Sunday, March 15, 2009

China's Green Lantern Fails to Take Flight

I'm not sure precisely why I picked up Steve Bialik's Minister Jade. It fell into my possession during the total 45 minutes I spent on the floor during New York Comic Con. Maybe I was intrigued by the art, which plays with traditional Chinese woodblocks and watercolors. Maybe I was charmed by the name of the publisher, Cellar Door -- a nice nod to Tolkien. Maybe it was that it won a Young Adult Library Services Association award as one of 2009's "Great Graphic Novels for Teens" and I was itching for some good YA lit.

There are a lot of reasons why Minister Jade could have been a pretty kick-ass book. After all, it contains the following:

  • A superhero story set in 13th Century China
  • A villain who turns people into gold
  • Man-eating zombie concubines
  • A lionfish demon
  • The roguish King of Lepers, who isn't a leper at all
  • A people living under the thumb of Kublai Khan
But Minister Jade is not kick-ass, not kick-ass at all. At its best, the book is disappointing, a mere artistic failure. At its worst, it's profoundly offensive.

The story follows Wenxiu, once a government clerk in an influential Chinese family, who lost his status after the Mongol conquest of China. With his family reduced to performing on the streets and selling tea, Wenxiu dreams of regaining his former wealth and glory and of being worthy of his lady love, the brothel song girl Yuniang. After a series of misadventures, Wenxiu finds himself on the Island of Living Jade, whose resident entity gives him a mystical belt that transforms him into a Green Lantern-esque superhero. With his new-found abilities, Wenxiu finds himself in the path of the nefarious apothecary Wanyao Wang and his death cult, who seek to eradicate the scourge of humanity through biomystical warfare.

But Wenxiu has a fatal character flaw. Whereas his family is concerned with honor, familial loyalty, and overthrowing their oppressors, and Yuniang seeks only his love, Wenxiu understands his worth only in terms of his status, and will seek any means to attain it, even if it means allying himself with the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan.

Minister Jade's primary sins are artistic, mainly in its egregious breeches of storytelling's "Show, Don't Tell" rule. When our protagonist and our antagonist first appear, each disgorges his entire backstory before the audience in a way that calls to mind the wearying Japanese Noh plays I read in college, except that Noh makes no pretense to being anything other than a series of flashbacks and revelations. At the same time, characters plainly state their emotions and their motivations for acting the way they do (to quote Futurama's Robot Devil, "You can't just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry"), and details of the story are revealed through clunkily expositional dialogue. This leaves the characters without a shred of mystery or texture, essential to lending a third dimension to a book with deliberately two dimensional art. In the end, the storyline feels akin to a porno plot, less an end in itself than a setup for the much richer action sequences.

Even Wenxiu and Wanyao fail to hit their proper emotional marks. Wenxiu's arc is a pretty simple one: he is lowly and craves power, he receives power but uses is dishonorably, and then he learns to use his power honorably. But before his redemption, we are given little to like about the fallen scholar. He is so fixated on wrong notions of value and worth, and anything positive that happens to him early on in the story comes not as a result of his own ingenuity or virtue, but from the largely unwarranted kindness of others. Consequently, I couldn't invest much concern in whether he eventually changes his status-whore ways; I was too busy thinking that the minor characters would have found more noble -- and interesting -- uses for the belt of living jade. And Wanyao Wang should have been utterly creepifying -- over a century and half old, with eyes sewn shut, an unflappable politeness, and that gas turning folks to gold. But Bialik blows Wanyao's entire wad of evil in the first few pages, so we never get the impression that the villain has any terrible surprises up his sleeve. He also fails to meditate sufficiently on the horrors of the golden plague; the action sequences focus so completely on monsters and magic that they overwhelm what should be the most unnerving aspect of the entire book.

If these were Minister Jade's sole problems, I would simply place it my mental "rough draft" file, for books that have certain promising qualities, but probably needed another pass or two before they went to press. But, upon finishing the book, I found that I was more than disappointed. I was outraged.

