Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman -- Live at MIT: The Julius Schwartz Lecture (Comparative Media Studies, 2008)
Mark Schultz, The Flash: Stop Motion (GraphicAudio, 2008)
Carol Lay, Wonder Woman: Mythos (GraphicAudio, 2008)

Neil Gaiman Live at MIT is a DVD featuring the inaugural Julius Schwartz Lecture which occurred on May 23, 2008, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Julius Schwartz Lecture is an annual event hosted by the MIT Comparative Media Studies program to honor an individual who has made significant contributions to the culture, creativity and community of comics and popular entertainment. It was founded to honor the memory of longtime DC Comics editor Julius "Julie" Schwartz , whose career in comics lasted for over four decades.

The lecture packs a lot into its 105-minute length, beginning with Neil Gaiman reading the eulogy which he delivered at Schwartz's funeral. The speech was written by Alan Moore and, in itself, has a lot to say about the significance which comics and their creators hold in the hearts and imagination of comics fans of all ages.

Gaiman follows this up with a wide ranging (but always relevant) discussion which touches upon many subjects, including his definition of genre, a reading from The Graveyard Book, darkness in children's literature, reminiscences about growing up as a comics fan in England, and his work with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This is followed by a casual interview conducted by media scholar and head of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, Henry Jenkins.

This is an excellent introduction to the subject of the place of comics in popular media in general and contemporary storytelling in particular. Thanks in large part to Gaiman's eloquence and humor, this DVD would also be a worthwhile addition to any library collection which includes comics and graphic novels, and it should also prove an invaluable resource for those teachers and librarians who wish to encourage public discourse on the role of comics in culture.

The Flash: Stop Motion is an audiobook produced by GraphicAudio, which describes their work as "movies for the mind." The format consists of a cast of voice actors, each playing a different character in the story, with segments of dramatization alternating with segments of narration. Additional sound design elements such as sound effects and background music contribute to the richly-textured feel of these audiobooks.

The story focuses on The Flash but involves the entire Justice League of America, including such superheros as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter. Stop Motion follows The Flash's increasing feelings of hopelessness and insecurity as Keystone City experiences a wave of serial killings which imply the involvement of a metahuman. The Flash must not only struggle with a Lovecraftian being which may be even faster than the fastest man on Earth, but grows increasingly alarmed as the being seems to be targeting Flash's own family.

The audiobook makes good use of the spoken narration to provide sufficient background information for new readers to get a sense of the interactions and history of the individual characters and the JLA collectively, while the sound design is truly impressive, underscoring both the fast-paced storyline and Flash's own sense of speed. The voice actors are well-suited to their characters, from Flash's sometimes hyper run-on dialogue to Batman's succinct comments uttered in a gravelly voice to Plastic Man's constant joking. It's easy to hear why Audiofile Magazine listed GraphicAudio's audiobooks in their "Best Audiobooks of 2008" issue.

My one criticism of this audiobook is a criticism which is often launched at superhero comics in general, namely, the limited characterization of women in the story. Wonder Woman is characterized by her "sexy profile" and the slight infatuation Flash seems to feel for her, while the two other female characters in the story are characterized by their nurturing actions and self-sacrifice.

You can hear a sample of this audiobook here.

Wonder Woman: Mythos is another GraphicAudio audiobook, this one featuring Wonder Woman. Mythos contains better female characters, and more detailed characterizations in general. The storyline involves Anna, who is on her honeymoon with her new husband, Henry, diving in the Bermuda Triangle when Henry disappears. Anna claims to have seen an island appear and then disappear--an island which proves to be located on no existing map. As the Bermuda Triangle is the general location of Paradise Island, Wonder Woman's homeland, she decides to investigate. Soon she and the entire JLA are drawn into a struggle against a group of immortal warriors who are supported by Ares himself.

While Mythos benefits from stronger female characters -- including the mortal human character of Anna and an appearance by one of my favorite superhero librarians, Oracle -- along with stronger writing overall, there is far less of the action scenes which made The Flash audiobook so much fun. Indeed, there is very little fast action until almost halfway through the audiobook when the rest of the JLA shows up. The fact that the story itself concerns Wonder Woman and Anna's struggle against an island of women-hating warriors seems to provide more than a little subtext for the struggle to instill stronger female characters into the world of comics in general.

You can listen to an audio sample of Wonder Woman: Mythos.


[Kestrell Rath]