Beyond the Masks

Beyond the Masks

A review of “Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe” Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

So often the superhero genre is treated as infantile, low brow, and therefore as un-valuable. Yet, the superhero has become our modern fairy tale, a transposition of the magical into the urban, replacing fairy godmothers with scientific experiments gone wrong. They still construct the brave princes and princesses facing off against the evil witches and corrupt kings – and they used to follow that simple binary of morality – good versus bad, hero versus villain. Yet, the most powerful way that superhero tales mirror fairy tales is through their adaptability, their ability to change, modify, and alter themselves to fit the concerns, issues, and ideas of each age for which they are re-written. 

Yet there is nothing simple about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe. Lalumiere and Shainblum present us with morally complex superheroes, challenging the simple ideas of hero and villain. They share stories that complicate the figure of the superhero by presenting the wanna be superhero who ends up causing problems for the police, sharing tales of characters who literally reshape the comic tropes themselves, villains escaping to visit ailing grandparents, retired superheroes, superheroes who behave like villains, but the thing that all of these tales have in common are questions – interrogations of the genre and its tropes and opportunities for re-thinking the superhero for a new age. 

Superheroes are often portrayed as figures in masks and these masks allow them to be changeable, to play with identity and invite readers to question what lies beyond the facade. The authors in Tesseracts Nineteen challenge, question, and complicated the superhero while still presenting us with the tales we adore and have come to associate with the genre. As much as these heroes hide behind secret identities, there’s nothing more revealing than tights, and Tesseracts Nineteen reveals all of the potential within the superhero genre for thinking about our society in new ways through that lens of abstraction. 

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html
To discover more about the work of Claude Lalumiere, visit his website at http://claudepages.info

To discover more about Mark Shainblum, visit his website at http://www.shainblum.com
To read some of the reviews of short stories in the collection, click on the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/07/03/greys-superanatomy/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/06/19/super-psychiatry/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/06/12/outside-the-panels/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/11/superficial-government-superhero-programmes/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/09/multiverse-history/

Grey’s SUPERanatomy

Grey’s SUPERanatomy
A review of Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe edited by Claude Lalumiere and Mark Shainblum (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” intertwines the medical drama with the superheroic, creating a commentary on the medicalizing of bodies that differ from a socially created norm. “SUPER” presents the reader as one of a group of doctors who are being led into a facility whose purpose is to deal with medical issues that may arise from superhero bodies. The reader is led through an introduction to the facilities and some of the specific concerns that relate to super bodies. Redekop, although playing with humour and the absurd, also plays with the hyper-real by examining the potential realities of the diverse bodies presented in traditional superhero comics from the problematic digestive issues of a body made of stone, what happens when a super body heals too much and produces new bodies out of every discarded part, and what happens when an elastic body stretches too far. He also invites questions around those issues not explored in comics like what happens when a superhero acquires an STI or how superheroes cope with erectile dysfunction. 

Redekop plays with medicalised rhetoric around disability by instead applying this to superhero bodies, bringing attention to the ways that we socially construct disability as a problem. He uses medical rhetoric like calling people “supercapables” (playing with the term ‘handicapables’) to point at the way that language often is used as a distraction from deeper social discriminations against people with different bodies. He brings attention to the way that rhetoric often replaces real social change and nifty acronyms replace accessibility. Indeed, the facility itself is called SUPER (Sanatorium for the Uberhuman Palliative, Emergency, and Restorative care), playing with the way that medical bureaucracies often apply language to new situations instead of policies of change. Bringing attention to things like palliative care and terms like “restorative”, and “sanitorium”, Redekop focuses the reader on the institutionalization of people with disabilities and the aged. He invites the question of “what happens when we no longer consider different bodies to be USEFUL bodies?”, a question that has occupied disability scholars regarding the representation of disabled bodies as only valuable when perceived as productive. 

Redekop reverses the lens of looking at disability as the Other by also ensuring that the doctors are from traditionally pathologised groups, made up of people who exhibit borderline personality disorders and “near-crippling” social phobias. The doctors would likely be treated as stigmatized people because of their psychological disabilities and be subject to all of the social oppression that other people labelled “mad” would experience. By situating the doctors as people with stigmas, Redekop breaks down the barrier that is arbitrarily created between able-bodied and disabled, or, in this case, between able-bodied and superable-bodied. He portrays the psychological disabilities of these doctors as assets, aiding in their ability to think up new medical treatments. By putting the reader into the position of one of the doctors through the second person narration, Redekop further complicates the portrayal of disability by having the reader occupy a diagnostic position, making the reader the medical authority who is learning about new bodies. 

