29 July 2011

A Civics Lesson for Congress

At one point yesterday, I saw a tweet that noted the U.S. government had scarcely more cash on hand than Apple.  I suspect by now Apple has more money than the government.  Wall Street has been shouting from their ivory towers about how catastrophic a default will be, and how bad it would be for our credit to be downgraded. The response to this has largely been a collective, "Screw Wall Street!" as though only people with investment portfolios will suffer consequences of failure to get a deal finalized in time to stave off disaster.  All I've seen on Twitter from Representative Geoff Davis (in whose constituency yours truly resides) has been some variation of the following:
We have asked, and the President has still not released ANY plan to address the   - 3:10 P.M. 28 July 2011
Representative Davis has been keen to emphasize this point, as though President Obama is the bad guy here for not telling Congress how to do their job.  Perhaps he should.  As a member of Congress, Representative Davis really ought to know that it's his job to help write the law and President Obama's job to either sign it or veto it.  I'm enough of a wonk I understand why this has been the message repeated throughout this debacle: it reinforces to conservative voters the idea that this is all President Obama's fault.  And a week ago I was resigned to tolerate this ad hominem nonsense as part of the theatrics.

Then last night Speaker John Boehner failed to rally enough GOP support to even hold a vote on his own plan.  Representative Denny Rehberg (R-Montana) decried:
"So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century," Rehberg told Blog Talk Radio in April. "You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.”
This was cited as representative last night that at least some segment of the House Republicans feel Pell Grants are too generous and ought to be cut or even abolished.  I've got news for Representative Rehberg.  Students who do not perform well forfeit their Pell Grants and must repay them.  I know this because I was one of the selfish, lazy Americans who had the audacity to benefit from Pell Grants.  You're welcome to consult the bursar's office at the University of Louisville.  They can confirm I received the money.  I received some residual money.  Wanna know what I did with it?  Generally, I bought text books (which, in case you're unaware, are expensive).  Even being frugal and buying used copies from online sellers--which admittedly saved me a ton of money--ate up most of my residual checks.  I also went through a ton of printer paper and ink.  Paper's cheap, but ink's not.  And remember, I graduated in 2006.  We paid more for ink that lasted less in those days.  My parents divorced when I was a child, my mom struggled to take care of my brother and me with a budget that didn't really encourage such luxuries as college savings and my dad not only never set aside any money for either of us (for college or otherwise), but he never so much as offered to buy me a textbook.

I was just about to feel guilty for expecting government to make possible what my family couldn't--or wouldn't--when I thought about the recent revelation that Representative Michele Bachmann, herself a presidential candidate campaigning against the evils of government programs, took out a $417,000 home loan backed by the very agencies she seeks to scrap.  When asked about the disparity between her rhetoric and actions, Representative Bachmann defended herself by saying:
Now unlike all of you, who I’m sure pay cash for your homes, there are people out there like myself who actually have to go to a bank and get a mortgage. And this is the problem. It’s almost impossible to buy a home in this country today without the federal government being involved. Whether it is with the FHA, whether it’s with Fannie, whether it’s with Freddie, it’s almost impossible to buy a home…What’s important is that we do dismantle a number of these federal programs that everyone agrees are clearly out of control.
That's right.  It's "almost impossible" to get a home without government involvement.  Not because government is a controlling institution seeking to dictate our lives, but because without the confidence that lenders have in government to ensure loans pan out, few would qualify for them.  A reasonable person understands that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae exist to reassure lenders--not control citizens.  Without government involvement, lenders would approve far fewer home loans.  Maybe Representative Bachmann thinks that would be a good thing, that too many uppity greedy selfishly feel entitled to live in a home they own.  I would disagree with her, but she'd have a lot more credibility to tell me what she believes if she herself hadn't already demonstrated that home ownership is a legitimate, respectable aspiration and that lenders do require government reassurance to make that dream happen for most people.

Why do I bring up Pell Grants and home loans?  Because the Tea Party is the tail wagging the GOP dog and they clearly do not understand cause and effect any more than they understand why these government programs exist in the first place.  In Representative Bachmann's mind, then, getting rid of the agencies that make possible home loans for most people (it's estimated 90% of home mortgages are backed by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae) will lead to a cleaner, unfettered home loan process.  Except, of course, that without government agencies to reassure lenders, they won't approve the loans.  How does anyone over the age of seven, much less a member of Congress, not understand this?

This debt ceiling crisis exists in its current state in large part because entirely too many people--from citizens to politicians to the talking heads on TV and the blogosphere--have characterize this and every other political issue as though we were watching a grand version of Survivor, wondering whether Team Obama would prevail over Team Boehner, and whether Team Boehner would even stay together.  These issues are not abstract concepts confined the distant realm of Washington.  These things affect every one of us in one way or another, every day.

Representative Davis makes it clear that more than a few members of Congress need to attend a civics class and learn what their job actually involves--and what they're not supposed to outsource to the White House.  Representatives Rehberg and Bachmann make clear that when they're finished taking civics, they need to take an economics class and find out just how important Pell Grants and federally-backed home loans really are.  At the very least, understand this:

You're not just "sticking it" to President Obama.  You're placing us all at risk.  There's no "I just wanted to defy Obama" exemption that will get you out of paying exorbitantly higher interest rates if our credit is downgraded.  The consequences won't be confined to Wall Street or the White House.  They will be felt by all of us.  Grow the hell up, have someone tell you how to do your job and then do it.

28 July 2011

On Feminism

While pursuing my bachelor of arts degree at the University of Louisville, I had occasion to take a pair of courses from the Women's & Gender Studies program.  When this arose in conversation with some of my friends--themselves fairly liberal, I might add--I was surprised to hear them marginalize the subject matter.  It wasn't "real" history, I was told.  I didn't buy that.  I subscribe to the notion that, unless the facts are outright fabricated or the interpretations are willfully selective about which facts to acknowledge, that all history is "real" history.  The issues facing women were (and are) certainly real, and given that as much as 60% or more of our population has been women at one time or another, I don't think this is some kind of trivial, niche study.
Amelia Bloomer

During my junior year, I took Women in American History (or some such title).  There were about 40 or so students in the course, and three of us were guys.  Of the others, one sat at the same table as me--all the way in the back of the class, with a female student on either side of him.  The other male student sat elsewhere and was frequently absent.  I can't speak for the other guy at my table, but I elected to sit there for one simple reason: I am lazy.  There were two doorways, one at either end of the class, and by sitting in the back, I was nearest one of the doorways.  I'm sure, however, our classmates and probably our professor surmised we were uncomfortable in the class.

