Written by Lisa Yee
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A new series of superheroine young adult novels? An easily accessible way for the early tween set to get to know classic comic book characters? Strong characters, good role models, fun stories?

Where has the DC SUPER HERO GIRLS been all my life? I needed this for my daughter a decade ago!

wonder woman at super hero high

That said, I’m extremely pleased to see that it exists now, and the first book of the series, WONDER WOMAN AT SUPER HERO HIGH has dropped and it is a fun little tale of teem bonding, teamwork, social media, and learning how to be one’s best self, wrapped in glorious superheroic trappings.

A teenaged Wonder Woman, chomping at the bit to leave behind the Amazons and see the world, applies to Super Hero High and makes her way to a society that she does not understand and has no experience with. Here we have a Wonder Woman who is completely guileless, lacking even the basic knowledge of sarcasm as she wades into a school full of powered individuals like her. Her naiveté leads to a great deal of confusion as she navigates her new life, especially with Harley Quinn (cast as a Youtube queen here) as a roommate. And of course, traditional school cliques are in play, something else Wondy does not comprehend. What’s great about the way Lisa Yee writes it is that she manages to make Wondy’s experience universal to pretty much any kid experiencing a new school

This is a Wonder Woman who is relatable in ways we have never seen before.

Of course, you have to have genuine conflict, and there is plenty here to deal with. Jealous students trying to sabotage Wonder Woman’s success and get her expelled. A rival school of supervillains. A competition amongst schools with high stakes. All the stuff you’d want to see in this kind of story. Yee delivers in a big way as she creates this genre hybrid, truly putting together the best of both.

My one down note was that the story takes its sweet time getting moving. The first hundred pages, the pacing is slooooooooooow. But the characters are written in such a charming way that you still want to keep moving along and see where the story takes them. That’s good writing right there.

The final page ends on a “cliffhanger” though it is a harmless one. If you didn’t read the next book, you still got a complete story here. But with something this much fun, why wouldn’t you – or the tween girl in your life – want to read the next one?



Rogue Element #131: C2E2 2016 The Panels

By Avril Brown

Your Brain on Comics
Kerry Freedman, Meryl Jaffe, Joe Magliano, David Rapp
Moderated by Josh Elder

In order to more fully explore the effects reading comic books can have on the brain, and how teachers, parents and mentors alike can utilize said effects, particularly in aiding children who are struggling with reading, comic creator Josh Elder moderated this panel of several brain-focused PhDs.

Elder is the founder of Reading with Pictures, a Chicago based organization which focuses on getting comics into schools and helping children learn how to read. He opened this panel with a story of a little boy who, when his mother was unable to finish reading him his bedtime comic book, would pick up the book and read the story himself. Though too young to understand the words on the page, he nevertheless was able to follow the story via the pictures and comprehend how his Transformer heroes saved the day. Thus began Elder’s foray into reading, and comics, both passions he clearly has fueled over the years.

Though getting brain-based brainiacs to explain their research in layman’s terms is a challenge, Elder was able to do just that, and all of the panel members contributed their two cents on the mental mechanics which go into reading and processing a written and illustrated story.

While reading is something which has to be learned, the ability to recognize a scene is built in, and this core concept is what allows children to follow a story without being able to read it. Kids are willing to engage in reading a comic, but more importantly they CAN; they already have the knowledge base in order to process it. “A block of text for troubled readers may as well be in Sanskrit,” Elder explained, but images are innately understood.

Kerry Freedman studies visual culture and has done research on groups of adolescents who gather around specific visual pop culture (such as gamers and fan artists). She explained how our brains have an incredible visual memory capability, and in particular we have a sweet spot for images accompanying our narratives. We enjoy seeing things we recognize but we crave variety as well, which is why most people tend to get bored watching the same movie over and over again but get excited about a series of films as the characters are familiar but presented in new circumstances.

Joe Magliano is a psychology professor and he helped explain the challenges comic creators face. Artists have to use their work to expand upon ‘mind-reading’ by showcasing emotions on the characters faces, thereby letting the reader learn what is happening inside their mind.