Combining social critique and questions with his characteristic humour, Corey Redekop wields his words like a scalpel, cutting to the root of complex social questions and operating in a theatre of critical wit.

To find out more about Corey Redekop’s work, visit his website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html 

Super Psychiatry

Super Psychiatry
A review of Kim Goldberg’s “Bluefields Reharmony Nest” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Kim Goldberg’s “Bluefields Reharmony Nest” asks the question that those who have grown up reading Batman stories with Arkham Asylum in them have wanted to know – what happens to the superheroes who need psychiatric help. Rather than telling another supervillain psychiatric story, Goldberg creates a psychiatric facility for superheroes who are perceived to be in need of psychiatric care. She opens with a counselling session in which superheroes are narrating the experiences that motivated them to seek out psychiatric care (this is a voluntary facility). 

Goldberg’s superheroes are an interplanetary group whose psychiatric needs are tied to their experience of colonialism, ecological destruction, and alienation. Goldberg doesn’t automatically follow traditional representations of psychiatry and place all responsibility for mental health upon the individual, but rather looks at a few systemic violences that have contributed to people’s psychiatric needs. She questions the ability of psychiatry to achieve mental health goals by bringing attention to the diverse methods by which people are able to achieve healing and the way that each individual defines healing
To discover more about Kim Goldberg’s work, visit her site at https://pigsquash.wordpress.com 

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html  

Multiverse History

A review of Patrick T. Goddard’s “Diary of a Teenage Grizzly” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe” Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille


In “Diary of a Teenage Grizzly”, Patrick T. Goddard brings together multiple different comic book and fan narratives. He addresses a letter to the editors of Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe in which he tells them that he uncovered a diary from his time as a teen superhero in the 1980s. He plays with the notion of the multiverse to write himself into a superhero story, creating an alternative history for himself in which his teenage years were a battle between his life as a teen and his life as a superhero. Goddard plays with the fan fiction narrative of the Mary Sue, in which the author inserts her/himself as a character into the story, but uses the comic book narrative and the format of a diary to play with the idea that this was an alternative history for himself.

Despite being a superhero story, Goddard’s tale reveals some of the realities of teenage life including the complicated mix of feelings that get experienced in the high school setting. Goddard’s character/ self experiences clashes between different social groups, the pressure to fit in and conform, conflicts with personal needs versus the desires of parents, and the uncertainty that defines the teen experience. Writing his teenage self as a bear shape shifter whose emotions trigger him to change from human into grizzly bear reveal the way we portray teens as unstable, subject to emotion, and generally a danger when they become emotional, ascribing animalistic characteristics to them.

Goddard invites us to imagine the life of the superhero child and the pressures that it places on their life in addition to the regular challenges of high school life. He explores the complications of hiding identity, celebrity culture around superheroism, and the challenge of defining one’s moral structure in a world that is divided into hero/villain. 

To find out more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html

 

A Skeptic’s Guide to Science Fictional Religions

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A review of Jerome Stueart and Liana Kerzner’s Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

I have to admit to a little bit of hesitancy when picking up Tesseracts Eighteen. While I have loved the Tesseracts series since I first discovered it and feel that Canadian Spec Fic owes a lot to this long-standing staple of Canadian SF, I was a bit hesitant about the theme. I had heard early on that Tesseracts Eighteen was going to be about the topic of religion, and my first concern was that authors may use it as a soapbox to push a conversion narrative on readers. I also worried that people might tokenize non-Christian religious systems because of the prevalence of Christian beliefs in Western society and the lack of understanding of other religions that this often creates. Fantasy, as a genre, is particularly prone to this sort of unintentional religious discrimination since it often portrays “bad cultures” and “villains” as having Islamic-like faiths, and I worried about the potential of this collection to become an assortment of cultural stereotypes.

BUT when the title of the collection was released “Wrestling with Gods”, some of my hesitancy dissipated. There was a potential here for looking at the wonder that happens as people try to understand their place in the world and their beliefs. So, I picked up a copy and began reading. Within the pages of this collection, I discovered not people trying to speak their believed TRUTHS, but rather people speaking about their QUESTIONS. This was a speculative volume after all, filled with a sense of wonder and a desire to push the boundaries of our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. This collection was more about humans and their obsessions, fears, desires, and discoveries than it was about the gods. These stories presented multiple paths for human exploration, each filled with signposts that were question marks inviting us as readers to reflect on our own position in the world and our thoughts about where we come from and where we are going.

