A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for December 2013

[REVIEW] Claremont and Byrne, The Dark Phoenix Saga

The Dark Phoenix Saga (2006)

I’ve owned this trade paperback edition of The Dark Phoenix Saga for some time, but it struck me as appropriate to review it now. What better time is there than now, a season of devotion to the contemplation of messiah figures and the year’s end, to take another look at the story of a godling brought to a premature end?

I was concerned that this story wouldn’t have aged well. I was drawn towards Marvel through the current continuity, a metanarrative that had evolved some three decades after this story’s publication. Since then, many of the elements that gave the Dark Phoenix Saga its power have transformed. The Phoenix Force was not merely the culmination of Jean Grey‘s potential as a psi, but was a separate cosmic force that was drawn towards the young psychic. Jean Grey herself never did die during this saga, instead lying cocooned on the floor of Jamaica Bay while the Phoenix Force impersonated her perfectly for 37 issues of Uncanny X-Men. The mythologies of both the Phoenix Force and Jean Grey have since been expanded and complicated significantly, most recently by last year’s Avengers vs. X-Men event and the ongoing All-New X-Men series. In light of all this, is it a period piece of note to completists? Or is this classic X-Men story still worthy of its elevated reputation?

Happily, the answer is that yes, the Dark Phoenix Saga is still a powerful story. I suggest that is because the core of the story hasn’t changed; the Phoenix Force’s cloning of Jean Grey has not made the story less powerful. The Dark Phoenix Saga still tells the tragic story of a heroine who, without wishing to and despite her conscious efforts to prevent it, becomes such a threat to the universe and the people that she loves that she kills herself. It tells the story well: both established characters (the X-Men, Professor Xavier) and new ones (Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club) feel like real people, making mistakes as they try to achieve their goals. In the end, they fail; everyone loses something. This, I think, makes this space operatic superhero story feel authentic.

Elsewhere, the style of The Dark Phoenix Saga is three decades old, but it still stands up well as a high point of the state of the art. Certain frames have a pop-art energy that makes me want to expand them into wall posters. One area that hasn’t dated so well is the Claremont/Byrne narrative’s heavy dependence on the third-person narrative. This puts it at odds with the current style in graphic novels, which uses the art and the characters’ dialogue to frame the narrative, to show, not tell.

My biggest problem with the story is that I to wonder how the Hellfire Club could ever have approved the terribly risky plans of Mastermind to dominate the Phoenix. “I have a great plan! I’ll use my powers of illusion to derange the mind of Jean Grey, the frighteningly powerful telepath/telekinetic who just broke the mind of the White Queen, and make her into my corset-wearing S&M consort. Who’ll give me funding?” The story does not become more plausible if we know that the Phoenix was actually the favoured avatar of the cosmic force that burns away what doesn’t work. I suspect that these sorts of catastrophically risky plans may have been de rigeur for comic books of the era, but this convention certainly does not aid the plausibility of the plot within its conventions.

This is a great book, one still worth reading. It deserves its fame.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2013 at 8:33 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

[BLOG] Some Toronto links

The past few months have seen quite a lot written about Toronto, and not only in connection with Rob Ford.

  • That said, A Damn Fine Exile did feature in November at the height of the Rob Ford media controversy a limited defense. I do agree with the author that Toronto–specifically Old Toronto–hasn’t handled amalgamation well.
  • On a related note, Torontoist’s Kevin Plummer examined at length a 1913 proposal by Toronto politician Samuel Morley Wickett to establish a regional federation of municipalities akin to the Metropolitan Toronto federatoion abolished by amalgamation.
  • Other greater Torontoist essay by Plummer include his biography of self-made man, mayor and Cabbagetown native R.J. Fleming and a study of the 1923 collapse of the badly-run and worse-supervised Home Bank.
  • As Toronto dug out from the icestorm, blogTO revisited the infamous snowstorm of 1999.
  • Torontoist’s Peter Goffin mapped the unsettling correlations between low income, low educational achievement, and visible minority populations. The Three Torontos paradigm remains worryingly relevant.
  • The celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives was the subject of a happier post.
  • Toronto transit writer Steve Munro has written extensively about subjects as various as routes for a subway in Scarborough, results of a survey on the unreliability of different routes, and–most recently–the poor sense of advocating for sprawl.

