But It Is Fantasy

One genre that takes a lot of hits for diversity is Fantasy.  And considering how often fantasy books can be very white (*cough*Game of Thrones*couch*) it is a just point.

A common defense is that it is a set in a time and location where there were not non-white people.  This is pretty easily proven false, there is medieval art depicting black knights and noble-people.  The best response, really, though is, “What you can imagine trolls and dragons…but a black person…that kills your suspension of disbelief?”

However, I have seen some extend this statement to condemn use of structures of oppression having no place in fantasy.  Slavery has no need to exist in a fantasy world.  But I am not sure I buy that.  It is lazy to use slavery as your in for having black characters in your book.  But to argue that you cannot address a fundamental flaw in humanity (our willingness to exploit each other for gain)…well, that kind of stretches credibility.

When it comes down to it, I find it harder to believe a fantasy world where people do not exploit each other than I find it hard to believe in a world with dragons and trolls.  After all, the world we live in is full of people who exploit, violate and treat their fellow humans quite badly…and there are trolls.

Using the worst of humanity in your world building gives your heroes something to stand against.  Of course these things can be handled badly (over reliance on rape comes to mind) but that does not mean they have zero place in fantasy worlds.  Imagining a world with dragons?  No problem.  Imaging a world sans the ills that have plagued humanity for centuries?  Pretty hard to buy into.

My Top Ten Comics of 2014

I found this list a bit harder to compile than my movie list.  For one thing?  I have a ridiculous back catalog.  So, for instance, I have Sex Criminals and East of West and Lazarus purchased…I have not yet started reading them.  I keep intending to…but I have not gotten around to them.  Damn Comixology sales building up a massive back catalog of reading material.  I also decided not to rank these.  So, here is the list in no particular order of the books I most enjoyed reading this past year.

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man
I was won over to Miles Morales early in the original series.  Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez continue to make the stories of Miles a priority read for me every month.

Brian K. Vaughn was enough to sell me on trying this series when it first came out.  Fiona Staples’ amazing art was the icing on the cake.  The series is kind of crazy, the universe he has created is populated with cyclops, people with wings, robots with televisions for heads, people with rams horns, etc.  It is a very odd world Vaughn and Staples are building, but it continues to be compelling.

This urban fantasy by writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila Del Duca is loads of fun.  Like Saga, magic, technology, mythical creatures are the norm.  And yet, as a reader, I never question the logic of Kate Kristopher’s world.  She is pursued by tiger headed men?  Cool.  Shutter is a blast to read, and Del Duca’s art is ideal for the series, neither to cartoony, nor to realistic.  I look forward to see her career grow.

Flash Gordon
Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner capture the old pulp sci-fi feel without being hokey or awkward.  The book is fun and full of adventure, and they are doing a terrific job.

Rocket Girl
This book, by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder is loads of fun.    It tells the tale of teen cop Dayoung Johansson from the future.  She is back in 1985 to prevent her future (2013) from occuring.  I may be summing it up in a way that almost does not make sense, but the writing is never muddled in the series.  It is a real joy to watch the story unfold, especially with the artwork by Amy Reeder.  She deserves to be seen, she is a very talented artist.

All New X-Men
Mainly for the current story-line where the X-Men are trapped in the Ultimate Universe.  The stuff with Jean Grey and Miles Morales has been great fun.  Bendis and Mahmud Asrar are making this a good read.

Ms Marvel
This title seemed to face an uphill battle.  There were some people unhappy when it was announced that the new Ms Marvel would also be a muslim girl.  Some cloaked their complaints in criticisms of Marvel just trying to jump on the diversity bandwagon.  Which is a dumb complaint but frankly a topic for another day.  G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have made this a must read title.  Kamala Kahn is an immensely likable character.  Bright an witty, she aspires to be a great super hero, much like her predecessor.  This book is funny, exciting and worth reading.

Death Vigil
Stjepan Sejic is a talented artist.  And he has created a fun series.  A comedy adventure about Grim Reapers, Death Vigil looks great and has an entertaining tale accompanying the gorgeous art.

Rat Queens
What an insanely goofy series.  I mean this in the most complimentary way possible.  Kurtis Wiebe turns the fantasy genre upside down with a wild group of female adventurers for hire. The art by Roc Upchurch was great for the series with it’s cartoonish tendencies.  Upchurch will not be continuing with the series, however, due to a domestic violence arrest.  I look forward to seeing who takes on the art reigns.  The gifted Tess Fowler would be a good choice…

Pretty Deadly
The talented and busy Kelly Sue DeConnick teamed up with the talented and busy Emma Rios to created this grim western.  Rios’ art makes a lovely, yet gritty landscape for DeConnick’s tale.  A great read, with stunning visuals…seriously Ginny’s look is iconic, and it is no small wonder cosplayers are choosing her as a subject.

