The Cliffs of Insanity: Cake Tastes GOOD

Agent-Carter-poster-570x760

Hello, gorgeous. Where have you been all my life? photo © Marvel Entertainment

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity.

In the past week, I suffered through a nasty winter storm and the even nastier experience of having my cat, Smokey, toss his cookies all over my 2009 MacBook Pro. No, it’s not pining for the fjords. It’s an ex-MacBook. A replacement has been made and that’s a story all by itself, one suited for Valentine’s Day.

But not having access to my word processing program this week sent me pondering and that’s how cake, the feminist comic Bitch Planet, Jill LePore’s new book on the origin of Wonder Woman, and Marvel’s Agent Carter all rolled around in my head to make me happy.

Several years ago, I flew from the East Coast to Hollywood in the middle of winter for a press junket. Now, I’m not a fussy person with traveling. I’m good with a clean, warm room, a bed, and wifi. I’ve been known to prefer Motel 6 to a Marriott because the Motel 6 doesn’t charge for wifi and they provide free breakfast.

bitchplanet_01a

Non compliant. Yes. cover via Image Comics

But this press junket was all expenses paid. A limo met me at LAX and drove me to the front door of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. I was impressed but not overwhelmed because I’ve been to nice lobbies before for conferences.

But when I walked into the room at the Four Seasons, my eyes bugged out. And when I checked out the bathroom, far more luxurious than in any home I’ve ever lived, I thought, “Being rich doesn’t suck.” And now when I stay at the Motel 6 or the Holiday Inn or even at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, I know exactly what I’m missing.

The Four Seasons is the whole cake. No more crumbs.

Marvel’s Agent Carter and Bitch Planet are the whole cake to the crumbs of female story-lines doled out on The Flash or Arrow or the coherent, clear vision sometimes missing from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and definitely missing from Gotham.

They’re not just the whole cake, they’re the frosting too.

Peggy Carter is the heroine I’ve been waiting for on television, not someone occasionally pushed forward for a cool moment or two. This is her show, she owns it. Yes, there are men in the show and, yes, I find some of them fascinating (hi, Jarvis), but there are also other women, some friends of Peggy, some clearly not. Peggy showed me what I’ve been missing.

Bitch Planet is about all kinds of women, in prison, and in the real world, and it promises to be a story about them, not just how they relate to men. It showed me what feminist commentary on society’s need to curtail women’s freedoms looks like.

Sorry, Laurel, too little, too late. Image via CW

Sorry, Laurel, too little, too late. Image © CW

And, while I can do just fine staying at the Motel 6 from now on because, really, I just need a warm, clean bed and wifi when I travel, I’m no longer content with crumbs from my entertainment. It’s hard to go back to Iris West having one snarky moment, or Laurel Lance finally putting on a costume as a side character, or Barbara Kean not even being allowed to leave her room, or the female side-characters (sometimes scantily dressed) that tend to populate mainstream superhero comics after seeing what I’m missing.

I like cake. I like icing.

S’more please. And not just for me. For others who never see themselves on screen or have to wait for the bits and pieces instead of the whole cake. We need more LGBT characters in mainstream media. We need more people of color. Why? Because having just experienced what it’s like to have the whole cake, I know that everyone deserves the same feeling.

Our society is full up of main courses and desserts for those who look like the people running mainstream media.

It’s time for cake for the rest of us.

The Cliffs of Insanity: My Version of the Marvel Reboot

Avengers vs. X-Men

Is this too confusing for new readers? Disney apparently believes so. Image copyright Marvel.

The Marvel Universe, as we’ve known it since 1961, is ending.

The Marvel Universe is beginning.

In comic book terms, Marvel is doing a reboot or hitting the reset button. Reboots are one of those weird phenomena specific to comics. Basically, the powers that be determine that their universe of characters have too much baggage, too much backstory, for any new reader to understand. The answer is rebooting and starting fresh with all the characters back to the beginning, perhaps with some new pieces, and perhaps with old, non-working pieces jettisoned.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that cleanly. DC has rebooted three times since the 1980s and each time, all the old stories were tossed aside and new ones were told. But sometimes the new stories were so similar to the old ones (see: Batman) that it was hard to remember what had happened to the Caped Crusader and what no longer applied. The Legion of Superheroes, which seemed to undergo perpetual rebooting, now has backstory so mixed up that likely only Mark Waid can keep it straight. I try and my brain melts.

Marvel Entertainment is, of course, now owned by Disney, and though details remain sketchy as to what the new universe will look like, a sure bet is that it’ll look more like the cinematic Marvel Universe. Because Disney isn’t satisfied with just the regular comic book market found in local comic shops. They want to reach all those moviegoers. This is likely their first step.

Xavier and Magneto Would Be a Couple in My Marvel Universe

A couple of years ago, I was playing a game on a comic board (the late, lamented Bendis Board on Jinxworld) and one of the exercises was to reboot and then recreate the Marvel Universe.

Just chess? I don't think so. Image via 20th Century Fox & Marvel Entertainment

Just chess? I don’t think so. Image via 20th Century Fox & Marvel Entertainment

Not only did we have to decide what the new starting point was, we had to decide on creative teams, and also on weekly shipping schedules. To make the game interesting, we couldn’t just pick creators out of a hat. We had to use creators who could reasonably expect would agree to be on the books. However, our reboot differs from the real upcoming reboot in that it contains the X-Men and Fantastic Four, whose movie rights are owned by companies other than Disney. Odds are good that the new Marvel Universe will find a way to work around these characters.

Participating in our group were myself and fellow board members, Wayland Smith (Kingsmythe on the board), Kedd, Slewo O., Mark4Myself, and JasonWGBB007.

Doctor Strange in the 1930s? Image via Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange in the 1930s? Image via Marvel Comics

It was truly one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.  You can see we took chances on going outside the box and changed the nature of relationship between Professor X and Magneto from the books. I’d argue it’s a slight change because, really, one only has to watch the X-Men movies to see the subtext that’s practically text.

Our basic concept of the reboot was that more single titles that covered many genres would be more likely to appeal to the audience that isn’t reading comics on a regular basis, especially those we could reach through the same-day digital issue via Comixology.

In our reboot, we could assign creators if they were plausible. But if this was truly happening, we’d have to get all these people to agree to take on the work. Not an easy task.

My favorite single pitch was the Dr. Strange book set into the 1930s as a mystic agent of the British government. A mystic Indiana Jones. I know, Marvel won’t actually do it but I’d love to see it. Hey, someone tell Kevin Feige and Benedict Cumberbatch about this please. And some of our titles have come to pass, such as S.H.I.E.L.D., which is now also a television series, albeit with a different cast.

So, GeekMom readers, what titles do you love that you’d like to see more of right now and, if you’re not reading, what kind of titles would bring you in?

Avengers Line

1. Avengers–Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain Marvel are the army to call in when all else fails. Uneasily aligned, their first task may be their last: How do you stop the all-powerful Celestials from remaking the Earth?
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Olivier Coipel

2. Captain Marvel–Carol Danvers is an Air Force colonel, test pilot, and superhuman by virtue of her contact with the alien race, the Kree. Her first mission as a superhero is to stop their secret experiments on the human race, and planned invasion of Earth.
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Dexter Soy

3. Thor–For Thor, the god of Thunder, life has taken a turn for the worse: His father is missing, his brother is on the Throne of Asgard, and he is trapped on Earth. He must now use his godly powers to protect humankind, as well as find a way to return home and restore order to Asgard.
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stuart Immonen

4. Iron Man–Billionaire inventor Tony Stark has a team of Iron Men to fight on the front lines of wars across the world, though with public opinion turning against his new weapon, Stark is fighting on multiple fronts. With support from his friend James Rhodes, and trusted assistant Virginia “Pepper” Potts, Tony fights in the boardrooms of his company and the military. But when money and finesse aren’t enough, Stark suits up as the Invincible Iron Man to protect what he holds dear and fight against threats to his company.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: David Aja

5. Captain America–James “Bucky” Barnes, the new heir to the Captain America title, struggles to continue filling the void left by his old partner Steve Rogers the original holder of the mantle and fight the new evils of the 21st century alongside his partner: Rikki Barnes, his great-niece and the new Bucky.
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Gabriel Hardman

6. Captain America & Bucky–The history and legacy of Captain America through the decades. Featuring Steve Rogers and all of his successors.
Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Artist: Dustin Weaver

7. Excalibur–The British lead European S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Made up of members from across Europe and focused on defending against regional threats, Excalibur tries to prove to the world that different cultures and nations are more powerful working together than against one another.
Cast: Captain Britain, Psylocke, Colossus, Pete Wisdom, Nightcrawler, the Black Knight, and Faiza Hussain.
Writer: Zeb Wells
Artist: Alan Davis

8. Hulk–Bruce Banner struggles to control the raging monster that exists within him, while rebuilding the life he saw torn apart by his own obsessions.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Dale Eaglesham

9. Avengers: The Initiative–Under Commander Maria Hill’s direction, unaffiliated Avengers Operatives insert themselves into the worldwide superhero community searching for allies in the on-going fight against the deep seeded reaches of terrorist organizations like HYDRA, A.I.M., and Black Spectre.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Bryan Hitch

10. League of Losers–Even henchmen have aspirations. Several low level henchmen from evil organizations around the MU come together at The Bar With No Name to commiserate, heal the wounds of a thousand beatings handed out by Spider-Man, Captain America, Luke Cage, and other heroes, and drink. But these lackeys want more out of life than being the punching bags for some roided up guy in a flag suit. They want to be their own boss. They want to create their very own super villain organization. But what will be their greatest enemy? S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers or their own incompetence?
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Kev Walker

11. S.H.I.E.L.D.–SHIELD director Maria Hill leads a covert team of highly trained spies including Hawkeye and Black Widow, on the black ops missions that keep the planet from slipping into all out war at any moment.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Mike Deodato

12. Thunderbolts–The Avengers’ rapid response team. When situations are spiraling out of control the Thunderbolts are sent in to hit hard, fast, and without mercy.
Cast: Luke Cage (leader), Valkyrie, an exile from Asgard, Goliath, Inertia, Sunspot, and Songbird.
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Terry Dodson

