Women Warriors: A Swords of Sorrow Review

By Long Shot contributor Valentino Zullo

As comic book fans we know that summer has arrived when the newest company-wide event series begins. This is usually a major crossover that includes or at least impacts most of a publisher’s titles. Of course Marvel and DC are both offering big crossovers—Convergence and Secret Wars respectively—this year (though DC’s crossover did end in May). For any non-comic book reader confused about the “event series” or “crossover,” don’t worry, even long-time comic book fans can get confused! All you need to know is that these crossovers allow for a publisher to place a number of their characters into something of a giant playground where they must work together to defeat a common foe (that’s more or less the idea!). Before I digress too far into those two other crossovers, though, I want to turn to the reason why I am writing this guest blog. As I way saying, for comic book fans we know that summer has officially begun when we see the newest event series on the shelves at the comic store. As DC and Marvel offer their crossovers, which aim to change the landscapes of their respective universes, Dynamite Entertainment is taking a slightly different approach to their summer event this year. While universe hopping is still a focus of Swords of Sorrow (Dynamite’s big summer crossover), one of the main purposes of this crossover is to showcase the work of a number female creators working in comics right now and additionally to bring together the many female characters housed under the Dynamite Entertainment imprint. I recently finished reading the newest installment of the Swords Of Sorrow crossover and I want to try to take a stab (all pun intended) at reviewing and exploring some of my thoughts while reading this series so far.

Before I begin I have to confess that while I have read comics for about twenty years now, I have never read a comic published by Dynamite Entertainment. However, as I was reading Gail Simone’s social media posts about this upcoming event and the announcements circulating around it, I became intrigued and invested in it before it began so I decided to give it a try. I was thrilled to see a book that featured so many female characters and the work of numerous female creators. I knew that it would be a wonderful experience even before reading it because of the writers attached to the project, which includes Gail Simone, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Nancy A. Collins, Mairghread Scott, Leah Moore, Erica Schultz and more! As a quick aside, it seems that Swords of Sorrow is one more example of what is truly a paradigm shifting moment for the female hero in comics. Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson, who are writing some of the Swords of Sorrow spin-offs also debuted their A-Force series for Marvel last month—a comic which features an all female Avengers team. We are clearly in the age of the female hero as female creators, characters and consumers finally hold the spotlight.

Swords of Sorrow 1  (2)

Swords of Sorrow 1

 Back to Swords of Sorrow: the main series is written by Gail Simone, who many know as the writer of various female led books including Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Tomb Raider, and Red Sonja. I must admit that even though I have been a fan of Simone’s work for some time—Birds of Prey #62 was my first DC comic book as I had only been reading Marvel as a kid—I have never read any of her work for Dynamite before Swords of Sorrow. Simone has a magic pull, though, she has been able to get me into DC and now Dynamite (Oh! and Dark Horse because I recently began reading her Tomb Raider series). I digress, but thank you Ms. Simone!

Batgirl, one of Gail Simone’s numerous previous projects at DC Comics.

Batgirl, one of Gail Simone’s numerous previous projects at DC Comics.

For those of you not yet reading Swords of Sorrow, here is a brief introduction. The story goes as follows: the villain, who calls himself the Prince, has found a way to gain control over reality itself. In order to insure the success of his plan to perfect his newfound power and take complete control of reality, the Prince has gathered together a team of female villains that are wreaking havoc across the universes, attempting to stop anyone that would get in his way. In response to the formation of this cabal, the Traveler, a female hero, assembles her own group of female heroes from across time and space including Red Sonja, Lady Zorro, Irene Adler, Vampirella and many more of Dynamite’s characters. Each one of these heroes is granted one of the “Swords of Sorrow” in order to defeat the Prince. The two sides have only begun to form but this is the basic premise thus far!

As comic book readers we recognize this classic storyline executed to create a fun romp across time and space that brings together characters that otherwise may not be given a chance to interact. Not only is there such fun dialogue that emerges between characters who would otherwise not meet, but it is wonderful to see so many female characters interact with one another. More importantly not only do these women interact with one another, but they learn to work with another. We witness this countless times in the main series and the many spin-offs. For example, one of the goals of the evil Prince in the Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one-shot is “turn them against each other.”—the “them” in that sentence being the two women who are learning to work together. The Prince has learned of The Traveler’s plan to thwart his evil scheme and attempts to split the heroes from one another so that they cannot stop him. In the short space of time, though, Masquerade and Kato learn about one another and in turn learn to care about each other. A similar point is stressed in the second issue of the main Swords of Sorrow series as one of the female villains working for the Prince, Bad Kitty, says to him “They’re introducing themselves but they don’t seem to like each other much, Prince. You leave them be and they might well do themselves in and save us the trouble.” She is referring to Red Sonja and Dejah Thoris who have just met one another and have not yet learned that they are on the same side. Once again the villain’s emphasize the need to separate these women and create splits between them. Of course, Dejah Thoris and Red Sonja do begin to work together by the end of the issue. Through some growing pains these women learn to trust one another and begin to work together.

Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one shot

Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one shot

Today I just finished reading the Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot, which depicts the burgeoning partnership between these two women. In the comic, Black Sparrow is transported a little bit over 100 years back in time where she meets Lady Zorro—a figure she has looked up to since her childhood. After the two escape a skirmish with one of the lackeys of the Prince, the two women regroup in the forest. As they are talking, Black Sparrow says to her new partner, “every little girl who wields a stick like a sword knows the Legend of Lady Zorro. Including me.” This last statement is so important because Black Sparrow acknowledges her debt to Lady Zorro and sees her as a powerful figure—one that inspired her own strength. By the end of the story the two women stand together as Black Sparrow states, “ Whoever the enemy…” and Lady Zorro finishes the sentence, “ We will be ready for them.” In contrast, to this support and partnership that evolves between these two women, the Prince is depicted as a jealous villain, often in rage, who cannot even consider working with others as equals. One particular scene in this comic depicts the Prince looking into a wall of mirrors, which allow him to gaze into the different timelines where he can see that the women, all the main charcters of this crossover, are working together. The reader sees him gaze into the mirrors, which depict the dynamic duos of Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro, Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler, Jennifer Blood and Vampirella, among the many other pairs of women. The Prince is infuriated by what he sees, because now Lady Zorro and Black Sparrow are also working together because his hired help could not stop them. The Prince says to his underling, “perhaps I put too much faith in you.” What is very important to note here is that the Prince’s rage at seeing these women work together successfully seems to suggest that what bothers him most is not simply that his plan is failing, but that these partnerships have emerged. This is notable because the Prince on the other hand has no ability to work with another (especially as an equal). Thus, in some ways this scene posits that it is certainly maddening to the Prince to see his plan fail, but in some ways it is ultimately worse in his mind that these women have begun to work together.

Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot

Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot

In these keys scenes, Simone and the other writers offer us more than a commentary on in-fighting between women or a lament on this ongoing problem. In fact, rather than a simple critique or a lament, these creators provide images of women working together and supporting one another despite the evil wishes of the Prince who hopes to separate them. I want to stress the importance of these moments and make this distinction between a simple critique and Simone’s Swords of Sorrows’ examples of powerful women working together because they offer an alternative to the classic image of women competing with one another for an object such as a man. Serendipitously, Taylor Swift releases her music video “Bad Blood” the same month as Swords of Sorrow began. You can watch the video here:

There is a similar effort and tone here as Swift, Simone, Scott, Collins, Bennett, Wilson, Moore and Schultz envision a world where women support one another and do not need to be pitted against one another. In fact, the only women that are competing amongst themselves are the villains. The Prince even says to his team of villains, “You are not here to work together. You are here to work for me.” These women are not supposed to work as a team for the Prince but rather as agents working independently, competing with one another while under him. In Simone’s a narrative then in-fighting is regulated to the ream of the villains while the heroes present a powerful alternative of women growing together. Again, I wish to stress the importance of seeing women work together successfully because in a world where so many films, comics and other media do not pass the Bechdel Test, it is so essential for women (as well as men) to see other women not only talk to one another, but spend time learning about one another and in turn developing together.

“The test” from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For

“The test” from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For

In an interview with The Mary Sue, Simone stresses the importance of this connection between women both inside and outside of a fictional narrative. Simone states in the interview, “I do know that when I started, several women I really admired were less-than-encouraging and it really stung. They felt me getting work meant they would get less work. I did vow never to be that person. And I should stress, women like Nancy Collins, Devin Grayson and Colleen Doran were never anything less than 100% supportive. It was just devastating at the time, I don’t want that cycle to continue.” And of course that cycle does not continue with Simone. Not only has she brought together a superb team of women writers that work with one another, but she has also gathered a number of female characters that work together in the story. In the same interview with The Mary Sue, Simone says that what she wants to do is provide a reader with many examples of what women can be. In answer to a question in the interview she claims, “Oh, the same thing I hope they got from Birds of Prey, and Wonder Woman, and Red Sonja. That there’s no real limit on what female characters can be in comics. They can be strong and weak, funny and dour, compassionate and cold, they can be all the fun things and the strong things and the bad things” Simone and the other female creators certainly do this well as there are many types of women in these comics—heroes, villains and everything in between. Certainly we have come a long way from putting women in refrigerators!

I find after reading the first couple months worth of issues that I am truly invested in this series because I want to know more about these characters and how they will evolve together. In fact, I want to read the tie-ins so that I am able to spend more time with these women (and of course because I want to see where the story goes). I have to say for someone that has never read these characters before I am intrigued about each one. Simone does a wonderful job of setting up the story and continues to keep me wanting more.

I’ll likely go more in depth into some of the following issues in a future blogs but I wanted to take time to highlight this wonderful series with such brilliant creators.

If you’re not reading Swords of Sorrow and you want a fun summer romp across time and space with some excellent characterization then check it out! The next installment of the Swords of Sorrow series comes out on Wednesday 7/1/15 with the Swords of Sorrow issue 3.

Swords of Sorrow 3

Swords of Sorrow 3

I want to thank the Doug Vehovec, The Longshotist, for allowing me to write for his blog! Thank you to Dr. Vera Camden for the numerous Women’s Literature courses at Kent State University and our countless discussions on women in comics. All the ideas presented here are hers, I just filter them through the world of comics. Thank you to Amy Dawson and Jean Collins, two women warriors in their own right, and my partners at the Cleveland Public Library and the Ohio Center for the Book for their support of comics in Cleveland! All thanks to The Mary Sue for their fantastic interview with Simone that I cited heavily here. Of course thank you and congratulation to Gail Simone, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Nancy A. Collins, Erica Schultz, and Leah Moore for all of the wonderful work that they have so far produced on the Swords of Sorrow series!

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Thank you for reading the thoughtful article contributed by my friend Valentino Luca Zullo. We first met at Wizard World Cleveland and got to talking about comics (of course). Valentino does a wonderful job combining his interest in superheroes with his studies in sociology, leading several discussion groups through the Ohio Center for the Book’s Get Graphic program at Cleveland Public Library, like the Women Warriors series and this summer’s Trauma and Transformation series. Be sure to follow Valentino on Twitter for updates on those.