Minister Jade is set during the Yuan Dynasty and makes some effort toward explaining the history and culture of the era. But given that this is a fantasy story and that Bialik is writing for teens, you would think he'd give more thought to how he portrays women. I will say that he does offer us one token action chick, a no-nonesense junk owner who at first merely harumphs at Wenxiu and later reappears as a demon-slaying deus ex machina. But her character almost seems a half-hearted apology for the way Bialik treats the other women in his book. The only other prominent female character is Yuniang. Initially, she seems like an ideal Wenxiu needs to aspire to, something he can earn if he learns to accept himself. But once Wenxiu becomes the superpowered Minister Jade, he whisks Yuniang off to a palace to become his bride. As she accepts him without question -- caring not about his earlier abandonment of her or his sudden betrayal of their Chinese kinsmen -- her character becomes vestigial and Bialik occpies her with the task of decorating their home in a reportedly tacky style.

This in itself would not be so terrible -- after all, some female characters are bound to be simple -- were it not for the character Vantu. Vantu is one of Wenxiu's key allies; although he is not a warrior, he proves valuable in the defeat of Wanyao Wang. He's also a pimp. There are contexts in which casting a heroic pimp would be appropriate, but this is not one of them. Everything in this book is so simplistic and hurried that Vantu's profession is largely skated over and isn't shown critically except to suggest that it's low-class. And this problem is exponentially compounded by the pair of interchangable beauties frequently traveling with Vantu. As a reader, I might expect these women to defer to Vantu, and to feign affection for a potential client, but in an early scene they jump eagerly and earnestly upon their master, apparently delighted to find he is unharmed after a fight. Then, in the very next moment Vantu offers their services to Wenxiu as a gift, a mere trifle. I do not demand that these women be anachronistically heroic or independent, and I do realize that some characters are bound to be compliant prostitutes and happy wives, but when nearly all the female characters serve at the pleasure of men and have no visible internal lives, something has gone awry.

I've enjoyed some of the other books on the YALSA list, including Mariko and Jillian Takami's Skim and the first volume of Atomic Robo, so I'm willing to chalk the inclusion of Minister Jade up to a fluke. But I suspect the librarians on the committee were so blinded by its historical setting and culturally-inspired art that they failed to notice that it's not only sexist, but also not a particularly good book.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good day !.
You re, I guess , probably very interested to know how one can collect a huge starting capital .
There is no need to invest much at first. You may commense to get income with as small sum of money as 20-100 dollars.

AimTrust is what you haven`t ever dreamt of such a chance to become rich
AimTrust represents an offshore structure with advanced asset management technologies in production and delivery of pipes for oil and gas.

Its head office is in Panama with offices everywhere: In USA, Canada, Cyprus.
Do you want to become really rich in short time?
That`s your choice That`s what you really need!

I feel good, I started to get income with the help of this company,
and I invite you to do the same. If it gets down to choose a correct partner utilizes your savings in a right way - that`s AimTrust!.
I make 2G daily, and my first investment was 500 dollars only!
It`s easy to start , just click this link http://pipyfizuz.wtcsites.com/yjorap.html
and lucky you`re! Let`s take this option together to get rid of nastiness of the life

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone!
I would like to burn a theme at here. There is such a nicey, called HYIP, or High Yield Investment Program. It reminds of ponzy-like structure, but in rare cases one may happen to meet a company that really pays up to 2% daily not on invested money, but from real profits.

For several years , I make money with the help of these programs.
I'm with no money problems now, but there are heights that must be conquered . I make 2G daily, and my first investment was 500 dollars only.
Right now, I'm very close at catching at last a guaranteed variant to make a sharp rise . Visit my blog to get additional info.

[url=http://theinvestblog.com] Online investment blog[/url]

Anonymous said...

Good day, sun shines!
There have been times of troubles when I didn't know about opportunities of getting high yields on investments. I was a dump and downright pessimistic person.
I have never imagined that there weren't any need in large starting capital.
Nowadays, I feel good, I started to get real money.
It's all about how to select a correct partner who uses your funds in a right way - that is incorporate it in real business, parts and divides the income with me.

You can get interested, if there are such firms? I'm obliged to tell the truth, YES, there are. Please get to know about one of them:
http://theinvestblog.com [url=http://theinvestblog.com]Online Investment Blog[/url]

Nocost Move said...