There were some stunning revelations regarding colors as well when the team explained that certain color schemes can provoke particular emotions. Children’s comics tend to have more complimentary colors as it presents a more calming portrait. Contrasting colors show up more in action comics and can cause more stress and conflict. In fact, colors exude such a strong emotional influence, whether we’re conscious of it or not, that they can be the reason a person picks up a comic book or passes it by, according to Freedman.

There was plenty to take away from this fascinating panel, not the least being detailed proof that comics can truly help make reading a less stressful and more successful process for children, especially for those who need a little extra help. Perhaps one of the best moments came at the end with the final question from the audience. A woman declared herself a writer and an artist but stated she always felt comics were ‘junk food’ reading and held no intellectual value. Elder put it best: “Well, as I explained earlier I learned how to read because of comics; they opened up a whole new world to me.” He grew up on welfare but it was his love of reading, originating with comics, which drove him to earn a National Merit scholarship from Northwestern University. “Then I got a film degree and disappointed everyone. I may have wasted my life since then,” he joked, “but comics transformed my life.” Translation: ‘junk food’ my ass, you ignorant woman.

Let’s Make a Villain
Adam Withers, Comfort Love, Dirk Manning, Mark Waid

These four comic creators armed with a vast array of backgrounds and styles, aided by an eager audience, helped bring a brand new villain to life, and explained the process along the way. Adam and Comfort (I guess her parents were hippies?), who are so married you just can’t even, have produced several original comic titles available on the market today. Dirk Manning holds a torch for the horror genre, and my first experience with Mark Waid’s work was ‘Irredeemable,’ a comic which begged the question: What if a superhero with nigh limitless power went batshit crazy?

Needless to say, this was a fun panel to experience, and I do say ‘experience’ because not only did these creators really dive into the details of creating a villain, and thereby a story, they invited the audience to help create such a creature on the spot. With prompts and questions from the panelists a scarred, greedy, idealist pirate queen was born as Adam sketched her out over the course of the hour.

Villains, they explained, can shape the story. For example, if you are reading a story with a zombie bad guy, you already know something about the environment and structure of the tale. The villain guides what’s going to happen because her/his role is to propel the plot forward. They are the ones who want something, be it an item, the success of their villainous scheme, revenge, etc., and part of what makes them the villain is what they are willing to do in order to get it. The villain is the proactive character, the hero reactive, thus fueling the plot. After all, what would the hero do if the villain didn’t do anything?

The antagonist has a special relationship with the hero; they are uniquely intertwined as the villain is the one who brings traits out in the hero, a feat which no one else can accomplish. Batman’s villains were brought up as an example: each one of his challengers shows in their own particular way why Batman is a hero.

As important the villain is to the story, you cannot let your readers care more about the villain than they do the hero, the creators stressed. “Mind the sympathy line,” Manning advised. “You can brush up against it but don’t cross over otherwise people will start rooting for the villain instead.” The hero should always be the more sympathetic character, the more relatable, no matter the species or setting. Plus, s/he needs to be in danger of some sort, otherwise there’s no urgency to the story.

While the creators were unified in suggesting creating the setting first, as the environment shapes the story and therefore the characters, they cautioned to not get bogged down by it either. “As a writer, there are only so many plots to pursue,” Manning explained. “What do you want to say about the world around you? That should be the tone of the story.”

“Plot doesn’t matter apart from the structure you hang your story,” Waid declared. “People remember characters, they remember emotion.” Villains can be fun to create, but make sure they balance out the story. Also, sometimes you have to kill a character off to make the story work. “Don’t take a character away to be cheap, do it to drive the story.” A character death can be a gateway into a new world. Manning used Sirius Black’s death in ‘Harry Potter’ as an example of a death that proved they were no longer having fluffy children adventures; that there was a cost to their actions. “I mean, I’m a grown ass man, and I was like, ‘WTF man?,’ but it served the story and made the stakes real.”

