Rat Queens Volume 2 picks up with our hard-drinking, ill-behaved, all-female group of adventurers where Volume 1 left off. With the Rat Queens recoverRat Queens Volume 2 picks up with our hard-drinking, ill-behaved, all-female group of adventurers where Volume 1 left off. With the Rat Queens recovering from their hangovers post-battle victory party hangovers. But the real threat still looms. To keep it short and keep spoilers to a minimum, Gerrig the Merchant’s machinations lead to a host of eldritch abominations assaulting Palisade. The hallucinations that result give us flashbacks that flesh out Violet’s and Dee’s story. Dee gets an enhanced role in the storyline and a new character important to her is introduced but her story remains the least interesting (healers, always getting Goldmoon’d). Only Betty, the cutest smidgen since George Stephanopoulos, gets left out.
Rat Queens changed artists between issues 8 and 9 (Volume 2 collects issues 6-10). I didn’t hear about the change until after reading this volume and while I thought something was off about the art, it wasn’t jarring. Hopefully it being “off” is just a function of the dissonance of slight differences and I will love the ongoing artwork just as much as the original.
NetGalley disclosure: I received a complimentary e-copy of Volume 2 via NetGalley....more
Volume 3 of Saga continues the story of star-crossed lovers from enemy peoples caught in an endless, bitter war, with a step up in quality from the fiVolume 3 of Saga continues the story of star-crossed lovers from enemy peoples caught in an endless, bitter war, with a step up in quality from the first two (already good) volumes. Back are ram-horned Marko and insect-winged Alana, along with their as-dangerous-as-an-idea child, Marko’s mother, and a ghost babysitter with no lower body; freelancer The Will and Marko’s ex-fiancée Gwendolyn, along with a rescued child sex slave and a Lying Cat; and the TV-headed prince of the robot kingdom. Newcomers include a pair of blue and green tabloid reporters and the writer D. Oswald Heist, briefly introduced at the end of the last volume.
Things start off slow. We step back to see what happens before the robot prince arrives at Quietus, The Will et al. are temporarily sidelined on a planet more dangerous than it appears while he gets his ship repaired, and we get a new storyline of the tabloid reporters looking into Alana’s story. It’s good stuff in the interim, though (more on that in a bit), and things come to a head and get action packed as everyone converges toward the end of the volume.
Saga has always had two central threads running through it: parenthood and war. And it has always dealt with the former much better than the latter. The addition of Heist who, along with Marko’s mother, acts as a wise, grandparently foil to Marko and Alana’s young person’s foolishness, is welcome. And this volume thankfully rarely ruminates on war (with one notable exception, which makes up for it with utter ridiculousness)....more
Volume 2 of Saga continues the story of star-crossed lovers from enemy peoples caught in an endless, bitter war. And it is the story of their child, bVolume 2 of Saga continues the story of star-crossed lovers from enemy peoples caught in an endless, bitter war. And it is the story of their child, born at the beginning of Volume 1. When Volume 1 ended, Alana, an insect-winged humanoid, and Marko, a ram-horned humanoid, had just fled the robot humanoid and freelancers hunting them on an organic rocket ship. With Marko’s newly arrived parents.
The comic greatly benefits from their addition. In general, Volume 2 still does well what Volume 1 does well, and still does poorly what Volume 2 does poorly. Alana and Marko are still stupid kids, but juxtaposed against Marko’s older, wiser parents, it no longer grates. The comic does, on the other hand, spend too much time ruminating on the war, about which we’re deliberately left in the dark so that we see it as the intentionally ignorant see war in our world. Saga is at its best as a family drama, and some additional attention here is welcomed.