Special thanks to Valentino for sharing his insights and analysis of this new comic series. As Long Shot readers know, i’m a huge comicbook fan myself, so i’m especially happy to provide a space for him to write about his own perspectives and enjoyment of the genre. And, it’s always very exciting to have a new contributing writer here! If there’s any pop culture topics that fascinate or inspire you, and you’d like to write about them, please consider and Take a Shot yourself!

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DDO Devilish new updates

Putting the follow-up my observations for veteran DDO players meant as a companion piece aimed towards newer players, i’m taking a moment as always to examine what’s coming up as shared in the most recent Producer’s Letter.

Current DDO Executive Producer Severlin posted on the forums today what the team at Turbine has been up to as well as what players can expect in the next few months.

ddo_logo

First up, and something that is perhaps the most frequent topic of discussion and concern for players, is tacking the chronic lag problems in DDO. For me personally, lag hasn’t been a major issue at the level throngs of others have experienced, which frankly sound exceedingly frustrating. Once in a while, i’ll lag out, freeze up or go through some jaggy movement, but not to the extent of 30 minute or more lockdowns and TPK situations.

Nevertheless, working to make improvements in stability and performance is never time wasted. Part of this work, which Severlin shared, is a project to transfer game servers and hardware to a new data center. Sounds scary – i have trouble keeping track of the cords coming out of my desktop now – but overall a genuine goal geared towards making the game run smoother for everyone, which is something i can stand behind.

There’s already a few comments portending DOOOOOooooooom! based on this announcement, and there’s certainly the possibility of a few snags during the process, but upgrading hardware is ultimately a good thing. More power to you, Turbine.

Last week, the forums got a new category that already shows a healthy amount of engagement: the Warlock forum. This new class has been talked about for quite some time, and the official news from today’s producer letter is that it will arrive in-game in June’s Update 26.

A new class to discover is always exciting. The monk, artificer, favored soul and druid were all post-launch added classes and remain popular so i’m sure the warlock will also find its place in players’ hearts. Another spellcaster class, the warlock brings a sixth class to that category, leaving four in each of the other two (melee and specialist). This is something i do find somewhat odd. Even though warlock is distinct enough in flavor and mix of abilities, it is in the end another spellcasting class. And still no psionics, something i’ve been advocating for years and years, often dismissed as just another spellcaster with different spell names. Perhaps the warlock will provide a new framework for approaching class design that will usher in the age of psions in the future. Fingers crossed.

A star pact warlock. Hey, maybe we're get tieflings as a playable race (if so, the cool-looking ones please, not the humans with weird horns)

A star pact warlock. Hey, maybe we’re get tieflings as a playable race (if so, the cool-looking ones please, not the humans with weird horns)

In the meantime, i will most certainly be creating a warlock myself, and there’s no question on which pact i’ll choose – the Great Old Ones. From what is already shared on the forums, these otherworldly warlocks will have a focus on acid spells and crowd control with a little insta-kill mixed in. i would like to have seen radiance as their focus instead of acid, since it represents the light of the stars from which they draw their power. Maybe that will be implemented by the time they release? If my own contribution to the official feedback thread had any impact (or this post right here – please forward to developer Vargouille!). As for that crowd control part, Evard’s Black Tentacles would be a much-appreciated new spell.

The standout news from the letter is that, following Update 26 in June is another one, Update 27 in July. Just one month apart! Severlin reveals much more about this update, which will include a new adventure pack that focuses on the very popular and well-liked Shavarath storyline. Eberron content ftw.

Ready to head back to the Plane of Battle?

Ready to head back to the Plane of Battle?

This time around, players will discover more about the Archon’s battle with the armies of Shavarath and take an active role in the drama. Mysterious Remnants are involved (maybe they’ll start dropping in greater numbers. Please!) and it turns out they come from the Plane of Battle, which is where the action from three new dungeons and a new raid takes place.

Aside from these two updates, Sev addresses player feedback about problems with the DDO Store, with an announcement that it’s getting an overhaul for an improved experience. Later this summer, players will find a streamlined DDO Store which i’m sure means among other things it would be unavailable as often. Although, if i’m honest, sometimes i like when the DDO Store is down because it saves me from impulse shopping.

Finally, there is more news about the long-awaited increase in level cap from 28 to 30. The plan has been to make 30 a hard cap, and i haven’t heard any different in this regard. That being said, it’s entirely possible that a year from now it’ll get raised to 40 for all i know. That’s pretty much what MMOs do. On the other hand…

…the other thing MMOs do at endgame is provide difficult crafting systems for top end gear. To that end, one of the things in the works is an epic and extended version of the ever popular Thirteenth Eclipse raid. Yes, that’s what it’s actually called but it’s more widely known and affectionately referred to as The Shroud. Along with it is an updated and epic version of green steel crafting, probably the most popular crafting system in the game. The stuff you can make from green steel is tremendous, and an epic version should keep players busy and happy for quite some time.

Along with the epic Shroud is another new adventure pack related to the Vale of Twilight, too. MOAR new content is never a bad thing.

Overall, a pretty tidy new producer’s letter that seems to include a little something across the board. Performance-enhancing maintenance benefits everyone, and a new class will give builders something to tinker with, and slapdash players like me something to fumble through life with, too. Quote a bit of new content is on the horizon, all of it taking place in Eberron which gets two thumbs up in my book.