Me being me, however, I quickly dispelled any notions that I was intimidated by studying women's history in a class taught by a woman and full of women students.  I threw my hand up at almost every turn, offering thoughts and asking questions whenever they occurred to me.  It was never my intention to dominate the class, but rather to participate in it.  Firstly, I sincerely enjoyed the material.  Secondly, I wanted to prove that there were (and are) male students who take women's history seriously.  It was easy for me to empathize with the Grimke sisters, Jane Adams, etc.  I found a personal favorite historical figure in Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

My classmates at first seemed a little unsure of me.  What was I even doing there? I'm sure some of them wondered.  I'm also certain that at least a few of them expected me to say offensive, dense things like, "But none of this is actually important" or "Who even cares what these chicks did?"  Eventually, I felt accepted and even respected to a point for voicing my thoughts.  Few of my classmates ever really spoke with me--which was true of every class I ever took at the college level--but I got used to hearing phrases like, "I agree with Travis" and "I think he's right" when our professor sought other opinions.

During my final semester, the end of my senior year, I took a course about women's history taught by the head of the Women's & Gender Studies department.  In that class, I took a seat in the front row all the way to the right...directly in front of the door because, as I've explained, I'm lazy.  Plus, by then I had been diagnosed with Crohn's disease and wanted to minimize any disruptions I might cause by sporadically bolting to the nearest bathroom.  On our first day of class, our professor had us introduce ourselves.  Taking note of how I was dressed, I started by saying, "I'm a guy in a class about women's history and I'm wearing a James Bond tie.  I must be the Devil."  That got a few uncomfortable chuckles, which was practically a standing ovation so far as I was concerned.  Again, I was one of just a few male students and again, I quickly won the respect of my fellow students through my frequent participation in class discussions.

Eventually, during the penultimate week of the school year, we turned in our final papers.  I wrote a paper called, "Who Wants to Be a Fashion Martyr? The Nineteenth-Century American Women's Dress Reform Movement."  My professor requested that I meet with her in her office, and that I bring with me all of my research notes.  I was concerned about the implications of such a request so I called another professor with whom I was on very good terms.  I asked him pointblank if this meant I was suspected of plagiarism and he said, "Yes."  He was furious on my behalf, knowing I would never conduct myself in such a lowly fashion.  He cautioned me that this particular professor had a certain reputation that made it very likely I was in for quite a fight.  I felt betrayed.  After four months of participating in every class discussion for which I was present (alas, Crohn's kept me out of class more than I would have liked), and after having already earned decent-to-high marks on previous smaller papers for her class, now I was in the hot seat?
Remember, this was one of the last four classes of my undergraduate studies.  We were about a week away from the commencement ceremony (which, thanks to Crohn's, I did not bother to try to attend).  Dating back to Kindergarten, I had never once been accused of something as reprehensible as plagiarism.  Oh, sure, I was lazy enough to take a seat near the doorway, but I do my own work!  A friend of mine was livid, citing this as further evidence that feminists hated men and couldn't stand to see a male student actually meet their standards.  I rejected that hyperbolic interpretation of events, and I still reject it.  Feminists care a whole lot more about being respected than they care about setting up men for failure.

The day came and I met with the professor in her office as scheduled.  I walked in, feigning ignorance of any suspicions--though I doubt she believed I was that oblivious to the implications of her request.  She asked me if I had with me my research, so I opened my attache bag and presented it.  I don't have it now, but it was a stack of printouts that stood about four or five inches tall.  When approaching any paper, I came to it the way we used to work on the Future Problem Solvers team in high school.  Which is to say, I looked for articles and papers written by experts in various fields on various subjects, and trusted that I could reasonably find a way to connect each of them.  Sometimes I would find and print an article, read it and even find relevant passages, but they would eventually be cut as I pruned my work into a solid, presentable paper.  I kept all of it anyway, even the stuff that was left on the cutting room floor.

Her eyes betrayed her surprise at the sheer volume of my research.  She thumbed through several of the printed articles, noting all the highlighting, passages circled in ink and assorted handwritten notes scrawled across the margins.  Within a minute or so, she asked if I knew why she had requested the meeting.  Sticking to my charade, I shrugged it off.  She told me as diplomatically as she could that my paper "stood out."  She was surprised to see how many different sources I had cited in a paper that only ran seven pages including cover sheet and end notes (of which there were 36).

I went with "surprised" rather than "indignant" when reacting to this.  I knew I had already acquitted myself by presenting such a substantial collection of sources.  I told her that was simply how I did things, that I liked to immerse myself as much as possible in a subject.  Very quickly the conversation evolved from a trial to one of a teacher taking time to encourage a student.  She asked my post-graduation plans.  I told her that I had been discouraged from attempting to go on to grad school and become a teacher as I had intended on account of having Crohn's disease.  She objected to that, insisting I should do it anyway but I had already accepted that even if I somehow made it through grad school without Crohn's forcing enough absences to become a problem, that eventually I would find myself in the position of having to choose whether to leave 30-plus teenage kids unsupervised for an indeterminate length of time as I made a mad dash for a bathroom.  It wasn't practical, and while I still believe I would enjoy teaching and maybe even be "adequate to good" at it, I know it's not for me.  Or, at least, that I'm not for it.

My paper earned high marks, I passed her course with an A and discovered later that I was one of but nine students in my graduating class to major in history and earn cum laude or higher honors.  (I missed magna cum laude by less than 20 percentage points, thanks to taking C's in a few economics courses.)  Along the way, I was pleased to be introduced to the stories of various American women and to better acquaint myself with the narrative of womanhood in American history.  I consider it a valuable part of my holistic appreciation of the past.  I am unwavering in my conviction that women's history is, in fact, "real" history just as I am adamant that feminists are not men-hating conspirators setting traps and making frivolous federal cases out of trivial incidents.

Women have endured being second-class citizens for centuries, and it shames us all that this is still true today.  There is a perception that any woman with an inclination to punish a man can just go around crying, "Rape!" and see him brought to his knees by the justice system, a power that all women wield at all times waiting for an excuse to exercise it.  That, of course, is nonsense.  Just look at the Dominique Strauss-Khan trial to see that society at large is still very quick to rationalize and defend untoward, disrespectful and violent behavior toward women.  Think it's easy to just cry, "Rape!" and have men imprisoned at will?  Then you've apparently never heard a defense attorney say, "She asked for it by wearing those clothes or being in that room" and seen jurors nod in agreement.
Susan B. Anthony & Elizabeth Cady Stanton
I was already sensitive to these things prior to my studies; I was not "brainwashed."  After spending four years pushed and tested to hone my critical thinking skills, I am particularly resentful of anyone accusing my collegiate career of having been a brainwashing operation.  That is a baseless charge levied by ignorant, small-minded people who have no valid counterargument to the educated. We are not elitists.  Our opinions are, however, generally better informed and our arguments more sound.  For more on this, read "On Education."

