Friday, July 30, 2010

Wherefore Trevor?

This is a reprint of my "Star-Spangled Panties" column that originally appeared October 9th, 2009 at

Hola, Wonder campers! Everyone have their song books open? (cough) Mi mi mi...

How do you solve a problem like Steve Trevor?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

I'm sorry, but the guys in the back who are singing falsetto are creeping me out, so let's just talk about Stevie, ‘kay?

Steve Trevor was one of the most brilliant concepts comics ever produced. That said, it's an equal bit of genius that he has effectively been written out as a romantic possibility for the modern Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman is a female. That's pretty obvious. But in the comic book trade, particularly the superhero comics of the Forties, unless that female were presented as a sex kitten or dumbed down in some fashion—which Wondie was not—being female was a cause for cancellation.

The majority of readers of superhero comics were boys, and the majority of boys knew that girls had cooties. Our culture has a history of teaching that any feminine quality is an indicator of inferiority or something that should be shunned unless it is brought under the control of and/or in service to a man.

Yet the original concept of Wonder Woman taught female superiority. She gleefully celebrated women. Uh oh, this couldn't be good for sales!

In the very first panel of Wonder Woman's very first story we saw Steve Trevor's plane crash on Paradise Island, home of the Amazons. By panel three he was being rescued. Amazon Princess Diana fell in love with Steve and then contrived to win a special contest. This allowed her to take him back to his homeland and stay there to fight for America in the guise of Wonder Woman.

Thus many fans say that the romance with Steve forms the heart of the concept of Wonder Woman. Instead I'll counter with this: that a romantic excuse for Diana to hang around Steve for the important first ten-plus years of her run was what allowed "Wonder Woman" to become a top-selling superhero comic. The most important thing Steve brought with him was not romance, but readers.

The two talked about being in love with each other, but we never really saw it in action. I don't recall any kisses, any hand-holding, any exchange of confidences. (Granted, these were early comics and such was icky stuff for kids.) So what did happen?

Steve praised Wonder Woman.

Whenever you look at Steve, he's selling her to anyone who will hear. Most of his early appearances include a scene in which people cheer him for stopping that issue's dastardly plot. Every time he replies with some form of, "Aw shucks, it wasn't me; it was Wonder Woman who did it all!" To hear him speak, she's the most terrific hero around. She's beyond fabulous. He's proud of her and to be associated with her.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, folks! See the beautiful Amazon princess! Be amazed at her feats of daring! Thrill to the dangers she faces! All it costs is one thin dime, just one-tenth of a dollah!

If Steve Trevor liked Wonder Woman...could it be okay for a boy to read her adventures?

Steve didn't just praise Diana. He also fought side-by-side with her, demonstrating that she could keep up with and in fact surpass him without the least bit of injury to his male pride.

Steve Trevor was top of the macho meter for the times. Not only was he devastatingly handsome, an H.G. Peter precursor of Brad Pitt (siiiigh!), but Stevie was a soldier. Not just a soldier, but an officer. During a time of war. And best of all...

...He was a flyboy spy-catcher.

Jackpot! Top of the testosterone ladder! Bing bing bing bing! There was no job that could eclipse that kind of violent adventure. Steve was a blond, blue-eyed, all-American major in the US Army, a bigwig in Military Intelligence.

So if this epitome of machismo said Wonder Woman was not only okay for a chick, but the greatest hero of the war, it was all right to spend a dime to read her stories. If Major Trevor liked her, maybe she wasn't so bad.

Did he ever take her home to meet his parents? Did he ever buy her dinner? They hugged each other a handful of times at the end of various adventures. They called each other "darling." (Wonder Woman called everyone "darling.") If Steve was particularly badly injured he might get a kiss on the cheek.

Steve served as WW's best PR agent and reputed romantic object (if not her beard) up until the Comics Code was instituted and her creator's presence left her book. DC's solution to de-butchify Wondie was to make her less hands-on as a criminal-catcher and reverse her sermons about female superiority.

Now Steve tried to trick Diana into marrying him, knowing that she'd then have to give up her duties as WW because married women didn't work, doncha know. Whereas the Golden Age Steve had patience to wait for Diana to determine her work was done before they married, the early Silver Age Steve was going to make that decision for her no matter what she thought.

This was the era when I first latched onto "Wonder Woman" comics. I quickly learned to despise Steve Trevor. He was a sneaky bully. Worse yet, who could like WW when she took that kind of guff? (Thank goodness she had a wonderful family to read about.)

Luckily, Mike Sekowsky saw Steve in the same general light and had him killed off in the extremely enjoyable issue #180 (Jan-Feb ‘69), gunned down by Dr. Cyber's goons to die in Diana's arms. In a later lettercol, Sekowsky explained, "Steve Trevor was dull and boring and I didn't like him much so I disposed of him."

