On Things I’ve Been Reading

More comic book musings! Plus, we branch out to discuss a book I got for free!

Spider-Man Love Mary Jane Season 2 #1
Marvel Comics
Written by Terry Moore
Art by Craig Rousseau

I really liked this. I mean, damn, I really liked this.

That’s a strange place to start. But I don’t know where else to start.

I knew that Marvel Comics had published a few years ago a series called Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. It was an out-of-continuity story that looked at Spider-Man from the perspective of a young high school student named Mary Jane Watson. I didn’t read it as Spider-Man really wasn’t my thing, but when I saw the first issue of Season Two I said, “Why not?”

For a lot of readers, the creative team is probably a draw. Terry Moore, the creator of Strangers in Paradise and Echo. Craig Rousseau, a guy I’ve never heard of. Umm…

Mind you, I wasn’t expecting much from this.

I wasn’t expecting to really like it.

It’s Mary Jane Watson’s first day of a new school year, her sophomore year at Midtown High. She has her best friend, Liz Allen. She has a rival, Gwen Stacy. There’s the football jock, Flash Thompson. There’s a cute boy in her classes, Peter Parker. There’s the embittered rich kid, Harry Osborn. The familiar pieces of the Spider-Man mythos are here — in high school.

As readers, we know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Mary Jane hasn’t a clue. And Spider-Man’s activities as a hero aren’t even important to Mary Jane here. She’s worried about how she’s going to pay her cell phone bill. She doesn’t like her mom a whole lot. She wonders what that cute boy, Peter Parker, does all the time when he makes excuses for needing to do something else that doesn’t involve her.

The first issue is a day in Mary Jane’s line. It’s cute, and it’s charming. It’s a different spin on Spider-Man. It’s an outside perspective on the wallcrawler. I had fun reading it. The artwork is fantastic, and the storytelling was top-notch. I really cared about Mary Jane and her problems. I’m in for the rest of the series, without a doubt.

Recommended.

Justice Society of America Annual #1
DC Comics
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jerry Ordway and Bob Wiacek

I haven’t been reading DC’s new Justice Society of America series. I’ve wanted to — the Superman from Kingdom Come joined the team a few months ago when an accident ripped him from his world and threw him into the present of the DC Universe — but I’ve never picked up an issue.

However, when I saw that the Annual was going to involve the pre-Crisis Earth-2, and the cover featured prominently the Earth-2 Robin and the Huntress, I was intrigued. And artwork by Jerry Ordway? Count me in!

Night. Gotham City. The Huntress, the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman, is on patrol. There’s an explosion. She goes to investigate, and discovers a crater in the street. In the center of the crater is the body of Power Girl. Power Girl is taken to the headquarters of the Justice Society Infinity (a combination of the JSA and Infinity, Inc., the Earth-2 second generation superteam), where she awakens, only to believe that she’s hallucinating, because she’s surrounded by people she knows — but that she knows can’t possibly be alive. Power Girl believed that she was the only survivor of Earth-2 after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that Earth-2 had ceased to exist. She freaks out, and discovers that, no, she really is on Earth-2. She’s returned to her lost home. Power Girl adapts to her new world, she bonds with her best friend, the Huntress, and after a heart-to-heart conversation, we make a shocking discovery.

There’s another Power Girl. The Power Girl we’ve been following since Crisis isn’t from Earth-2 at all, and the other Power Girl, plus the JSI, vow to hunt down the post-Crisis Power Girl. And the issue ends on a cliffhanger.

I liked the JSA Annual, but I’d hesitate to recommend it. It’s a fun issue, Jerry Ordway’s artwork is spectacular, but the story isn’t complete, and the story relies a lot on story points that are over twenty years old. Someone who hasn’t read Huntress: Darknight Daughter (the trade paperback collection of the pre-Crisis Huntress stories) would probably be lost on a couple of points. A better structure might have made this a better jumping-on point for readers.

I’m going to stick out with JSA for the next few issues, to see where this is leading.

And now, book time!

The Irrational Atheist
Written by Theodore Beale (writing as Vox Day)

At work, there’s a table in the lunchroom where people leave magazines, books, comics, DVDs, and the like. If you want it, and it’s there, it’s free for the taking.

Occasionally, I’ll find unique and interesting stuff there. The 2010 soundtrack. The Torchwood screener DVD from the San Diego Comic-Con 2007 (which I gave to a friend that I knew could give it a better home). And, The Irrational Atheist.

The past two years several books have been published on atheism, written for a general audience about what atheism is, why religion is bunk, etc., books like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great, and Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation. These books exist for two audiences, I think — first, the atheist insecure in their lack of faith (and, yes, atheists can have crises of unfaith); and two, the religiously-inclined who may be on the fence, who may be going to church or synagogue but doesn’t feel anything, and doesn’t understand why. These books, then, are good for someone exploring their faith — or un-faith.

Beale’s The Irrational Atheist is a response to these books. The book’s subtitle? “Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens.”

That should, right there, be an indication of the book’s perspective. The book isn’t a refutation of Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens. Beale’s argues for the superiority of religion (not necessarily Christianity) in three ways:

  1. Ad hominem attacks on Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens. Usually, he resorts to name-calling. Sometimes, he simply calls them “stupid.” Generally, Hitchens is called “drunk.” “Idiot” is bandied about, too.
  2. Straw man argumentation. Rather than reply to some of the issues raised by Dawkins or Hitchens, Beale invents new arguments that he can either demolish through logic or resort to calling “stupid.” For instance, rather than address the Problem of Evil as a reason for disbelief, Beale invents weird arguments (like the Argument from Fiction, which deals with Shakespeare, of all people) and demolishes that for being, well, stupid. Meanwhile, arguments for disbelief, like the Argument from Reasonable Non-Belief, are sidestepped because there’s no easy way to deal with them. (The Argument from Reasonable Non-Belief, by the way, is what really pushed me toward admitting my atheism. I didn’t know what it was called, and when I discovered, years later, that it had a name, I was amazed.)
  3. Selective use of evidence.

The Irrational Atheist proceeds from the premise that the only rational belief is a belief in a god of some sort. (Beale doesn’t care which god. In that respect, he’s a bit like C.S. Lewis. That’s the thing about Lewis’ Christian apologia; at best, if you accept his arguments, all you can say is that a god exists, but not necessarily the Christian god.)

The problem with Beale’s book is that he tries to make his case for a rational belief in a fundamentally irrational way. He can’t make a rational argument, because he’s spending his time calling his opponents names, foisting straw man arguments that he can deal with, and not actually addressing the substational questions that someone questioning their faith would be likely to raise.

It’s a difficult book to read, not simply because of the incoherence of Beale’s arguments, but because Beale’s writing style keeps the book at a distance. He’s snide, he’s snarky, and he adopts an air of arrogance. There’s nothing wrong with that — I don’t mind personality — but it’s off-putting, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Beale’s style was meant as a mask for the flaws inherent in his argumentation.

I’ve since discovered that The Irrational Atheist is available as a free download.

I can’t recommend it. I don’t regret the time I spent reading it, but I’ll probably never look at the book again.

And with that…

I need to get caught up on my comics reading. I have a whole stack of Trinity to read, and maybe next time I’ll share some thoughts on Doctor Who: The Forgotten.

One thought on “On Things I’ve Been Reading

  1. Hey, Allyn. I recommend “The Skpetics Guide to the Universe” and “Skepticality.”

    As starting points.

    Although I am personally a Deist, I really enjoy the Skeptical point of view and I am a major fan of the subculture.

    Jay ~Meow!~

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