I was formally educated in specific stories of various women who found the courage and conviction to challenge a system that linked their legal rights to their uterus.  I challenge anyone who remains skeptical of women's history being "real" history or believes that feminism is some kind of cabal of women determined to enslave anyone with the wrong chromosomes to actually study women's history.  Any reasonable person should very quickly empathize with their plight, and rejoice at reading of their triumphs.  You can start anywhere, but between you and me, Elizabeth Cady Stanton is well worth your time.  It would not surprise me at all to one day learn that she was part of the template for The Golden Girls.

"On Sexual Violence" may also interest readers of this post.

27 July 2011

DC Comics: The New 52 - Green Lantern Spotlight

In this, the third in my sub-series spotlighting the DC Comics relaunch, we take a look at Green Lantern.  Like Batman, GL was actually selling well before the relaunch so DC is largely leaving its current continuity intact.  Here's what I know about the Lanterns before the relaunch.  Hal Jordan's home town Coast City was destroyed during the "Reign of the Superman" part of the death and return of Superman.  Hal was overcome by grief, became insane and was so outraged by the Guardians' refusal to intervene or help in any way that he concluded the entire Corps was an exercise in uselessness so he killed the Guardians and every single Corps member, and used their rings to try to rewrite time.  Hal became Parallax, and was eventually killed, becoming The Spectre to atone for his sins.  Kyle Rayner succeeded Hal as the lone Green Lantern of the universe.

Eventually, it was decided to resurrect Hal and the rest of the Corps because it was felt one Green Lantern just wasn't enough.  Hal was restored as Earth's GL, while Kyle took the alter ego "Ion" and left for deep space.  Sinestro created his own Corps and eventually there came several other Corps of different colors.  Black Lanterns brought a zombie apocalypse to the DC Universe in "Blackest Night," a massive, multi-part crossover story that apparently sold a lot of comics.  Here's what's up now:

Green Lantern
$2.99 - 14 September 2011
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy
Cover by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado
The red-hot GREEN LANTERN team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Doug Mahnke introduce a new Lantern.
Really can't shut up, can you, DC?  I mean, did we need to know all that?

Green Lantern Corps
$2.99 - 21 September 2011
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna
Cover by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy
When deadly conflicts emerge across the universe, it’s up to Guy Gardner, John Stewart and an elite Green Lantern strike force to keep the peace – or else.
Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kilowog...pretty much all the noteworthy Lanterns who aren't Hal or Kyle are in this book.  Never cared for Guy (though he can be fun on a team depending on the rest of the roster), but I like John and the concept of this series.  I'll be interested to see how long they go before crossing over with the other Lantern series.

Green Lantern: New Guardians
$2.99 - 28 September 2011
Written by Tony Bedard
Art and Cover by Tyler Kirkham and Batt
Kyle Rayner has assembled the most powerful team in all the universe, selected from the full spectrum of corps. But can he even keep this volatile group together?
Hal gets Green Lantern proper, so Kyle gets this book.  The synopsis sounds pretty much like the same kind of hero-on-hero antagonism that I rolled my eyes at over Supergirl.  Does anyone remember when there were villains to be opposed?

Red Lanterns
$2.99 - 14 September 2011
Written by Peter Milligan
Art and Cover by Ed Benes and Rob Hunter
Atrocitus and his Red Lantern Corps return in their own series, battling against injustice in the most bloody ways imaginable!
Those of you who know who the hell Atrocitus is should be happy.  I guess.  I don't know.

In addition to these four GL books, Hal Jordan is a member of Justice League and Guy Gardner is a member of Justice League International.  So you've got four Corps books and two Justice League books each featuring a GL.  That should scratch most fans' Lantern itches.

Other DC Comics: The New 52 spotlights
Justice League
Superheroes (Captain Atom, Mister Terrific, Hawkman, Firestorm)
Young Justice
The Dark
The Edge

The Louisville Palace presents James Stewart

I'd like to thank the Louisville Palace for never replying to any of my queries about this year's Classic Movie Series.  It's been going on for almost a full two weeks already and not one announcement from them via e-mail.  Anyway, here's the lineup.  I'm including the entire series for the sake of posterity, knowing full well you can't possibly go see several of these because they've already played.  All shows are (or were) at 8:00, except as noted.

15 July - You Can't Take It with You (1938)
16 July - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
22 July - Destry Rides Again (1939)
23 July - The Philadelphia Story (1940)
29 July - Rope (1948)
30 July - It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - also shows at 4:00
5 August - Harvey (1950)
6 August - Winchester '73 (1950)
12 August - The Glenn Miller Story (1954)
13 August - Rear Window (1954)
19 August - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
20 August - Vertigo (1958)
26 August - Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
27 August - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Tickets are $5.00.  Unlike years past, there are no encore showings of movies the following afternoon so you've only got one crack at each movie (save It's a Wonderful Life).  I'd tell you whether these were 35mm prints or DVD projections...if the Palace bothered to say so on their web page or at least respond to my tweet.  Their Twitter feed is entirely one-sided; they do not appear to ever actually reply to anyone or even re-tweet anything.

I've seen a few of these for the first time in the last few months: Destry Rides Again, Harvey and Winchester '73 and I enjoyed all three.  I would highly recommend all three.  For me, the real eye-catcher is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, one of my all-time favorites.  It's currently #50/1252 on my Flickchart.  Provided all the proper stars align (guts, money, lack of other pressing events), I'm there.

Fright Night Film Festival Notes...in 3D!

This past weekend, I had free passes to see a preview screening of The Smurfs in 3D at Rave Stonybrook in Louisville.  My wife has never been able to tolerate 3D so we haven't explored the new 3D technology but we figured for free we could afford to find out whether she's amenable to the current format.  It turns out she is.  I was very pleased with the movie, which I reviewed for Flickchart.  What I didn't put into that review was that the projectionist at Stonybrook really screwed up the movie.  The first 5-10 minutes were terribly unfocused and the movie even stopped playing at one point.  Eventually, it was corrected but it was certainly a reminder of what Roger Ebert has been railing about 3D not being properly handled in most theaters.  I will say, the 3D in The Smurfs worked very well and convinced me that it can be a useful addition to the right movies.
After the screening, we were off to Fright Night Film Festival.  Because I had to have two teeth extracted a week ago, our spending budget was reduced to the $10 cash I had on me, so I didn't score any of the autographs that I had hoped to add to my meager collection.  I did, however, get to chat with Tiffany Shepis whom I found charming and very friendly.  We discussed Nightmare Man, the DVD bonus features that I shamefully still haven't watched and the guy at the adjacent table joined me in contrasting whether I was better off having missed a previous Fright Night convention with a Crohn's flare--apparently the air conditioning had gone out so that con was roasting.  We ultimately scored it a draw.  I felt bad not buying something from her after taking up a solid five minutes of her time in conversation, but what was I gonna do with $10?
Tiffany Shepis in Nightmare Man. Publicity photo.
I also managed to have a solid five minute conversation with Albert Pyun. I was unfortunately unable to attend the Friday night screening of his director's cut of Captain America (Friday at 5:00 is a horrible time to schedule a movie to start). He shared some thoughts about that movie with me, saying that in his version, there are some important themes that are better explored. For instance, it answers why the Red Skull is Italian instead of German. More importantly, though, he said that his movie is about Steve Rogers wrestling with whether or not he can live up to being Captain America. I didn't realize it, but the actor cast as Steve Rogers/Captain America is Matt Salinger, son of famed auther J.D. Salinger. Pyun noted that Salinger knew a thing or two about growing up in the shadow of a famous legacy and that this is in his performance. To what extent Salinger thought about all this at the time, of course, you'd have to ask him.

