Book Review: Immortal Hulk Issues 1-25

Link to Book  Image result for immortal hulk5/5 Stars

Alright, this isn’t my normal book review, but these comics moved me in a way that not much media. From what I understand the Author, Al Ewing, originally planned the Immortal Hulk only to be 25 issues, it’s now gone beyond that by a handful and looks like it will continue to move forward. However, I think this initial arc will likely be the most impactful of the Immortal Hulk stories. Or at least of telling a story about the costs of abuse on individuals, their relationships, and society as a whole.

So, most of you are used to seeing Hulk and Incredible together. Well, that character was killed. Bruce essentially committed suicide by way of Hawkeye. After some Avengers tomfoolerly Hulk was brought back to life by the Grand Master during a chess match. This resulted in the Hulk becoming the Immortal Hulk.

*Spoilers ahead!*

Hulk is still on the run, as is normal in his comic books, but there’s a decided different tone about the chase and the fight. Mostly, because Hulk isn’t just chased by the military, but he’s chased by the ghosts of his past, literally, his father (who Bruce Banner killed) attacks him. There are also multiple Hulks in this. The ones I’m going to discuss are Devil Hulk (very intelligent, but well, evil), Savage/Child Hulk (The Hulk in the MCU, dumb and innocent), and Bruce Banner. There are a few others, but I’m not going to bring them up here.

I’m going to present a few key scenes that I think really convey a theme and discuss the themes below. The first scene that resonated with me is a scene where Bruce’s father comes home to find Bruce playing with a toy that’s significantly more advanced than what he should be playing with. This enrages his father, who lashes out at the boy. He throws a full glass of booze at Bruce. He slaps the boy, then demands Bruce’s Mother go with him leaving the boy. He then becomes the Breaker-Apart. The first signs of his rage.

The second scene that hit me is when Hulk goes to hell (it makes a lot of sense in the story, believe me). However, when he’s in Hell, he looks sickly and is wasting away, so he doesn’t look like the hugely strong being we’re used to seeing. While down in Hell, he and his reporter sidekick (McGee), begin to meet people they’ve lost. One of the people Devil Hulk comes across is Thunderbolt Ross, Bruce’s Father-In-Law. Devil Hulk flies into a rage while being the deadman and turns into Savage Hulk. Afterwards, McGee stops the Child Hulk and Hulk responds by saying “Why does Hulk hurt, why is Hulk always hurting.” Tears are streaming down his face. Rather than hugging or supporting the child Hulk, McGee demands to speak with Devil Hulk. Devil Hulk responds that Ross could have been a father to Bruce.

After going through Hell, Hulk finally finds Bruce. He’d been held captive by his father in Hell. Bruce wants to give up and stay in Hell, never going back to earth. Just ending it. The Devil Hulk offers a hand, Bruce asks why, Devil Hulk says “Cause I love you kid.” Bruce looks at him with tears in his eyes. Hulk continues, “Someone had to.”

The next scene is one where Bruce meets his ex-wife Betty Ross. She’s angry that he didn’t immediately reach out once he came back to life (it’s been about 8 months at this point). At first she’s really welcoming, but during their conversation she decides to end it. However at this time she’s murdered by someone chasing the Hulk. This of course enrages Bruce and he chases after the bad guy. An issue later we find Devil Hulk fighting the abomination, who eventually blinds Hulk and cuts off each limb – at this point Hulk is Child Hulk. We suddenly see Betty as the Red Harpy, her own Hulk manifestation. Child Hulk begs for help and love, instead Betty decides to literally rip Hulk’s heart out and eat it.

Eventually this all ends in the final chapter, where the Hulk becomes the last being in the Universe and is given immense powers as a guardian in the next. However, being Hulk, he consumes and disrupts everything. We see near the end that the Hulk is massive and is clothes lining planets, destroying them. The Great Breaker-Apart he is called. A being sees into the Hulk, inside there’s an infinite number of Bruce’s screaming in pain. There’s a great Hulk crying that out in torment. In the end, the Hulk is all that is left. Alone.