13. Alpha Flight–Canada’s super-powered team operating out of Department H and slowly making themselves known as big time players in the super powered arms race, but with increasing pressure from the Canadian government for more oversight, and a growing distrust from the Canadian public, how long can the team truly last?
Cast: Guardian, Vindicator, Sasquatch, Northstar, and Snowbird
Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Artist: Esad Ribic

14. Black Panther–T’Challa has inherited the crown of the most technologically advanced and isolationist nation in the world, and his first act is to open the borders in an attempt to break down generations’ worth of paranoia and xenophobia. The only question now is will his external enemies get him before his internal enemies have a chance.
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Sara Pichelli

15. Young Avengers–The next generation of heroes. They’ve been trained, but being thrown into the middle of the fire won’t leave them all unscathed.
Cast: Patriot, a Captain America legacy character; Stature, the daughter of a S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist who was accidentally exposed to his growth ray; the mysterious Iron Lad; Hulkling, the result of Skrull experimentation on humans; and super-powered twins Wiccan and Speed who were found as babies after a botched S.H.I.E.L.D. raid. Their origins remain unknown.
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Humberto Ramos

X-Titles

16. X-Force–The U.S. Government’s blackops team of mutants that has existed since the first World War in some form or another. Their existence is on a need to know basis only.
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Chris Bachalo

17. Uncanny X-Men–Magneto’s book.
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Tim Seeley

18. X-Men–Xavier’s book.
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Barry Kitson

Professor Charles Xavier and Erik (Magneto) Lensherr were friends, lovers, and are now enemies. Xavier believes in teaching peaceful co-existence between mutants and humans while Magneto offers mutants a chance to survive, if necessary, by pushing humans out of the way. They’ll fight each other for the hearts and minds of the next generation.

19. Deadpool–The so-called “Merc With a Mouth,” Wade Wilson aka Deadpool is out to prove he was the greatest product of the Weapon X program, and gain all the fame and adulation he can handle, as the World’s greatest mercenary.
Writer: Fabian Niceza
Artist: Mark Bagley

20. Exiles–Magda Lensherr ran away from her husband, Erik (Magneto), when it became clear that the need for power would eventually consume him. Now she fronts a loose organization of mutant outcasts and misfits, some hidden beneath cities across the world, some hidden in plain sight, like her children Wanda and Pietro. But soon, Xavier & Magneto’s war will pull her world apart.
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Amy Reeder

21. X-Men Legacy–A trip through the mutant past of the Marvel Universe, peaking into the younger selves of Xavier and Magneto as well as mutants of generations past.
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Chris Samnee

22. Wolverine–He’s been everywhere in the world and done everything except find a cause he can believe in. But with a possible war between humans and mutants, he can’t stay on the sidelines.
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Butch Guice

Cosmic Titles

23. Fantastic Four–The first family of science. They are explorers as well as heroes, often finding new problems simply through Reed’s inventions. Classic line up of Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben. Based in the Baxter Building in New York.
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Marcos Martin

24. Nova–Richard Rider is pulled in way over his head when is mistakenly granted access to the Nova Force. When the responsibility of defending the planet is thrust in his lap will he be able to rise to the occasion or will fear and self-doubt lead to the destruction of the universe?
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Salvador Larocca

25. Guardians of the Galaxy–The universe is in chaos, with the fires of conflict spreading thick through the galaxy, something must be done. A group brought together out of necessity, rather than choice, forms to save everything. Star-Lord: Disgraced hero and now a wanted man, Groot: King of Planet X, Rocket Raccoon: Half-World’s top cop, Quasar: Protector of the Universe, Gamora: Deadliest Assassin in the Galaxy, Adam Warlock: Universal Savior. They’re brought together by Major Victory, a man who claims to be from the future, and the only one who can save the present from utter annihilation.
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artist: Leonard Kirk

26. Inhumans–An offshoot of humanity created by the Kree and relocated by their advanced technology, the mighty king Black Bolt rules over Attilian, a mobile space station. With the Inhuman royals (Medusa, Crystal, Triton, Karnak, Lockjaw, Gorgon) they keep the peace aboard the station and deal with travelers, merchants, and criminals.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Fiona Staples

27. Mar-Vell and the Starjammers–Kree Warrior Mar-vell is wanted by his own people as a traitor, he’s hunted by the Skrulls as an enemy and he’s hiding in Shi’iar space under the name of Corsair and leading a gang of pirates who try to be on the right side of justice. Crew: Hepzibath, Raza, Ch’od, Sikorsky, Xenith, and Lyja (a Skrull).
Creative team: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: Declan Shalvey

28. S.W.O.R.D.–Tasked with keeping Earth safe from extraterrestrial menaces, S.W.O.R.D. is based on an orbital station, watching over their home world. Abigail Brand uses captured alien tech and whatever sympathetic aliens they can recruit to fight off the far too many aliens that are interested in Earth.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Steve Sanders

Marvel Knights

29. Spider-Man–Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for only eighteen months and now he’ll have to enter the world as an adult following his high school graduation. As he moves out on his own, he’ll have to tackle college, dating, and a higher profile in the growing world of superheroes.
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Pia Guerra

30. Punisher–Following a deep cover operation gone wrong, Frank Castle’s family was targeted by a loose connection of crime bosses. Now Frank teeters on the edge of sanity, barely maintaining his day job as an ATF agent as his thirst for vengeance and his need to punish the guilty grows out of control.
Writer: Brian Bendis
Artist: Michael Lark

31. Daredevil–The city of Boston in a powder keg waiting to explode between the Irish mob, racial tensions, and the demands of a growing city. By day, Matt Murdock works within the flawed system, using his skills as a lawyer to right wrongs within the system, by night he takes to the streets as Daredevil using his fists to punish the criminals that escape through the cracks.
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Paolo Rivera

32. Marvel All Stars–Focused on short arcs and featuring team ups between street level MU heroes and villains. Cast rotates every arc or two.
Writer: Brian Bendis
Artist: Amanda Conner

33. Daughters of the Dragon–The Daughters of the Dragon are more plugged into the seedy underworld of the MU than any else. Acting as information brokers, vigilantes, and middlemen in the constant battle against the rot and decay of crime, the DotD prove that knowledge truly is power.
Cast: Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Jessica Jones, Paladin, Cloak & Dagger, and She-Hulk as sometime lawyer, sometime muscle.
Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Alex Maleev

34. Strange: Agent of MI:13–In the 1930s, Stephen Strange works as a field agent and occult expert for MI13, he circles the globe hunting for obscure artifacts and battling against rival occultists, demon obsessed Nazis, and the occasional death cult.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Francisco Francavalla

35. Iron Fist–The Seven Capital Cities have been destroyed, and it’s up to Danny Rand to find whatever is responsible and hopefully rebuild the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. But first, he must convince the champions of each city that he was not reason behind all of the destruction.
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Cassandra James

36. Ghost Rider–Too stubborn to die, Johnny Blaze clawed his way out of hell hoping to redeem himself, now he’s on the run from angels, demons, and fanatic freelance spiritual bounty hunters. With nowhere to turn all Blaze can do is ride.
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: David Mack

37. Moon Knight–Marc Spector nearly died, should have died, and his life was redeemed by Khonshu, Egyptian god of Justice and Vengeance. He now fights crime as the Moon’s Knight of Vengeance. He uses an array of weaponry adapted from his career as a mercenary, and receives guidance in the form of intuition and the ability to fade into the darkness of the night. He is joined on his quest by Frenchie, a helicopter pilot from his merc days, and Marlene, his lover and manager of his wealth and businesses from his cover identity of Stephen Grant.
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Mark Texeira

38. Sleepwalker–Nightmares are escaping from the dreamscape and it’s up to the Sleepwalker and his human alter ego, Rick Sheridan, to make sure the world can sleep easy.
Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Ben Templesmith

39. Midnight Sons–Blade and Damien Hellstrom hunt the things that go bump in the night, but their uneasy alliance and history of bad blood may destroy them before the monsters and demons get a chance.
Writer: John Rozum
Artist: Becky Cloonan

40. Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos–WWII action from Nick Fury’s perspective. Nick & his commandos are out in the middle of the Pacific, stranded, and first must rescue themselves from a raging sea, sharks, and enemy subs before they can even begin the job of getting to mainland China and driving out the Japanese invaders.
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Will Rosado

41. Rangers–A loose team in the American Southwest dealing with the unique challenges of the badlands, including sometimes fighting among themselves. Shooting Star is a markswoman with trick bullets of different types. Texas Twister controls small cyclones. Red Wolf is a Cheyenne warrior with connections to the Cheyenne wolf god. Phantom Rider is a mystically powered cowboy ghost. Firebird is a mutant with flight, energy, heat powers who sees Red Wolf as a collaborator with the white conquerors.
Writers: Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Paco Medina

42. Runaways–When S.H.I.E.L.D. takes down a major villain, their families are often left in disarray. Under the guise of creating stability, S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the children of captured super-powered villains into custody. In reality, they’re monitoring the kids for signs that they may just be the super villains of tomorrow. How far will one group of kids go to escape S.H.I.E.L.D. custody and prove that they are nothing like their parents?
Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Artist: Adrian Alphona

43. Brother Voodoo–Thrust into the role of sorcerer Supreme, Jericho Drumm must hold line and defend the mortal realm against a continuous bleed of mystical enemies.
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Sean Phillips

44. Silver Sable and the Wild Pack–Silver Sable and her Wild Pack operate in the gap left between heroes like the Avengers and official groups like S.H.I.E.L.D. If the money’s right and the client’s credit clears, they’ll take the job. They work for private clients, governments that want deniability, and the occasional good cause when their PR agent screams loud enough. First arc: The Chinese government hires them to capture a band of new rogue supers, but the team learns all isn’t as it seems and start questioning the nature of the job.
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Jamal Igle