My back started hurting so I took an hour away from the con floor to sit in on a literary panel about anthologies.  I think there were more panelists than attendees.  I learned a few things.  Firstly, apparently only about 25% of submissions actually follow the guidelines of a given anthology meaning that if you just follow the rules you've got a leg up on 75% of the competition.  A story can also be rejected if it's similar in theme and tone to another story (preference is given to the story written by someone with name recognition), and a story can also be rejected if it's too good for the collection.  Homogeneity is important to an anthology.  Every editor present also emphasized how much they enjoy finding a reason to give someone their first break in the industry, and how they take pride in being the one to first take a chance on someone.

After the panel we attended a screening of Cross, which is part A-Team and part Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It's a product of the comic book/sci-fi world produced by stars Brian Austin Green and Jake Busey among others.  We saw it because it also features Troy H. King, friend of my mother-in-law.  His is a small but entertaining part as one of Michael Clarke Duncan's henchmen.  The audio mix was screwed up so it was hard to follow a lot of the dialog but having the background I have in such stories and having seen several silent movies in the last year, I didn't have too much trouble keeping up with it.  It started late for whatever reason, which pushed back subsequent events to the ire of those event enthusiasts.  As it happened, the masquerade ball and body art show were scheduled for that room.  We passed, waiting instead for the invitation only Fat Monster party.

With Daniel Logan.
No idea who the photobomber is.
Just as we were going to leave, my wife started finding friendly celebrities (many of whom I didn't even recognize so I can't say who they were).  At one point, we had two Boba Fetts: Jeremy Bulloch and Daniel Logan.  I didn't really get to talk with Mr. Bulloch, but we did spend some time trying to keep up with Daniel Logan.  That guy has to have some kind of ADHD.  He's a whirlwind of energy and I got dizzy trying to keep up with him.

What I enjoyed most about hanging out with Daniel Logan was that he doesn't even act like he knows he's a celebrity.  I honestly think he'd be the life of the party even if he was a nobody.  The guy's full of energy and seems to really enjoy being around people having a good time.  It reminded me of what it was like hanging out with my friends back before Crohn's disease put an end to my late nights.  So, thanks for the good time, Daniel Logan.

We left sometime between 1:00 and 2:00, and had a lot of fun.  I was thrilled my guts had cooperated throughout the entire day, though my hip and my back did not.

25 July 2011

Playlist: Mr. Midnight

I've thrown together several Garth Brooks playlists and mix discs over the years but I always wanted to put one together based on all the songs in his discography that take place late at night.  I originally had a playlist of 20 such songs, and I even burned that playlist to a CD and we played it in the car Saturday night.  But as Garth noted during his performance of "Friends in Low Places" in the This Is Garth Brooks! TV special, "it's then and only then that you realize...somethin's wrong."  After further tinkering, I resequenced songs and distilled it to these thirteen tracks from which I have constructed a singular narrative.  The principles in this drama are Mr. Midnight, Mr. Midnight's Ex, Cinderella, an unnamed woman, Chris LeDoux and a murdered woman.
"Mr. Midnight"
(J.R. Cobb/Buddy Buie/Tom Douglas) from the album Scarecrow

I know many disc jockeys are obnoxious, but I always wanted to be one.  I think that's why I post these playlists on my blog; I like the idea of helping structure how music is presented to people.  The song is about a DJ who takes a song request from his ex, who apparently doesn't realize he's the one taking her request.  I feel like the DJ sees himself as having a unique perspective on the relationship between the music and the listeners, and that in this song we get to be in the booth with him for a much closer look at him than the listeners ever get.  Kind of like that scene in American Graffiti where Richard Dreyfuss gets to visit with Wolfman Jack, only in this song we're Dreyfuss and Wolfman doesn't really know we're there to see his sad story.

This is our protagonist for the story, and most of his story is told in first person, mostly to us but sometimes to other characters in his drama.

"When There's No One Around"
(Tim O'Brien/Darrell Scott) from the album Sevens

Mr. Midnight's mind is wandering throughout the night.  This song is about a guy lying in bed and not being able to fall asleep, "a tape of my failures playing inside my head."  That's a curious phrase, and one that takes on a telling light if we think of it being said to us by a disc jockey.  He's fighting to sleep at four in the morning, so maybe it's his off night but I like to think that he had a breakdown after taking his ex's song request and took some time off work.

"One Night a Day"
(Gary Burr/Pete Wasner) from the album In Pieces

One of my favorite recordings in the entire Garth Brooks discography.  In high school, I got in the habit of staying up and watching The Late Show with David Letterman for laughs and then I stayed tuned for The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder for his one-on-one, audience-free interviews.  It was a very intimate show, and a great way to segue from the hustle and bustle of Letterman into the wee hours.  Garth Brooks was a guest one night, and they played a clip from this song going into or out of commercial break that mentions, "I stay up with The Late Late Show/just another way I know/to get through one night a day."  I will always think of those nights watching Tom Snyder whenever I hear this song.

Within the story I'm weaving with the songs on this playlist, this is where our narrator ("Mr. Midnight," I suppose) is trying to distract himself from the heartache of love gone wrong.  He's going to get restless, though, and go...

"Walking After Midnight"
(Alan Block/Don Hecht) from the album The Chase

I was always amused by one review I read about The Chase that proclaimed it a great showcase of Garth's songwriting because he only wrote or co-wrote six of the ten songs.  Regardless of all that, I love this song and I think it's a fine recording.  I remember going on walks around my neighborhood late at night with my friends during our teens.  This song reminds me of the serenity of those walks.  I love the change in ambient noise late at night; I don't think morning people ever know that the world sounds differently then.

In the context of the narrative constructed on this playlist, though, our guy just can't find enough distractions at home and he goes out walking, driven by his restlessness.  The song is really more about a character desperate to actually meet a lover for the first time, but I think it can also play as looking for a lost love.  Besides, if we consider our protagonist to be the disc jockey Mr. Midnight, it makes sense he would have this old song on his mind.