One thing i am curious about is Update 26. Other than the warlock, what else is there to this upcoming update? Severlin doesn’t mention anything, so i wonder if it’s just the new class and maybe some tweaks to enhancement trees and stuff? Perhaps there will be a new general tree or a third tree for the classes who have only had two for an overly long time. Or maybe a refinement pass on Cannith Crafting?

At least we won’t have long to wait to find out – June is just around the corner!

Women Warriors – Katana: Soultaker

Women Warriors

The second installment of this discussion group at Cleveland Public Library, hosted by Valentino Zullo on March 19, focused on the DC Comics trade paperback Katana: Soultaker, a 10-issue series written by Ann Nocenti.

Katana Soultaker

Although there were less people who showed up for the group discussion, they were all faces familiar from the first meeting and our talk focused more on the book itself. At the meeting focused on Ms. Marvel, the conversation often strayed away from the book and although some worthwhile topics came up, they were broader ideas that didn’t cleave to the reason for the meeting. Valentino did a fine job of circling back to Ms. Marvel, but we wound up talking a lot about just comics in general.

When it came to Katana: Soultaker, the general consensus was that overall no one really enjoyed the book all that much. That itself was a poignant thing though, as Valentino mentioned that while he didn’t enjoy the story a whole lot himself, it was one of the few examples he could find of a female superhero who also fit the mold of intersecting qualities – in this case gender and race.

Katana: Soultaker follows what the group agreed was a disjointedly told journey of the titular hero through a revenge story. This narrative structure was itself one of the drawbacks to the book, which offered an example of a common trap for female heroines in that it makes the character a passive participant in their own story. In Katana’s case, she is motivated only by revenge for the murder of her husband, and in these sorts of stories, the revenge seeker has no real inherent drive of their own – their actions are spurred on only by the quest for revenge itself. This became particularly problematic for this story, too, after a major plot point is revealed towards the end of the series.

Following a similar path through the book is the supporting character Shun, who is first presented as an intriguing character with an important role in Katana’s journey. But as the story progresses, she too falls into a revenge cycle that by the end of the book finds her essentially just a bland, cliche-spouting engine of violence. However, because of the aforementioned plot point, and the actions she takes as well as those perpetrated upon her, she ultimately becomes more interesting than the main character.

Much of the book’s flaw stem from the storytelling, which was just straight-up messy. Scenes break at awkward times consistently throughout, and one of the group’s participants succinctly described the story’s execution by likening it to “that feeling you get when you waited until the night before your homework is due, and you just rush through it.”

The other big flaw in the book is that, while the core of the story is really not that bad, Katana’s character becomes irrelevant. In fact, her “real” identity and name were something the group had to refer back to the book just to remember. In contrast, the Ms. Marvel book’s Kamala Khan is vital to the story, her non-superhero identity a critical factor to understanding and appreciating her journey.

Overall, the book was just plain disappointing in many ways. As a tale of a Japanese warrior woman, it was riddled with just about every cultural cliche and stereotype that comes to mind. Packed with Yakuza, samurai, ancient clans, drunken masters, ninja stars, and all the accompanying cheesy dialogue you might find in a dubbed kung-fu flick. Mind you, i love those old kung-fu movies, but i can’t imagine that was the vibe they were going for in this book.

Katana’s actions and reactions to things were very often nonsensical, with her switching allegiances and allies several times, and even her goals were bewildering. At the book’s start, she’s trying to, i think, put an end to this large underworld syndicate. But also get revenge for her husband’s murder. And take over the syndicate. And stop some prophecy. And end some ghost’s curse. And stop The Creeper, who for some reason is nothing like The Creeper and instead is like an Oni spirit…?

This is The Creeper. i don't know what the heck was in Katana: Soultaker

This is The Creeper. i don’t know what the heck was in Katana: Soultaker

In the course of her quest, she returns to the same places over and over, getting in lots of fights where she barely escapes, then collapses from injuries or exhaustion, and then wakes up safely somewhere else. At the climax of the book, it’s not even her actions that bring triumph and a conclusion to her quest, but the spirit of her dead husband. This occurs so quickly and in so few panels that, as a group, we all had to refer to the book just to piece together what happened.

And then there’s a single splash page to wrap it up, conclude the story AND the series as a whole.

Despite all the bad things about this book, the group discussion was terrific. Although we ran out of time, we thought it might be interesting after the discussion series is over to talk about what we learned about what makes a great female hero and perhaps even try to come up with our own character, based in Cleveland, who possesses intersecting traits. i hope we stick with this proposal, which sounds like a lot of fun.

Coming up this Thursday, April 2 is the next discussion group, and i’m really looking forward to this one because the topic is Batwoman: Hydrology. Batwoman is a fantastic character, and i’m hoping for a lively conversation. Not only is she a relatively new character with staying power, her comic has been one of the most enjoyable ones i’ve read in the last few years due in no small part to the stunning artwork.

It’s also worth noting that Cleveland Public Library makes a great effort to have plenty of copies of the books discussed in this group for readers to check out. The graphic novel, comics and trade paperback section of the library is frankly enormous. Because of the Ohio Center for the Book, which has been around since 2003 thanks to an initiative by the Library of Congress to promote literacy, they are able to offer these sorts of programs and books in the community. Initially, there was only the National Center for the Book, but it was expanded to a state level where they can highlight each state’s authors and writers.

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Week in Geek 3.13.15 extra

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

i mentioned the other day some NE Ohio tech community news as a follow-up, and thanks to CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo graciously taking some time to speak with me over the weekend i have that to share with you here.