45. Power Pack–A family outing unexpectedly results in superpowers for a group of young siblings. Granted superhuman abilities by the mysterious ship they call “Friday,” Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie Power decide to try becoming superheroes. But in a world still just adapting to the idea, what will the reaction be? The return of a fan favorite by the original creator.
Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Gurihiro Studios

46. Venom–Venom is an alien symbiote that escapes from SWORD custody and bonds itself to Flash Thompson, who’s just blown out his knee and won’t have that college football career he so desired. Flash tries to balance his ego, his newfound power, and his fear of the scary men in black who seem to be chasing him.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Darick Robertson

47. Ka-Zar and the Savage Land–Lost as a child, Ka-Zar has come of age in the hidden world of The Savage Land. Now outsiders threaten to destroy the only home he’s ever known and Ka-Zar must bring together the squabbling factions of mutates to repel an enemy force like none they’ve ever seen.
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: ChrisCross

48. Marvel Two-Gun Western–Matt Hawk always believed in the rule of law until he moved West and found the rule of the gun only applied in Tombstone. As things get ever weirder around him and the town is put under siege by steam gadgets controlled by an immortal alchemist, Diablo, Matt’s going to have to call in all the help he can get, whether they’re wanted men or not.
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Khoi Pham

49. Werewolf By Night–Cursed by the bite of a werewolf, Jack Russell is determined to find a cure, punish the creature responsible for his condition, and hopefully return to the life he was forced to abandon.
Writer: David Liss
Artist: Emanuela Lupacchino

50. Amadeus Cho: Prince of Power–The 7th smartest person in the MU is 16, loves riding his Vespa, playing with his puppy, Kirby, and has his hands full running the Olympus Group and reigning in the Olympian Gods that act as the board of directors.
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Skottie Young

51. Union Jack–Set in the 1960s, Brian Falsworth is an MI6 agent charged with hunting down war criminals across the world. His mission takes us from the rainforests of Brazil to the Australian outback and anywhere else evil men may hide. Falsworth has seen how desperate men will stop at nothing to escape justice for their horrors they have committed.
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Patrick Zircher

52. New Warriors–The New Warriors are young, popular, successful crime fighters funded by Lincoln Industries. They’re starting to think, however, that their boss is the vicious kingpin known as Tombstone and that he’s using them to eliminate his competition.
Cast: NightThrasher, Firestar, Debrii, Speedball, and MVP.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Denys Cowan

The Cliffs of Insanity: The Year of Geeky Television

person-of-interest

Person of Interest, Season 4, image via CBS

Welcome to the new year’s adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity. After celebrating a quiet Christmas and then New Year’s Day by stuffing myself and my family on an outing to the Cheesecake Factory, I’m ready to start looking at 2015 with fresh eyes.

Here’s hoping for more. More women in comics on the cover and on the creative teams. More women acting, producing, and writing television shows and movies. More women in gaming, period. Or, on the last, I’d settle for a realization that women in gaming already exist.

In examining many of the 2014 “best of” lists, it’s clear that 2014 was a great year for geeky entertainment.

At the movies, Marvel cinematic universe continued to rule, and we also had The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, and Maleficent.

But my assessment of geeky television show is more mixed than most. I’ve talked about the issues I’ve had with the last two seasons of Arrow and the flaws in the first season The Flash. Gotham is crazy entertaining at time but not brilliant television. Doctor Who had a subpar season. Only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. improved over last year’s lackluster start, especially with its excellent second season. Still, there are also stalwarts such as Supernatural and promising newcomers like The Librarians.

But none of these beat my pick for 2014’s best science fiction show.

The Best SF Show on Television? The One Nobody’s Talking About.

Person of Interest.

Not into science fiction? It’s as much SF as the Terminator franchise. (Warning: minor spoilers below.)

It details the adventures of a Dr. Frankenstein (Finch) who’s created his monster, the super-powerful computer, the Machine, but also attempted to imbue humanity into his artificial “son.” For the first three seasons, the stories focused on uncovering the secrets of the Machine and using its excess numbers (people in trouble but not relevant to national security) to make the world a better place. All the while, Reese grew from a disillusioned, traumatized black ops professional to a trustworthy friend to Finch. They helped NYPD Lt. Joss Carter and Det. Fusco in their fight against police corruption.

But the third season kicked over the chessboard and reset the pieces. Carter won her war against corruption, but at a terrible cost. Meanwhile, a threat to the Machine itself surfaced in the form of a competing artificial intelligence, Samaritan, and its human backers.

The hacker Root, once an enemy, became an ally at the behest of her goddess, the Machine. Season 3 ended with Samaritan in charge of the virtual network once ruled by the Machine, while Reese, Finch, Root, and their new ally, Shaw, went underground.

This season has ventured even further into science fiction territory, as the Machine and Samaritan began fighting a war to control of humanity via technology. The Machine is more a benevolent overload who believes in free will while Samaritan believes humanity should be carefully controlled and steered into the best direction. If that costs individual lives, so be it. The ends justify the means.

But are the artificial intelligences so different in the end? Samaritan, using a young boy as a voice, tells Finch that the Machine can’t be human, as much as its creator wants it to be.

It’s war between Samaritan and the Machine, with our flawed heroes and humanity caught in the middle, and only the Machine’s tenuous connection to its creator, Finch, hint that the Machine may yet do the right thing. If it survives, that is.

person-of-interest-season-3-episode-20-cbs

Root (Amy Acker) and Shaw (Sara Shahi). Who knew watching flirting between a black hat hacker not afraid to torture and a sociopathic assassin would be so much fun? Image via CBS.

All this while Finch, Reese, Shaw, and Root are still using numbers provided by the Machine to help others and trying to avoid detection by Samaritan.

Add in the growing subtext of attraction between Root and Shaw, which even has a complicated BDSM edge, and it’s compelling television every week. The writers have even managed to keep their flashbacks relevant and on point, creating a second narrative in the past that runs alongside the present story. The only issue I have is that Carter was the moral glue that held the cast together and with Taraji P. Henson moving on to another show, her energy is sorely missed. I’m not sure how to fix that.

If you’ve never watched, Person of Interest is a definite candidate for a binging, especially as the flashbacks each season tie the overall season arcs together.

Speaking of binging, I’ve been catching up on my comic reading.

Book of the Week: Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years

Every now and then, I’m asked “if I want to read Batman, where do I start?”

Start with this book.

I’ve flipped through it before but never had time to sit down and absorb all the stories until the holidays.

Not only does this volume contain some of my favorite stories from childhood, including stories by Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, and Doug Moench, with artwork by the great Neal Adams, the late great Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, Jim Aparo, and Graham Nolan, it also contains some of the most definitive Batman stories ever, including the debut of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.

Those that immediately stood out for me:

“….The Player on the Other Side,” (1984) by Mike W. Barr, art by Michael Golden and Mike DeCarlo. On the same night in Gotham that Bruce Wayne loses his parents to a horrific crime, another boy, the son of criminals, loses his parents to a police officer’s bullet. The boy grows up to be Batman’s mirror image, The Wrath, the player on the other side. Brilliant story, with an unexpectedly poignant ending.

“Air Time,” (2001) by Greg Rucka, art by Rick Burchett and Rodney Ramos. A family is run off the road by a van of criminals being chased by Batman. The comic intercuts the family’s struggle to stay alive while trapped underwater with Batman’s pursuit of the criminals, raising the tension with every panel as the reader wonders if Batman will ever notice the trapped car.

“The Beautiful People,” (2006) by Paul Dini and J.H. Williams. In full control of the artistic talent that will soon be on display in his work on Kate Kane/Batwoman, Williams turns a tale of Batman tracking down a gang of high-end thieves into a somewhat surreal tale of criminals who wear masks to hide who they are.

The list price is $39.99, but Amazon and other sites have it significantly discounted.

The Cliffs of Insanity: 5 Superhero Plots That Need to Staked Through the Heart

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Banner via Samhain Publishing

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. It should be a great time to be a geek watching television. Arrow and The Flash crossed over. Gotham ended its initial one with a great episode. We have the Doctor Who Christmas special upcoming. The Walking Dead continues to be a juggernaut. And Preacher might be coming to AMC as a prestige series.

Except some of these show are using plot elements that are driving me away. And I’ll tell you why in a second.

But first, let me get my self-promotion out of the way. Ghosts of Christmas Past, a holiday novella highly influenced by my love of DC Comics holiday stories, particularly Batman stories, is out and available. There’s a terrific review here and on this post, I talk about why this Christmas is so full of hope for me, particularly since last year’s, quite frankly, sucked dead wharf rats at low tide.

So what’s driving me nuts, storywise?

Most of these are time-honored, er, cliched, superhero plots. Some of them might work now and again—but I’ve been reading superhero stories for forty years now and, dammit, show me something new, particularly something that uses women as three-dimensional characters, like Sleepy Hollow.

Five Plot Elements That Need to Die in a Fire:

1. We must keep the secret to protect the girlfriend.

One of the oldest and hoariest of cliches, back from the time when all superheroes were men. It’s currently being used on The Flash and used so extensively, it’s dragging the show down, which is a shame because it’s a fun show in other respects. See, Barry gets superpowers. But instead of telling his best friend, Iris, he tells, well, everyone else.

Okay, the guys at STAR Labs need to know. But his foster-father Joe knows. I guess it’s okay to endanger him because Joe’s a cop and all. And the entire Team Arrow knows now too.

But Iris must be kept in the dark because it would expose her to danger.

This despite the fact she’s been kidnapped once already by a meta-human and held hostage by the Clock King. I see not knowing the secret is keeping her perfectly safe, right? I’m reminded of Spider-Man 2, the one with Tobey Maguire, where Peter keeps his secret in order to keep his loved ones safe but, hell, Aunt May gets kidnapped like five seconds later.  Mary Jane gets grabbed too despite not knowing.

Know what would help? Maybe knowing who the superhero was so one could take precautions and be aware of what might be stalking you and why.

Pilot

Psst..Barry, maybe if you told her about your secret ID, she might have been able to work with you to catch the bad guy *before* he kidnapped her. Image via CW.