To me, this is a story about abuse. Emotional. Physical. Bruce was diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder, which is clearly a result of the trauma he experienced as a child. The gamma bomb turned that trauma into a literal monster, the Hulk. The series indicates that without strong support of people around us to counter that trauma (specifically the McGee scene in Hell), that Trauma will turn us into monsters. That we then turn everyone around us into Monsters. That there’s parts of us, however monstrous, that need love and support to get through it. If we don’t get it, in those opportunities, someone else will provide it that might be malignant. Bruce created the Devil Hulk as his ultimate dissociation, where even the Hulk would turn to in his deepest pain. Bruce turned to that Monster, who wants to tear down society, because of Bruce’s pain.

There are things about the Devil Hulk’s plan to destroy society that make it the right target for his scorn. Society as a whole drove Bruce’s father to act the way he did in some regards. We often reject people in pain, in many cases they disgust us – in some cases because they remind us of our own weaknesses. Furthermore, the world itself inserts its demands on us, which in many ways are more important than our needs. Hulk NEEDS love while he’s in Hell. McGee isn’t able to give it because she’s afraid, but also because she’s in literal Hell and Devil Hulk is the only one to fix it. So Hulk dissociates so he can deal with the world. Trauma isn’t dealt with. Devil Hulk becomes dominant.

This is a really sad comic. It’s amazingly written. The art is fantastic. I strongly recommend checking it out.

Engaging with Media

I enjoyed the Netflix show, The Witcher. One of the things I really enjoyed about the show, was that it trusted the audience to figure out the different timelines. For those of you that aren’t aware and haven’t watched the show, there are three timelines that converge. The clues as to the relationship between the timelines are somewhat subtle. You have to be paying attention to the show to catch all of them.

For example, in the very first episode Renfri mentions a young girl called the Lion of Cintra, shortly it cuts to calling Ciri the Lion Cub of Cintra. This is confusing, because of the age. it stuck out in my mind though.  A few episodes later when Geralt is investigating a Striga there’s a piece of art with a young prince and princess. Seconds later it cuts to a live shot of those people in a scene including Yenefer. It was around this point, after some definite confusion, it coalesced in my mind that there were three timelines and when the timelines were occurring. Within that same episode there’s another clue with Stregobor and his predilection to hunt girls born during the eclipse, indicating the ordering of time between other episodes as well.

Similarly, there were odd reactions to the middle episodes of the Mandolorian. Specifically, the Tatooine episode. Which I thought was strange. Sure there was some fan service in going to the planet. I felt it reinforced themes. Mando hated droids and didn’t trust them to do much of anything. That Mandolorians were generally honorable – given his dedication to the job he took. It was reinforcing who he was given the betrayal he’d just committed. It was reframing his commitment to the Child in context with he commitment to his code and the contract he committed too. It was a theme episode not one to drive character advancement.

I think there are a couple reasons for this. First, we’re not truly engaged with the media we consume any longer. If we are watching a show or movie at home, it’s likely we’re watching it while using another device, another monitor, but doing something else. Second, a lot of us never really learned about themes in literature and definitely not in movies. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to understand why some director or writer would go this route with a given show.

While I think this is an education issue, Folding Ideas, over on YouTube, thinks this is an anti-intellectual issue. Where he believes it’s an intentional misunderstanding or ignoring of the themes. Where people reviewing or explaining the ending of a movie look for the literal textual based understanding without looking at the themes or metaphors within the film. You can see it below.

I disagree with this. If it was intentional, I don’t think we’d see it everywhere. Because it’s not just in entertainment media we see these sorts of critical misunderstandings. I think this is a combination of education, practice, and engagement. Since, we aren’t completely engaged with media, we miss things. The examples I gave that easily explain the timeline could be easily missed if you’re looking at your phone or only partially engaged with the media. If you aren’t willing to give your attention wholly to one piece of media, then the other piece of media will likewise be misunderstood and misinterpreted. It’s likely that a piece of misinformation would slip through our critical thinking during this dual engagement approach.

When I watch media, I try to engage with it entirely, however, this is difficult when you’re tired or when you have your phone right there. I try, when I’m at my computer, to focus on the video I’m watching or the article I’m reading. However, there are times when a video is interesting, but not enough to keep me fully engaged, so I’ll look at some other media. Generally, I’d like for people that write articles or produce videos to be more media literate. Read some books on media criticism and the different approaches based on the medium.

