Sunday, December 24, 2023

Rereading Strong Female Protagonist, part 5

 Link to previous post

Piece by piece, we're getting there. First today, in between Chapter 3 and 4 we find a week's worth of guest comics:

Page by Hazel Newlevant

Cute comic with a cute nurse and Tara being cute. Err that's all I've got.

Cartoon by Simone Rein

At a certain point, organizing the pile of stuff so she can carry it on her shoulder has to become so difficult it'll be quicker to take several trips. But maybe Alison is just showing off a little. Love how the girl in the foreground is offended, like she thinks this shouldn't be allowed.

Pinup by Suzi Glass

"Uh, Feral, maybe you should take it easy with the cool poses until we get the sword out of your brain. You're gonna fall over and get blood everywhere."

"Whaa 'm not doooin' no pooses. Heey yerrreeeally tall t'daayy."

Chapter 4 cover

Neat montage of Alison through the ages. I wonder if it's significant that Buster is fixed in adult form, like it's how she'll remember him, or it's more symbolic of him being a fixture of her early life?

Page 1

A training montage for your brain! Flex those folds. Learn many!

Page 2

I was today years old when I figured out this mysterious sage wizard with the impressive beard is Fire Chief John, not wearing his work clothes. Such a multitalented man.

I think he's completely right that an educated population is the most fundamental component of a healthy growing society. Think how things changed with public schools; how desperate conservatives are to make education worse for the poor; how the quality of life around the world continues to improve as the amount of literate people go up.

To quote Neil Gaiman, "everything changes when we read."

Now I'm feeling probably a bit too smug about the fact I'm writing a series of blog posts about this comic instead of Tiktoking or podcasting like the Internet tells you. Let's talk about this phone call instead.

I've gotten that call. Mom going "Can you come home right now?" That was an unhappy hour and a half of bus rides I can tell you. Must be much nicer to be able to leap across the city in a couple of steps


Then again, you get a bunch of downtime when you're up in the air. Nothing to do but watch where you're landing and think about what news could be so bad they can't tell you on the phone. Unless you have good cell phone coverage and unlimited texting, obviously.


Ah, our first hint at the reason there are superheroes. And puppies!

5, 6

I've heard some people reason that having a dog will let you kind of practice for having a child, which makes caring for a dog and a child at the same time actually easier than just caring for the child. I'm not sure if those people ever tried having a child, but they certainly didn't have one before making up that theory.

The Greens are far from reckless, though. They actually seem to deliberately plan their family around teaching the kids to be responsible, dependable compassionate human beings. A dog is probably better than a cat for this purpose since they're more high maintenance. And then they go and get Alison a little sister too. Not afraid to make things hard for themselves.

7, 8

Okay there's crucial moments of personal values development afoot and all but have you considered how happy Buster looks? Alison can't be that grumpy if the dog thinks she's just playing.

Actually I think she's angry because finding out about babies upsets her sense of justice. Why, here's a person who's so small and powerless, so easy to break, unable to move or speak, crying out in unbearable pain and fear at the merest discomfort or even loud voices. And there's no way to help them with any of that, all the king's horses and all the king's men can only, at best, keep them safe and fed while they wait to grow up. How could you look at that and not think it's unfair?

A little perspective (everyone is babies at first) is all it takes to make her feel better, even if Dad is not addressing the exact problem that, if my theory is right, Alison would have trouble explaining. Something to be said for addressing general principles, if your kid is receptive, unless you're totally sure about what they're thinking and feeling.


Good parenting, good big sistering, now we have got everything.

10, 11, 12

The injustice, it burns. Must. . .help. . .somehow.

This scene is practically a morality play, it's so simple and pure. But it doesn't have to be more complicated than that. Alison can just want to save people because she believes the world should be fair. Because she was raised right.


Another flashback, another lesson. It's getting predictable I think, but then, it's hard to complain about getting more backstory at this point.

14, 15

My parents never said I had to be more normal, but they never said I was allowed to be weird either. They didn't say a whole lot of things directly. I think they preferred to imply things and never realized I could only guess what it was they wanted to imply. I would have loved to be told normality is a fake idea.

But at least now I have this comic with the soup ladle gag to remember every time I have tea at grandmother's who has this sugar bowl with a comically tiny, possibly made for scooping saffron or heroin spoon.


Okay I guess allowing yourself to be a weird teen is a whole other thing than allowing your parents to be weird in public.


I read It when I was close to the same age as the characters, which made it very relatable to me. Maybe Tolkien is best enjoyed as a young fortysomething Hobbit, aka teen human, and Alison is just a little ahead of the curve. The text can be dry and unconventional but it's not exactly using advanced language or complicated symbolism. It's not like the book is filled with the most horrifying child-eating nightmares and weird sex and graphically tortured flesh that'd make it hard to read either. MAYBE JUST TAKE HER WORD FOR IT WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE oh no I'm channeling the writer.