2. The hero must not engage in any relationship with the woman he loves because she might be hurt/her life might suck.

A corollary to #1. Currently running on Arrow. Ollie loves Felicity but can’t be close to her because it would be bad because she’d be hurt or something. This despite the fact Felicity works for Team Arrow all the time. She’s in danger constantly. Heck, she nearly got killed by Captain Boomerang this week.

But it’s not just male heroes stuck in the plotline.

Kate Kane/Batwoman recently broke up with her fiancee, Gotham Police Detective Maggie Sawyer, because Maggie was involved in a custody battle with her ex-husband. Rather than use her considerable fortune to help the woman she loves fight for custody of her child, Kate goes behind Maggie’s back and makes a deal with the ex-husband: She’ll break up with Maggie if he’ll drop the custody suit.

Uh? Because suddenly Maggie will stop dating women once Kate breaks up with her? This didn’t make any sense at all. I guess Kate figured her superhero identity was too dangerous for Maggie and the child to be around except that Maggie’s already a police detective in Gotham, so her job is already extremely dangerous.

This plot element so infuriated my friend Jordan, a Batwoman reader since the beginning, that he quite literally burned the issue.

3. The hero refuses to confide in things because it’s all about the hidden secrets.

It’s better for people not to know else it could kill them. The only show making a good case for this currently is Person of Interest, where people who find out about the Machine die on a regular basis. Otherwise, it’s stuff like on Arrow last year when Ollie knew there might be a cure for the drug that is making Roy go insane but decided not to talk about it because he felt guilty about not killing Slade. Or secrets are good. Or something.

Meantime, Roy went nuts and killed a cop. Oops. Way to keep that secret, Ollie.

4. The hero pushes people away because, well, he’s too different. And sad. And lonely.

When DC comics rebooted a few years ago, we ended up with angsty, lonely Superman, who was also featured on the big screen in Man of Steel. Superman’s alien nature pushed him away from humanity, made him sad, isolated, and lonely. In other words, he became Peter Parker, whose personal life sucks on a regular basis.

Except Clark Kent isn’t Peter Parker. Clark Kent has a good job he loves, work friends, and friends from Smallville. Clark Kent likes people. He’s a well-adjusted guy. At heart, he’s a small town farmboy made good. Having the most powerful person on the planet mope around doesn’t work. And having the most powerful person on the planet mope around because he won’t tell Lois how he feels is ridiculous. At least Man of Steel avoided that last one. Not so the current comics.

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The Court of Owls. Image via DC Comics

5. The incredibly powerful secret conspiracy.

Ugh. Everyone is corrupt and you can’t escape anywhere. Heck, if the real mob was as well run as all the fictional illegal enterprises that control everything, John Gotti would’ve been governor of New York State.

To have any organization so efficient and so well run that even a billionaire is deathly afraid of them (Gotham) is absolutely ridiculous. Conspiracies by hidden groups are just another form of bureaucracy. And bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient.

This is why I hope the murderer of the Waynes on Gotham is going to be a random street thug because it makes far more sense that a desperate man would kill a well-dressed man and woman for what little money they might have than have it be set up to somehow cause horrible chaos in Gotham. But I suspect we’re heading to a reveal about The Court of Owls instead. Sigh.

If you’re going to use one of these plots, make it count. Make it believable. Heck, Person of Interest is working on #5 this year and found a workaround. (Yes, bureaucracy is inefficient. Unless it’s run by Skynet.)

Or, better yet, show me something new.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Kindness

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It’s not the armor that makes Baymax a superhero. It’s the kindness. Image via Disney Entertainment

Welcome to this week’s adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity. Some scientists climbed extremely high, landing a spaceship on a moving comet. In the entertainment area, there was some hopeful news about the possible director for the Wonder Woman movie, and I ponder the worth of kindness as a superpower after loving Big Hero 6.

But first, let me state this again: a team of scientists built and landed a spaceship on a comet.

A true scientific victory that hopefully was not too overshadowed by the horrific and sexist shirt worn by the lead European Space Agency scientist during an interview. I could point out that, in a world that still disparages female scientists, having one of the lead scientist wear such a shirt completely sends the wrong message, but I’m just a little distracted about how ugly it was. The eyes, they burn.

However, the Mary Sue reported on a fix that’s a little bit less busy and a lot less sexist.

In other news…

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. copyright DC/Warner Brothers.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. copyright DC/Warner Brothers.

Breaking Bad Wonder Woman?

The Huffington Post is reporting that the woman who directed perhaps the most brilliant episode of one of the most brilliant television shows ever (Breaking Bad), Michelle MacLaren, is in final talks to direct the upcoming Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Gadot.

If true, this is the most hopeful piece of news about the movie I could receive. Though, given MacLaren’s resume, she should be producing her own series or should be a director sought after for many projects, not just one with a female audience.

Best case scenario: the movie is great, creates a cultural phenomenon, and McLaren can write her own ticket.

Worse case scenario: Warner Brothers dictates exactly what the movie should be, it turns out to be as uninspiring as Man of Steel and MacLaren and Wonder Woman receive the bulk of the backlash.

Let’s all pray to Athena for the best case.

And speaking of compassionate and inspiring superheroes…

Baymax’s Real Power Is Kindness

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We all need a big brother like Tadashi. Image via Disney Entertainment.

I don’t love Big Hero 6 just because it could be subtitled “The STEM Superteam,” or that it features a diverse cast in an ethnically mixed future, though these are great elements to the story.

It’s because it imagines that being kind is the best superpower of all. Once upon a time, the DC superheroes I read about would be kind to the people around them. That seems to have been replaced lately with them being angsty and broody—though Marvel’s cinematic superheroes absolutely show kindness on a regular basis, such as Tony Stark with the young boy in Iron Man 3 or Black Widow’s concern for the civilians caught in the crossfire in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. 

We learned much more about how picked on Clark Kent was in Man of Steel than about how kind he was. Sure, he saved people but he didn’t seem to like them very much.

But Baymax is full of  kindness as a result of his programming by Tadashi, who wanted an artificial intelligence that could heal people and make them feel better. At first, Hiro fails to see how incredible this idea is. Instead, Hiro wants to use Baymax as a weapon to get revenge.

But, in the end, it’s Baymax’s kindness, as imbued by Tadashi, that truly saves Hiro not just physically but emotionally.

Tadashi is an incredibly kind and nice person. So is his creation. And that kindness saves everyone, in the end.

I hope the writers of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie notice that. Because, so far, Warner Brothers seemed focused on the warrior aspect of Princess Diana. But her overriding trait isn’t violence. It’s compassion.

Fund This! Easy Macro Lens, Nosferatu, and Diverse Books!

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photo courtesy of Easy Macro Lens

This edition of Fund This features a Macro Lens for your phone, a film ode to the original Dracula, and a campaign to bring more diversity into youth literature!

Happy Funding!

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photo courtesy of Easy Macro Lens

Easy Macro Lens for iPhone, Android, Windows Phones

Another GeekMom sent this campaign to me, since she contributed to funding Version 1 of this lens and she and her daughter were so happy with the product. I have a gorgeous Pentax camera, but I take most of my pictures on my iPhone. It is convenient, fits in my pocket, and is always with me. The zoom feature, however is lacking, evident in the many grainy shots I have attempted.  Campaigning to offer 3 lenses (2x, 4x, and 10x), these portable accessories will be my solution! I like that they work on any phone, even stretching to work on a tablet. My budding entomologist son will be thrilled to use it with his iPod out in the field. Low tech, easy to use and carry with you, great results!

 

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photo courtesy of Nosferatu Kickstarter campaign

Nosferatu: The Feature Film Remix

Shot in 1921, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror was the first vampire movie ever filmed and is widely accepted as the foundation on which all other horror cinema was built. Apparently, the film was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and his widow objected, demanding all copies of the film be destroyed. But of course one copy survived. Of course it did. So we are lucky enough to be able to see the birth of this genre, the beauty of the craft, the gorgeous subtlety (that is completely lacking in most contemporary horror film) which makes the film so completely chilling. This campaign is seeking funds to revive the original tale and update it using modern technology to save the original scenes mixed with new actors, pacing, and more. I have no doubt it will be genius. I prefer my vampires stealthy and dark, hold the sparkle. The original tales stand the test of time and are worthy of our saving them.

 

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photo courtesy of WNDB

We Need Diverse Books

If the title of the campaign doesn’t say it all, the video will tell you everything you need to know. Kids need to not only see themselves in books, but also have a literary window into the lives of those who are different than themselves in order to connect with the human experience in a visceral, holistic way. The reality is that the diversity of books for youth is still abysmal. Support this campaign and be part of making what I believe will be a profound change for many children.

The Cliffs of Insanity: The Wonder Woman Movie

wonder woman board book

cover by Capstone Books

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. There was more than the usual doings these past two weeks as I went from the East Coast to the West Coast to attend GeekGirlCon. I have stories from that but also thoughts on the big announcement yesterday from Warner Bros. which detailed a whole slate of superhero movies, including the long-awaited Wonder Woman movie in 2017.

About freakin’ time.

Meanwhile, on television, superhero comic geeks can choose among Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gotham, Arrow, The Flash, and the upcoming Constantine. Which ones will I continue watching? Only the first two right now, as I’m having some plot issues and problems with female characters in the other two. (You can find my recaps of each of the Gotham episodes at CriminalElement.com) Right now, S.H.I.E.L.D. is the only one hitting on all cylinders. Too bad it took them a year to get there.

On the big screen, I fear that the creative team in charge of Warner Bros. isn’t quite sure how to make a proper Wonder Woman movie, given they managed already to make a movie about Superman (Man of Steel) that was not inspiring. The tagline for that movie seemed to be not “you will believe a man can fly,” but “you will not believe how much screaming is in this movie.”

Do Not Disappoint These Girls, Warner Bros. 

At GeekGirlCon we had some just released DC heroes board books for giveaway at our table: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Saturday afternoon, this one little girl saw the Wonder Woman book. Her eyes went wide and she asked if she could look at it. I handed it to her and she promptly sat down next to the table and began reading.