"It's Midnight Cinderella"
(Kent Blazy/Kim Williams/Garth Brooks) from the album Fresh Horses

Mr. Midnight introduces himself to Cinderella after witnessing her date/beau screw up with her.  She's as vulnerable as he is, it seems, and the two broken hearts seek pleasure together.

A friend of mine loathes this song.  I agree it was a poor selection to be a single; it really is not a song that could stand up to that kind of exposure.  It reminds me of the silly little kinds of songs that George Jones has recorded over the years, like "The King Is Gone."  I dig the energy of this song, and I love the cold open which is why I originally opened the playlist with this.  I think it works better this way, though, as "Midnight Sun" is more about anticipating midnight where this is specifically set then.

"Every Now and Then"
(Buddy Mondlock/Garth Brooks) from the album The Chase

Now Mr. Midnight has someone new.  His heart doesn't seem committed to Cinderella, though, and keeps wandering to the lost love.  Maybe this isn't a happy ending?

"Burning Bridges"
(Stephanie C. Brown/Garth Brooks) from the album Ropin' the Wind

No, Mr. Midnight wasn't satisfied with Cinderella, and he's gone before she gets up.  Apparently, this is a pattern of behavior.

"Which One of Them"
(Garth Brooks) from The Limited Series (1998)

Mr. Midnight is going back out to find someone else.  Instead of moving on, now we know that he's only really looking for some way of trying to recreate what he misses.  It becomes a very bleak song in the context of this narrative, I think.

"Mr. Right"
(Garth Brooks) from the album The Chase

This is how Mr. Midnight actually approaches a woman at a bar, trying to get her to leave with him.  These are the kinds of things that no one with any dignity or self-respect could ever say with a straight face.

"Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy" Chris LeDoux duet with Garth Brooks
(Garth Brooks/Mark D. Sanders) from the album Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy

Just in case the woman on the other end of "Mr. Right" is tempted, Chris steps in to make sure she really knows what she's considering.  This is one of two songs I included that aren't on any of Garth's albums or compilations. I love Garth's chuckle when Chris sings, "You'd be better off to try to rope the wind," a reference to Garth's third album (titled Ropin' the Wind).

"Fishin' in the Dark"
(Wendy Waldman/Jim Photoglo) from the collection The Lost Sessions
Originally released in The Limited Series (2005) box set

Oh, it looks like Chris LeDoux couldn't talk her out of it and now they're leaving the bar with plans to go down by the river.  I always liked the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recording of this song and Garth does a great job covering it.

"The Night Will Only Know"
(Stephanie Davis/Jenny Yates/Garth Brooks) from the album In Pieces

This may be the darkest song of the playlist.  It tells of a couple who should not have been together who witness a woman killed during the night, but do nothing to help her to protect their own secret.  Unlike the previous several songs, "The Night Will Only Know" is in third person.

What makes this interesting in the context of this playlist is the line, "Both belonging to another/but longing to be lovers/they were finally where desire dared them to go."  This suggests a familiarity not hinted at in the previous songs, but now it makes us see his corny "I'm Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now" pickup line as more of a coy in-joke that might work on a woman who knew he wasn't seriously that lame.  We can then extrapolate that she's there without the one to whom she belongs, and for whatever reason decides to give in to temptation.  This also makes "Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy" interesting, because now instead of being an "Are you sure about this?" second chance to walk away from a corny pickup line, it's like LeDoux is a mutual friend witnessing this transgression, trying to be the little angel on their shoulders.

"The Thunder Rolls" [Live Version]
(Pat Alger/Garth Brooks) from the television special This Is Garth Brooks!

Having witnessed the murder, Mr. Midnight and his lover part ways for the night.  Here, we learn that he has a woman waiting at home who knows where he's been, and in the final verse she puts an end to his wandering ways.  It may very well be that this is the same woman from "Burning Bridges," and she's had enough of him using his third shift radio job as a cover to go out having affairs.

This specific recording was from the first of Garth's TV specials, which I watched the night it aired back in 1991.  It was during this special that the public at large was first introduced to the final verse of the song, and you can hear the crowd freak out over it--just as I did, hearing it from my dad's couch.  Capitol Records issued a promotional single to radio stations in support of the TV special featuring that performance, as well as "Friends in Low Places," which introduced us to the infamous third verse of that song and in the TV special concluded with Garth smashing guitars with Ty England.  I eventually got my grubby paws on one of those promo CD singles and it's one of the crown jewels of my modest library.  You can satisfactorily substitute the live version from Double Live for your playlist.

21 July 2011

Fright Night Film Fest 2011

It's been wild to watch as Fright Night Film Fest grows with each year.  The 2011 festival begins tomorrow night at 5:00 PM (unless you've got passes that allow you to enter at 4:00) and provided all the stars align properly, I'll be going again this year, having been absent the last two years.  I've already posted a survey of the festival and my preliminary hopes and thoughts, but for the lazy who just want to finish reading this post, the guest list this time is awfully impressive: John Carpenter is the Guest of Honor and other celebrities include Henry Winkler, Michael Biehn, Linda Blair, Margot Kidder, director Fred Olen Ray and scream queen Tiffany Shepis among scores of others including Boba Fetts Jeremy Bulloch and Daniel Logan.  Films screened will include Biehn's The Victim (which he directed and will follow with a Q&A segment), Fred Olen Ray's Supershark (which he will likewise attend) and Cross (numerous minor cast members will be on hand).  Albert Pyun will be present to screen his director's cut of 1990's Captain America tomorrow at 5:00 when the doors open.

Vendors will be peddling their wares and movies will be screened the whole time.  There are several other special events, such as a VIP Celebrity Cocktail Party Saturday night at 9:00 and a Masquerade Ball at 10:00.  Also Saturday night will be a tie-in event at Georgetown Twin Drive-In.  Henry Winkler and assorted other celebrities will attend a screening of two episodes of Happy Days followed by American Graffiti, to be followed by the regular Screen 1 lineup of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  Happy Days is scheduled to begin at 9:35 PM and Transformers is scheduled to finish at 4:45 AM; $15 gets you in for the whole shebang.

I would adore seeing American Graffiti at a drive-in, but in all likelihood I'll be at the cocktail party at that time.  It's a shame, really.  Who knows?  Maybe things will go that way.  Regardless of what I get to see or who I get to meet, I intend to chronicle my experiences here.