Wonder Woman

Open on a beach on the island Themyscira.  It is raining, lighting striking…we see a young woman, Hippolyta, sculpting something.  As we close in, we see it is a baby.  The woman steps back, looking to the sky…lightning strikes the clay form…she steps forward and starts to wipe away clay, revealing a little baby girl beneath the clay.  The skies clear, the rain stops and the seas calm.  The woman is smiling and crying, speaking a name (Diana) as the camera pulls in close to the baby’s face.  We pull back to a girl of about five, face covered in clay as she makes a lopsided statue.  Her mother (the woman from before) is relating the story of how the Amazons left behind the world of man, a world incapable of peace.  We jump ahead to fifteen year old Diana sword fighting.  Hippolyta is continuing the tale of the Amazons.  The fight comes to an end, Hippolyta and Diana walk into a temple.  There we can see a floating orb.  As Hippolyta speaks, images of war and destruction.  Diana stares.  Hippolyta leaves and and young Diana reaches out and touches the orb.  The images of war dispell in ripples.  She sees peace protests, people sacrificing themselves for others, feeding children, etc.

We then would jump to the present.  Steve Trevor is part of a meeting with Lex Luthor.  Luthor is trying to convince them he has assembled the most advanced plane ever.  Trevor is being enlisted to test fly it for the military.  In this meeting is also General Swanwick from Man of Steel.  Trevor is visibly unimpressed with Luthor.  As he and Swanwick are walking away, he expresses distrust of Luthor and that working with him is a bad idea.

Of course, the test flight goes wrong, Trevor and the plane are lost.  He crashes, of course, on Themyscira.  He is discovered by Amazon warriors who bring him before Hippolyta.  He is taken by Diana, who is standing in the back.  She looks to be about 25.  He responds respectfully to Hippolyta.  She is unsure he can be trusted.  Is he part of an invasion?  After he is taken to a cell (unlike any prison he has seen, this is almost a hotel suite).  Diana is more curious.  She looks at the possessions taken from the plane…trying to figure out things like an iPad, cell phone, iPod…  Trevor is only honest.  He is not a neanderthal, instead treating his captors as hosts.  Addressing them with titles.  It is intriguing for both Hippolyta and Diana.  Diana is sure Steve is proof that the Amazons do not need to be hidden from the world.  Hippolyta is not as sure.  But she decides she trusts Steve enough to send an ambassador, so to speak.  Someone to look into the world.  To see if the world of man has truly learned it’s lessons and is moving towards peaceful resolutions.  After some debate, Hippolyta reluctantly allows Diana to be this ambassador, to return Steve to his world.  Hippolyta gives Diana a gift.  There is a formal Warrior attire (which would look something like this), bracelets a sword and a golden lasso.

At a few points, we would meet professor and archeologist, Barbara Minerva, who has passionately been trying to prove Amazons were real.  She ends up in a seeming dead end.  She finds the remains of a village in Greece.  Oddly, the tribe seemed to be full of idols of Cheetahs.  She takes the most ornate idol, and several scrolls.  As she works to translate them, she discovers a ritual.  She works out the incantation and the ritual…only to merge herself with a “cheetah demigod/spirit”.

Steve helps Diana find a way to fit in, helping conceal where she truly is from.  In the meantime, she is forced to reveal herself as a person of a super-powered nature.  She enjoys the adventure and saving people…she starts to show up in costume, saving people, stopping crimes.  She is Christened the Wonder Woman.  At the same time, there is something romantic growing between them.

After Wonder woman reveals herself, Professor Minerva desires the Bracelets and Golden Lasso.  She starts to devise a plan.  She attacks Wonder Woman to learn more about what she is up against.  There is a penultimate fight between Wonder Woman and the Cheetah.

The film would end with Wonder Woman meeting with Hippolyta.  While they agree mankind may not be ready for the Amazons, there is a value to Wonder Woman being present in the world of Man.

In the background is Aries.  He is not prominent… maybe we learn who he really is in a post credit moment.

I threw this together over the course of half an hour.  Of course, maybe folks will think this super rough treatment sucks.  But the point is…it just is not that hard DC & WB.

Metal Bikini Party

So, the talented and funny Gail Simone is taking on Red Sonja.  Which means she gets asked about the impractical armor.  If you know nothing about Red Sonja?  This is just ridiculous.