Her friend came up a few minutes later and asked if there were any more Wonder Woman books. Luckily, there was one under the stack of Batman books. I handed it to her and she literally hugged the book and sat back down next to her friend and began reading.

I’m guessing both girls were about four.

They didn’t care that Wonder Woman is “tricky” or maybe doesn’t appeal to boys. They know exactly what Wonder Woman is. She’s a superhero and she helps people and she’s as strong and smart and compassionate as anyone. They love her. They wanted to hug her.

I don’t know what demographic studies are going into the making of the Wonder Woman movie or what numbers are being crunched to figure out what the audience for this movie will be. I don’t know if Warner Bros. is trying to make sure that the Wonder Woman movie appeals to men, too. But I suspect that’s the case, given that they’re going with the “Wonder Woman, daughter of Zeus,” origin, an origin that was recently added to make her more “relatable.”

I don’t care. 

I care that these girls and others just like them, and older girls, and women like myself, love and adore Wonder Woman. This is your audience, Warner Bros. If you do this movie right, Wonder Woman will be a cultural phenomenon to equal or exceed the likes of Frozen.

If you do it wrong, if you try to parse the character so she’s just Princess McStabby Sword, as seems to be the current trend in her comic version, the movie will sink like a stone, giving studios the message of “well, female-led movies don’t sell.”

Yes, they do, when they’re made without worrying about whether the men will be scared off. See Frozen, see Hunger Games, see Brave, see Divergent, see a whole list of awesome movies going back to Linda Hamilton in The Terminator.

This movie could be a monster hit.

But only if it’s done right.

Speaking of being done right, it appears to be tough to do a comic-based series completely right lately.

Gotham: Confused and The Flash: Creepy

My short capsule reviews:

Gotham is all over the place tonally, has trouble cutting back and forth between too many characters, hasn’t given Jim Gordon enough motivation to risk his life over and over, and has yet to show any real detective work. However, Oswald Cobblepot is a stand-out and focusing on his rise in the city is an excellent idea. The show is also beautifully shot, well-cast, and the creators obviously cared about showing us a diverse city of inhabitants. I’m sticking with it.

The Flash is a show that does so many things right and yet the one thing it does wrong, it does so wrong. Jesse L. Martin is perfect as Barry’s foster dad, Barry’s need to help others is great, the overall cast is promising, and there’s a good pseudo-scientific explanation for the superpowers. It’s appealing.

Except for the women.

Pilot

I like you, Barry, but you’re being creepy here. (Barry Allen and Iris West in The Flash, image via CW and Warner Bros.)

Iris Allen fails (wins?) the sexy lamp test, especially in the pilot, where her only function is to be window dressing so the men watching can feel bad for our hero. She’s hardly better in the second episode, where she claims science is dull, journalism is boring, and makes out with her pretty boyfriend in front of Barry. Then there’s the creep factor, because Iris and Barry grew up together. The pilot even has Iris say “I view you like my brother.” But Barry doesn’t consider this creepy because he uses his superspeed in episode two to circle Iris and study her.

Hello!

Doesn’t anyone on the writing staff realize how profoundly creepy this is?

C’mon. I know this creative team can do better.

dishBook of the Week: The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson 

This is the first book in the Longmire series, on which the television show is based. I expected a good mystery. What I received was an exceptional story in every way: in voice, in plot, in character, and themes.

This is the kind of book I read as a writer and think “I’ll never do anything this good, ever,” the kind of book that you want to shove into the hands of friends and say “read this right now.”

If you enjoyed the show, pick up the books. If you enjoy mysteries and haven’t seen the show, pick up the book.

If you love good stories, pick up this book.

 

 

The Cliffs of Insanity: Love You, Awesome Nerds

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logo copyright GeekGirlCon

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. There was much I could’ve ranted about this week, from the sexist superhero t-shirts, to the weird fanboy meltdowns about the new female Thor, and my own frustrations with my health care provider. (Hint: if you want an insurance cover to cover stuff, never have a chronic condition.)

But I had a rough personal week and then, I didn’t, because awesome nerds stepped up and made it all better. So this week is about stuff I adore that I hope you’ll love too.

1. Geek Girl Con in Seattle, October 11th & 12th.

This con is my favorite, from the fascinating, feminist and thought-provoking panels to the DIY science zone, to the kid-friendly atmosphere, and to the GeekGirl Connections area, for career advice and networking.

GeekMom will be there in force, holding down a convention table, and we’ll have some serious goodies to give away. Stop buy and chat, let your kids colors for a bit, and sign up for our newsletter.

We will also be giving a panel at 10 a.m. on Saturday, “Geek Girl Transformation to Geek Mom,” which features me, GeekMoms Kelly Knox, Cathe Post, Ariane Coffin, and special guest Tristan J. Tarwater, novelist, comic book writer and freelance RPG writer.

On a personal note, I’ll be part of another panel Saturday, at 7 p.m. called “Sex Scenes From the Female Gaze.” There might be smutty readings. If you’re curious as to what kind, feel free to check out my own Phoenix Rising, a superhero romance story that’s only 99 cents for a limited time on Kindle, Nook (B&N), and Samhain Publishing. (As DCWomenKicking Ass tweeted: WOC lead, nuclear explosion sex? You MUST read @CorrinaLawson book.)

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Panel from Voice in the Dark by Larime Taylor

2. A Voice In the Dark by Larime Taylor.

I could tell you Larime’s story, of how he draws with his mouth because of his disability, of how he’s had national media coverage of his comic, and how the support of friends and fans helped him survive, though finances remain a struggle.

But I’d rather tell you how awesome this comic is.

Because it’s dark, layered, intense, and brings us deeply into the mind of Zoey, a young woman who murdered a woman in revenge for damage done to Zoey’s best friend. Zoey got away with that murder but now has another problem: she discovered she likes killing. The story takes Zoey to college where she fights her murderous impulses and then comes to the attention of a serial killer who ‘admires’ her work.

This is brilliant crime drama. Those enjoying Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s noir graphic novels must read this.

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copyright Patrick Gerard

3. Ungrounded by Patrick Gerard and Eryck Webb, also available digitally on Comixology.

A classic superhero story of good and evil. But that’s only on the surface. Gerard is interested in the nature of good and evil and the big philosophical questions of the universe. Also, fun.

Yes, he’s riding a polar bear. This comic put a big smile on my face when I received my Kickstarter edition.

4. Creating Graphic Novels by Sarah Beach.

I can plot, I thought. So I can write a comic story. Not so fast because that panel-to-panel storytelling is a skill, one distinctly different from writing a prose novel.

But Sarah Beach’s new guide is perfect, with chapters about graphic novel terminology, the different kinds of scripts, how to break the story into panel by panel pieces, to business elements like who does what in the story and how to find an art team, marketing, contracts and overall storytelling.

Buy this book and you’ll never have the excuse of “but I don’t know how to make comics” again.

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copyright Sarah Beach

5. Simply Weird: the (fake) History of Weird Comics Incorporated, a Fake Comic Book Company by William Robert Webb III; HeroNet Files Book 1, by Wayland Smith, Dara Hannon and Harry Heckel

One is a collection of stories about young superheroes and how they learn to cope with their powers. The other is, well, about a fake comic book company. What do they have in common? They both wear their love of comics on their sleeve. They are written, yes, by friends. Which only shows that I have awesome friends.

I’ll likely be dark next week but I’ll be back in two weeks with a GeekGirlCon report.

Happy October, awesome nerds. Now I think I’ll go watch Pitch Perfect again.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Remember Kasandra Perkins? The NFL Hopes Not

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How does Arrow connect to what happened in the NFL this week? Read down to find out. Image via DC Entertainment

What happened this week in my adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity? I noticed the people running the NFL were all concerned about domestic violence now because it might cost them money, and that news media outlets covering the story are very much a part of the problem, as are some parts of pop culture in general, like the much-lauded Arrow.

But Alison Bechdel officially becoming a genius did end my week in a smile.

You’re Still Not Getting It NFL

So I’ve heard that last week was one of the worst in the history of the NFL. Why? Because now everyone is on the NFL’s case about letting players who hit their wives and perhaps their kids continue to play in games.

I submit this only came up for two reasons:

1. The players are high profile and thus things couldn’t be swept under the rug. The Ravens wanted to keep Ray Rice on the field, so they went to bat for him. If he’d been a marginal player who knocked out his wife, they would have just cut him. Winning is everything.

2. The sponsors finally said, “Uh, this is making us look bad.” Which means the decisions to be “serious” about domestic violence is a classic case of “it’s all about the money.”

If Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL had really been serious about confronting the issue of domestic violence in the NFL, it wouldn’t have taken shaming them with a video of one of their star players smacking his girlfriend in an elevator. Instead, they would have acted when one of their players murder the mother of his child and then committed suicide in front of his head coach and general manager.

The murder of Kasandra Perkins by Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher in 2012 was met with all sorts of public condolences by the NFL teams and officials. But two years later, the NFL was so “concerned” about domestic violence that they decided Rice was basically a good person and should only serve a two-game suspension for knocking his future wife unconscious.

Way to be “concerned,” NFL. They were so “concerned” that only this week did they hire three experts in the field of domestic violence to be available to consult with teams.

Kassandra Perkins died for nothing. Maybe people would have paid attention if her murder had been caught on tape. Or if her murderer had been nationally known.

You’re Part of the Problem, Sports Illustrated

So at the same time Sports Illustrated is running all of these stories about domestic violence, the NFL being tone deaf, and then the arrest of Adrian Peterson, those stories are surrounded on their website by ads featuring hot girls.

Ever think, SI, that by featuring women as sex objects 90 percent of the time, including devoting an entire issue to women as sex objects, that you might be part of the whole culture that devalues women? It took a week before I saw a women on that landing page as anything but sexy and available for men, and then it was a story about the problems of female sports casters.

Way to be part of the problem. Try looking in the mirror, SI.

You too, New York Times

I get the Sunday edition of the New York Times delivered each week because I love to linger over all of the articles. But this week, I was flipping through to pull out my favorite sections and I noticed something.

