This week's newsmakers

Bieber brushes up on his history, Big Ben takes a rare break and a comic hero comes out of the transgender closet


Paul J. Richards/Reuters

Holy diversity, Batman

In the latest issue of Batgirl, a character named Alysia Yeoh reveals she’s transgendered, and her roommate, Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, responds with a hug. The storyline was created by writer Gail Simone, who notes that the world of comic-book superheroes is becoming more diverse. In 2012, Green Lantern revealed he is gay, and that same year, Northstar (the first superhero to come out, in 1992) married his long-time partner, Kyle. Batwoman, who headlines her own title, is a lesbian. Diversity is “the issue for superhero comics,” Simone told Wired, noting that many of her industry’s most recognizable characters were dreamed up half a century ago, when sexuality and gender issues were treated much differently. If writers were to simply build around those characters, “then we look like an episode of The Andy Griffith Show for all eternity.”

Chávez 2.0

Nicolás Madurohas been elected president of Venezuela by a far narrower margin than his supporters had predicted, in a vote that his opponent, Henrique Capriles, says is “illegitimate.” Maduro was anointed candidate for the ruling United Socialist Party last month, following the death of his flamboyant and controversial predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Maduro promised to carry on Chávez’s “Bolívarian Revolution,” which funnelled state resources to Venezuela’s neglected poor but also wrecked the country’s economy and politicized its public service and state institutions. Maduro won 50.7 per cent of the vote against 49.1 per cent for Capriles. Maduro said they show that Chávez “continues to be invincible, that he continues to win battles.”

A rare moment of silence

Big Ben, the massive bell in the clock at the top of the Elizabeth Tower of London’s Palace of Westminster, was scheduled to be silenced for the duration of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral this week. Aside from during Winston Churchill’s 1965 funeral, repairs and the occasional breakdown, Big Ben has not been quiet since the First World War, when it was hushed out of fears that German Zeppelin pilots might use the sound to find and bomb London. During the Blitz of the Second World War, the clock face was darkened but Big Ben rang on. John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, said, “I believe there can be a profound dignity and deep respect expressed in and through silence, and I’m sure that the House will agree.”

On her to-do list: learn improv

Accepting his Comedic Genius Golden Popcorn award at the MTV Movie Awards on April 13, Will Ferrell was interrupted by Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza, who wandered up onto the stage and tried to wrest the award from his hands. “Are you okay?” an unfazed Ferrell asked, before Plaza gave up and returned to her seat. “Just like we rehearsed it,” Farrell deadpanned, although Plaza’s “Kanye” moment wasn’t scripted, according to MTV, which kicked her out of the event. Even so, Plaza’s plan probably worked: the name of her new film, The To Do List, was scrawled across her chest with a hashtag; videos of the stage-crash have since gone viral.

Rivalry brewing

Call it draught diplomacy. After Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, bet his U.S. counterpart, John Kerry, that Canada’s women’s hockey team would edge out America at the world championships, Baird was forced to pay up—in beer. Massachusetts native Kerry appropriately pledged a case of Samuel Adams if the U.S. fell, but instead received 24 cans of Molson Canadian after Canada lost the gold-medal game 3-2. Baird played delivery man while in London, where the two politicians were attending a G8 meeting.

Madonna vs. Malawi

Madonna has famously adopted two children from Malawi, but it’s “strange and depressing” that the 54-year-old pop star expects the African nation to remain forever in her debt, said a blistering statement from the office of Joyce Banda, Africa’s second female president, after the singer complained she didn’t receive VIP treatment on a recent visit. Madonna seems to have expected Malawi officials to “[roll] out a red carpet and blast the 21-gun salute,” read the scathing remarks, which accuse the celebrity of bullying and blackmail. Madonna’s spokesperson quickly rejected the condemnation, claiming that Banda was seeking revenge on behalf of her sister, who’s engaged in a financial dispute with the star’s charity organization. One report suggested that Malawi’s president didn’t approve the statement before it went out—but now that it’s done, Banda won’t be apologizing, either.

86’d by 42

Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, the train-wreck twins, were hoping to make a big comeback in Scary Movie V, the revival of the Weinstein Company’s veteran comedy franchise. But it turns out being in the tabloids a lot doesn’t make you a big draw: the film was trounced at the box office by 42, the Jackie Robinson biopic.

Beliebe it or not

Canadian singing sensation Justin Bieber has been accused of gross insensitivity and lack of class—for reasons that have nothing to do with his music. During a tour stop in Amsterdam, Bieber visited the Anne Frank Museum—located in the house where the young Jewish girl hid with her family before she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Second World War. Frank’s diary of her time in hiding has become an iconic symbol of the Holocaust. In the museum’s guest book, Bieber said she was a great girl who “hopefully would have been a belieber,” meaning one of his fans. Online commentators are outraged. But the museum’s spokeswoman defended Bieber to the BBC: “It’s a crazy life he’s living . . . and it’s also nice that he made the effort. He didn’t have to come.”

Buddy, can you spare a gallery?

How appropriately ironic: Ontario sculptor Timothy Schmalz had trouble finding a home for his statue Jesus the Homeless. The sculpture, which shows Jesus lying on a park bench, was offered to two different Catholic cathedrals in the U.S. and Canada. Schmalz, a religiously oriented artist who intended the piece to represent Jesus’s sympathy for the downtrodden, told the Toronto Star that, while the rectors liked the idea, their superiors vetoed it as “too controversial or vague.” It was finally accepted by a Jesuit theological school, which doesn’t have everyday churchgoers to appease.

W. on the defence

George W. Bush is ready to defend his legacy. The ex-president, who has been out of the public eye since 2009, gave a rare interview to the Dallas Morning News to promote the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Denouncing “the people who’ve written these books about me, who claim they know me, the psycho-babblers,” Bush reiterated that he was right about the Iraq invasion and “compassionate conservatism,” and said, “I’m comfortable with what I did. I’m comfortable with who I am.” Still, referring to 9/11 and hurricane Katrina, he admitted that “much of my presidency was defined by things that you didn’t necessarily want to have happen.”

Beijing Unchained

Can Quentin Tarantino make it in China? The director’s hit Django Unchained was his first film to be approved for official theatrical showings in the country, but was pulled from release by the state censors a few minutes after screenings began. Although Tarantino had agreed to tone down his typically bloody violence, including what the distributor called “turning the blood to a darker colour,” the censors were reportedly appalled by the nudity. The government announced that the yanking of the picture, which has drawn criticism even from official media, was due to “technical difficulties.”

Go ask Alice when she’s 10 feet tall

Alice, a larger-than-life work from acclaimed Spanish artist Cristina Lucas, has taken over the Andalusian Centre of Contemporary Art in Seville, Spain. The installation, a riff on Lewis Carroll’s iconic fantasy, Alice in Wonderland, is intended as a metaphor for the “physical and mental imprisonment of women as a form of oppression,” according to the museum.

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