and resolution I'd like, and overall I'm left feeling a bit unfinished.

If you're expecting a complete story with a typical narrative shape, this will likely leave you feeling a bit lost. But I don't think that's necessarily an actual downside to this book. It's not a tidy hero story to be wrapped up and moved on from – they already did that. This book starts on an ending and ends on a beginning, and in-between is kind of just an endearing mess (like Simon and Baz, really).

That's one of those neat things fanfiction allows writers – a chance to treat characters more like living people, give them lives that don't have neat chapter endings, let them be lost and just live their lives once in awhile. I like that Rowell feels comfortable bringing that fanfiction energy to these books, it's nice to just spend some time with characters I love without feeling like we're on a train rushing towards a particular destination.

I was hoping for more of an examination of Simon's feelings and identity. Intentional or not, Carry On fell into the trap of having a seemingly bisexual character without ever using the word and therefore contributes to bisexual erasure. And that wasn't fixed here, either by having Simon identify that way or having any other character fill the gap.

Not every story has to have every identity represented, obviously. I really don't think it's intentional and I think it makes sense for Simon not to have it figured out. And it's not like he's really got time to be worried about that here, and it's fine for someone to never decide on a label. It's just troubling how often it happens when the character dates both men and women, and it does get a little frustrating to never see yourself represented.

I get why that's a deal-breaker for some, though I'll also admit it had to be pointed out to me even though I'm panromantic. It's just not a huge part of my identity and not something that I really tend to look for in my fiction, so I guess I also kind of relate to Simon and his apparent lack of interest in exploring it further when he's got other things on his mind. That is also a type of representation and it's important. I just hold out hope that there will be more of these characters at some point, more chances to address it or for other identities and experiences to be represented.

Also I'll be on the lookout now for similar universes with much more of a queer slant. Especially by queer authors and for queer audiences. Recommendations totally welcome.

Alternately, let's all just invent our own queer magical universes. That might be a good next creative project for me. Hmmm.

Overall rating 4.5/5

I love the monthly Super Sons comic by Peter Tomasi. It's fun and incredibly cute while also being smart and exciting and just a little dark. I haven't really loved Damian Wayne appearances in other things and wasn't sure I was going to enjoy the series, but it wound up becoming one of my favorites. (And it's still going, same writer but now called Adventures of the Super Sons! Definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.)

Among the things I appreciate about it...

  • Friendship! It is very good and I like the ways it lets Damian relax and be a human sometimes.

  • Self-sufficient kids! As an adult it can be a little distressing now to see kids take on too much even in stories, but I remember loving those stories as a kid. They're important for helping kids see themselves as capable and independent, in a safe format. And it's really well-done here. Since Damian and Jon are both very capable of taking care of themselves and it really doesn't make sense to be over-protective of them, they get a lot of freedom...but their parents always know where they are and are there when needed and I like that a lot.

  • Jon Kent is a precious little ray of sunshine and everything about him is great.

  • Damian manages to be amazing at everything without becoming obnoxious, which is really hard to write well so I'm impressed.

  • Their threats are kind of weirdly age-appropriate? Like, it's a lot and it sometimes dips a little darker than I'd like in a kids' comic but not too far and also they get their own villains often their own age so on that level it's kind of relatable and “realistic” (for a superhero comic) but the stakes are still high and problems don't really get wrapped up neatly and go away.

It has its problems. At some point Batman's like “hey, Damian should go to regular school because socializing with kids his own age is clearly the most important thing for him!” But like, school isn't for socializing and he already knows more than all his teachers so it's just a pretty big waste of time. He's being constantly made to stop way short of his potential and put aside everything that makes him who he is to make other people comfortable and go through the motions and also just btw he's helping to overpopulate an already crowded education system and taking attention away from kids who need help and can't afford private tutors so there's that. I really hate this plot point a lot. School was awful and soul-destroying and no one should be put through it who doesn't have to be.

But all in all it's really very good and I recommend it for anyone but especially for kids (maybe slightly older kids, like age 8 minimum but probably more like 11) or people who tend to like things made for kids. So when I saw that there was a new Super Sons graphic novel separate from the series, I was pretty excited!

I should not have been.

Super Sons: The Polarshield Project by Ridley Pearson has nothing at all to do with the series I just described. Jon is pretty much the same, he's a simple character hard to screw up. But instead of Damian we have Ian Wayne, who apart from sharing the same legal/birth name and being Batman's kid has nothing at all in common with Damian. He has all the arrogance and self-centeredness Damian manages to avoid in the ongoing but with none of the reasons Damian has for those things and really none of his good points either.

And instead of super-powered kid villains, we have...global warming? And an evil organization? And capitalism? Look, all good things to fight but kind of a bad thing to wrap up in a tidy little bow for a couple of super-kids to solve in the space of one book by getting one person arrested.

Just sort of a weird choice to make it part of some conspiracy they can solve by finding the right people instead of the results of the way our whole society works that can really only be solved through massive change. Especially awkward since without Damian's back-story and competence, Ian's power is basically having lots of money and therefore, you know, completely dependent on upholding the system as is and contributing to those problems in the first place.

The plot is kind of all over the place and hard to follow, while also being simplified to the point that it doesn't really hold interest enough to bother trying to follow it in the first place. It adds a couple of new characters, probably to add a little diversity to the white boy duo. They're potentially interesting, but there's not really enough space to get to know them well since we're also basically being introduced to a brand new character in Ian, new villains, and a new world in general.

It's trying to undo the existing characters while introducing new ones and also shove in a plot and it's just too much to do any of it well. I think it probably should have been given a smaller scale, similar to the ongoing. Let it be a more personal story, with local kid-relevant villains they can face first while getting to know each other so we can get to know them too.