Aside about It that I figured out the other week (I'm rereading that too at the moment, if you don't mind.) It attacks Beverly (aka the one girl of the group) in her home, in that famous scene that plays so well in the movie adaptations with the blood shooting out of the bathroom sink. (There's a line about how she can smell the blood cooking on the incandescent light bulb while her dad touches it and smears it and doesn't know it's there that really makes the whole thing.) Most of the child characters aren't really safe at home, with parents who ignore them or talk down to them try to medicate them to death, but Bev is the only one who doesn't feel safe at home, and that seems to make her vulnerable there.


 I was the only person I knew who played Neopets, which didn't give Neopets a whole lot of lasting appeal. First get friends, then decide on group activities that may include computer games, I understand that's how it should work.

Sorry guy, if you had not taken this rare social contact as an opportunity to be condescending things might have been different - I don't think Alison is that married to fitting in at the cool table.

Did you know that in the United States, children are statistically four times more likely to die from having a swimming pool at home than a gun? That's not to say guns aren't dangerous and you shouldn't have them, but clearly that's why pool = cool: The danger.

19, 20

Things are comin to an edge at the ballgame.

In a way, Conspiracy Chris and Mommy Green (oh her name is Susan) are both right - there are malicious actors at work (biodynamics going nuts with their newfound powers) and it's caused by the weather (which was how they got those powers). With so many wildly different impossible things going on at the same time, maybe it's weird to decide they are connected by a single cause anyway. It does sound ridiculous that terrorists would teleport a random person to a random location, and it doesn't sound a lot less ridiculous that a force of nature would slice up a series of police cars.

In conclusion all the adults are too busy advocating their politics to really think about what they're seeing. I bet the centrists think it's somehow evidence more public services need to be privatized.


I think Buster actually is biodynamic with some sort of empathic sense of his humans' conscience. A regular dog might, if he noticed Alison acts aggressive towards Katie, take Alison's side, start growling or whatever threatening posture he has been taught is permitted, but Buster seems confused or disappointed. It's almost too cute.


Some very last minute foreshadowing. . .


She may be young, but Alison's still showing real strength of character with how easily she accepts new knowledge, owns her mistakes and changes her priorities. What does it profit a girl to win the big game if she makes an innocent person feel bad about herself, I think the Bible says.


An attempt was made, at least.


And then everything changes.

It's a little funny how this looks majestic and magical with the extended page to show the scale of what's happening and all, and in the story nobody even realizes what's happening for several weeks. Presumably nobody at the game even puts it together until maybe after Alison takes off the mask, if they remember her at that point.


Hmm maybe moving quickly between phone towers and/or wifi stations drains the battery?

27, 28, 29

What a pleasant fantasy, to have heads of state with enough credibility that when they address the public to explain with authority some unprecedented and confusing world event, you can believe them.

But seriously, recognizing and treating the emergence of these biodynamic indivisuals as a "health and humanitarian crisis" and making such reasonable measured statements as assuring the victims of their civil rights and legal accountability is very good. It's the kind and thoughtful sort of twist that makes this comic stand out, that gives it the feeling of authors who have thought about literally everything they could to make a believable story about superheroes saving the world.

Enter: Menace!


Extremely self-satisfied, pretty much acting like a parody of the teenager who thinks he's figured everything out and is above it all, but a speech from a fourteen year old boy hacking into a national TV broadcast to announce he's taking over the world could have gone a lot worse.

I guess he is just outlining his plans in a bare minimum of words that he thinks will be helpful for people to understand what's going to happen, with some assurances of his nonviolent intentions, vague hints at mind reading powers, and trying to discourage anyone from acting like a comic book superhero. (He knows what Hector must be thinking, you realize.) Knowing nobody is going to care or believe it until they see it, but also knowing there's no speeches that he could have made to be more believable, what else should he say?


Getting super strength must be fun. I imagine it would be just pushing against the expectations you have on your body, learned from experience, figuring out how to exert more force, finding out bit by bit you can keep pushing and you don't seem to stop exerting more force, until the stone crumbles and you start thinking how ridiculously, impossibly hard you were pushing at the end.

Unless it's more like the force you usually use to punch keys on a keyboard is now enough to slap someone's eyes out of the back of their skull, but that seems like it would cause a lot of collateral damage before you figure out how to move more softly.


Alison playing with boulders like the stone giants in The Hobbit.


Think about how birds can fly - they're light enough in proportion to their muscle strength and they have wings for leverage - and you realize if you have super strength all you need to fly is a big enough wingspan. (If you have super strength and speed all you need is to kick the air down with the soles of your feet, but then that's not a power set anyone in this world has as far as we see.)


I'd like to take a moment out of this thrilling superhero origin story/political/psychological/philosophical drama to talk about the Ship of Theseus.

I'm not going to but that's a good line, right? Of course there's an answer to every identity crisis in theoretical physics, "you only imagine that you are you in the first place", etc, the delusion of perceiving physical objects as whole distinct things, etc, the wonder of knowing yourself as the universe's awareness of itself that only thinks it's separate from the rest and limited in existence because it experiences consciousness and so on.

But that doesn't help here. Hugs are better.