For Steve to have served his purpose as a bridge to male readers during this era, he'd have had to have been a top-of-the-charts rock star. Instead, he was a part of the Old-Fogy Warmongering Establishment.

Even when Steve was reincarnated—I think about the second time—as Steve "Howard," he didn't improve as much as he needed. He was now a modern beta kind of guy, a metrosexual back before they were called that. He was cool and could handle adventure, but he wasn't dangerous, though he did get to bed Diana at last (between panels). A few reincarnations on, he married Diana. They got one entire wedding night together before DC rebooted our plucky Amazon.

Diana rose in her Modern Era version as a reborn innocent who rescued an injured Steve Trevor on Paradise Island. But this Steve Trevor was older than she. Some fans lamented his geezerliness, that he must be 40 at least. Too old for our Amazon princess to romance! Instead Stevie eventually became enamored of Etta Candy and married her, and they remain married to this day. (Don't they make a cute couple!)

But a number of fans declare that this is a crime, insisting that Steve Trevor is the only man for Diana, even if he has to be called Steve Trevor, Jr. or Steve Trevor III. If not the man or the concept, the name at least must be ingrained within the mythos as Diana's True Love.

But to me, Stevie was never needed as a romantic interest. That was merely his excuse for hanging around Diana, spouting his PR lines to entice male readers. Over in "Superman," the Man of Steel needed Lois Lane because the entire concept was built around the sexual tension between Clark, Lois and Superman. When the Modern Era came along and Superman married Lois, it semi-worked because by that point Superman was so gosh-darned powerful that he needed Lois and the Kents as grounding lifelines to humanity. Lois is now essential because she's an important human for Supes. Their romance is needed to provide that importance.

Batman? Is he even able to have a relationship with a female that goes beyond the merely sexual? A relationship with someone of the opposite gender has nothing to do with his mission, origin or theme.

But Wonder Woman is DC's most human hero. As such, she needs all forms of human relationships in her life, including romantic ones. Yet in this modern era a Steve who HAS to be her one-and-only would only hold her back.

One of the drawbacks of a Lois Lane is that, during the times when Superman has made eyes at other women, readers always knew he'd return to Lois' arms. Why? Because she was always "Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane." Thus there was never any real romantic tension between Supes and anyone else. Even Lana Lang knew she never stood a chance.

Steve Trevor does not enjoy a Lois Lane kind of position in the mythos.

Look at female solo leads in continuing series of all kinds. TV's Buffy had two heroes who held her heart: Angel and Spike, plus a few other, much more mortal, lovers. In books, today's "kick-ass" heroines always have more than one man in their lives, providing all kinds of romantic conflict and leaving the reader wondering, "Who's she going to end up with?"

Janet Evanovich's wildly sales-successful bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, enjoys being pursued by hunks Morelli, Ranger, and Diesel. Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, even Scarlett O'Hara (oops, not a series there) have multiple concurrent love interests. Even Rachel Caine's married Weather Warden, Joanne Baldwin, has two men pulling at her emotions.

Your average "kick-ass" heroine can be found as a matter of course in today's best-selling urban fantasy genre, which often run as series. Every one of these heroines will have at least two men panting after her, and they'll be alpha males to out-alpha any other male in the area. If the heroine is human you can bet money her lovers won't be. Humans are just too, well, ordinary to interest today's K-A heroine.

And Wondie is the kickin'-est-ass heroine of ‘em all!

Thus, it is my contention that Steve Trevor is no longer needed—or WANTED—as Wonder Woman's love interest. As such he would bring inertia to a series that needs to intrigue its readers.

These days Nemesis (portrayed in the book as a pallid, though WW-adoring, man-boy) has dumped Diana, and Achilles (greatest warrior of ancient Greece) has proved himself anything but an alpha male. WW should think about collecting a harem of male admirers, not only of the extreme alpha type but, for variety, include a few gammas, those guys who combine alpha and beta characteristics. Not only would this give "Wonder Woman" a modern feel, but it would add spark to the series and keep the readers guessing as to who might wind up with Diana, even if for only the immediate night.

I think Diana might enjoy it as well.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Strickly (Two!) Book Reviews

Amid the dearth of great reading material in my various piles of books and ebooks of late, I stumbled upon not one, but two fabulous books this past week! What luck!

The Spellman Files: A Novel
by Lisa Lutz
Five spangles out of five!!!
Pocket Books, 2007
humorous mystery

I've been ordering lots of Middle School and YA books lately, and opened this thinking it fell into that category. With a few uses of the f-word and casual reference to drug use, I quickly came to the conclusion that this was not for kiddies.

Instead, it's for adults who want a wacky mystery (mysteries!) centered around a family like none you've ever seen. Our heroine is Izzy Spellman, who lives in a San Francisco apartment on the top floor of her parents' house. She has the unfortunate luck to have a perfect older brother (whom she's trying to balance out), and a much younger kid sister who wants to (horrors!) pattern herself after Izzy.