[BLOG] Some social science links

  • Writing at io9, George Dvorsky argues that extreme human longevity won’t destroy the planet.
  • Behind the Numbers’ notes that fertility in Senegal remains high while rates of family planning use are low.
  • The Burgh Diaspora’s Jim Russell links to numerous of his articles. Is Italy becoming stagnant because its levels of social capital are too high, inhibiting migration to and from? How does San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighbourhood survive the city’s wealth and avoid gentrification? How can the world, or even the United States, deal with the pressing need of the poorest to migrate along with their inability to do so?
  • Crooked Timber had two posts in November taking a look at the risks faced by migrants, one on overland Mexican route and one on the overseas route to Australia.
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog examined a few different subjects. Peter Kaufmann wondered what choice, including an overabundance of choice, meant. Sally Raskoff traced sociological concepts in history. Karen Sternheimer examined the complexities surrounding death.
  • Geocurrents was unimpressed with a poor map by the DEA of the underground marijuana trade.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Dave Brockington examined the contradictory rhetoric used by British politicians concerned about migration from Romania and Bulgaria. (They fear brain drain from these countries but claim these people will be parasites?)
  • Marginal Revolution took a look at a few interesting subjects, including a new history of the British industrial revolution, examinations of inequality in Singapore and that city-state’s very low birth rate (I think there’s a connection), and the economic issues of Ukraine. Just beware the comments.
  • Naked Anthropologist Laura Agustín takes issue with abolitionist laws and rhetoric on prostitution, which, as usual, does not take realities into account.
  • Savage Minds’ Matt Thompson suggests that there could be more in common between the foraging strategies of hunter-gatherers and the proper use of libraries than one might think.
  • Strange Maps’ Frank Jacobs examines the multiple contradictory maps of the disputed South Asian region of Jammu and Kashmir, and takes a look at poor parched Karakalpakstan (western Uzbekistan, by the Aral Sea).
  • Towleroad linked to research demonstrating a correlation between anti-gay legislation and psychological issues of non-heterosexuals.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy linked to a study suggesting that 27% of Jewish children in the United States lived in Orthodox homes, suggesting that Orthodox Jewish birth rates are such that the Orthodox share of the Jewish community will grow sharply.
  • Window on Eurasia has a lot of interesting posts. Paul Goble noted that projected populations for most of the former Soviet republics made two decades ago are vastly overstated, the Central Asian republics being the big exception, and arguing that Russia has only a short time to deal with its, temporarily stabilized, demographic disequilibrium. (The Chechen birth rate is reportedly quite high, although statistics from the North Caucasus are often questionable.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell, meanwhile redesigns the United Kingdom into regions each with the population of London and gets interesting results, and notes significant methodological and political problems with British statistics on unemployment.

[BLOG] Some science links

This will be the first of four posts sharing some of the links I’ve collected over the past few months, on my sabbatical.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 30, 2013 at 2:35 pm

[PHOTO] On a wintry night

I took a few photos as I walked to Christmas dinner about 5:30. Snow was still falling, and was rather quite pleasant. It had been a while since I’d experienced a white Christmas, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it.

Walking east on Dupont towards the intersection with Dovercourt Avenue early Christmas evening, all was calm and white. Even the traffic seemed cheery.

On a wintry night (1)

Looking south onto Dovercourt at the interection of Dupont and Dovercourt, the scene was quiet.

On a wintry night (2)

Walking south on Dovercourt towards Hallam was quietly pleasant.

On a wintry night (3)

A taxi parked while, in the far distance, the few cars about on Hallam approached Dovercourt.

On a wintry night (4)

Written by Randy McDonald

December 27, 2013 at 1:39 pm

[PHOTO] Christmas tree in the Distillery District

Christmas tree in the Distillery District (1)

Exploring the Distillery District earlier this month with my parents while the Toronto Christmas Market was in full swing, we happened upon the wonderful huge Christmas tree in the center of the plaza.

Christmas tree in the Distillery District (2)

Written by Randy McDonald

December 27, 2013 at 1:54 am

[PHOTO] Oh snowy night

Oh snowy night

I love the solid white of the foot of snow that had fallen on this Christmas day, my first proper white Christmas–no slush but actual snow–in some time. Even in the dim light of 5:30, this clean colour was imposing.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 26, 2013 at 4:57 am

Posted in Photo, Toronto

Tagged with , , , , ,

[META] What are you interested in seeing here?

I’ve been thinking about the question for some time. What would you like to see here? What sort of writing, or photography, would you want to see? More personal commentary, less, entirely new experiments?

Discuss, please. I’d really like your opinions.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 24, 2013 at 4:57 am

Posted in Meta, Non Blog, Photo, Writing

Tagged with , , , ,

[META] “Dead Media Beat: The blog is dead, long live the blog”

I found via Bruce Sterling’s blog veteran blogger Jason Kottke‘s essay “The Blog is Dead”.

Posted without comment. Thoughts?

[T]he function of the blog, the nebulous informational task we all agreed the blog was fulfilling for the past decade, is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs.

Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.

Instead of launching blogs, companies are building mobile apps, Newsstand magazines on iOS, and things like The Verge. The Verge or Gawker or Talking Points Memo or BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post are no more blogs than The New York Times or Fox News, and they are increasingly not referring to themselves as such.

The primary mode for the distribution of links has moved from the loosely connected network of blogs to tightly integrated services like Facebook and Twitter. If you look at the incoming referers to a site like BuzzFeed, you’ll see tons of traffic from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Stumbleupon, and Pinterest but not a whole lot from blogs, even in the aggregate. For the past month at kottke.org, 14 percent of the traffic came from referrals compared to 30 percent from social, and I don’t even work that hard on optimizing for social media. Sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy aren’t seeking traffic from blogs anymore. Even the publicists clogging my inbox with promotional material urge me to “share this on my social media channels” rather than post it to my blog.

The design metaphor at the heart of the blog format is on the wane as well. In a piece at The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal says that the reverse-chronological stream (a.k.a. The Stream, a.k.a. The River of News) is on its way out. Snapchat, with its ephemeral media, is an obvious non-stream app; Madrigal calls it “a passing fog.” Facebook’s News Feed is increasingly organized by importance, not chronology. Pinterest, Digg, and an increasing number of other sites use grid layouts to present information. Twitter is coming to resemble radio news as media outlets repost the same stories throughout the day, ICYMI (in case you missed it). Reddit orders stories by score. The design of BuzzFeed’s front page barely matters because most of their traffic comes in from elsewhere.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 21, 2013 at 12:10 am