"Superman/Gen Thirteen" by Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo & John Nyberg

Superman/Gen Thirteen
Story - Adam Hughes
Pencils - Lee Bermejo
Inks - John Nyberg
Letters - Mike Heisler
Colors - Guy Major, Ben Dimagmaliw & Ian Hannin
Original series editor - Eric DeSantis
Collected edition editor - Neal J. Pozner
Book design - Amber Bennett
Originally published as Superman/Gen13 #1-3
Trade Paperback Published: August, 2001
Cover Price: $9.95

A friend of mine, Chad, lent this to me recently.  He's got an infrequently updated blog I recommend.  The premise is simple enough: the Gen13 group of young superheroes takes a field trip to Metropolis.  Caitlin Fairchild is the leader of the group (as much as anyone could be their leader, anyway) and she has long wanted to visit that city largely because of her adoration of Superman.  Her teammates, however, can think of no place less interesting than Metropolis and no one duller than the Man of Steel.  Within minutes of arrival, they're caught up in witnessing Superman fighting a giant gorilla the size of a skyscraper and Caitlin is knocked out.  When she comes to, she has amnesia and mistakenly deduces that she must be Supergirl.  In her efforts to be the Maiden of Steel, though, her klutzy ways make a wreak of Metropolis while her teammates reluctantly join with Superman to find her.

There is a thesis to this charming little story, and it's one that I think is particularly worth exploring and defending in light of DC Comics's current plans to reboot and rewrite the Last Son of Krypton.  The Gen13 team share their criticisms of Superman with Lois Lane and Clark Kent--who takes them to heart.  Later, Lois consoles her husband by reminding him of something he once said about Superman himself: "I've never been fashionable, therefore I can never become unfashionable."  She goes on to declare:
"...Superman isn't a---a fad, something you outgrow and get nostalgic about twenty years later--!  Superman's...Superman's the one thing you can always count on.  Always, Clark."
It's a shame that DC Comics doesn't have more faith in Lois Lane, who ought to know a thing or two about Superman after all these years.  Ten years after this mini-series was published, Superman is being treated like a fad.  Still, I suppose it's better than Gen13 have fared.  They've got a few years left before it's time for anyone to get nostalgic about them.

As for the story itself, it's told with a nice sense of humor and moves at a nice pace.  Even casual readers who aren't familiar with Gen13 at all and haven't read a Superman comic in ages should have no problem discerning from expository information what they need to follow this story.  It's not really about exploring either of their universes, but rather using the Gen13 characters to take a different kind of look at Superman.  If you've ever felt that even as you lost interest in Superman you just kind of liked knowing he was still out there in stories that kids were reading or watching, you should be able to enjoy this story.

Lee Bermejo's art looks nice; everything is clean and easy to follow.  Lois Lane looks an awful lot like Sela Ward to me, for whatever that matters.  The layouts are well spaced, and most panels are of characters with little or no background, so the pages breathe very easily.  John Nyberg's deliberate inks really accentuate each image, and his bountiful use of black really helps the colors pop.  It all creates a very inviting aesthetic suitable for the lighthearted nature of Adam Hughes's story.  Nicely done all around.  I'll have to look for a copy of this for my own library.

By the way, DC Comics offers this preview.

A Nation of Self-Deceivers Cannot Debate Honestly

Contemporary readers are doubtless aware that we're down to about two weeks before the U.S. government hits its debt ceiling.  For anyone reading this in the future, House Republicans and Senate Democrats have been at loggerheads for months, and every time someone has sniffed an agreement, it's been followed by escalating signs of discord.  Eric Cantor walked out of the meetings, saying he refused to be part of them anymore because he won't accept any plan to address the deficit that involves raising revenue--even if that means closing tax loopholes rather than an actual tax increase.  Everyone with a cable talk show has hosted anyone who has ever spoken the words "debt" and "ceiling" in the same breath, searching for commentary.  The blogosphere is inundated with this. In a lot of ways, it's become a microcosm for every topic from class warfare to foreign policy.

I've thought about posting numerous times throughout all this, but I figured one more voice shouting into the abyss was extraneous at best.  Besides, I've rather enjoyed my recent diversions into blogging about comic books.  Yet, I recently came across something that I don't think has been properly discussed and debated and upon reflection I've decided it's worth posting here for the few readers who will find it.

Suzanne Mettler, Cornell's Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions (I wonder what her business cards look like) has published a paper, "Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era" in which she presents the following table that should be self-explanatory:

That right there is the entire reason that our national debt and government spending debates exist in their current form.  It's not like we're living under the Sun King dipping into the coffers to throw lavish parties and build the palace at Versailles.  The second highest paid government official is the Postmaster General, who makes $265,000 a year.  If that sounds exorbitant, consider that he or she is the equivalent to the CEO of UPS or FedEx, but with the constraints of being a government agency.

Our debt, massive though it may be, is spent on programs that benefit us.  Yet all anyone seems to be able to think about when the subject arises of government programs: something that poor people use because they're lazy.  Until we own up as a society to just how much use we all get from these programs, we can't have a meaningful discussion about what is and is not "wasteful" spending.

20 July 2011

DC Comics: The New 52 - Superman Spotlight

Unlike Batman, Superman is getting a major makeover as part of the DC Comics relaunch.  In fact, he's being entirely reset.  In the new continuity, Superman is the first superhero to become known by the public (whereas in the continuity of the last 25 years, Superman was a second generation superhero).  The Kents are dead by the time we meet grown-up Clark.  Speaking of Clark, that persona is allegedly far less important than Kal-El.  His powers have been dramatically scaled back.  When we first meet him in Action Comics #1, he can leap tall buildings, but cannot fly for instance.  Also, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are no longer married; she's got a different beau at the Daily Planet.  And just wait till you see the changes to his costume design....

Action Comics
$3.99 - 7 September 2011
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Rags Morales and Rick Bryant
Cover by Rags Morales
The one and only Grant Morrison returns to Superman, joined by sensational artist Rags Morales (IDENTITY CRISIS), to bring you tales of The Man of Steel unlike any you’ve ever read! This extra-sized debut issue is the cornerstone of the entire DC Universe!
Action Comics, from what I've learned outside this uninformative solicitation, is set during the very beginning of Superman's career which is about five years before the rest of the new continuity.  One of the things I really liked about Legends of the Dark Knight was that it was chiefly set during Batman's past while the other Batman books were present-day tales.  Action Comics seems to offer that same kind of contrasting dynamic for Superman.  Jeans, a T-shirt and a little red cape, though?

$2.99 - 28 September 2011
Written by George Perez
Breakdowns and Cover by George Perez
Art by Jesus Merino
The new adventures of Superman begin here! What is The Man of Steel’s startling new status quo? How does it affect Lois Lane and The Daily Planet? There’s no time for answers now, because Superman must stop a monstrous threat to Metropolis – one that he somehow is the cause of!
First of all, someone's English teacher has just been shamed by that last sentence.  Did the solicitation typist really not think of ending it with, "one that he somehow caused?"  Anyway, as far as I can tell, this series is set during the present, meaning that it's five years after Action Comics.  If Superman looks more familiar in that small picture, click on it to see the full image and you'll see he's wearing Kryptonian battle armor of some kind.  Nice to see George Perez at the helm of a Superman series.