When asked by a certain Spider Jerusalem whether one’s emotional state affects their writing, the answers were a resounding ‘YES’ across the board. “Find the project that channels the emotion you’re feeling and power on through, get it out,” recommended Waid. Manning referred to another writer who wrote under a pseudonym for one particular series because, as he put it, he was a different person when writing that book.

“Nothing is scarier than someone who has no business smiling that cannot stop,” Withers declared as he put the finishing touches on the pirate queen. “A villain’s way of wrecking the hero’s day should be iconic,” he stated as he turned one of her hands into a gun, “and because guns for hands are cool.” Well stated, sir.

While the Adam and Comfort comedy act was tough to weather through in the beginning (I fancy even Dirk and Mark thought them a bit much; they looked bemused, like watching toddlers trying to keep the adult’s attention past the allotted amount of time), I am thoroughly pleased to have attended this panel. As a writer I learned a lot and watching a creative process in action is always a joy. Now onto creating a dastardly villain!


Rogue Element #130: C2E2 2016

By Avril Brown

Ah, my darling C2E2, how I have missed thee! Though a touch early this year (the Con is typically in April) you are as welcome as ever. Walking towards the McCormick Center Friday morning surrounded by geeks of all sorts literally vibrating with barely repressed excitement, it feels like coming home.

However, just like returning home after a long stretch abroad, things are not quite what you remember, and it can take some time to adjust to that fact. Meg Ryan once said, “People are always saying change is a good thing, but what they’re actually saying is something that you didn’t want to happen, did.” True that, but change can be good, or change can be terrible. The goal is at the very least a semblance of balance, or ideally, coming out a wee ahead.

The Good

This year C2E2 introduced a gaming pavilion, and MAN was that a check in the win column! They had tables set up with everything from the original Nintendo console to the latest Xbox to a multiplayer dance-off. Kids of all ages (and I’m including my husband in that tally) were clearly having a blast playing old games, competing with each other and learning new tricks. I saw one woman killing it on Super Mario 3 like she’d woken up that morning saving the Princess, and the same phenomenon occurred when Jesse picked up the vintage Nintendo Zapper gun and took out the baddens of Hogan’s Alley.

Kids dominated the dance games while parents stood off to the side capturing every moment on their phones. One tween girl was acing Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’ while another girl barely out of her toddling years was right next to her doing her darndest to keep up and learn the slick moves on the fly. While my brother-in-law was observing an unfamiliar game a nearby stranger engaged him in conversation, explaining the core concept of the game and what he’d learned so far.

Unknown individuals bonding over nerdy things; ‘cause that’s how C2E2 folk roll, yo.

The Bad

The tattoo pavilion was missing this year, which was a disappointment. The Artists’ Alley of body art has always brought me an intoxicating combination of feelings: the thrill at witnessing artists at work, seeing their creative new pieces and the depths of geeky awesomeness people have explored in their body art, and sharing conspiratorial/commiserative smiles with those under the needle are all positive emotions. Hearing the needle at work, however, sets my teeth on edge. I suppose the sound wouldn’t bother me as much if I fancied myself finished with my own body art, but such is not the case. (Sorry not sorry, Mom and Dad.)

The layout was somewhat spastic, lacking a coherent flow in addition to the sizable gaps on the floor. There were cement spaces in the midst of red carpet where a booth clearly should have stood but failed to do so, for whatever reason. I understand last minute shit happens, but seeing the blank spaces where creative vendors should be sharing their wares was saddening, and frustrating.

For reasons I cannot get into on a public forum, my husband’s gym was once again denied the ability to procure an entire booth and were therefore unable to fully express all they had to offer. People enjoy the variety Forteza has to offer; my coworker’s boyfriend recently took an introductory sword class and loved it, so it was more than a little grating to see the people I care about prevented from reaching their prime target audience to spread the word, and joy, of their hard work.