Women in technology

Stephanie is in her final semester at CWRU, graduating in just seven weeks. As a staunch advocate for women in technology and the computer science field, she recently presented her article “You Gotta Want It” that addresses the issue.

CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo works hard to help make computer accessible to women

CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo works hard to help make computer accessible to women

According to Bob Sopko from CWRU’s Blackstone Launchpad, “Stephanie has a massive impact on bringing the tech environment into reach of young ladies on campus.” The article showcases not only that impact, but also speaks to the broader issue of women in the technology field from her personal experience.

For Grace Hopper’s sake, how did I not know the other women in my classes? – From the article “You Gotta Want It.” (Grace Hopper was a pioneering American computer scientist and rear admiral in the Navy who made vital contributions to the field)

i particularly enjoyed the thread of humility that runs through Stephanie’s article. Woven into the story is her search for role models that young women can look to for guidance and inspiration, and through her efforts she becomes one herself, donating her time and assistance to help young women overcome some of the barriers or obstacles to a career in computer science.

Originally, Stephanie entered CWRU as a biomedical engineering student, with a desire to  advance the medical field. Although she’d done some computing in high school, the idea of pursuing it as a career isn’t something she’d considered or even known much about until getting to college. A introductory freshman course on the subject with a follow-up internship at a software company changed her mind though, and she changed her major to computer science.

“I had the support of my friends and the support of the department,” she said of her initial steps in the field, despite the small number of other women to look to for guidance. “But, it’s a big university, so it’s difficult to affect change at an institutional level.”

Her work in advocating for other women in computing, including her article, emerged after she was given advice to engage in projects to expand her portfolio beyond her degree and practical work in the industry.

“I just wanted to let other people know about the issue and realize some of the work that goes in to making it a reality – how much time goes into it, and why people choose to put their time into it,” she said. “I was hoping this article would articulate why I care about it. It’s made a lot of noise on campus, and gotten the support of some really great alumni.”

The response to her article, and the work she’s done, so far has gotten a great response. Hundreds of people have read and shared the article, and she said the response has been nothing but positive. Just this past weekend, she was asked to speak at a high school about women in technology, a last-minute request that presented her with 12 hours to come up with an hour-long speech – a challenge she was happy to accept.

In the article, she mentions her involvement with CWRU’s Hacker Society, a student organization for those “who are interested in digging into the innards of things; for those who use, produce, or support open-source software (or hardware); and for those who would like to learn more about open-source development,” according to their website.

hacker-society-small

A large part of the impetus for her advocacy was her position as the one of the only female members of the group, and the article’s title refers to her want to change that. For those not familiar with computer science, the term “hacker” can carry a negative connotation, like what you hear in the news about groups who break into secure networks or steal people’s identities. To programmers and coders though, those sorts of activities are far from the truth.

“A hack is more of when you open something up to see and learn more about how it works on the inside,” Stephanie explained. “To learn more about how computers work, or hacking something together quickly. We try to encourage people to throw together small projects so they can better understand how programming language works, or how some protocol works. It’s more hack, as in explore, than illegally break into something.”

Hack events, also called hackathons, like the recent HackCWRU, are held in cities all over the world, giving technologists the opportunity to engage in collaborative computer programming. If you’re interested in hackathons, finding one near you is as simple as doing an Internet search for “hackaton <insert city name>” and you’ll find all sorts of resources about them in your area.

“There’s just so much you can do with it,” Stephanie said of computing. “I think it’s hard to know exactly what you want to do at 18, and you’re thrown into college and told to pick a major. There’s so much you haven’t been exposed to yet. It’s hard to even know what you haven’t been exposed to yet. Computer science is just a huge field that’s really everywhere now. If you’re interested in one industry or another, there’s probably some way to apply computer science to it.

“It’s a lot more creative than people give it credit for. I’ve talked to some women that might be a little hesitant to jump into it at first because it’s very technical, but there’s a lot of creativity that goes into it as well, with problem-solving and individually with things like app design or web design. There’s an unlimitedness of what you can do, combined with the creativity that goes along with it as well.”

For any non-students who are interested in learning more about computer science, Stephanie said there has been an explosion of resources out there. Online, things like code.org and codecademy can start people on the path to learning code, but Stephanie said building a community is an important factor. Having other people to connect with and work with in person helps not only novice coders, but even for those with degrees in computer science or who already work in the field collaborating with peers is incredibly useful.

“Cleveland’s pretty lucky to have a larger community around the intro to programming – not just for women but for anyone that really wants to get involved,” Stephanie said. Groups like HER Ideas in Motion, for example, offer hands-on workshops for girls to learn from career professionals. And TECH CORPS is a society for K-12 students that gives access to technology skills, programs and resources.

“Eventually, you have to make the jump and the time to do projects, and it’s so much easier when you have an actual real person there,” she said of online self-instruction. “That’s why groups like those are so important.”

Later in the day after speaking with me, Stephanie was involved with an event through Tigress, an organization that offers entrepreneurship and creative arts programs to young women. In addition to groups like that, there are plenty of other resources in the Cleveland area to assist young people and women gain a stronger foundation in technology.

Coming up in April for example, Blackstone’s 2015 Future Women Leaders Program presents seminars, networking and skill-building sessions with professionals that provides early exposure to the finance and business sides of technology.

There’s also a Women’s Leadership Symposium at my alma mater Cleveland State University on April 15.

Thanks to Stephanie Hippo for her time, not just in speaking with me but her efforts to open the field of computer science for women. Her tireless work connecting with young women in high schools and at CWRU has expanded the Hacker Society, and she’s helped open the door for others to careers in computer science.