All of the interior sections–sports, business, real estate, style–featured a photo of a man above the fold. The only women were in the travel section, in a group shot.

I know. No one at the times was cackling in glee at keeping out the evil wimmins but even unintentionally, it says a lot about how the news is covered in regards to gender.  For instance, the New York Times Book Review recently started adding capsule reviews of romance books, though they’ve had capsule reviews of the mystery and science fiction genres for years. The only difference in these three genres is that just one, the one not featured until this year, is mostly written and read by women.

Pop Culture Plays a Role Too. Yes, You Arrow.

So why do I keep banging at pop culture for not portraying women as, well, people? Because it’s so easy to make them the other, objects, adjuncts, and that feeds into the whole perception of women as not as valuable as men.

Take Arrow. Lots of my friends love and watch Arrow. It’s led to a spin-off, Flash, and probably paved the way for the show I’m most anticipating this year, Gotham.

The complete season 2 blu-ray of Arrow is out. GeekMom was offered the chance to run a giveaway to readers. But I nixed it because the show has some serious problems with how it uses the women on the show.

First, the entire second season hinges on the fridging of Shado, a fascinating character in her own right who’s just summarily executed early in the season so Ollie can angst about it and Slade can hate Ollie for it. Shado’s not a character, she’s the proverbial sexy lamp of Kelly Sue DeConnick sexy lamp test. (If you can replace your character with a sexy lamp, you’re a hack.)

Then there’s the treatment of Moira Queen, who had a fascinating character arc in season 1 but a lot of dumb plot lines in season 2 which led to her being executed by Slade. Why? The writers flat out admitted they had no more story for her. Because, I don’t know, a woman of shady morality somehow regaining control of Ollie’s life by taking away his fortune and tempting Ollie to the dark side is just dead boring, I guess.

Or maybe Moira was killed off because she’s not available to sleep with Ollie, like all the other women on the show except Thea. (Who, as his sister was also unavailable, this not being Game of Thrones.)  Every female character on this show either sleeps with Ollie–Helena, Shado, Sara–or wants to sleep with Ollie–Laurel, Felicity. I loved Felicity in season one. She clearly had her own agenda and her own ideas of how to do things to help the city. In season 2, by the end, she’s reduced to Ollie’s love interest.

Sara, too, was interesting when introduced at the beginning of season 2 but she quickly hops back into bed with Ollie because…plot reasons.

As for Thea, since she couldn’t sleep with Ollie, she was reduced to pining over Roy instead of having a plot about her. Someone pointed out to me that Amanda Waller hasn’t slept with Ollie. To which I say “not yet,” since I expect that to happen in the flashbacks that will populate the upcoming season 3.

As a viewer, I’m frustrated because there are times when this show is good and I want to squee like a fangirl. And there are times when I want to tear my hair out and it’s not always about the women. Roy gets dosed with a drug that turns him into a killer. Ollie tries to help him with it but Roy eventually goes nuts and murders a cop. Then we find out later Ollie knew there was a cure for this drug but he didn’t want to use it because Slade…somethingsomething.

Oliver Queen, worst mentor ever.

And that’s the long version of why I didn’t want to offer the box set for a giveaway. I’m sure there are plenty of other sites offering the giveaway, the public relations people tell me it’s in the hundreds. Feel free to find one of them.

And maybe you like the show and in which case, have fun watching this season. It’s also entirely possibly you can see the problems with the show and enjoy it anyway. In that case, have fun. I’m out.

But there was some good news this week!

Bechdel is Officially a Genius

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the originator of the Bechdel test, which tracks whether a movie is at all interested in its female characters, was awarded MacArthur Genius Grant. As a MacArthur fellow, she will receive up to $625,000 in grants over the next five years.

And if you don’t know who Bechdel is and why she’s worthy of such a grant, go watch this video. The world needs more Bechdels and less of NFL players getting a pass because they can make money for millionaires.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Quitting the NFL?

 

My game day jersey, Blaine Bishop, 1999 Tennessee Titans.  photo by Corrina Lawson

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. Today, I offer some teasers about the upcoming Gotham television show (see below), ponder why I’m still watching NFL football games, and offer a book of the week by Caitlin Kittredge, who’s writing the fabulous and creepy Coffin Hill for DC’s Vertigo imprint.

What Did They *Think* Was On That Tape? 

I’ve been feeling uncomfortable about my love of NFL football games for a while. First, there was the growing knowledge about the physical, long-term cost to players, next was the over-the-top expansion of the NFL to Thursday, a move that might be good for ratings but hardly allows the players to physically recover from a game just four days ago. And, of course, there’s the proof that many NFL players are less than role models, as can be seen by those arrested on various charges.

Then came the incredible mis-handling of the domestic violence case of Baltimore Ravens’ running Ray Rice. Rice was known to have assaulted his then-fiancee, now his wife, in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino earlier this year. There was tape of him dragging the unconscious women out of the elevator. On the legal side, Rice entered a pre-trial intervention program that could result in a clean record.

On the NFL side, he was suspended for two games.

Two games? For knocking another human being unconscious while other players had been suspended for six months to a year for testing positive for marijuana? That hardly seemed right. At the time the original suspension was handed down, sports columnist Peter King hinted that maybe the NFL knew what happened inside the elevator and that it somehow mitigated things. Implying, of course, that the victim might have contributed to the fight. Which sounded suspiciously like blaming the victim to me.

After a public uproar about Rice’s lenient suspension, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced he’d gotten it wrong and changed NFL policy to a six-month suspension for a first domestic violence offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense.

Then came the tape.  TMZ released video of what happened inside that elevator.  It’s a very disturbing tape and I won’t link it here but you can google it, if you haven’t seen it already.

That changed everything.

Suddenly, everyone was appalled. Oh, no, that’s terrible. Rice’s team cuts him. The NFL suspends him indefinitely.

What the hell did hey think was on the tape?

Were they somehow able to justify Rice knocking the mother of his child unconscious in their minds because there wasn’t video? I don’t know. I suspect the NFL office, the Baltimore Ravens front office, the coaches and his teammates had convinced themselves it probably wasn’t that bad until they saw video and, yeah, it was that bad.

So Rice is suspended indefinitely. And Goodell now has to answer reports that the NFL had the in-elevator video all along, even though Goodell claims no one “to his knowledge” in the NFL office saw the tape. That “to his knowledge” is lawyer-speak for covering your ass.

There are many reasons I love the NFL.

I love watching the coaches try to out-guess each other. I love watching the game within a game.  I’ve learned to focus not only on the ball but also the routes the receivers are running, which offensive lineman are pulling, which defensive lineman are bowling over the blockers, and why plays either work or break down. I have a secret (and utterly hopeless) dream of someday being an announcer. My son thinks I’d be good because I often say something about the game only to have it repeated seconds later by the announcers. Or notice things they don’t.

And I love the unpredictability of it all. You can’t make stuff like this up.

But now there are many reasons for me to hate the NFL, too.

There are the growing number of players who suffer with a brain disease like CTE  or from other physical ailments that seriously impact the rest of their lives or even kill them, meaning players are literally dying to entertain me.  There are also the players like Rice, or  Lawrence Taylor (who I once idolized) who was convicted of having sex with an underage hooker, or Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriot now on trial for murder.

I know, every profession has bad apples. There are surely huge swaths of wonderful men who play and are involved in football. But it’s getting increasingly harder to ignore the bad stuff, especially when it’s clear what the NFL is really concerned about is looking good so it doesn’t hurt their bottom line.

It’s a business. And it’s becoming an increasingly callous one.

My fandom is wavering.

Gotham: You Won’t Miss Batman

I received a screener of Gotham’s pilot last week. It’s very good. My main concern, about the casting of Jim Gordon, was alleviated quickly as Ben McKenzie is excellent in the role. However, Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock may steal the series from him. One, because Logue is great. Two, because sometimes it’s more interesting to watch a complicated, slightly wrong character struggle with choices than a clearly good one, like Jim  Gordon.

But Gordon and Bullock have great chemistry together and Fox exactly gets the look and feel of Gotham right. It’s obvious no expense was spared on sets. There is one addition to the inevitable murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne that will surely raise eyebrows among comic fans. However, they will be happy to see Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen, and Montoya fans will be pleased to see that she’s clearly a lesbian in this show. That hasn’t changed.

There is also a bisexual character but to reveal who it is would be too spoilery as yet. The one flaw in the pilot is Fish Money (Jada Pinkett Smith) who is far too over-the-top in her role, almost as if she’s in a different show.

You should watch this.

Book of the Week: Black Dog by Caitlin Kittredge

black-dog-2

The main character of this book is a human women who becomes a hellhound to collect souls for her demon master. She’s been doing it for one hundred years and the first we see of Ava, she’s hunting down someone. Of course, he’s a horrible person, so our sympathies in this one are with the hunter and not the hunted.

Ava is an appealing character, put mostly in situations way over her head, like being caught between a Russian mobster with abilities to control the dead and her demon master, and then she’s pulled into a war with, well, Fallen Angels.

The story moves along at a breakneck pace. As a reader, I never felt safe and stayed up late one night to finish it. I cared deeply about Ava and the man she comes to love and how things would turn out for both of them.

This is a fascinating world, with a well-developed supernatural setting that includes Kittredge’s version of Hell. I highly recommend it for readers of urban fantasy. It’s out on October 28th but already available for pre-order.

And you should also buy Kittredge’s Coffin Hill comic for some great modern gothic horror.

 

 

The Cliffs of Insanity: Blaming the “Other”

cover via Samhain Publishing

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. I’ve been a little preoccupied the last few weeks with family matters and fiction writers matters. They merged in this column about superheroes and autism for SF Signal as part of the wonderful and much needed Special Needs in Strange Worlds series, the brainchild of SF Signal staffer Sarah Chorne.

And, yes, I have a book coming out next month, Ghost Phoenix. (See photo above.) If you’re interested in reading my latest superhero novel, I’m giving away an e-copy to anyone who comments on this post about anything in this post. Or just say “hi.” Edited to add: This offer was good for one week and is now closed. 