The art remains gorgeous and inventive, Marko’s former fiancée is introduced, we see Alana and Marko’s meet-cute, and we get to see more of Saga’s beautiful, bizarre world....more
By the People is Charles Murray’s answer to what to do about a regulatory state metastasized and gone mad (if you disagree about that it’s probably beBy the People is Charles Murray’s answer to what to do about a regulatory state metastasized and gone mad (if you disagree about that it’s probably best to start elsewhere). And what he recommends is not to act through the traditional democratic channels, but to instead engage in what he calls “systematic civil disobedience.” It meets the dictionary definition, but it is not civil disobedience as we generally think of it, nor is it necessarily that different than some of the pushback against the State already going on, albeit on a larger scale. We’ll get to that.
Murray divides By the People into three parts. Part I covers how we got to where “we are at the end of the American project as the founders intended it” and why “the normal political process will not rescue us.” Part II outlines the particular sort of civil disobedience that Murray recommends. Part III takes a look at the various reasons, e.g., demographic, cultural, why Murray thinks now is an especially apt time for change. He sees a broad market for what he’s selling and uses the term “Madisonian” throughout to refer to classical liberals, libertarians, and conservatives (and presumably conservatarians) who generally agree that government should be limited. And he is preaching to the choir; this is a call to action, not a call for conversion.
Part I breaks down the problem into discrete areas, first describing what went wrong and then making the case as to why it can’t be fixed through the normal democratic process. For example, the chapter titled “A Broken Constitution” starts with a short history of the New Deal Court’s abandonment of a federal government limited to its enumerated powers. It ends by arguing that reversing the key decisions just discussed will never happen. For example, reversing Helvering would require the federal government to “end Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, all welfare programs, all spending on K-12 education” and more. If it were enforced it would throw the country into chaos and the Supreme Court would never do it. Murray also covers lawlessness of the legal system as a whole (due to the huge cost of civil litigation, the abandonment of the requirement of a guilty mind in criminal law, etc.), the extralegal regulatory state, a systematically corrupt legislature (the sort of corruption requiring campaign contributions to get anywhere with legislation), and institutional sclerosis.
Part II addresses what to do about it, assuming that Murray is correct that the normal democratic processes will be inadequate. It advocates “systematic civil disobedience.” That civil disobedience, though, mostly means people continuing to do what they did before, invariably running afoul of one regulation or another from time to time, only now with a privately funded legal resistance. That legal resistance would take two forms. The first is a legal defense fund that he calls the Madison Fund, much like a Pacific Legal Foundation or Institute for Justice but on a much larger scale and specifically focused on protecting against government overreach of a certain sort. The second is insurance against government funded by industry groups (this idea doesn’t get as much attention). These would first and foremost “defend ordinary individuals against government overreach, even if it accomplishes nothing else.” But Murray also wants to “make large portions of the Code of Federal Regulations de facto unenforceable.” Murray goes on to spend quite a bit of time on the nuts and bolts, laying out categories of regulations that should not be candidates for civil disobedience and giving principled and practical decision rules for choosing regulations to ignore. Defense against a regulatory action would be both legal and in the public square.
Part III is when things fall apart a bit. Which is funny, because Part III is where Murray finally returns to his wheelhouse—social science. He runs through several findings that I take it are to provide support of Murray’s argument that the time is now, but it doesn’t come through forcefully. It’s still wonderful stuff, though. Murray points out that we’ve always been a pluralistic society with at least as much of a cultural gulf among the original four groups that settled America (he owes a lot to and explicitly discusses Albion’s Seed here) as among the various groups in America today. It was the period from the 1950s to the 1970s that was anomalous. He points out that a significant portion of Americans still live in small towns or small cities where local government remains relatively personal, effective, and light (only 28% of Americans live in urban areas of more than 500,000 people). Technology offers new opportunities to evade burdensome, protectionist regulations (Uber is a case study). He adds an argument at the end that the Left should give up on public sector unions, the Right should give up on eliminating transfer payments, and both sides should reject their cultural absolutists (progressives and (some) social conservatives, respectively). In doing so he makes a perceptive, and overlooked, distinction between progressives and left-liberals. There is also a one paragraph description of our “civic religion” that rivals W.J. Cash’s summation of the South in The Mind of the South for nailing the mores of a people in just a few words.