Izzy is no model citizen, but her intentions are good. She's a PI, and is employed by her parents' PI agency, which often takes on jobs from Mr. Perfect Lawyer Brother. Izzy makes lists of important things in her life, like ex-boyfriends, and has come to the conclusion that she needs to study this problem as much as her cases, to figure out where she goes wrong.

The action for a good third of the book bounces back and forth between the present and giving us backstory in various areas. The language is crisp. Pacing is quick. Chapters are short. Humor abounds.

I was told that if I was tired of Stephanie Plum, I should switch to Izzy. Izzy is NOTHING like Stephanie. Izzy is smart. She learns from her mistakes. She solves her crimes on her own. But she, too, is surrounded by crazy characters, though they don't resort to slapstick to make you LOL.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to getting more books in this series! There seem to be three more of 'em at Amazon; oh, my poor wallet! And look! Wiki says the book's been optioned for a movie. Of course if it takes as long to get filmed as the first Stephanie Plum novel did...

Maniac Magee
by Jerry Spinelli
Five spangles out of five!!!
Little & Brown, 1990
Elementary/Middle School

Full of snappy rhythms, colorful characters, humor, heart, and wildly poetic imagery, this book is one that kids are going to read again and again. I went on IMDB today and discovered that there'd been a TV movie made a few years ago that people who hadn't read the book said was enjoyable, and people who had read the book said left out too much.

Jeffrey Lionel Magee is an orphan who runs away from his awful relatives' home. And when I say "runs," I mean that literally. He's a runner as well as an all-round athlete, but eventually he winds up in a small Pennsylvania town across the river from where his parents had died. The town is split racially, but Jeffrey, or "Maniac" as his legend soon dubs him, is too young or unassuming to understand racism.

He runs through the town in the hours before people are up, and sees that everyone's houses are basically the same, so why shouldn't the people be as well? He winds up in three very different homes in his search for a true home, and has racism thrown so hard in his face that finally he has to run away from it.

Amid the OTT imagery, a world seen through a child's eyes, we get fairly gentle lessons in race relations, illiteracy, homelessness, and even would-be suicide. But let me stress that the humor and heart are what carry this through, along with Maniac's shabby tennis shoes. It's won a small mountain of major literary awards, and is a satisfying, heartwarming read that you'll love as much as will the children in your life.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fixin' a Flat

Last spring I entered the Raleigh Paint Out, in which we arteests trooped outdoors on an assigned day to an assigned neighborhood, and painted. Pictures were due framed and ready to hang by day's end.

I chose a winding path in Fred Fletcher Park with pretty red maples in view. My goals for this picture were to simplify a composition, to really change nature (something I've not had the guts to do before), and to work with a more structured color idea.

Well, between the threatening rain, occasional gusts of wind, and the sheer, hair-raising, adrenaline-pumping terror that comes from having such a daunting deadline, I created the above picture. The two red maples were farther along the path, and I moved them closer to me. The farther one I tried to use to frame the closer one so it could be the focus.

I got the gist of the place down, and at the last minute made some major color/value changes that improved the image. But still I anxiously awaited the time when I could retrieve the painting and redo it a bit.

After much staring and pondering and sleeping on it (rather a lot of that last bit), I sat down last weekend and did this:

Red Maple in Spring: 11x14", acrylic on archival canvasbord

Gone is the second red maple, to become part of what I hope is a more simplified background of foliage, still framing the red maple. I tried and tried to add highlights to that maple, but in studying the ones in my daily landscape, I've come to the conclusion that red maples don't do highlights well. They're dark. So putting light foliage behind it was imho the best solution.

The colors are now (more or less) a split complementary: red and two colors adjacent to red's complement, which is green. The two colors are blue-green and yellow-green.

I saw some paintings that fearlessly used pure color in the landscape, and so added swooshes of fairly pure cobalt blue (which is a green-tipped kind of blue) to shadows and the sky. The blue almost makes this a triadic color scheme: red, yellow, blue. But not quite.

The painting sat another two days after I wrote this, and what you see is the final version, with the ribbon of shadow broken up into a more interesting shape. With what I've learned, maybe my next plein air painting will find its way more efficiently than this one did.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Strickly a Book Review

by Rachel Vincent
Mira Books
3 spangles out of five
Heat: mild, especially if you disregard the one unneeded explicit (and somewhat violent) sex scene

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many reviews. I find myself unfamiliar with some of the leading names in paranormal/fantasy/sf, so I’ve been checking various “favorites” lists and ordering books that have been recently released. Rachel Vincent showed up in several, so I tried her out.

