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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Comics artists, can you please not do this? (On wrecking female characters.)

Rogue and the Scarlet Witch are great comics characters. Their presence in the forthcoming Avengers/X-Men combination book, Uncanny Avengers, is one reason why I'd at least be inclined to check it out.

They are also very powerful characters, and their superpowers are supposedly backed up with high-level athletic training and elite coaching in hand-to-hand combat. In-universe, they are kickass women with high profiles and important connections.

Both of them also have rather dark backgrounds - although they are written as heroes, both started out as villains, and in many ways they can be dangerous to be around.

So why not depict them as athletes and warriors? Why give them these horribly thin, frail-looking bodies ... but with enormous, out-of-proportion, prominently displayed breasts?

I do realise that Thor's waist is also out of proportion, and there's a sort of Mannerist vibe about it all. But what's the first thing you see here? Anna Marie's hanging breasts, as she bends in an awkward position? Wanda's rather startling cleavage?

By all means, artists, give the female heroes and villains sexy, skintight costumes that display their muscles (just like the men here, such as Wolverine crouching in the foreground). I have nothing against any of that. My objections are not based on prudishness or a rejection of the concept of "built" or idealised bodies. But why hold out bodies like this as a female ideal? Have you seen what female athletes actually look like? Even if you claim that the whole image is stylised, this sort of thing is too common, and it seems to be getting worse.

Over the years, Marvel has, to its credit, created many amazing female characters, even if it struggles to give any of them truly iconic status. Rogue and the Scarlet Witch are among them, and both have rich, complex back stories. They are valuable properties with much ongoing potential. I'm sure that many male readers would happily read good stories about them both, without any soft-porn vibe. Just give us those stories ... and let the artwork represent the characters as scarily powerful. That's the way, if you want to make them cool.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Another great cover - Alison Goodman's A New Kind of Death

And speaking of covers...

...Here is the cover for A New Kind of Death, a crime novel (with a science fiction element) by my pal Alison Goodman. The book was originally published in the US as Killing the Rabbit.

Alison's husband, Ron Gallagher, has done a nice job with this, don't you think?

Cover released for A Quiet Shelter There


The cover has been released for a forthcoming anthology edited by Gerri Leen, A Quiet Shelter There - which features a story by Jenny Blackford.
A Quiet Shelter There will benefit Friends of Homeless Animals, as well as other shelters that wish to sell it. It will be published by Hadley Rille. The beautiful cover is the work of Heather McDougal.

I'll provide details about the table of contents and date of publication as they come to hand.

Freedom of Religion and the Secular State in Huffington Post

Steven Paul Leiva's review of Freedom of Religion and the Secular State appears today in The Huffington Post. This was previously published on the United Atheists website, but it will now reach a wider audience.

Obviously, I'm pleased, as it's a very positive review, and timely in the midst of violence related to religion ... and new calls for restrictions on what can be said about gods, religions, prophets, etc.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New issue of Free Inquiry

The latest issue of Free Inquiry magazine has been released. As always, only a small selection of the material is available online to tease potential readers. You might be interested in Tom Flynn's editorial, in particular. But there's much more, as there is in every issue, so please consider subscribing.

The new issue contains my opinion piece “Up With Secularism!”

Here, I defend the ideal of secular government from the criticism that it is, among other nasty things, anti-democratic. This piece is not online, so if interested you'll need to get hold of a hard copy of the magazine for yourself.

Much of the other content comes from the Orlando CFI/CSH conference in Orlando, Florida, which I attended earlier this year.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Supervillainy - Carla Hoffman & the future leadership of mutantkind

With Professor X now dead, and with Cyclops, his protégé, thoroughly discredited (not least for killing Professor X), who will now take up the reins of mutant leadership?

Over at The Fifth Color, Carla Hoffman discusses the possibilities. Kitty Pryde? Storm? Magneto? Hoffman predicts that Magneto will step up and take control, and that does seem like one obvious scenario. In recent events, he has been portrayed more as the voice of reason than as a supervillain, and he has shown in the past that he has the political and economic savvy ability to lead an entire nation.

But we've also been given plenty of indications that he has not really reformed - just become very pragmatic about working with heroes whenever it best suits his purposes, rather than against them. While I can see Magneto giving orders in the coming months, and formulating all sorts of plots to advance the interests of his family and loved ones, and of mutantkind more generally, I can't imagine him being accepted as any kind of global leader by the majority of the X-Men or by the Avengers. He is likely to come into conflict with them once, more, though hopefully Marvel will continue to make his clashes with its heroes more complex than in the Silver Age days when he was just a recurring bad guy to get beaten up, now and then, by a team of good guys.