I’m not entirely sold, though. Murray very early on asserts that the answer is not electing the right politicians or getting the right judges appointed. But his plan looks less like traditional civil disobedience than it looks like conservative legal activism over the past few decades. His Madison Fund admittedly looks a lot like existing groups like the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Institute for Justice, only on a much larger scale. As in several hundred million dollars a year versus $25 million a year for the existing groups combined. When groups like that are already doing such great work, what is the basis for funding on a much larger scale for a new group? And despite Murray’s dismissal of seeking change through the courts, his plan for the Defense Fund assumes just that. First, a major change in the level of scrutiny courts give enforcement actions is a bigger deal than fighting enforcement actions on an individual level. That kind of change requires first and foremost the sort of intellectual credibility conservative and libertarian attorneys and academics have been building on a number of issues over the past few decades. Murray really seems to be relying on a change in law and not what the term civil disobedience suggests to me, which is to leave the regulations and enforcement options intact but effectively useless because of the scale of violation. Rather than spend time on how things play out if there is no sea change in the law, Murray relies on such a change. That isn’t crazy. Legal positions that were considered crazy by most of the academy, such as the Second Amendment as an individual right and the Commerce Clause having any constraining principle, were resurrected because judges have to show their work and in the law reasoning and principles really do matter. Sackett v. EPA was huge, important win. But it’s a daunting road. The Supreme Court’s most vocal proponent of Chevron deference, after all, is Justice Scalia.
Changing the law would require principled argument, but it would also require principled judges. Murray is wrong to dismiss the importance of who is elected president for that reason alone. But perhaps more importantly, the president can have enormous influence over the regulatory state through his veto pen and as head of the executive branch. The institutional sclerosis Murray so vividly paints a picture of is real. But who would argue, when it comes to wrangling the regulatory state, that Reagan was not preferable to both Bush the elder and Bush the younger? Or even that Clinton was preferable to Obama? Public choice principles might suggest any president will be loath to devolve any power from the executive branch, but I think it is feasible because so little of the power of the regulatory state is really at the hands of the president (in stark contrast to our military and foreign policy apparatus). Congress is a lost cause, but the presidency has the potential to counterweight Congress’ inherent foibles in this area as it so often has on trade.
Further, I don’t think Murray spends enough time considering the threats of blowback and a regulatory state that proves more entrenched than expected. For example, look at the prohibition of drugs, especially marijuana. The American people have practiced a sort of civil disobedience in that large numbers of Americans ignore drug laws and continue to use drugs. But for decades the federal government’s response was to double down again and again on drug prohibition and to encroach on its citizens’ civil liberties in more and greater ways. The courts facilitated, rather than impeded, this response. Prosecutors and criminal courts found a way to handle huge case loads. States even began to retreat from harsh enforcement of drug laws (again, especially marijuana) without the federal government beating a similar retreat, although this may be beginning to happen (on a related note, Murray commits an egregious error of law in discussing state marijuana decriminalization by suggesting that because the federal government prohibits marijuana, states MUST also prohibit it; this is plainly wrong under current and correct federalism jurisprudence). Murray does mention briefly in his conclusion that the efforts he recommends may “further erode the legitimacy of the federal government.”
Murray is also more optimistic about our cultural readiness. He points to our pluralism, noting that cultural pluralism has been the rule in America, not the exception, and he points to the decline of network television. He’s right about that, but I still have my doubts. The rise of the progressive faction on the Left has led to a rather shocking attempt to enforce cultural hegemony. The rise of the Long Tail may actually make things worse, not better, leaving a few dominant media properties without an effective counterweight. I see this seemingly every morning as the morning shows have found something new about which people are outraged. How can we be ready for limited government when parents might get arrested if they let their kids walk home from the park alone?
Finally, Murray doesn’t consider the threat of another source of sclerosis. Our enormous wealth. Our government is largely a parasite, but it’s a parasite with a host unmatched in human history—the American economy. When we remain so much richer today than yesterday, how will the problem of a kudzu-like regulatory state ever be sufficiently acute to take real action? Good, after all, is often the enemy of great.