I remember watching the videos that are in the video above and just feeling frustrated because what they were saying didn’t resonate with my interpretation of the movie. In fact, they didn’t illuminate my understanding of the movie at all and just resulted in me turning off the video. Relatedly, I feel that The Witcher is suffering for literal interpretations of the show, when the right way to view the Witcher is through a theme lens. Because, there are a lot of interesting themes in the show, I really feel like each arc has a different set of themes that are important.

On staying in your lane

I was listening to Pandora this morning and Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth (The there’s something happenin’ here song) came on. This got me thinking about the protests that I saw this morning (10/19/19) in London, the People’s Vote March. I think it’s fair to say that musicians – and artists in general – represent the emotional conscience of the community they’ve come out of. I think it’s also fair to include a lot of professional athletes and some of in their management structure, some NBA coaches more than anyone else there

Since, I grew up in the 80’s in a very white and conservative part of the country, I don’t think I really understood the general bias, in my community, against using music and award ceremony speeches as a valid platform of protest. I’m sad to say this generally stuck with me throughout my life. I don’t think I’m the only one that grew up in a community like mine who has this bias.

I think this “stay in your lane” approach to the arts in general and some professional athletes (I say some because white male athletes have more often been celebrated for speaking up than people of color or white women). Now, I know this isn’t anything ground breaking. If you look on #BlackTwitter and follow POC in general, you’ll see that this community has been well aware of this phenomenon. In fact, I would say I’m agreeing with their sentiment here. I believe this was a deliberate action to discredit these protests and minimize what these artists and athletes are saying. I think with the advent of television, specifically ramping up after the Vietnam war.

In one of the #1619Project’s stories there were clear cases where white slave owners intentionally prevented slaves from creating music and art. Because, those white slave owners knew the power of the arts. They knew that it’s easier to share information in song and get people’s emotionally invested by using music. This is why political campaigns do it now and why in movies music plays such an integral role in driving emotional response to scenes.

I think I first came aware of this during the Dixie Chick’s protest of George W. Bush’s wars. At the time, I was pretty firmly in the camp of staying in your lane, but I struggled with how to respond, because I agreed with them. I wasn’t a fan of their music and I knew it put them at huge professional risk. Especially, given that most of their audience supported the wars (country music y’all).

So this puts me in mind, how do we support these protesters. One, is obvious, add your voice to theirs. Tweet their message. Support politicians that support protesters. Go out and join a demonstration (this last one is the one I struggle with the most and it bothers me).

Second, is to protest organizations that support something you believe should be stopped. This can occur in a few different ways. First is to boycott that organization. So, I’m going to stop playing Blizzard games until they reverse their ban on the Hearthstones players that have protested for Hong Kong. In fact, I literally just uninstalled all the games. Furthermore, I won’t buy another game from the company until they change their protest policies.

Third, you can directly support artists/athletes/esports pros protesting something you believe should be protested. That can be in the form of buying whatever it is they create. You could donate to charities they support and/or are on boards of. You can also directly support them, if they have some sort of fundraising action going on. Although, if you’re going to be doing the last one, it may make more sense to provide that money directly to the people with less of a platform.

Another change, which I think is harder, is to help people understand why it’s important we allow our artists/athletes/esports pros to speak out. They have a platform that can amplify a cause. Some day that cause could be yours. If you hadn’t supported and, in fact, encouraged these people to speak out, then they might not be able to speak out for your cause.

As I said earlier, I’m not saying anything new that other people haven’t said before and probably said more eloquently. I’m simply adding my voice to that and working to unwind the stigma of speaking out against injustice no matter who you are. We need more protests songs, we need more protest art, we need more athletes to speak out against the horrors being committed all around us. Support them.

Ethics in Technology Matters, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Right, We Instill Our Biases in Technology

Some people are unhappy about what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is saying here. People not like to imagine that software cannot have politics, intentionally or otherwise.