(And the last panel seems made to give us space to think Alison is twenty tears old and Buster has to be dead now.)

35, 36

I wonder if these nice cozy child soldier training/experimental medicine camps would have happened if Menace didn't give them an excuse to declare martial law?

In further conspiracism, remember these folders? The dates confuse me. There's two 1990 dates that would place these kids in utero during the big mystery thunderstorm if it's the date of conception. And one 1992 that that would suggest at least some biodynamics actually continued to be conceived and born long after the storm and nobody except the Conspiracy ever noticed. Could be a minor confusion in the editing stage, but if it isn't. . .


This speech seems a bit extemporaneous, by which I mean the guy got carried away as soon as he mentioned Menace. You kids are not involved in this military conflict but here's the latest details about the military conflict just in case you're curious and God bless America.


Perhaps we just needed a segue to lead into the topic of superheroes and villains. . .

39, 40

The story of All-Star Superman being in the comic seems even more serendipitous than the Alice in Wonderland bit before. I mean, maybe I should explain for those who may not know, but it's hard to easily describe how much All-Star Superman is the definitive superhero comic out of the major publishers in the whole century-plus long history of this artistic medium. I should make a "great comics" post about it sometime.

And I wonder if the "child soldiers" routine is maybe unfair cause Hector just made his super team happen against the adult's wishes and without permission and they were too successful to be restrained and the military was forced to commit after the fact and train them and stuff.


I'm now thinking of a nice post I read that presented the idea of pets looking at humans like Middle Earth mortals look at elves. From a dog's perspective, we live for many generations, we build wonders for them to live protected from cold and predators, we produce an abundance of food with magical health-giving properties for them, and while we can be slow to act and careless of their little problems, it is to be hoped that we can utilize all of our unfathomable wisdom and patience to care for them and teach them skills for the betterment of the world.

Hashtag Just Dog Thoughts, not thinking about Buster's grave or nothing. I like cats better anyway, shut up, you're crying.

42, 43

Oh right, then the bad news.


There probably IS no news a father would rather hear than "your daughter is bulletproof." Heartwarming stuff.


And directly to the heart-clenching panic of watching your mom cry. I think the only time I ever saw any of my family members cry was when my mom nearly severed her ear on the metal door of the cupboard over the refrigerator, which, she was bleeding and scared and angry but the real terror for me, the part that made me try to look away, was how ashamed she was for crying. Me, I haven't been able to cry in front of another person since I was about ten and ran headfirst into a concrete pillar during a basement table tennis game.


Yeess hug it out. And talk it out. I think the only word for what's happening here is awesome. Alison at this moment grows up to be a person who's able to comfort her mother at this moment of distress and offer a perspective which reassures her with simple and honest terms. And immediately, without pause, the parenting continues. "When we are gone I want you kids to still have each other" might be the most perfect, compassionate, irresistible command to drop on your family in the face of it potentially tearing apart over the death of one of its members.


I think the operative words here are "it hasn't really hit me yet."


So mature!


As we are already talking about All-Star Superman (I don't know how to abbreviate that title), it has a great line where Clark Kent tells Lex Luthor why Superman does not, as Lex assumes, make Clark (and every mortal human being in contrast to Superman) feel like his life does not matter: "Our jobs don't really overlap much." 

In the good old days of the Final Fantasy Worlds Apart forums (I miss forums) I knew a guy who the mods named Smarty McBarrelpants who thought that Superman was a basically evil character, without redeeming features, whose very existence made a mockery of democracy. The theory being that we all cannot be equals if there is someone who can do things nobody else can possibly do. I think that's absolutely wrong.

Because everyone lives on different terms, and have to live their own life on their own terms in order to stay alive, and if they don't do that, then they die. It's not a contest. While there is a great good use for human society in giving everyone the best opportunities we can give them for them to be who they want, go where they want and do what they want, we do still live in the world where some people are born owning a billion dollars and some are born without arms or legs. It's not a great leap from there to imagining a world where some are born with the strength to take people who piss them off and kick their ass so hard they have to go to the moon to take a shit. The challenge is still just to find things you have in common with the other individual (as we have discussed here) and building a community with them. (She said, writing a blog post on Christmas Eve for nobody to read.)

The biodynamics, even Alison, are not a different type of human being. That they can run faster and jump higher is only a difference of degree, not of kind. That some of them have made some headlines in the past four years doesn't make them as a group any different from, say, Tom Hanks. These are things Jennifer Green probably have not considered.


Or, in other words, nobody is special.


No single person can do that much more than any other person, when you take just a little bit of a wider perspective. Shit, if you look at the pale blue dot, do you think even Superman himself has made any real difference in the world? This is getting close to getting ahead of the actual ultimate point of the comic, but we only have to look at the things happening on the page, we don't have to cry over things that have not yet happened.

"I can't save dad." Goddamn.


In which Jen learns that indeed she is special. Just like all of us. There's a speech to be made here deconstructing Tyler Durden's philosophies but I'm pretty sure it's been made many times already. Moving on to chapter 5.

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