But in many ways the above critiques are more a feature than a bug, because the book spurred me to think deeply about the issue. It spurred me to rethink a lot of stuff that I had written off as inevitable. And it spurred me to come back to the basic problem I’ve always wrestled with as a libertarian—how do we get from where we are today to a basically free future? Murray doesn’t have all the answers. But I think he has part of the answer.
Disclosure: I received a copy of By the People through NetGalley....more
The Zombie Nation is, I take it, a webcomic collected here. It suffers from the change in format both because it grates when taken in quantity and becThe Zombie Nation is, I take it, a webcomic collected here. It suffers from the change in format both because it grates when taken in quantity and because you had to pay for it. Zombie Nation has a relatively set format, regularly cycling through features that include: the main comic, with ongoing storylines; one-off one-panel art, including most commonly Left 4 Dead concept art and Futurama undead; zombie haikus; semi-useless zombie facts; and true tales of a cartoonist. The main comic includes two main storylines, both of which appear to be incomplete, the first missing its beginning and the second its ending. The main characters are zombies, rotting away but otherwise apparently retaining full faculties, including speech. The first storyline involves the recovery of the main character’s Necronomicon, which could be used to destroy all of the zombies, from a military remnant group. The second storyline line involves fleeing from the main character’s murderous, clingy ex (we’ve all been there). The humor is mostly lowbrow and prurient, which is ok, and boring and unfunny, which isn’t. Not only does the first main storyline involve a Necronomicon, the main character’s name is Lovecraft, the first storyline ends with the summoning of Cthulhu, and in the second main storyline the main characters travel to a town called Innsmouth full of fish people. It’s obvious who Reid’s favorite H.P. is. He also ladles the pop culture references on thick (Zombie Nation is at its best when throwing shade at George Lucas or Twilight). I won’t scare you away, but I would stick to the free stuff....more
“So the woods was, like, really slow internet basically.”
Sex Criminals is a funny comic in more ways than one. It’s very simple premise is that some p“So the woods was, like, really slow internet basically.”
Sex Criminals is a funny comic in more ways than one. It’s very simple premise is that some people have the power to stop time for everyone else temporarily when they orgasm. The two main characters eventually meet and realize they both have this power, and use it the way anyone lacking strong moral fiber and the slightest imagination would—to rob banks.
For a comic that’s supposed to be, well, comedic, there isn’t much that’s really funny outside of the above quote, the volume subtitle, the inherently funny term “butt stuff,” and the background art in the marital aid store. And then the “magic system” doesn’t really make sense. The “villain” (banks are bad!) is boring and trite, and the bright idea of robbing banks is neither smart nor zzzzzzzzzzzz [falls asleep]. The comic is, though, technically proficient with a time hopping storytelling structure that works well, and it works on an allegorical level as a stand-in for the biting loneliness of so much of the modern sex life....more
Taking 21st Century, Western ideals and cultural mores and simply slapping them on a speculative fiction setting is frequently decried as bad writing,Taking 21st Century, Western ideals and cultural mores and simply slapping them on a speculative fiction setting is frequently decried as bad writing, but it has its place. One of the great virtues of speculative fiction, after all, is that it allows creators to use a created setting to comment on contemporary issues (this has always been central to the X-Men, for example). One of the most vaunted works of speculative fiction, or any fiction, is a straightforward allegory of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union using a farm. So I won’t criticize Vaughan per se for creating a world where horned mean and winged women sound an awful lot like 20-somethings in Brooklyn. Truly inventive speculative fiction is awesome but Vaughan is trying to do something else. So I will criticize him for not doing that terribly well.