In fact, Kitty Pryde may be next in line for mutant leadership after Cyclops - she is the bright young protégé of all the older mutant leaders. Even Magneto has cultivated her in the past (and they have strong connections - he first turned from pure villainy after his remorse at almost killing her, while more recently he brought her back from space where she was exiled in ten-mile-long bullet travelling away from Earth at superluminal speed). Given time, Kitty could be anointed by all the mutant powerbrokers, but she is far too young at this stage to be a credible leader for an entire people.

There are various other possibilities. Right now, Storm may be best qualified for the job, and my vote would go to her if there were some editorial mandate for a new leader of mutantkind. She's smart enough, experienced, suitably regal, and personally powerful. She's never shown much ambition to lead mutantkind, as opposed to acting as leader of a combat team, but there have been glimpses of it, and she's ruled as a queen as well as being worshipped as a goddess. Storm is one character who could play a much bigger role in the Marvel Universe, so I hope she will be highlighted more in the wake of AvX.

Halle Berry's portrayal of Storm in the X-Men movies fell pretty flat, I thought, and this was a pity because Storm is such an iconic character, with a lot of potential. Maybe the character just doesn't translate well to the cinema screen, or maybe Berry was the wrong actress for the role. Be that as it may, let's see more stories that put Storm at the forefront.

Who else? Namor? He has deep (sea see what I did there?) experience as a ruler, but would be incongruous in the role of a mutant leader. Wolverine? Please spare me. Anything like a statesman role would be way out of character, irrespective of how popular he may be with fans. Rogue? Contrary to the impression some fans seem to have of her, she's smart, articulate, passionate, tactically resourceful, and saturated from childhood in mutant politics. But I doubt that she's done enough at this stage to make her the credible leader of much more than a combat squad.

It looks like we have a power vacuum here. Perhaps Storm is the right person to fill it, but, like Hoffman, I can't see that happening. Perhaps, sadly, that's not so much for an in-world reason, but just because there's still too much sexism in comics. Magneto will surely be looking out to steer things in certain directions, but even he must realise how unacceptable he is to almost everybody in the Marvel Universe as leader of mutantkind. Surely he'll continue to show some subtlety about how he makes his moves. Or has the time come for him to make a dramatic grab for political power?

No one else seems plausible in the role of mutant leader. So I'm hoping to see some interesting machinations, following the mess that will undoubtedly be left behind at the end of AvX. There are endless possibilities here for the continuing political narrative of how mutants are supposed to respond to a world that hates and fears them.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A new Jenny Blackford interview

Jenny Blackford is interviewed over here by Talie Helene. This is a wonderful interview, focused mainly on Jenny's poetry.

For Australians looking for FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE ...

... at a good price. There is a special offer at Embiggen Books at the moment. With all the current discussion in the media about religion, secularism, religious freedom, and freedom of speech, you really need to read this book. The author says so himself!



Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Supervillainy - (SPOILERS!!!) Oh no, they killed..

Yes, big, big spoilers, because they killed someone important.

The bastards.

I wonder how long he'll stay dead. All the same, this is one of the characters who'd been central to the Marvel Universe, even if he'd been playing an increasingly peripheral role in recent years.

Go to Scans Daily for more.

But, yes, the bastards have killed off Professor X.

And he gets killed by an out-of-control, Phoenix-powered-up Cyclops, the guy who was like a son to him. This is in Avengers vs X-Men #11, by the end of which Cyke has gone totally Dark Phoenix on a whole bunch of Marvel's other major characters. This event had been getting boring for me, but I'm now interested to see how it ends in #12, and what happens afterwards as Marvel now rejigs (without actually rebooting) its universe. They are not only reshuffling writers in a big way. There will also be some dramatic reshuffling of character roles to look forward to (hoping they work).

Monday, September 10, 2012

New post at Talking Philosophy - On vitriol and mockery

New post over here.

You know the drill - best to make comments over at TP rather than here. Join the thread.

Jenny Blackford on sharing meals with the gods

Yes, over ---> here. Everything you need to know. Really! I enjoyed being brought up to speed on how ancient sacrifice really worked.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Talking Philosophy in The New York Times

I get discussed briefly in The New York Times - or, well, actually on its Opinionator site.

This article refers to my post at Talking Philosophy over here.

It's not a biggie ... but the Opinionator piece slightly (but importantly) distorts my view. So here's a further piece at Talking Philosophy to clarify the point.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A visionary address by Steven Paul Leiva

Over at Huffington Post, Steven Paul Leiva has published the video and text of his address (earlier this year) to the LA-based group Atheists United. Though initially about his new book, Traveling in Space, it segues into a larger, even visionary, discussion of the future of humanity and our place in the universe.