The Bright and Shiny Cosplay

I cannot get enough of cosplay. Y’know that Michael Jackson meme cut from the theater scene in ‘Thriller,’ when he’s just chowing down on popcorn and someone captioned it, ‘I’m just here for the comments’? Sometimes I feel the same way about cosplay at Comic Cons, and my fellow geeklings did not disappoint.

• Best SNL skit cosplay: As I predicted, there were several Kylo Ren as Matt on ‘Undercover Boss’ outfits, liberated from a Saturday Night Live skit that took the internet by storm. Pure Gold.
• Best random cosplay: I saw two, count ‘em TWO different men dressed as Doug Funnie/Quail-Man. I haven’t thought of that cartoon in years, but I betcha anyone else who was a tween in the 90’s knows what I’m talking about.
• Best use of a baby: This is a three-way tie between two ladies dressed as Rockford Peaches from ‘A League of Their Own’ holding a baby dressed as a baseball, a woman who dressed her baby as Squirrel Girl (complete with acorn earrings!) and a couple dressed as Jon Snow and the Red Lady, with their baby sporting a cap that read, ‘Shadow Baby.’ Well played, parents.
• Best political statement cosplay: Stormtrooper vatos with a sign that read ‘Palpatine: Make the galaxy great again, and then we shall have peace.’ Honorary mention: a guy holding a sign depicting Trump as Lex Luthor asking people to NOT vote for him.
• Best cosplayer hero: Colonel Quickstitch is fully armed and able to help with any cosplayer crisis, and she does it for free with a smile on her wonderful, generous face!
• Most prolific cosplay: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ characters, including a killer cross-gender Immortan Joe.

I really could go on and on. There was a Kylo Ren who looked EXACTLY like Adam Driver, someone who dressed as the Pug Monkey from that cracked out Superbowl commercial, a family of Ant-Men (and mama Wasp), Tank Girl, Colby and Poyo from CHEW, Mrs. Banks in her Sister Suffragette outfit, Kung Fury, a sad Rancor daddy, and the most perfect Q since John de Lancie.

And then there was Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis’s ‘Transmetropolitan.’

spider j avril 1

This foul-mouthed, mad bastard, filthy fucking journalist is on a mission to print The Truth. It’s an election year, and neither power-hungry half-aliens, corrupt cops nor insane politicians are going to stop him. Or her. Last year my cosplay was about feeling strong, in addition to expressing my love for the character. This year it was about education, liberation and a word of caution. ‘Transmet’ is some seriously twisted, powerful and important shit, and never more so than in a polarizing election year such as this; the similarities are uncanny, and disturbing. I was proud to portray such a strong, vocal and intelligent character, and I was more than pleased to encourage people to pick up the book to experience Spider for themselves. One gentleman recognized me but his female friend did not. “You’re not there yet,” he told her. Turning to me: “Don’t worry, I’ve got her started on Warren Ellis, but we’re still on ‘Nextwave.’”
One of the best things about being Spider was when I was recognized, people GOT me. I felt like every ‘Hey, Spider!’ was more than just acknowledging my kick-ass cosplay, it was recognizing WHY. Another perk was the sexy simplicity of the costume: funky green and red glasses (which prompted more than a few questions on their own), black slacks and an open black blazer, showing off a hint of cleavage. Plus, I wasn’t cold. Here’s to keeping clothes on for cosplay!

spider j avril 2

Only downside: carrying a fake cigarette around for two days prompted a craving I haven’t experienced in almost nine years. Thankfully the $12 per pack price tag they go for here in the city kept me on the wagon.

The New Beginning

Admittedly I pouted a bit things didn’t turn out the way I was hoping, but it was yet another life lesson learned from another fantastic Con. I have grown wiser and more tolerant in my many years of Conning. Gone are the days when I’m frantic over arriving at the gate early, or driving myself bananas choosing which panel to attend. Rather than break my own feet I’ll lean against a pillar and let the Con walk by me. I lament the friends I missed but I leave warm and secure in the knowledge that there’s always next year. You can always go home again, especially when home is where the nerdy heart lives.