Women in comics

Perhaps serendipitously, the rush to finish up Week in Geek last Friday meant i couldn’t get to the last two comics on my digital pull list for the week, both of which star female superheroes.

Thor #6 cover by Russell Dauterman

Thor #6 cover by Russell Dauterman

First up, Thor #6 was another terrific installment in the series that in some ways is divisive for comics fans. This issue, we didn’t see much of the thunder god, instead getting some backstory on Dario Agger aka the Minotaur, so far the series’ primary antagonist.

We also follow the Odinson’s continuing quest to find out the identity of the woman wielding Mjolnir, and a conversation he has with Heimdall reveals that, far from being omniscient, the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge sees only that which threatens the realm of Asgard. And since he cannot spy Thor from his post on the pathway to the seven realms, we know she truly is a hero.

Most of the book follows a glum Odinson around, and his melancholy musings reveal that his desire to learn more about Thor stem more from his wish to discover why he is no longer worthy to wield the hammer. A visit with cancer-stricken Jane Foster, being cared for by Asgardian doctors although refusing their magical healing, does little to alleviate Thor’s down-in-the-dumps mood, but he does cross her name off his list of potential suspects of the mighty Thor. The scene with Jane Foster i found particularly interesting though, because we see her looking frail from her illness and chemo treatments but standing beside the musclebound Odinson in his “I’m not worthy” depression actually makes him look all the weaker.

From there, he makes a visit to SHIELD agent Phil Coulson, perhaps showing off a bit of his un-worthiness by violently lashing out to get his way in a tantrum, and then we’re back to Agger in a meeting with Malekith the Accursed, dark elf and ruler of Svartelfheim. The two of them strike a bargain that allows Agger’s Roxxon Corporation exclusive mineral rights in Malekith’s realm until the end of time in exchange for a magical artifact.

Finally, four pages from the end, Thor shows up. We only get to see her for one page, but the full-page panel is well worth it to watch the Roxxon security team’s hail of bullets bounce off of her.

thor tickles

Then we’re whisked back to Asgard, where Odin the All-Father continues to be a chauvanistic a-hole to his wife, who thankfully smacks him upside the head and hints that his desire to get Mjolnir back might give him more than he bargained for.

Unfortunately, he’s already dispatched the Destroyer to take care of Thor and bring the hammer back to Asgard, leaving us with the animated armor’s arrival on the scene, turning its energy-blasting face towards the downed superheroine.

i’m really looking forward to the next issue of this book to see how Thor handles this threat.

A lot of the debate surrounding this development of the longstanding Thor character centers on whether or not Marvel should have just created a brand new character and left the traditional Thor alone.

i think it’s just wonderful, and to be honest i don’t really care who’s under the helmet. It could be just a random earthling and i’d be fine with that. In fact, if that were the case it would speak even more to the traditional Marvel model that anyone can be a hero that the readers can identify with.

So far in the book, i’ve really enjoyed the character’s inner dialogue, which sounds not at all Asgardian, contrasted with her spoken words sprinkled with the “thee’s” and “thou’s” we expect from Thor. Internally, too, we learn that she is sometimes uncertain of herself and her capabilities, but what she’s displayed so far is not only prowess that makes her worthy to wield the hammer but in many ways showed innovation that surprises even those familiar with Thor’s abilities – something Frigga alludes to when admonishing Odin’s obsession with getting the hammer back.

Giving this new person the mantle of an established character gives her instant credibility, not only with her peers in the superhero community but also with the audience. It is extremely difficult for creators to present brand new characters who stick around, so i think it was a fantastic idea to take Thor in this direction. Eventually, she may break away from it and establish her own heroic identity…but if this is the Thor we have for years to come i’ve got no problem with that.

From a marketing standpoint, Marvel has generated a ton of buzz for the character, and story-wise they’ve given a ton of potential for Thor as an individual as well as within the larger contextual universe. At a time when the most recognizable female superhero – Wonder Woman – still struggles to find a foothold in the medium after 73 years, i think it’s awesome that this change to the Thor has already given greater prominence to the character as a top tier superhero who is also drawing in new readers.

In all my life, i don’t think i’ve ever bought a Thor comic until this new series, and it’s become one of my favorite books, so i hope it continues indefinitely and i can’t wait to see what happens next.

Spider-Gwen #2 cover by Robbi Rodriguez

Spider-Gwen #2 cover by Robbi Rodriguez

After a brief recap of her debut issue, Spider-Gwen #2 picks up with the arachnoid hero coming to on a garbage scow after her battle with the Vulture. Some old-school Spidey ingenuity kept her from going splat.

An imaginary Spider-Ham helps her make her way back to the city, where she wakes up on the couch of her bandmates place, still with Peter Porker providing running commentary. Including this unusual character is a treat, since i actually kept up with his series in the 80’s and always considered it to be one of the more colorful oddities in Marvel’s library.

Some police drama followed, with a hard-nosed Detective Castle questioning an incarcerated Kingpin about his involvement with Spider-Woman. Since i only started following this character with issue #1, i’m not sure about some of its alternate-reality characters and i wonder if Det. Castle will eventually become this reality’s version of Frank Castle, better known as The Punisher. His threat to off Kingpin right there in the prison interrogation room leads me to believe he will. It was also surprising when Kingpin’s lawyer got on the phone and it turned out to be Matt Murdock, who in the regular Marvel Universe is his arch-enemy Daredevil.

On the next page, we see Murdock beating information out of the Vulture, and at this point i’m not sure what his position is – a hero or a criminal mastermind, or maybe something in between.