Obviously, when it comes right down to it, this book just isn't for me. It's not really for fans of the ongoing comic, either. The author says right in his note at the front that he's not familiar with the characters and was encouraged to just make up his own versions, so it just makes sense that these aren't the characters we already know and like. It has a very different tone and seems aimed at a younger audience, so it might be a better fit there.

Personally, though, I can't even recommend it in that case. There are better stories, ones that are less scattered, ones that focus on people other than white dudes from the start, ones that are just plain more interesting and emotionally engaging. Off the top of my head I'd suggest Goldie Vance, Steven Universe, Rainbow Brite, Lumberjanes, Nimona, Feathers (with the caveat that I've only read 2 issues), or anything by Raina Telgemeier. I'm sure there's a lot more I haven't tried myself or am just not recalling right at the moment. Look around!

And yeah, that includes taking a look at this book, I'm not trying to speak for everybody and it might be perfect for you. For me, though, it feels a bit misaimed and I think there were probably better opportunities with lesser-known characters who aren't already starring in a terrific and popular series that's completely different in every way, and I'd rather steer people towards stories like that.

Awhile back I was in a comic store and saw the shiniest, pinkest, glittery-est cover I'd ever seen. And it had cat paws! Then I saw Chelsea Cain's name and onto the stack it went. I really loved her work on Mockingbird and was excited to see what cool new thing she was working on now. So I started researching as soon as I got back to the car. (Don't worry, I wasn't the one driving.)

And immediately felt the disappointment and suspicion creeping up on me. Oh. Oh, no.

Spoilers for volume 1.

Man-Eaters, for those who aren't familiar, is a comic set in a world where a variant of toxoplasmosis turns menstruating people into giant murdercats.

Well, menstruating women, in the official descriptions. This book is not at all interested in how trans people would fit into a world like this. It complicates the already flimsy story and it's not-at-all scientific explanations, it's really just easier to pretend we don't exist.

When questioned, Cain's answer is basically “yeah I know you don't need a uterus to be a women but this is a very specific story about a how the biology that goes with womanhood is treated” and somehow doesn't see the contradictions there.

I'd have more respect for her if she just acknowledged it's not something she thinks about, it didn't occur to her until someone asked, and she has no plans to include trans stories because she clearly wouldn't know how to tell them. I mean, it's not like I want to read her take on trans characters, I don't trust her with that. What I'd really like is to see actual trans writers take it on in a similar way to how side stories were done with Bitch Planet.

Because it's an interesting premise definitely worth exploring, weird not-quite-right attempts at scientific reasoning aside. And it was a pretty neat experience reading it at the endocrinologist's office as I waited to get my second testosterone injection. There's a lot of talk about hormones in this. Some of it accurate, some of it purposely bad to emphasize the patriarchal control and demonizing of femininity, a lot of it just kind of lazy.

A big part of the story is the government dealing with this not by actually treating the illness but instead just stopping menstruation by pouring birth control hormones into drinking water. Oh no, but now boys can't drink the water! So there's all sorts of estrogen-destroying cleaning products and a line of sodas made specifically for men and boys so they aren't exposed to it, and girls apparently aren't allowed to drink anything else???

The main character sneaks into the boys' lounge and convinces the guys who catch her there to let her take a bunch of the soda with her. Because she and a few of her friends have decided to do an experiment and stop drinking the tap water, purposely starting their periods. Gasp!

Ok this is fascinating and I have so many questions because obviously this has so many implications for trans people. The author isn't interested in exploring those questions, so I guess I'll have to go look for some fanfic. Honestly, my initial impression after reading the first volume is that fanfic is the only hope for this series because the trans erasure is much worse than anything good the series has to offer.

Then a couple of my co-workers were discussing birth control and its effects on their bodies and the dangerous lack of understanding their prescribing doctors had of it. And our boss, a pharmacist said “Ok, you guys are grossing me out and I'm going to report a hostile work environment if you don't stop.”

A pharmacist. Referring to people talking about issues with medications. That have a serious effect on a regular everyday normal biological thing that happens to half of the population.

As a trans person I hate the lack of concern about trans people in this comic. As a trans-masculine person who hates periods and frankly just about everything estrogen does to me and whose periods came along with debilitating pain every month causing me to miss work and school regularly, I really can't relate to the “wow periods are so awesome and badass” rhetoric and I'll be honest enough to admit at the back of my head while reading I'm kind of like “...I mean who actually wants a period, though?”

But I appreciate the under-represented perspective on it. And the willingness to talk about it, openly and aggressively and positively. It's obviously not all positive, but one of the reasons it sucks is because we're so discouraged from talking about it so we don't always know things like when the level of pain isn't normal until we've been dealing with it for decades and just been told to shut up about gross private things. That needs to change.

I don't know that I'll keep reading it. It's very alienating to me on several levels and I really don't like the author's attitude about trans people and the way she pivots away from actually answering questions about where we fit into her world. But I probably actually will go looking for fanfic related to those things and hope other people with a more inclusive outlook make their own work dealing with menstruation and other “gross and private” things that we need to be able to talk about. I might try making my own, maybe just some tiny autobio zine or something.

And while I probably won't be recommending it to people either for the most part, I guess I'm landing on the side of sort of glad it exists and will cheer on people who do find something worthwhile in it. It's nowhere near perfect, but the conversation has to start somewhere and I guess this is where it's starting. And if that makes it a little bit easier for the rest of us to jump in on it and tell awful sexist medical professionals to get over themselves and let us talk about our health, that's awesome.

Go murdercats.

Woohoo, new site! That's exciting.

I had a long day and I'm getting over a bad cold so not a lot to say, just wanted to actually put something up here and try it out.

I think I like it!