Let me say here at the top that I’m not a huge fan of vampires and shapeshifters, though they’re all the rage. There are some of this genre that I do indeed follow, but they have to demonstrate creativity. Come to think of it, any book has to demonstrate creativity to me to make me stay with a series. (Except Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. For some ungodly reason I keep picking up new volumes. Sigh.)

First of all, color me confused with this particular book, because the copyright says 2008, when Amazon reports that it was just published in February of this year. Second, I’m still confused. It’s volume 2 of the series about werecats and one “tabby,” Faythe, in particular. This is her first-person story.

But she doesn’t really explain where we are and what events have already transpired that are important to the current book, not until we’re more than halfway into things. Even toward the end I was still learning important data that probably would have caused the story to have more impact and suspense for me. It's one thing to dribble in backstory (a good thing); it's another to be stingy on explaining basic plot elements so that a reader can understand what's going on from the start and be emotionally invested.

Faythe is one of those “kick-ass” heroines you see so much of these days, tending to think with her fists before letting her brains kick in. She is tempestuous and wants freedom from her Pride, but we don’t know why. She doesn’t seem to have any interests outside her Pride. She’s in a hot relationship with her Pride’s second in command, Marc, but won’t commit to him in any fashion.

It’s clear that the author knows her characters and loves each of them, but I can’t tell most in the pack apart. They all act in cute macho ways (including Faythe), are all super-hot (including Faythe) and don’t seem to possess any real differentiating factors. Faythe's a girl within the guy culture, so that helps.

The action of the book often consists of conversations punctuated with Faythe’s internal musings and parsings, as the entire group moves from the Alpha’s office to the kitchen, to the office, to the guest house, and back to the office. It gets to be a bit claustrophobic.

There is action and horror in the book, but it’s too little, too far between, and doesn’t really have a sense of urgency to it, since we don’t know all the significant backstory as to why it should be so urgent. Also, Faythe does some really dumb things over and over, so you wonder why she's supposed to be so disturbed about them if she doesn't treat them like a threat.

What I’d like to see in further volumes of this series is a serious trimming of Faythe’s parsings as well as more threads summed up, more events touched upon, by a book’s end. I want more substance in plot as well as Faythe. I want explanations and emotional consequences. I'd also like to see more consistency in power and skill sets. In this book, though Faythe is supposed to be highly skilled in martial arts, she can't counter the attack of an extreme amateur. She also conveniently doesn't display basic werecat senses at times when doing such would reveal threats to her, while at other times she's got those senses at her full disposal.

Also, I’d like to see why the author has made these people werecats in the first place instead of, oh, some kind of goofy militia that has a reason to do strange stuff alone out in the Texas boonies. They don’t seem to be werecattish enough, does that make sense? I want to see their werecat-dom play a difference in how they approach life. I want to see more how their society is put together that they have to remain so separate from humans. Show us werecat culture and legacy. I want the book to REEK of werecat instead of bringing it up every now and then seemingly only because it’s sexycool... and because wounds heal quicker in werecat form.

Overall, I think that people who have read the first volume of this and know what is going on, will enjoy this installment well enough. I think they’ll probably skip over a lot of the internal musings and long conversations, as well as the extensive descriptions of minute actions (ie, reaching for a Coke), while looking for some action or some scenes in which something actually happens.

I'm very glad I read this, because one of my wips has quite a few of the same problems. (As do many books out there.) Reading this book allowed me to see them from a new perspective; I think I can now be quite stringent with the material and "kill my babies," as it were.

I do think the author has a very positive future ahead of her. Every now and then the prose comes through with some beautiful imagery or poetry in the way the words are used. Once or twice there's a bit of dialogue that leaves you thinking, "Wow." I just wish she'd had a better editor for this book to help her get there sooner.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Full of Sound and Fury!

Wonder Woman celebrated her 600th issue (more or less) last Wednesday, and brought with her an Amazing PR Gimmick (a new costume) as well as her latest Bold New Direction!

Most fans are sure that neither will be around for long.

Otoh, I must have gotten a few hundred emails asking, "Have you seen what's happening with Wonder Woman?" These even from WW fans who knew that I would have already read the ish. I suppose the excitement was just too much for some. Anyway, I wanted to discuss the issue somewhere, but there are tens of thousands of discussion threads on various message boards and frankly, I'm confused as to which is the Proper One for such.

So I decided to blog—I can get feedback from a blog—and then said no, I'll have to turn around and rewrite it all for my synopsis. I'm trying to get more synopses on my site, zooming in on the Dark Age before I go back to fill in the sparse Plastic Age synopses. Really, I'm trying. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to write this stuff!

So I took a few days and wrote a synopsis for #600. Bits may need rewriting as I was awfully tired during some of the parts. But mostly, the issue and comments about such are all here. And of course a more thorough look at the new costume is on the costume index.

Hope you have the time to read through it, and hope you enjoy! Feel free to comment as needed.