$2.99 - 14 September 2011
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Rb Silva and Rob Lean
Cover by Eric Canete
They thought he was just an experiment – and a failed one at that! Grown from a combination of Kryptonian and human DNA, the clone was no more than a set of data to the scientists of Project N.O.W.H.E.R.E. But when the scope of his stunning powers was revealed, he became a deadly weapon! Now the question is: Can a clone develop a conscience?
Now we get into the confusing parts of the relaunch.  In the last continuity, Superman died in battle with Doomsday and was cloned.  That clone broke free before reaching maturity and eventually became Superboy.  It's not indicated in this solicitation, but elsewhere I've read that DC is keeping all that as part of this character's past.  "The Death of Superman" still happened (sometime between Action Comics and Superman, apparently, but when you read all that, you're apparently supposed to ignore the part about Clark and Lois being engaged and her knowing his identity).  So, um, yeah, have fun reconciling all that.

$2.99 - 21 September 2011
Written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Art and Cover by Mahmud Asrar
Meet Supergirl. She’s got the unpredictable behavior of a teenager, the same powers as Superman – and none of his affection for the people of Earth. So don’t piss her off!
Maybe it's just me, but this entire characterization of Supergirl sounds condescending and misogynistic, like the world is just going to have to put up with her teen drama and periods until she matures and becomes less bitchy.  Green and Johnson are the writers of the current Supergirl series, though, and DC must have confidence in them and their series's sales to keep them working on her.

Additionally, Superman is a member of Justice League and Superboy is part of Teen Titans.  Maybe if Supergirl is a little more "Becky" and a little less "Darlene," she can join a supergroup, too.

When I stand back and look at all this, I see some stuff that has potential and other stuff that just seems destined for failure.  I like the idea of a Superman series set at a different time than the rest, but I think with only one other Superman book on the market that distinction isn't as pronounced as it was when Legends of the Dark Knight was published alongside four other present-day ongoing Bat-books.  I also like the idea of scaling back his powers, and for years I've felt that there is a lot of rich, unexplored territory to be mined by delving into Kal-El, the alien rather than Clark Kent, the assimilated alter ego.  Given that both George Perez and Jesus Merino are Hispanic, it's easy to imagine Superman being a social commentary series about modern America and its identity crisis re: immigration.  That has great potential.

I wish they hadn't undone the Lois & Clark marriage, but I understand it.  I just hope they don't repeat the mistake of Superman Returns and commit Lois to someone else.  Lois & Clark don't have to be together, but the only thing preventing this should be the dynamic of their relationship with one another, not someone else.  And, of course, I'm not terribly wowed by either Superboy or Supergirl.

Other DC Comics: The New 52 spotlights
Green Lantern

Justice League
Superheroes (Captain Atom, Mister Terrific, Hawkman, Firestorm)
Young Justice
The Dark
The Edge

18 July 2011

Now with Less Wisdom!

After nearly an entire week of pain, I finally had two teeth removed this afternoon.  What happened was that my bottom right wisdom tooth (tooth #32 for those who care about such designations) had grown in at an almost 45-degree angle, into the tooth before it.  That tooth had, in consequence, experienced irrevocable damage.  Ergo, they both had to be removed.  Now, you're probably wondering how it is that I had such a situation develop without my having noticed before this stage.

As it turns out, a normal person would have noticed much sooner because a normal person would not have taken so much Prednisone as I have.  In addition to (kind of) controlling the inflammation in my terminal ileum, all that Prednisone reduced the inflammation in my mouth as well.  In short, I just wasn't feeling it.  This is just one more way that Crohn's disease has screwed me, really.  Let this be a warning to those of you who have taken a lot of anti-inflammatory medication: it may be masking other problems.

Kudos to Dr. Misty Griffin at Forest Springs Family Dental, though, for a relatively painless extraction.  I won't lie: it was uncomfortable a few times.  Hey, I'm no hero.  I can admit these things.  Even that discomfort, though, paled compared with the pain of the actual problem that put me in the chair.  Now I just wish I'd stop feeling so nauseated....

14 July 2011

DC Comics: The New 52 - Batman Spotlight

Recall last month when DC Comics announced their forthcoming relaunch?  More details have come to light, and now all 52 #1 issues are posted on DC's website.  I'm going to take a look at the whole lot of them in this blog over the next few weeks, but I wanted to start with Batman and characters related to him.  Not surprisingly, Bats represents the largest percentage of the relaunched DC Universe.  Synopses are taken directly from the solicitation text published by DC Comics.  Titles link directly to DC's webpage for that issue.

Going into the relaunch, here's what was up with Bruce Wayne.  Many years ago, he knocked up Talia (daughter of Ra's al Ghul) in some graphic novels and that whole thing was promptly forgotten until recently when the son of that union, Damian, was introduced to the comics pages.  Damian became Robin to Dick's Batman in Bruce's absence, and then when Bruce resurfaced (it's best not to ask where he was), he decided to franchise out the Batman persona.  Bruce would become Batman-at-large and there would be various other Batmans across the globe in the operation, "Batman, Inc."  If you were hoping this relaunch would make all this information unimportant, I'm sorry to say that's not the case.  Because Batman sales were satisfactory to DC, most of this is still in play.

$2.99 - 21 September 2011
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion
Cover by Greg Capullo
A series of brutal killings hints at an ancient conspiracy, and Batman learns that Gotham City is deadlier than he knew.

Batman and Robin
$2.99 - 14 September 2011
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art and Cover by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray
Battling evil with his own son, Damian, at his side, Batman now realizes that the hardest part of the job may be trying to work together!
As Batman and Robin try to adjust to their new partnership, a figure emerges from Bruce Wayne’s past: His name is NoBody, and he’s not happy that Batman Incorporated is shining a light on his own shadowy war against evil…

$2.99 - 28 September 2011
Written by David Finch
Art by David Finch and Richard Friend
Cover by David Finch
As a mysterious figure slinks through the halls of Arkham Asylum, Batman must fight his way through a gauntlet of psychos, and Bruce Wayne faces the unexpected legal ramifications of Batman Incorporated!

$2.99 - 7 September 2011
Written by Tony S. Daniel
Art by Tony S. Daniel and Ryan Wynn
Cover by Tony S. Daniel
A killer called The Gotham Ripper is on the loose on Batman’s home turf – leading The Dark Knight on a deadly game of cat and mouse.
The Sidekicks: Robins

Alright, this subset is rather convoluted.  Dick Grayson was the first Robin, but then he grew up to become Nightwing.  Dick was succeeded by Jason Todd, who was killed when fans dialed a 1-900 number to vote in favor of his death at the hands of the Joker back in the 1980s.  Jason resurfaced within the last several years, having been resurrected by Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pit but was now crazed enough to become the villainous Red Hood.  Tim Drake was the third Robin, who in recent times has re-branded himself Red Robin.