Colleen Doran Really Made This Boobaliscious

And normally?  I would totally agree.  In pretty much any case, this kind of armor is totally ridiculous.  Simone lists a number of good reasons why people can let it slide with Red Sonja…but her first reason is the one that makes the most sense to me.  Red Sonja spun out of this universe:

conanListen, if you shot an arrow at Conan and one at Red Sonja, she has about a 30% better chance of surviving.  He is wearing fur briefs.

Gail Simone offers:

But I also have that feeling in the back of my mind that there are always people who want to tell women what to wear, how to present and display themselves. It doesn’t seem out of character to me for Sonja to be wearing something light and unrestrictive. I keep hearing people say she should wear more armor, and I think, maybe for war, if she was prepared, but the barbarians we are talking about aren’t knights or Gondorians, it’s a different level of technology. Some of that does appear in Howard’s Conan but to a much lesser degree.

In the case of Red Sonja, I think  Gail nails it:

To me a much bigger problem has been the posing. If she’s posing like a Penthouse pet, something’s gone wrong.  Sexy and powerful is fine, sexualized beyond context is not.

You can read her thoughts here.  The Red Sonja image is an upcoming cover by the very talented and cool Colleen Doran.

Spider-Man and Aunt May…

I feel like one of the strangest and unfair portrayals of Aunt May throughout the history of Spider-Man was that of the woman scared of Spider-Man.

For a long time, in the world of comics, Aunt May was one of the people who thought Spider-Man was scary and or untrustworthy.  This really seemed to last a long time.  It would either come up or be ignored until needed for a story point.


It was only after Aunt May made a shocking discovery that she became a fan of Spidey…

ImageYeah, once she knew Spidey was Peter…all was good.  The story where she writes a letter to the editor expressing her change of heart is actually a wonderful story.   But May functioned solely to be a plot point for Peter.  There were many reasons that she was fearful and could not know…but it always came down to how frail and generally weak she was.

And I just find the portrayal hard to believe.  Aunt May raised her nephew for years, she and Ben were perfectly capable and loving stand ins for Peter’s parents.  Peter is the man he is because of the influence of Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  Yes, it is Uncle Ben’s words at the heart that drives Peter…but it was both Ben and May that taught Peter right and wrong.

And I find it hard to believe such a weak, fearful and frail person could have managed to raise someone who puts their life on the line for strangers.  This is one of those areas where Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Clark Kent/Superman meet.  They are the product of their environments.  They are who they are because of their parents.  Not in spite of that parenting.

It would have been nice if May got to be shown as a source of Peter’s strength from day one, instead of an impediment for it.  Spider-Man exists in part because of her…the idea that she would be frightened of Spider-Man is silly.  I noticed in the Sam Raimi movies, May gets over her concerns about masked vigilantes quickly, becoming the voice of Peter’s conscience.  It is May who speaks to the importance of Spider-Man in the second film.  May recognizes heroism in those movies and has no fear of it.

Raimi gave us the Aunt May we should have had the whole time.

Miracles and Warriors

Big Barda & Mr. Miracle by Hoa PhongI always loved the characters Mister Miracle and Big Barda.  My first real introduction to them was in the pages of Justice League in the eighties.  I knew they were part of Kirby’s Fourth World characters.  But it was in the Justice League International books that I was hooked.

Mister Miracle-Scott Free-was a super-hero and escape artist.  His wife was a warrior hero.  But the truth is, they were born of the worlds of Apokolips and New Genesis.  Son of the good High FatherIzaya, Scott Free was traded to Darkseid as part of a truce.  Orion, son of Darkseid was raised on New Genesis and Scott was raised on Apokolips by Darkseid and his minions.  Scott grew up, unaware of who he was, always feeling out of place.  He joined underground opposition, where he met Barda, who was trained to be a Female Fury by Granny Goodness.  They fell in love.  They escaped to earth where Scott was trained as an escape artist.  His manager Oberon knew of their past and was ultimately a cohort in their adventures.

What stood out to me about Scott and Barda is that they sought domestic life.  They did not want to lead lives of action if possible.  But their strengths were constantly at odds with the attempts at living a domesticated lifestyle.  Barda and Scott wanted to do normal and mundane things, even if their skill set was not necessarily cooking and house cleaning.