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Whenever I was earning my master’s degree, I took a number of courses on the ethics of technology and the history of technology in general.In one of my classes we learned that bridges, yes bridges can have politics. There was an architect, Robert Moses, that was hired by New York City to design and build bridges. Given that NYC is an island and there’s a lot of water there, building bridges is a pretty big deal. Robert Moses was a racist. He also hated poor people. So, if you’re hired to build a bridge from one part of the city to another part with beautiful parks and outdoor spaces that you wanted to have whites and rich people use but not poor people, how would you do that?

If you build a bridge that uses traditional arches underneath with no top support, any vehicle can cross. However, if you build a bridge that has a maximum height allowed, then you can limit that types of vehicles that can cross the bridge. If you built the bridge low enough, then you can prevent buses from crossing the bridge. Buses that would be carrying poor people of color.

It’s just a bridge, how can it be racist? A bridge is just a thing. Something built by people. However, those people have biases and intentions. These are built into that technology. While A bridge may not be racist, this one IS because of the racism used to build the bridge.

If a bridge can have biases intentionally built into it, there is no doubt that software will have biases built into them. We’ve seen time an again that beauty algorithms where the AI didn’t like dark skinned women. In those cases the people building the training set of images had biases. The engineers didn’t like dark skinned women and didn’t include a significant amount of them in the training set.

Soap dispensers aren’t able to detect dark skinned hands, because the engineers working on them didn’t think of test the sensor on someone with dark skin.

 

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These aren’t intentional biases. It’d be difficult to imagine a group of engineers all sitting around the room saying, “wouldn’t it be me great if we prevent dark skinned people from properly washing their hands? MWahahahahah.” No that’s not what happened. What happened is that the QA team was made of people that look more like me. The dispenser worked perfectly for them, QA passed! This isn’t an intentional bias, but it’s a bias none the less. It’s called the availability bias. If the only people that are available look a certain way, you don’t think about people that aren’t immediately available.

Everyone does it. More people are aware of the fact that there are people different from them. For white people this is critical. It’s similar to when a white person writes an article about how racism has significantly declined in a major news paper.

It is time that organization recognize this and create teams to ensure that ethics and biases are considered when developing and selling novel technologies – or in the cases of bridges old technologies repurposed for modern uses.

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – A guide for finding the right values to give a fuck about the right things

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good LifeThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually first heard of this book while I was reading an article about Millennial Burnout. The author of that article knocked this book, which now I realize that author clearly hadn’t read this book! I think this book is completely misnamed, because this book isn’t about ‘Not Giving a Fuck’ it’s really about ‘Giving a fuck about the right things.’ I think this is an important distinction and one that, if you judge the book by its cover, you’ll definitely miss.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on depression. I’ve read 1 book written by a layman that covers a great deal of different research on depression, Lost Connections. I’ve read another book that deals with Trauma and how that can cause depression, The Body Keeps the Score. Finally, I’ve read a book on the science of love and how unhealthy relationships while growing up and as adults can cause depression, General Theory of Love. I believe that I can add this as a fourth book to this list. In Lost Connections the author argues that a major cause of depression in our lives is a misalignment with our core values and the values of society. I believe that this book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, is an entire book about that.

The author’s premise is that we are valuing, and thus giving a fuck about, the wrong things. That could be chasing material items, women (the author himself is a self confessed womanizer), a bigger paycheck, a new job that will solve all their problems, and other things. We are chasing these things, because this is what we’ve been taught to value through our friends and families.

However, these things do not make you happy. Solving the right types of problems can make you happy. Those problems that you solve are what you value. Seeking them out can help make you happy. The pain and struggle of solving those problems lead to happiness.

This rings true to me. I’m struggling with work and finding balance and happiness with my life. I’ve had great success in my work and have made significantly more money since entering the job market. However, I am not less depressed. If anything my depression deepened. As a result, I feel like I’m flailing.

This book helped me put into context a lot of different ideas that I had read in the other three books. In a way it synthesized those ideas into something that was more actionable. In some ways, the action is to do something, anything. But start by putting one step forward. Try something small and take responsibility of that.

Responsibility is a key theme in this book. You take responsibility to how you respond to anything that happens to you. This isn’t to say it’s your fault this thing happened. For example, if you get sick, that is not your fault. How you deal with being sick is your responsibility. If someone treats you like shit at work, that’s not your fault, but how you respond to them is your responsibility. If you set boundaries and make it clear that behavior is unacceptable and act professional, you can start to change that relationship. If you retaliate and escalate things, you are responsible for that. Even if the person, really pissed you off.