In the meantime, I’ve been horrified trying to sort out the events across the world and in the geek community in August.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world—The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats

The horrible situation in Ferguson, the re-emergence of a radical terrorist group in the Middle East, and Putin deciding he wants all the things in Ukraine made the world seem a more dangerous place.

Closer to home, the virulent hatred and threats spewed at Anita Sarkeesian for daring to point out a problematic portrayal of women in video games and to journalist Zoe Quinn for apparently daring to have a life, and then the theft of nude photos of some celebrities reminds me again that we still have our own problems. The Mary Sue has an up-to-date rundown including yet another female gaming journalist being harassed.

It all seems very bleak right now.

The one thing in common to most of these events is hatred of the other. It’s so easy to blame the other–be it someone of another religion, another gender or another race–and make them scapegoats. African-Americans should be more respectful of police, female celebrities shouldn’t take nude photos, women should stay out of gaming and leave those poor guys alone, and no outsiders should be allowed in the creation of a state devoted to just one religion. Even Vladamir Putin is claiming his invasion of Ukraine is on behalf of ethnic Russians against the Ukranians.

We have to stop making people the other.

A simple solution to state but one that’s hard to implement.

I’ve been wondering why a certain segment of gaming is full of such hatred of women. (I don’t believe it’s all or perhaps not even the majority.) I suspect it comes down to this:

Many of these players have not only invested considerable effort  and time playing games they love, they’ve invested a huge part of their self-identity. They hang out with other people who self-identify as gamers too and when someone says something that’s viewed as an attack, they circle the wagons.

It’s possible when these hard-core gamers hear someone say:

Yes, these games can be fun and involving and they require an incredible amount of intelligence and effort to create and to play, but they also have these problematic elements especially regarding women and minorities, and gaming as a whole should identify these issues and do something about it.

What they hear is:

If you play these games, you suck and you hate women and you’re an evil troll. 

They take it as a personal attack. And a small minority of these gamers respond as if their very selves are at stake. It’s no excuse but those who react uncomfortably and feel some sympathy for that minority should examine why they feel that way.

I’m not a gamer, though I’m familiar with the same issues for women in mainstream comics. Check out this latest story of a former female employee of a comic book store. (This link is to Jezebel because when I tried to link to the original Bleeding Cool story, Avast blocked BC, saying it might be infected. But BC broke the story and deserves credit.)

Whenever I get into this discussion about covers that are too cheesecake or women used as props or, as Kelly Sue DeConnick puts it, as sexy lamps, I get pushback that comics aren’t for me or have always been that way or even that I might be part of ruining comics. Untrue and a bit silly.

Just as I don’t believe mainstream comics would suddenly become awful and unreadable if women were three-dimensional interesting characters used as more than sexual titillation, I don’t believe that would happen in gaming either. Treating over half the population as people rather than props is generally a good start on telling a great story, whatever kind of story that might be.

Harry Potter wasn’t somehow made lesser because Hermione didn’t dress in a thong or become a hooker. The Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men run, the run that jump-started their popularity, had multiple women with different personalities and different forms of dress and different ways of thinking. Some of them even were friends. Yet, somehow, sales went through the roof for that series, which is still influencing today’s comics.

I promise viewing women as people and not “the other” isn’t going to be the death of your favorite kind of storytelling, guys.

And I know now some of you are looking upwards at the cover of my novel and yelling “you did the same thing!” The bare-chested guy on the cover, Richard, is a surfer and a lost prince. He often wanders about shirtless. But he also has a personality and agency and goals. In other words, he’s a full person, not a sexy lamp. No one is objecting to women being sexy in storytelling.

They’re objecting to the fact that’s all women are allowed to be in many, many stories written by men.

And now for something gentler.

Paddington Treasury

image via HarperCollins

Book of the Week: The Paddington Bear Treasury: Six Classic Bedtime Stories by Michael Bond and R.W. Alley

It’s hard to tell if today’s kids will love the classics. Of my own favorites from childhood, my own kids loved Amelia Bedelia but rejected Bread and Jam For Frances. So it was with trepidation that I presented this collection to my two-year-old nephew and god-son last month.

But he instantly sat down and cuddled with my mom to read the bedtime stories at, happily, bedtime. That’s an endorsement that can’t be beat.

This treasury came out in July to coincide with the upcoming release of a movie starring Paddington Bear titled, well, Paddington.

It’s too bad I live too far away to take my nephew to see the movie when it comes out in December because that would be a nice bonding moment. But maybe we’ll watch the eventual DVD together.

35 Ways To Make Summer Linger

family fun, outdoor fun, family traditions,

Summer isn’t over till you say it is! (CC by 2.0 Ano Lobb on flickr)

Summer is NOT over. Oh, it may feel like it now that school has started and Halloween accouterments are on store shelves. But it’s officially still summer until September 22nd.

There’s still plenty of time to fit in summer-y pleasure for your family. Not pricey get-your-ticket, wait-in-line amusements, just the sort of fun that stretches a barefoot, carefree feeling well into autumn’s first chill.

 

Do something messy outside.

1. Take a meal outdoors and sit on the grass to enjoy it. In our family, at least once every summer, we eat directly from the plate without hands or utensils. We call this “trough feeding.” Bet you can’t do it without laughing through the whole meal.

2. Designate an area of the yard where kids can play right in the dirt. They might want to use it to build mountains and valleys for their toy dinosaurs, cars, or action figures. They might want to dig holes, perhaps looking for archaeological finds using Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids as a guide. For a real mess, give them enough water to make a mud pit. Your status as an epic parent will linger (so will the stains).

3. Mix up some washable paint, then let the kids paint designs on the driveway.

4. Make drip castles at the beach or in the sandbox.

5. Throw a BYOB party. This is cheap, imagination-driven fun. Guests are charged with one simple task: Bring. Your. Own. Box. Together kids can construct a fort or spaceship or whatever they please out of the boxes, then spend hours playing in it. There are plenty of other ways to amuse kids with cardboard boxes too.

6. Roast or boil fresh corn at your next picnic, tossing cobs over your shoulder as you finish. When it’s time to clean up, offer a prize for whoever picks up the most cobs. (A great prize is offering to read a few extra chapters aloud in the book you’re doing together.)

7. Form bubble snakes using old mismatched socks.

8. Make sponge bombs out of household sponges, then soak and use for tossing games. Unlike water balloons, these are reusable. They also make a lovely smacking sound when dropped on an unsuspecting sibling from the top of a slide. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

 

Get some exercise. 

9. Make foam swords. For peace of mind you may also want to make foam-covered shields, foam body pads, and operate on a no-running-hits/no-face-hits rule. Any violation and parents get to use the swords. Or simply fence with cardboard tubes. The Cardboard Tube Fighting League rules are worthy indeed.

10. Go hiking. Before leaving, decide what each of you will keep your eyes open to see. Your son might decide to look for things that fly. Your daughter might decide to look for the color red. You might keep an eye out for poison ivy. It’s interesting how much more cued all of you will be to your surroundings when really looking.

11. Set up a bike, trike, or scooter obstacle course. Mark the course with sidewalk chalk or masking tape. The course may lead them around cones, through a sprinkler, under crepe paper streamers hanging from a tree branch, and on to a finish line. Next, encourage them to set up their own obstacle courses.

12. Find out how advanced hooping has become and how to get your kids started. You’ll want to provide a good example of hula hoop enthusiasm. Here’s how to make a hoop that will fit your, ahem, grown-up hips.

13. Take  after-dark walks. Kids enjoy this even more when they are in charge of the flashlights.

14. Set up relay races. It’s a great way to get your loved ones to hop in sacks and crawl with laundry baskets. When summer is gone you’ll want those photos.

15. Go on a camera scavenger hunt. First choose a theme, like Ten Things That Move or A Dozen Yellow Things. Then send kids out with cameras (disposable, digital, or cell phone cameras) to grab some images. Encourage them to find creative, funny, and unusual ways to interpret the theme. Pop the photos up on the computer screen or take disposable cameras to a one-hour processing shop.

16. Set up backyard bowling. Save 10 empty plastic bottles, set them up in a triangular pattern, then roll a ball toward them. This makes a satisfying clatter on the driveway. For a bigger challenge, fill the bottles a third to half full. Teach older kids how to keep score.

17.  Ask the oldest people you know to tell you about games they played when they were growing up. Then play them. Better yet, play them with those elders.

 

Make something tasty together. 

18. Anything cooked outside tastes better whether on the grill, over a fire pit, or over a real campfire. Slice a few inches open on an unpeeled banana, stuff in a dollop of peanut butter and a few miniature marshmallows, then grill till it becomes a warm pudding in its own banana container. Bake brownies or cake inside hollowed out oranges over a fire pit.  For more ideas check out Campfire CookingScout’s Outdoor Cookbookand Easy Campfire Cooking

19. Stick pasta salad on a skewer.

20. Make homemade, corn syrup-free marshmallows.

21. Write a message or draw a picture on the skin of a banana using a toothpick or pencil. It’ll darken within an hour.

22. Make ice cream in a bag.

23. Keep fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, and peaches in separate containers in the freezer. On different days let each child take a turn concocting a smoothie for the family by blending his or her choice of fruit with juice and/or yogurt in the blender. Serve in tiny cups for taste testing. Encourage the creator to come up with a name for the frozen delight,

24.  Make burp juice. Show kids how to mix a quarter cup or so of juice concentrate (undiluted) into eight ounces of unsweetened seltzer water. Adjust to taste with more juice or seltzer. Add ice cubes, then drink. It has the same carbonation level as soda without sugar or food coloring. We call it burp juice in our house because quick gulps bring on burps.

25. If you’ve got a food dehydrator and some monster zucchini, make zuke gummi fruit. Surprisingly tasty and surely a zillion times healthier. Remember, when kids help they’re much more likely to eat the results.

 

Engage in some science. 

26. Make rock candy that actually works.

27. Create your own eclipse.

28. Engage in some nephology.

29. Draw the solar system with sidewalk chalk.

30. Do some ice cube experiments.

31. Race balloon rockets.

 

Make it an adventure. 