Thanks For Sharing Such As Useful Information.
Please visit on my site for Move For Free, Apartment Locator, Apartment For Rent & Sale on -
http://nocostmove.com/
http://nocostmove.com/uptown-dallas-apartments

harry johness said...

Thank you for sharing here story of Jane and that is really interesting and beneficent because we can learn special knowledge about uk custom essay service by it anyway i will wait for more posts like this here on this page.

Moore alice said...

Internet searches for the mystery couple pictured in Eiffel Tower engagement photos Psychology Assignment Help Caitlyn Jenner sent a strong message by using the Trump Tower women's bathr

dua said...

Prayers can change lives only if we know to how to utilize the power of our mind. Thanks for sharing great info

MD TAUQEER said...

happy diwali sms
happy diwali
diwali images
happy new year 2017
new year shayari
new year images
happy navratri
independence day sms
raksha bandhan sms
online sbi personal banking
happy birthday wishes
free web hosting
pnb net banking activation
sol result
metro card recharge

Nurse said...

There are some finest info available on the future of nurses especially in the us and elsewhere as well.
top rn to bsn programs in us
top rn to bsn programs in us

Mushtaq ahmed said...

onlinesbi

MD TAUQEER said...

happy new year 2017 scrap

Mushtaq ahmed said...

happy diwali pics

MD TAUQEER said...

navratri essay in english

MD TAUQEER said...

happy new year 2017
happy new year
happy new year 2017 sms
happy new year 2017 shayari
happy new year 2017 quotes
happy new year 2017 images
happy new year 2017 wishes
happy new year 2017 wallpapers
happy new year 2017 pics
happy new year 2017 cliparts
happy new year 2017 gif
happy new year 2017 poems
happy diwali
happy diwali 2016 sms
happy diwali 2016 wishes
happy diwali 2016
happy diwali 2016 quotes
happy diwali 2016 images
happy diwali 2016 messages
happy diwali 2016 greetings
happy diwali 2016 cards
ctet sept 2016 result
ctet sept 2016 answer key
ctet sept 2016 answer key
ctet sept 2016 result
latest govt jobs 2016

Tashir Akhtar said...

Happy New Year 2017 SMS
Happy New Year 2017 Wishes
Happy New Year 2017 Greeting Cards
Happy New Year 2017 Messages
Happy New Year 2017 Shayari
Happy New Year 2017 Email Template
Happy New Year 2017 Horoscope
Happy New Year 2017 HD Wallpaper
Happy New Year 2017 Images
Happy New Year 2017 Qoutes
Happy New Year 2017 Calendar
Happy New Year 2017 Vector
Happy New Year 2017 Clipart
Happy New Year 2017 whatsapp Images & Messages

Tashir Akhtar said...

Cbse 10th 12th Result 2017
Epf
Online Pan Card
Pnb net banking
Sol du
Happy new year 2017
online metro card recharge






TAUQEER SHEIKH said...

happy new year 2017
happy new year
happy new year 2017 sms
happy new year 2017 shayari
happy new year 2017 quotes
happy new year 2017 images
happy new year 2017 wishes
happy new year 2017 wallpapers
happy new year 2017 pics
happy new year 2017 cliparts
happy new year 2017 gif
happy new year 2017 poems
happy diwali
happy diwali 2016 sms
happy diwali 2016 wishes
happy diwali 2016
happy diwali 2016 quotes
happy diwali 2016 images
happy diwali 2016 messages
happy diwali 2016 greetings
happy diwali 2016 cards
ctet sept 2016 result
ctet sept 2016 answer key
ctet sept 2016 answer key
ctet sept 2016 result
latest govt jobs 2016
happy navratri 2016
happy navratri 2016 sms
uptet 2016 application form
uptet 2016 admit card
uptet 2016 hall ticket
uptet 2016 sample paper
uptet 2016 result
uptet 2016 counselling
uptet 2016 answer key
uptet 2016 merit list
uptet 2016 exam dates
jee main 2017 application form
jee main 2017 admit card
jee main 2017 result
jee main 2017 answer key
jee main 2017
aiims mbbs 2017
aiims mbbs 2017 application form
aiims mbbs 2017 admit card
aiims mbbs 2017 answer key
aiims mbbs 2017 result
aiims mbbs 2017 counselling
ailet 2017
ailet 2017 application form