Wrestling with the Gods is a collection that challenges rather than conforms. It asks readers whether at times the opposite of the expected norm may be the best path and invites readers to question what they are told is Truth. It illustrates that the idea of Truth itself is subjective, open to question and interrogation, and ultimately that there will always be a multiplicity of truths rather than a singular Truth. Through the power of stories, with all of their potential to embody multiple truths and interpretation, Tesseracts Eighteen invites us to recognize that the concept of Truth is infinitely more complicated than we can imagine and it is always multiple and contradictory, but that we should keep imagining and through imagination we might discover our own collection of truths.

Stueart and Kerzner collected stories that question hegemonic power and taken-for-granted assumptions, inviting readers to constantly ask questions and discover new ideas and perspectives. Within this collection are vampires questioning their faith (and fear of the cross), priests establishing shrines on Mars, manifestations of the natural world that challenge the idea of human ownership, questions about the connection between religion and mental health, explorations of the relationship between technology and belief systems, speculations about the connection between humanity and the animal world, and the exploration of the way that reading sacred or forbidden books can change us in fundamental ways. Tesseracts Eighteen is a collection about boundaries, and is interested in pushing those boundaries because within stories we discover a multiplicity of adventures, ideas, new philosophies, and new ways of viewing and understanding the world.

To discover more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit EDGE’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

To read reviews of some of the stories in this collection, check out the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/04/21/robo-religion/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/05/08/cuttlefishy-myths/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/05/10/beauty-myths-and-legends/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/05/04/an-unnecessary-proving-ground/

Beauty Myths and Legends

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A review of Savithri Machiraju’s “Ganapati Bappa Moriya” in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Ganesha is a Hindu god who has the head of an elephant and a plump body. He is a god of luck, a remover of obstacles, a patron of the arts, and a deity of intellect and wisdom. He is one of the most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon, and he is the protagonist of Savithri Machiraju’s short story “Ganapati Bappa Moriya”. 

Tesseracts Eighteen is a collection about faith, but it is not really Hindu faith that Savithri Machiraju explores in “Ganapati Bappa Moriya”, rather, she explores a system of beliefs and practices that are generally not considered to be a faith, the fitness movement. Machiraju’s Ganesha is called fat and told that he is disgusting by a fitness guru. Rather than dismissing this as silly human judgements as his wives do, Ganesha decides to change his image to make himself conform to human beauty standards. He begins to work out, control his eating, take supplements to increase his muscle mass, and has plastic surgery to change his elephant head into the visage of a Bollywood star. Rather than embracing his individual bodily expression, he seeks to be just like everyone else, to conform to a standard of beauty. 

Machiraju explores the compulsion to conform that is embedded in the fitness movement and the social push for a bodily ideal that removes bodily diversity. Machiraju explores the religious quality of fitness gurus, moralizing bodies into “good” and “bad” and explores the danger of losing oneself in the beauty myth. Machiraju adds further depth to her story by naming her fitness guru Maya, a name which in Hindu belief means “illusion”, illustrating that the beauty myth is itself an illusion, a surface-level performance that does not reveal depth or reality. 

To find out more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

Cuttlefishy Myths

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A review of James Bambury’s “Chromatophoric Histories of the Sepiidae” in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Human arrogance assumes that only humanity has the ability to develop beliefs in deities, and it is exciting to see that James Bambury’s “Chromatophoric Histories of the Sepiidae” is included in a collection on religious beliefs because unlike most of the stories in the collection, he focusses on the beliefs of Cuttlefish. Bambury’s cuttlefish tell a mythic history to each other about their rise from the dark of the deep sea (a place filled with predators and absent of light) into the light of the sun. His cuttlefish celebrate their mythic ancestor who absorbed the light of the sun and brought that light into her own body, bringing communication to her people (since cuttlefish communicate with changing patterns of light and colour). Bambury explores this potential within the cuttlefish body for a mythical exploration, connecting the cuttlefish’s ability to change colour to communication and suggesting an ur myth where the cuttlefish first began to communicate by sharing patterns of light with each other. He creates a unique mythological system that comes from environmental and bodily change, a uniquely cuttlefishy desire to understand themselves and their place within their oceanic world. He indicates to readers that religious ideas would express themselves through the body of the practitioner and be shaped by their bodily engagement.

Bambury’s “Chromatophoric Histories of the Sepiidae” invites the reader to divorce themselves from their human-centric perspective of the world and asks us to look at the potential wonders of the deep sea since it is an area, like space, that represents a final frontier that humanity has only explored in part.

To find out more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

To read more about James Bambury, visit his website at http://jamesbambury.blogspot.ca