I think this book is also important given the conversation around Toxic Masculinity. Toxic Masculinity is all about entitlement. This book argues that entitlement is one of the major reasons why people are unhappy. It leads to shitty values that make you a shitty person. If you are pissed off that people don’t like toxic masculinity, it’s because you’re concerned some of your behavior may be construed as toxic. You’re responsible for that response. You’re responsible for inspecting your values and your behavior to understand if you are a toxic person. If you find yourself wanting, then it is your responsibility to change and improve yourself. You can. This book helps provide a roadmap for it.

This book isn’t perfect, of course. The author definitely leans into the title during the beginning of the book, which can get old. There are other places where the author does this as well, because it seems to fit. However, if you are able to get past that bit of childish fun to get into the meat of the book, it’s well worth it.

I would strongly suggest that if you find this book interesting to read the other books about depression I suggested above. These together can help you work through your depression, if you are also depressed.

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Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #1) by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #1)The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a really interesting case study in leading the reader astray. The author does a phenomenal job of misdirection ensuring the audience bought into the main storyline in the second half of the book. After the twist happen, I certainly thought back on the book and realized I missed a number of clues leading up to the twist.

That aside, I loved this book. If there’s a book that you want to use to educate someone on the negative impacts of colonization, I think this is an excellent start. On the one hand it’ll challenge those people because of the complexity of the cultures that are being conquered and on the other hand because it talks openly of the tools colonizers use to dominate other cultures. In most fantasy series the only tool of colonization is military might. There’s some nuance in Malazan Book of the fallen in some cases, mostly Lether, but generally it’s military might.

In this book, that’s turned on it’s head and the characters openly discuss the best colonization tools for the culture they are working to conquer. As an American who has recently been to Hawai’i, where I learned a great deal about the history and conquest of those islands, it was painfully obvious these books are based on conquest like the US conquest and colonization of Hawai’i.

I recommend this book for anyone that wants a unique way to talk about colonization with a fantastic set of characters. Including POC, LGBTQ, and nontraditional relationships.

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Review of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was completely unaware that this was the 6th book of a series. I don’t think that really hurt my understanding of the expertly crafted world. This book explores, race, the sexes, sexuality, and the meaning of being human. Int his universe there are a number of worlds where humans live, at least 84, there could be more, but we only know of 83, plus the planet of Winter, where the story takes place.

The world is interesting for two main reasons. First, it takes place on a planet that has been in an iceage for millennia. Second, humans don’t have the two obvious genders, male and female. The humans on this planet are able to, and do, switch between the two during their “kemmering” whichis the ONLY time there are any sexes on the planet. In fact, the rest of the time they are essentially eunuchs. Technically having both male and female sex organs at this point. The book is interesting, because it’s a study of what life could be like without the duality of male/female. These discussions are important in this day and age, given importance of Trans rights in the political discourse and the general transphobia in parts of the polity (I literally looked at my twitter feed and the ACLU had just posted an article about a trans girl in Texas).

The book is, generally, written from the perspective of an Earth human, a young black man named Genly Ai. Which allows us to feel very connected to this book. The character struggles with handling the lack of duality and continually assigns maleness or femaleness to characters. He often gets them very wrong, especially in the case of his “Landlady.” Who looks more feminine to Genly Ai than many of the other humans on this planet. However, whenever he asked, he learned that the Landlady had never had any children of the flesh but had many children overall (essentially meaning the Landlady had never gotten pregnant but had gotten a number of other people pregnant).

Aside from the obvious relevance of the topic related to Trans rights, the book looks at how politics can change when a leader changes. How a peaceful country that has never known war, can create an otherness out of their neighbor and begin down the path of war. You can see through the action of people the impact of rhetoric of their leaders. This was written at the beginning of the Nixon administration and the end of the Johnson administration. But I think it still rings true given the Trump administration today. Our sense of otherness has moved from outside of our boarders to within our boarders in a terrifying way.

I really enjoyed this book. It was very thought provoking and definitely something worth checking out.

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