To be completely honest, this book hasn’t captured my imagination beyond the character’s slick visuals and the shake-up of familiar names, so i’m still on the fence about it. i’ve always enjoyed the Spider-Man character even though i haven’t collected much in the past. The ultimate version didn’t really interest me, so i thought this series would be a good jumping on point. Spider-Gwen has the same vibe that Spider-Man does at his core, a young hero with personal problems, and i dig the street-level crime world she’s involved with, so those are pluses. i’ll come back to this one for at least issue #3 and go from there. It’s not a terrible book by any stretch…but there’s something missing i can’t quite put my finger on just yet.

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Thanks for reading this special extra edition of Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did. Since i’m pressed for time today, and based on the site’s stats i don’t see anyone really clicks on these links, i’ll just provide them without my usual commentary this week:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 20 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks as always for reading!

Week in Geek 3.13.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

This week, my duties as a reporter for The News-Herald kept me busy during the free time i typically put into following up on any of the multitude of story ideas which continue to accumulate on my desk. There was the big donkey basketball game at Cardinal High School in Middlefield, and a pair of profiles on National Historic Register buildings in Lake County for an upcoming special section.

Unfortunately i was unable to schedule time for a timely interview to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, but with any luck that will come together for next week.

On a side note, i was going to refer to my duties as a stringer, but that wasn’t quite accurate since i’m employed by the paper primarily as a copy editor, page designer and social media provocateur (that’s not what they call it, but it sounds more exciting that way). However, while looking into the term “stringer,” i discovered something called a superstringer that’s sort of the same thing except the writer is contracted with a news organization. It seems that with the collapse of the traditional newspaper model and the emergence of the Internet, stringers are fading away. But i am pleased to consider myself a superstringer, because it “super” is part of the word. Super cool.

Embracing life as a night owl means it's not unusual to make coffee at 3:00 a.m.

Embracing life as a night owl means it’s not unusual to make coffee at 3:00 a.m.

What free time i did enjoy this week came in the wee morning hours, which thanks to daylight savings time means the sun is coming up when my head is going down on the pillow. It’s a strange lifestyle that took some getting used to, coming to terms with not feeling lazy for sleeping in until noon because i was up all night at work.

So, what did i do with those precious hours, when there wasn’t anyone to Skype or speak with about Northeast Ohio tech and pop culture?

Discover new programs

Two new shows that break me away from my typical niche of serial killers and crime procedural dramas debuted recently.

The Last Man on Earth stars Will Forte as Phil Miller, in a delightful comedy about life on earth after every one on the planet but him is gone due to a devastating virus. Phil, like anyone can imagine, spends a couple of years searching the United States for other survivors before returning home to Tucson in a bus laden with artifacts from across the nation.

Resigned to life as the solitary human left on the planet, he proceeds to indulge in increasingly outrageous behavior while gradually loosening his grip on reality. Just as he reaches his lowest point, spending his days lounging in his margarita pool, he decides there is no reason in continuing and plans to commit suicide. But just as he’s about to go through with it, he spots a distant plume of smoke rising into the Arizona sky and rushes to discover another survivor.

The Last Man on Earth, Phil Miller spends his days immersed in a margarita pool

The Last Man on Earth, Phil Miller spends his days immersed in a margarita pool

And it’s a woman!

Carol, played by Kristen Schaal, quickly gets under Phil’s skin though, and what Phil desperately hoped for sours as the two of them learn to deal with each other.

Both of the show’s stars have been making me laugh for years, and this vehicle is a great opportunity for Will Forte to shine. It would be a disaster if either of the two characters didn’t allow for some kind of audience connection, and thankfully they both pull off an excellent blend of evoking some sympathy while at the same time remaining human enough in the sense that their actions border on the bizarre, irritating each other but not viewers. And, of course, both Forte and Schaal are very funny people who portray their characters terrifically. With only each other to play off of, timing is everything and each accomplish the comedic beats with aplomb.

Post-apocalyptic comedy doesn’t get any better than The Last Man on Earth, which airs Sunday nights on Fox.

In a similar vein, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt spins comedy out of a disturbing premise. This Netflix show, which in streaming program fashion dropped the entire first season at one time, stars Ellie Kemper as a former doomsday cult captive who decides to start a new life in NYC after being discovered and rescued.

Ellie Kemper is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Ellie Kemper is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

i’m really only familiar with Kemper’s work as Erin on The Office, a show that for me was must-see for its entire run. As Kimmy Schmidt, she brings the same sort of awkward naiveté that she did as Dunder Mifflin’s receptionist, except amped up to the Nth degree. i’ve read that the Erin character was originally supposed to be more sarcastic, but was altered by the writers to fit Kemper’s real personality more.

In an interview she did years ago regarding her role on The Office, she described Erin as “an exaggerated version of myself.” After watching a few episodes of Kimmy Schmidt, i get the feeling this new show is the perfect opportunity for Kemper to ramp up her comedic skills by exaggerating her personality even more.

There’s something almost magical about Kimmy the character, with Kemper’s body language and physical comedy matching her verbal delivery to spin out some really funny laughs. The absurdist alchemy she performs on the show transformed me into an instant fan, and i’m happy to discover there’s at least a second season planned.

What a Wednesday!

With a lifetime of interest in comic books distilled these days down to a selective few titles from Marvel Comics, there’s typically only one book per week on my digital pull list.

This past Wednesday, March 11, i opened up the Marvel Comics app to find there were five comics to add to my library!