It made them such charming characters.  Scott and Barda depend on each other…support each other.  They find strength in they other.  Barda is a skilled and superior warrior.  She does not need Scott to rescue her.  She wants to be with him-not because she cannot get by on her own-but because she is drawn to his noble and heroic qualities…qualities that compliment her.  Scott is devoted to Barda not because he needs to protect her.  But rather, he is drawn to her forceful nature-her desire to do right.  It is a beautiful portrayal of marriage.  Plus, I have these images in my head of Barda using things like a vacuum cleaner as a weapon.  Maybe it never happened…but if it has not?  I want to see it.

So far, the Nu52 has avoided the fourth world characters for the most part.  Have they appeared outside of the first Justice League story arc?  The Nu52 has been mostly a combination of disappointment and crushing disappointment.  Fans have rightly expressed frustration with choices regarding Superman, Lois and Wonder Woman (Superman and Wonder Woman are an item not, according to DC?  IT’S AWESOME!!!  But people who like Clark Kent and Lois Lane are…less pleased).  So, maybe we are lucky Scott and Barda Free are not around.

Lil’ Wolverine: X-Men Origins-Wolverine (2009)

No doubt, the fan favorite of of the X-Men films was the comics fan favorite Wolverine.  Hugh Jackman held his own with some top talent in those first two films… a solo Wolverine film was kind of a no-brainer.  And putting it in the hands of the director of the stunning Tsotsi, Gavin Hood seemed like a terrific idea.  Then casting started to leak… Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (what a good choice), Liev Schreiber as Sabertooth-wait…what?  In the first X-Men Movie, Sabertooth was played by wrestler Tyler Mane.  Now, the change in actors is no big deal,  It happens.  But the first movie played off the characters as unfamiliar with each other.  Wolverine’s memory loss is his easy defense…Sabertooth’s?  Don’t know.

The film begins in the 1800’s with a sickly young boy.  Sitting with him is a slightly older boy who is whittling with his fingernails.  The sick boy’s father steps in to tend to his on when there is a sudden commotion downstairs.  The father leaves, and there is some yelling followed by a shotgun blast.  The boys rush downstairs…the sick boy sees his dead father and the shooter, who tries to tell the boy something, but the young man (who we learn is named James) is enrage…he realizes there is something happening with his hands…he becomes horrified as claws of bone protrude from his hands…the rage returns and he lunges at his father’s shooter-killing him.  In the shooter’s dying breath, he says he is James’ true father.  The young boys run.

This leads into a really nice montage of the young men growing to adult hood as soldiers in a series of wars, world war one, two and so on…finally settling on Vietnam …Jame’s brother Victor goes ballistic and kills civilians, as James tries to stop him…they end up being court marshaled.  They are recruited by Stryker (Danny Huston) who is putting together a special ops team comprised of mutants.  After a mission snafu, James, now called Wolverine walks.

Wolverine hides out in the wilds of Canada where he meets a beautiful young woman named Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins).  They fall in love and live in a cabin.  After she is killed (as super-hero girlfriends are prone to do) by Sabertooth, Wolverine seeks revenge.  After Sabertooth trounces him, Wolverine is approached by Stryker with an offer to make him stronger.  Agreeing Wolverine is subjected to a painful experiment, giving him the famed adamantium skeleton.  Then they try and double  cross Wolverine.

He escapes and meets up with surviving members of Stryker’s crew, discovering that Stryker has a secret plan to build the ultimate mutant soldier that he can control.  Wolverine finds out that Stryker is kidnapping young mutants and using his brother to do the deed.  Wolverine runs off to the secret base with the help of Gambit (who doesn’t do much beyond fly Wolverine there and wish him luck.

A final confrontation results in Wolverine and Sabertooth fight Deadpool to the kind of death, Wolverine losing his memory via a magic Adamantium bullet and Kayla’s death-but not before sending Stryker for a long walk, and a digital Professor X who needs no chair.

The truth is, this film is what you call a major mess.  By setting it in a vague “the 70’s” you start forcing the films into a specific timeline.  The first three X-Men films all took place in the near future.  The film features a high school age Psyclops.  Making him in his mid to late 40s.  Actor James Marsten was about 27 at the release of the first X-Men.  And there are the confusing aspects of why nobody seems to remember this moment of history.  It is hard to believe that Professor X new where to pick up all those kids and yet is oblivious to Wolverine.

The real positives of the films are the strong casting choices (Lost’s Kevin Durant is great as the Blob…Danny Huston, Liev Schreiber and Ryan Reynolds are strokes of genius).  Jackman shows why he owns the character on screen again.  The performances are mostly good…but they are in a story that seems overly convoluted and needlessly confusing-even by comic book standards.  It has a nice beginning, but it falls apart quickly.  It has some very goofy action set pieces and some legit humor going for it.