TAUQEER SHEIKH said...

ailet 2017 admit card
ailet 2017 answer key
ailet 2017 result
ailet 2017 counselling
assam cee 2017
assam cee 2017 application form
assam cee 2017 admit card
assam cee 2017 answer key
assam cee 2017 result
assam cee 2017 counselling
bvp cet 2017
bvp cet 2017 application form
bvp cet 2017 admit card
bvp cet 2017 answer key
bvp cet 2017 result
bvp cet 2017 counselling
aipmt 2017
aipmt 2017 application form
aipmt 2017 admit card
aipmt 2017 answer key
aipmt 2017 result
aipmt 2017 counselling
aipvt 2017
aipvt 2017 application form
aipvt 2017 admit card
aipvt 2017 answer key
aipvt 2017 result
aipvt 2017 counselling
Annamalai University DDE Hall Ticket DEC 2016 Exam
Annamalai University DDE Result DEC 2016 Exam
comedk 2017
comedk 2017 application form
comedk 2017 admit card
comedk 2017 answer key
comedk 2017 result
comedk 2017 counselling
jeecup 2017
jeecup 2017 application form
jeecup 2017 admit card
jeecup 2017 answer key
jeecup 2017 result
jeecup 2017 counselling
mahatet 2017
mahatet 2017 application form
mahatet 2017 admit card
mahatet 2017 answer key
mahatet 2017 result
mahatet 2017 counselling
mpppt 2017
mpppt 2017 application form

TAUQEER SHEIKH said...

mpppt 2017 admit card
mpppt 2017 answer key
mpppt 2017 result
mpppt 2017 counselling
ipu cet 2017
ipu cet 2017 application form
ipu cet 2017 admit card
ipu cet 2017 answer key
ipu cet 2017 result
ipu cet 2017 counselling
jamia 2017
jamia 2017 application form
jamia 2017 admit card
jamia 2017 answer key
jamia 2017 result
jamia 2017 counselling
jcece 2017
jcece 2017 application form
jcece 2017 admit card
jcece 2017 answer key
jcece 2017 result
jcece 2017 counselling
kiitee 2017
kiitee 2017 application form
kiitee 2017 admit card
kiitee 2017 answer key
kiitee 2017 result
kiitee 2017 counselling
mppmt 2017
mppmt 2017 application form
mppmt 2017 admit card
mppmt 2017 answer key
mppmt 2017 result
mppmt 2017 counselling
upsee 2017
upsee 2017 application form
upsee 2017 admit card
upsee 2017 answer key
upsee 2017 result
upsee 2017 counselling
uptu odd semester date sheet 2016
uptu odd semester result 2016
uptu odd semester hall ticket 2016
ignou admit card 2016
ignou result dec 2016
ignou result
ignou admit card
ignou hall ticket
neet 2017 application form
neet 2017 admit card

TAUQEER SHEIKH said...

neet 2017 sample papers
neet 2017 result
neet 2017 answer key
neet 2017 online registration
neet 2017 exam date
neet 2017
neet
merry christmas 2016
merry christmas 2016 sms
merry christmas 2016 wishes
merry christmas 2016 wallpapers
merry christmas 2016 images
merry christmas 2016 shayari
jee advaned 2017 application form
jee advaned 2017 admit card
jee advaned 2017 sample papers
jee advaned 2017 result
jee advaned 2017 answer key
jee advaned 2017 online registration
jee advaned 2017 exam date
jee advaned 2017
jee advaned
gate 2017 application form
gate 2017 admit card
gate 2017 sample papers
gate 2017 result
gate 2017 answer key
gate 2017 online registration
gate 2017 exam date
gate 2017
gate

Tashir Akhtar said...

Bank of india
How to Activate bank of india internet baqnking online
Bank Of India Online Mobile Banking
Apply Online BOI Vehicle Loan
BAnk of India Credit Card
Apply Online jobs In Bank of India
Prdhan mantri jan Dhan Yojana Scheme
Bank of india Agri Clinic Loan
Bank Of India Education Loaqn
Bank Of India Star Smart Home Loan
Bank of india Loan Against Property