Ant-Man #3 cover by Mark Brooks

Ant-Man #3 cover by Mark Brooks

First up was Ant-Man #3. Longtime Long Shot readers will know that new books get three issues to make a fan of me, and Ant-Man did it in just one back when Ant-Man #1 came out in January. When it comes to comics, i have pretty particular tastes. Classic superheroes are my favorite by far, but i’m just not interested in the standard sorts of stories about monthly superhero slugfests, big event crossovers and whatever villain is threatening mankind/the universe/whatever.

i’m more interested in what these colorful characters do when they’re not punching bad guys or each other, and Ant-Man delivers those stories. In this book, current Ant-Man Scott Lang (to be portrayed by Paul Rudd in the upcoming MCU film) is more concerned with being a good father and making a decent living than foiling nefarious schemes, with dramatic beats more about ties with his daughter and ex-wife than life-and-death struggles against supervillains.

Written by Nick Spencer, who also penned Superior Foes of Spider-Man – one of my favorite books that was of course canceled – brings the same brand of offbeat humor and breaking tradition to Ant-Man while still acknowledging the character’s place in the greater Marvel Universe.

As you can see from the cover to issue #3, Ant-Man runs into trouble with Taskmaster, a great Marvel villain who shows up to give our tiny hero a hard time. Like in earlier issues, Ant-Man uses his powers of both shrinking and communicating with ants to some clever effects against the guy with the photographic reflexes, and also manages to crack wise by about something i’ve long wondered myself:

“Your costume? It doesn’t make any sense! It’s like ghost-pirate-Captain America clone. With a cape!”

Howard the Duck #1 cover by Joe Quinones

Howard the Duck #1 cover by Joe Quinones

This was a surprise to see under new comics for the week: Howard the Duck #1 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones with color artist Rico Renzi. A new title starring this talking duck who displays remarkable common sense in a world gone mad was not something i’d heard about, and i felt compelled to check it out.

Not surprisingly, this new series debut was funny and unusual, setting up Howard the Duck as a private investigator whose first case provides him and readers to an introduction into the Marvel Universe. His pursuit of the case brings him for a visit to She-Hulk’s law firm, which occupies space in the same building as Howard’s office, and from there he has a rooftop meeting with Spider-Man.

A one-page training montage that involves dodging laser pointers and somehow integrates D&D miniatures results in success when he and new mysterious new assistant, the tattooed Tara Tam, run afoul of Black Cat before the interstellar hunter shown in the book’s beginning pages comes back around to abduct the book’s star at the behest of The Collector – something those who stuck around for the after-credits scene from Guardians of the Galaxy will find familiar, along with an appearance by one of that team’s members on the final page that will presumably lead to an escape attempt in the next issue.

i’m curious to see where this series goes, and the first issue has me intrigued enough with the wonderfully colorful art, irreverent humor and nod to the character’s ties to Cleveland from the 1986 film that was set in my hometown. Also, i wonder if there’s potential for discussion at the Get Graphic! group at Cleveland Public Library since the series organizer Valentino Zullo mentioned his interest in intersections of character traits like gender, race and so forth. With Howard, we’re given an intersection of mankind and aquatic bird, a character traditionally used for satire and social commentary that i hope continues to do so in this new series.

Waugh!

Silver Surfer #10 cover by Mike and Laura Allred

Silver Surfer #10 cover by Mike and Laura Allred

Another installment of cosmic ginchiness arrived with Silver Surfer #10, written by Dan Slott with art from the incomparable Mike and Laura Allred.

This issue wrapper up a storyline that had earthling Dawn Greenwood discover Surfer’s past as a herald of Galactus responsible for the World Eater’s destruction of countless planets and their inhabitants.

Packed with pathos, Surfer won the trust of a planet populated by the only survivors from world already consumed by Galactus who initially hated and feared the skyrider of the spaceways (with good reason) as well as a building on the humanity of Norrin Radd when, in the midst of trying to fend off Galactus, he admits to himself as much as to Dawn that he loves her.

Awww!

The emotional core of Silver Surfer has always been one of the things i’ve most enjoyed about this character, who despite vast cosmic power and awareness still cleaves to the humanity he gave up to save his own planet long ago. Despite everything he has seen and endured, and his basically limitless power, he still understands the importance of individuals in the cosmic scheme of things.

One of the other things i’ve most enjoyed about this book during its run is the development of the Surfer’s board (dubbed Toomie by Dawn) as a supporting character. The ways in which the writer and artist give Toomie a personality are creative and fun.

The end of this issue has a lot of tears and heartache, but hope as well – a hallmark of great Silver Surfer stories. In a clever twist of the paradigm Galactus shares with those who seek out planets for him to consume, the Surfer declares himself a herald once more. But this time, he is a herald of those who survived, and vows to find them a new planet.

i’m a little surprised that this book hasn’t included a letters page yet, since most of the other Marvel books, at least the ones i read, have a page or two at the end for reader interaction. i sincerely hope they are receiving astronomical amounts of great feedback on this series, because frankly its one of the all around best comics out there right now and it would be sad indeed if it were to get canceled.

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Thanks for reading the latest edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

i’ve got to wrap things up prematurely today due to a work emergency, and i didn’t get a chance to go over a few other noteworthy things (and thereby clear a bit from the To Do List). i’ll also include the usual further reading links that no one ever clicks on because hey why not?

Please visit again soon (like, tomorrow) for a follow-up Week in Geek to cover two other books, a little gaming update and – thanks to a reply i just received – some NE Ohio news from the tech community.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back tomorrow, Saturday March 14, and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!