$2.99 - 21 September 2011
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art and Cover by Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer
Dick Grayson flies high once more as Nightwing in a new series from hot new writer Kyle Higgins (BATMAN: GATES OF GOTHAM)! And as he embraces his destiny, Haley’s Circus, the big top where Dick once performed, returns to Gotham City – bringing with it murder, mystery and superhuman evil. Nightwing must confront his past, among former friends and enemies from his circus days, while uncovering a much greater evil!
$2.99 - 21 September 2011
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art and Cover by Kenneth Rocafort
No sooner has Batman’s former sidekick, Jason Todd, put his past as the Red Hood behind him that he finds himself surrounded by a posse of modern day outlaws: Green Arrow’s rejected sidekick Arsenal, the damaged soldier of fortune. The alien Starfire, a former prisoner of intergalactic war who won’t be chained again.
As a loner, Jason has absolutely no interest in this motley crew of outlaws. So what’s he going to do when they choose the Red Hood as their leader? Find out in this hot new series from writer Scott Lobdell (WILDC.A.T.S, Uncanny X-Men), featuring art by rising star Kenneth Rocafort (ACTION COMICS)!
Dick is still Nightwing, obviously, and clearly his costume design is evocative of the Batman Beyond design so we can assume he's still part of the Batman mythology.  The solicitation text for Red Hood and the Outlaws makes clear that Jason Todd was already Red Hood, so we can assume he used to be Robin (since his Red Hood persona was a reaction to how he felt his death as Robin was handled by Batman).  Tim Drake is now the leader of the Teen Titans (covered in the Young Justice spotlight) and it's clear that he used to be Batman's sidekick.  So all three original Robins are in play in the relaunch, and all three still used to be Robin.

The Sidekicks: Other

Barbara Gordon, daughter of Police Commissioner James Gordon, became Batgirl until she was shot and crippled by The Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke.  Since then, she's been the wheelchair-bound Oracle.  As Oracle, she's been part analyst/part director and she's also been one-third of the Birds of Prey (along with Black Canary and The Huntress).  Kate Kane is Batwoman, whose biggest claim to fame thus far is that she's DC's first out lesbian super-heroine.  Cassandra Cain has been Batgirl, and has amassed a dedicated following.

$2.99 - 7  September 2011
Written by Judd Winick
Art and Cover by Ben Oliver
Africa, a land of beauty – and of great horror. A land of creation and conflict. It is in desperate need of a defender, and from the ranks of Batman Incorporated comes a soldier to carry on the legacy on The Dark Knight in the most tumultuous region on Earth. Meet Batwing, the Batman of Africa!
Note: DC Comics is not currently offering subscriptions to Batwing.

$2.99 - 7 September 2011
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes
Cover by Adam Hughes
Yes, it’s really happening!
Barbara Gordon is back as Batgirl – and she’s going to have to face the city’s most horrifying new villains as well as the dark secrets from her past. You won’t want to miss this stunning debut issue from fan-favorite BIRDS OF PREY writer Gail Simone!
$2.99 - 14 September 2011
Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
Art and Cover by J.H. Williams III
In “Hydrology,” part 1 of 5, Batwoman faces deadly new challenges in her war against Gotham City’s underworld – and new trials in her personal life as Kate Kane.
Who or what is stealing children from the barrio, and for what vile purpose? Will Kate train her cousin, Bette Kane (a.k.a. Flamebird), as her sidekick? How will she handle unsettling revelations about her father, Colonel Jacob Kane? And why is a certain government agency suddenly taking an interest in her?

Batwing (the Batman of Africa) may at first seem absurd, but relatively speaking he's pretty easy to digest.  Catwoman seems pretty traditional: the thief who enjoys being pursued by Batman.  It's not hard to imagine this is about how Selina Kyle will be portrayed in next year's movie The Dark Knight Rises (where she'll be played by Anne Hathaway).

Fans are furious over Barbara Gordon being healed and back as Batgirl.  Babs fans feel she's had a far more meaningful existence as Oracle, and Cassandra Cain fans feel their favorite character has been unnecessarily shafted (note that she's nowhere to be found in any of these issue synopses).

The Villainesses

$2.99 - 21 September 2011
Written by Judd Winick
Art and Cover by Guillem March
Meet Catwoman. She’s addicted to the night. Addicted to shiny objects. Addicted to Batman. Most of all, Catwoman is addicted to danger. She can’t help herself, and the truth is – she doesn’t want to. She’s good at being bad, and very bad at being good. Find out more about what makes Catwoman tick in this new series from writer Judd Winick (BATMAN: UNDER THE HOOD) and artist Guillem March (GOTHAM CITY SIRENS)!
$2.99 - 21 September 2011
Written by Duane Swiercynski
Art and Cover by Jesus Saiz
One is wanted for a murder she didn’t commit. The other is on the run because she knows too much. They are Dinah Laurel Lance and Ev Crawford – a.k.a. Black Canary and Starling – and together, as Gotham City’s covert ops team, they’re taking down the villains other heroes can’t touch. But now they’ve attracted the attention of a grizzled newspaper reporter who wants to expose them, as well as a creepy, chameleon-like strike team that’s out to kill them.
Even though she's not named in the solicitation text, that's clearly Poison Ivy on the cover of Birds of Prey #1.  Is Pamela Isley supposed to ensure that the title continues to appeal to Batman readers in the absence of Barbara Gordon?  The most straight-foward is Catwoman as a thief who enjoys being pursued by Batman.  It's not hard to imagine this is how she'll be portrayed in next year's movie The Dark Knight Rises (where she'll be played by Anne Hathaway).  Also note that Harley Quinn is a member of Suicide Squad, featured in "The Dark" Spotlight.

For a relaunch, there's an awfully strong reliance on previously published Bat-stories.  Given that Batman is also a member of both Justice League and Justice League International titles, it seems daunting at best to see how all this will jive with "new for the first time" stories about the rest of the DC Universe.  After all, Superman was prominently featured in "A Death in the Family" when The Joker killed Jason Todd.  So that story still "happened," but Superman is appearing to the world for the first time in the relaunch.  Yeah, have fun reconciling all this continuity cherry-picking.

Since posting these remarks, it has come to my attention that DC Comics is not currently offering subscriptions to nineteen of the New 52.  Presumably, these are titles on a very short leash in which DC has little confidence and are probably on the chopping block from issue #1.  Batwing is the only title in this spotlight for which this applies.  So if you're interested in Batwing, know that whether or not you buy it will directly influence whether or not it keeps getting published.

Other DC Comics: The New 52 spotlights
Green Lantern
Justice League
Superheroes (Captain Atom, Mister Terrific, Hawkman, Firestorm)
Young Justice
The Dark