Saga takes place against the backdrop of an eternal, galaxy-wide war between the winged humanoids of Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy, and the horned humanoids of Wreath, Landfall’s only moon (otherwise known as moonies). But with each side realizing that destroying the other was mutually assured destruction, the two sides began outsourcing the conflict to other planets (not exactly subtle, but to be fair the story only explicitly uses the second term). The story kicks off with Alana, a former soldier for the flock, and Marko, a former moony soldier and prisoner-of-war, in an empty garage where Alana is giving birth to their interracial-interspecies child. From the beginning, as the child narrates from the future, they are on the run from both sides.
It’s a classic story, and it’s fairly well told. My real criticism, as alluded to above, is that the modern day analog characters don’t have anything interesting to say, either explicitly or implicitly. They tend to come off as the sort of fresh-out-of-college fool that thinks they know everything but in reality just repeat trite banalities and centuries-dead pablum. Which could work if you didn’t get the sense the author agreed. As a general matter Saga seems to have mainly the very lowest hanging of fruit in aim (War is bad! Child sex slavery is bad! People who think miscegenation is bad are bad! Um, well, yes. And?). I will grant an exception for the treatment of bringing a child into the world, which if not treading new ground, is at least deeply resonant.
What Saga DOES do well is create a beautiful, absurd, bizarre fantasy-sci fi world. The moonies are humans with horns of various sorts—ram, deer, rhino. And apparently magical swords. The members of the flock are humans with wings of various sorts—insect, bird, bat. And apparently ray guns. There are robot humanoids with TVs for heads. And a spider topped by the topless, armless torso of a woman with fingers on the ends of its eight hands. A bottomless ghost, floating complete with hanging entrails. A rocket ship tree. A mercenary-assassin, in a world where all freelancers apparently by regulation are required to have a name that starts with The, with a Lying Cat that resembles a great cat-sized Siamese cat that says “Lying!” every time someone nearby lies (which sounds both awesome and terribly inconvenient). The is gorgeous and creepy, usually at the same time....more
After a Spiderman and X-Men filled youth, I largely stopped reading comic books. What little comic book reading I’ve done since then has been mostly TAfter a Spiderman and X-Men filled youth, I largely stopped reading comic books. What little comic book reading I’ve done since then has been mostly The Walking Dead with a few other Image Comics thrown in. So Ms. Marvel is my first foray back to Marvel (the real stuff, not that talkie stuff the kids are into these days). I will be back.
You see, Ms. Marvel is really, really damn good. Ms. Marvel returns to ground well trod by comics: the immigrant experience (Superman); gangly, gawky teenage years (Spiderman); and being the Other (X-Men). But it remains fertile ground when done well, and Ms. Marvel is exceedingly well done. Not in the big ways of great action set pieces or an epic storyline, because at the very least we haven’t had time to get there, but in the little ways. All of them, from Ms. Marvel trying to control her new powers to simple moments between a frustrated, loving father and a teenage girl outgrowing the nest.
The teen girl is Kamala: a young, Pakistani-American girl. A more devout female friend (Nakia) and brother, a more Americanized male friend (Bruno) (and love interest?), a “mean girl” (Zoe), long suffering and hardworking immigrant parents round out the main cast for now. The rebellion comes early when Kamala sneaks out to go to a high school party where she has her first sip of booze. It ends like it ended for most of us, with an encounter with a terrigen bomb that activates her Inhuman genes. (You might not understand any of that any more than I did; it’s ok, you don’t really need to because the comic doesn’t much concern itself with the source.) The result is Kamala gaining powers; that is, the power to manipulate her body—both to do stuff like create giant fists and to make herself gigantically huge or ridiculously tiny—and a healing factor.
Like I said, the story doesn’t start with a bang, but the volume sets up a Big Bad, someone named the Inventor with suitably villainous inventions. But Kamala starts by pulling girls out of the lake and foiling convenience store robberies. Which is good, because we get treated to wonderful scenes of Kamala trying to control her powers and repurposing a burkini as a superhero costume. And of course all that little stuff, including not just the two-way tension between being a superhero and being a normal teen, but the three-way tension among a stricter faith, mainstream American consumerism, and immigrants striving for the American Dream....more