Worth a look.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sunday Supervillainy - All-New X-Men, Uncanny Avengers and Marvel NOW

With Marvel NOW, Marvel is doing the nearest thing to a "new 52" - relaunching (though not rebooting) across all the central titles in its line. This includes the cancellation of Uncanny X-Men, even though it was performing strongly, both commercially and critically.

There will be an All-New X-Men title as its direct replacement, using what seems like a bizarre gimmick (though one that just might work). The original X-Men from the early 1960s (although the floating timeline concept requires us to place their first adventures only about a dozen years ago) travel through time into their future, i.e. our present. Here, they encounter a reality very different from what they imagined would unfold, and from the fruition of Professor X's dream of humans and mutants living in peace.

At this point, we don't know just what status quo they will encounter. Rumour has it that Professor X may be killed off by the time All-New X-Men starts, but we may be being misdirected. It looks certain that mutant/human relations will be pretty bad at the end of the current storylines that Marvel is wrapping up. The original five are going to find that at least one of their number (Jean Grey) is dead, and that their greatest physical and ideological enemy (Magneto) has not only never been definitively beaten, but is (perhaps) now swanning around in some kind of dark X-Men or quasi-Brotherhood group that includes the grown-up Cyclops, plus Emma Frost, and Magik. Again, we may be getting some misdirection from Marvel, but one way or another, the present is going to appear shocking and dystopian to the original, teenaged five. Judged against their dreams, it will look like a future in which they failed.

The other book that sort of replaces Uncanny X-Men is Uncanny Avengers, which includes characters from the X-Men and Avengers sides of the Marvel Universe. Apparently, Captain America is going to cobble this team together partly in his effort to repair human/mutant relations and partly to deal with some particular villainous threat (with the evil Red Skull behind it). It's a fascinating collection of characters, with Havok handed the leadership, plus Captain America himself, plus Thor, Rogue, Wolverine, and the Scarlet Witch. That's one human, one Norse god, and four mutants, with some rich back story that affects them all - for a start, it's difficult to imagine Rogue and Thor readily accepting each other as team mates. Also, the lineup includes a number of characters - Rogue, Wolverine, and the Scarlet Witch - who started out as supervillains, continuing the themes of redemption and moral greyness.

Although I'll miss Uncanny X-Men (surely it'll be back at some point), I'll be giving these books a look - they are based on innovative ideas, and I can see much potential in the situations created.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Avengers nudges $1.5 billion

I'm still fascinated by these box office figures - so unless you are, too, don't bother to read on.

It now looks like the final worldwide first-release box office for The Avengers will be very close indeed to $1.5 million, as projected here, and doubtless elsewhere, a few months ago. It opened most recently in Japan, where it had already earned considerable money from previews, and where it can still be expected to bring in some serious revenue after its first two (quite strong) official weekends in the cinemas.

On the other hand, it has pretty much run out of steam elsewhere, including in the US.

Box Office Mojo is currently giving a worldwide figure for The Avengers of $1,491,849,983 - with a bit more to come in from Japan this weekend (and in succeeding weeks). With not much coming from anywhere else, and assuming there's no vital fact that I'm missing, the final worldwide figure will be just about, but will not exceed, $1.5 billion. I doubt that anyone expected that before it was actually released. We all thought it could do well, but it's become a box-office monster.

For whatever reason, The Dark Knight Rises has performed relatively poorly in the US (we can project that it will end nearly $100 million behind The Dark Knight). On the other hand, its non-US sales have been very strong, if nowhere near as strong as those for The Avengers. All this gives it, at the moment, a worldwide total of $960,516,000. Once all the figures for this weekend are announced, it should be getting to around $970 million, and this is only its seventh weekend in American release.

Thus there are still few weeks to go before it, too, runs out of steam; so it looks as if The Dark Knight Rises will gross over a billion dollars (but probably not "well over"). Given the enormous expectations attached to it from the start, this is a relatively disappointing performance, though it is still going to be a very, very profitable movie.

Edit: See my comment below about how I spoke too soon. Mea culpa. With the latest data, The Avengers has indeed squeaked over $1.5 billion, and The Dark Knight Rises may yet get into "well over" $1 billion territory.

New post at Talking Philosophy - re The Selfish Gene

Check it out over here - I post in response to a (very good) retrospective review of The Selfish Gene, published in The Guardian. (On Twitter, Richard Dawkins himself called my post "perceptive", so I must have done something right.)