32. Camp out in the backyard. Tell stories, play hide and seek in the dark, let kids use flashlights as they please.

33. Get retro and experience a drive-in movie with your kids. You can search this database to find one nearest you. If there’s no hope of finding one remotely close by, set up a backyard movie theater. You might want to invite the neighborhood for an 80’s film fest. To give it that drive-in vibe, kids can make their own cars out of cardboard boxes. That way during the movie they can sit with their feet up on a cardboard dash and spill popcorn all over the cardboard interior without anyone bugging them about it.

34. Give the kids a budget and let them plan what they family will do next Saturday.

35. Most important of all, leave time for make-believe, daydreams, and on-the-spot fun.

The Cliffs of Insanity: The Groot Test

Boston Comic Con, Harley Quinn

Jimmy Palmiotti, me with my windblown hair, and Amanda Conner at Boston Comic Con. Photo by Corrina Lawson

Welcome to the latest installment of my adventures climbing the Cliffs of Insanity. I attended Boston Comic Con last weekend and came away with a few impressions. One is that the audience for comics is growing and becoming more diverse, that meeting creators in person is wonderful but that problems with sexual harassment at cons isn’t dead.

The Groot Test: Trees Are More Interesting Than Women

First, I wanted to talk about Marvel Entertainment’s movies and Guardians of the Galaxy. As I said in my review, it’s a very fun movie but I didn’t love it as much as everyone else did. Since then, I’ve become even more frustrated by Gamora’s role in the film, which is less than Pepper’s role in the Iron Man films, much less than Black Widow’s in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Gamora even makes less of an impression than Sif or Jane Foster in the Thor films.

Babs Tarr, Batgirl, Cameron Stewart

Babs Tarr, the new artist on Batgirl, representing at Boston Comic Con, one of the many female creators in attendance. photo by Corrina Lawson

Let’s put it this way: most people are not walking out of Guardians thinking how awesome or intense or scary or dangerous Gamora is.

That wouldn’t be a problem if she wasn’t the only female member of the main crew but since she is, it stands out.

Kelly Sue DeConnick has the sexy lamp test: “If you can remove a female character from your plot and replace her with a sexy lamp and your story still works, you’re a hack.”

I’m adding the Groot test:

If your main female character is so underwritten that that the sentient tree who can say three words has a better character arc, you have a problem.

Combine this with Kevin Feige’s statement that he hopes (hopes? isn’t he the guy in charge of Marvel’s movies?) Marvel will have a female-led movie but, hey, they have a lot of different properties going already, and I’m shaking my head.

And I guess having all of those properties to juggle somehow doesn’t stop Marvel from moving ahead with Inhumans instead of Black Widow or Captain Marvel. Peggy Carter on ABC and Jessica Jones on Netflix, it’s all on your shoulders, apparently.

I guess I should be grateful for crumbs but as I said the last time, I want the whole cake.

Which brings me back to Boston Comic Con

Con Harassment: #yesallwomen

Boston Comic Con on Friday was fun and navigable. But on Saturday, it was over-crowded and jammed and, at times, hard to even walk the aisles on the exhibition floor. Clearly, the con needs a larger venue.

All that crowding allows for harassment. I met a friend of mine there, a fellow Mom, who was cosplaying as Finn from Adventure Time. By the time I met up with her, she’d already been asked a few times to “bend over” so people could see her butt better. She shrugged. I’m appalled.

I give props to the con for having “Cosplay is Not Consent” posted in several places but if any woman was getting groped in that crowd, the offender could melt away and never be caught.

It was with this in mind that I attended a panel. Female creator, yay, major talent and with some diversity as well. All good. And a lot of talk about how things are changing in comics for the better.

Talk that was undercut when the moderator of the panel made what he called a joke to the person responsible for bringing the microphone to those asking questions that he should “pick the prettiest girl.”

I literally facepalmed. Sue from DCWomenKickingAss was sitting next to me. She did the same. And I can guarantee that the women in the audience cringed.

Since I was there, I went up to the moderator afterward and politely (well, I thought I was polite) but firmly told him this was a problem. He said he was teasing the young man with the microphone, wondering if he’d pick the “prettiest girl.” I heard differently. In his defense, he said how much he supported women in comics and he had daughters.

I’ve no reason to doubt his sincerity. He certainly took my criticism without becoming upset and I doubt he’ll ever say it again when moderating a panel

But still….there’s a disconnect there. One statement doesn’t make him a bad guy, but that one statement does add up with all the rest of those statements and leers and being told to bend over to see your butt better.

Men out there, you can’t say you support women in comics and want to end harassment and then say something thoughtless that underscores exactly why there’s a problem.

And speaking of the history of women in comics, I just picked up a blast from the past, the subject of a new segment:

Read of the Week

DC has put out several beautiful hardcovers featuring great Batman artists over the years. I picked up Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Vol. 1 at my local comic shop this week.

I should have been writing. I was reading this instead. I’d forgotten how kinetic Aparo’s work was, how he conveyed such a great sense of emotion in his faces, and how he used light and shadow to make the night even creepier and scarier.

Jim Aparo cover

One of the many Aparo covers for Brave and the Bold. copyright DC Comics

Aparo, who passed away in 2005, is probably little known to today’s Batman fans, who if they know of any past great artist, it’s Neal Adams, but he’s severely under-rated. The stories in this volume are all from Bob Haneys’s run on The Brave and The Bold.

This comic was a team-up comic and I have a special fondness for it, as it was one of the very first comics I ever bought off the spinner rack, a team-up between Batman and Ted (Wildcat) Grant. The who’s-who of DC Comics are drawn by Aparo in this book, from Wonder Woman (power-less era), Black Canary, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, the Metal Men, the Phantom Stranger, the Demon, Man-Bat, Metamorpho, and many others.

The action sequences, particularly the fights, are wonderful. I’m especially fond of a ski sequence as a sniper chases Green Arrow, and a story featuring Aquaman hiding a jet airliner under the ocean. No one drew water like Aparo.

As for the stories? They hold up for the most part, but some are clearly dated, especially in their attitude about women.

Robin complains about involving Black Canary in a case because “she’s a girl,” and then Canary enters a feminist lecture and allows “she might have some points.” That was okay, I guess, but earlier in the comic, Canary sits under a hair dryer because the rain got her hair wet. (I was going to pretend she ducked into the hairdressers in order to give Gail Simone the scoop about her next mission.)

Despite that, I highly recommend this collection.

Now I have to go check ebay and see if any of Aparo’s original art is on sale. Perhaps of Black Canary. Not sitting under a hair dryer.

The Cliffs of Insanity: I Want the Whole Cake

Marvel Promotional Image

© Marvel Comics

“I don’t want crumbs anymore. I want the whole cake and I want the icing too.” —Billie Jean King.

Marvel made national news last week with announcements on The Colbert Report and The View about new diversity in their lineup, including Sam Wilson taking over the Captain America identity and a as-yet unidentified woman becoming Thor.

All good. I could wish that a great character like Sam Wilson would support a title as The Falcon rather than have to adopt another identity but the direct comic market is crowded and his adventures will sell better if he’s dressed in the red, white, and blue. Plus, there’s some nice symbolism in an African-American Captain America, though Sam isn’t the first.

As for the new Thor, she’ll get a chance to headline a title for six months to a year and hopefully, there will be enough interest in her as a character so that when the hammer eventually passes back to its original owner, she’ll stick around.

But I’m not satisfied or particularly thrilled, given how these changes won’t last and there’s no guarantee that Sam or the new Thor will end up as lasting characters. See: Thunderstrike.

I’m even less thrilled by looking at the image above, which is pretty much all of mainstream superhero comics diversity problems in a nutshell. It’s supposed to get readers excited about a revamped Avengers line-up.

Good: I count four women to seven men. Not a 50/50 ratio but it’s decent. Also good: the new Captain American and Deathlok, plus some an interesting mix of characters.

Bad: The art. The dudes need to work on their hip thrusts because their ability to showcase that booty is way behind the women’s ability to let us know that, hey, they have HIPS & BUTTS. Also, the two women at the forefront are the only ones showing skin in this photo as well. Shy about the bionic arm, Bucky? I know legions of people on Tumblr who would be happy to see you fight enemies shirtless. Also, the female Thor’s head seems smaller than her breasts. That’s an unfortunate side effect of possessing Mjolnir.

Even worse: See the redhead on the top left side? That’s Medusa, one of the Inhumans. One of her major abilities is that she has super-powered hair she can use as tentacles. Therefore, the little decoration over her glittery hoo ha (AKA vaginal area) raises my eyebrows instantly. Just what are you trying to imply about that area, which is also prone to hair, Marvel?

And Medusa isn’t the only one currently with a costume that, ah, accentuates that region. When the New 52 began two years ago at DC, Supergirl’s costume sported an attention-drawing shield over her vaginal area. Given that the character is underage, it’s an unfortunate showcase, to say the least.

So I have to ask: What the heck is with the attention to the glittery hoo ha, artists?

supergirl6_c01

Cover copyright DC Comics

The men don’t get equal treatment. In fact, Superman’s outside underwear was eliminated in the New 52 because, I guess, no one like drawing attention to his Johnson or something. What’s the matter Clark? Feeling a little insecure about the Kryptonian package?

Jokes aside, an image widely circulated by Marvel to draw attention to stories that they obviously want to appeal to female readers is full of incredibly mixed messages.

Look, we have women! But, hey guys, they’re still hot and half-naked sometimes. All good, right?

To bring us back to Billie Jean, I feel like Marvel and DC are constantly handing out crumbs.

I want it all.

I want a Wonder Woman movie.

I want a Black Widow movie. It’s just sad that Scarlett Johansson has superpowers in a new movies and she’s not Widow.

I want female costumes designed to make heroines look as powerful as the heroes and I want female poses that match that power, not that say “Hey, fanboy, come up and see me sometime.”

I want more female heroes who can be young and cute, like the new direction for DC’s Batgirl, but also older and experienced and who want to be married, like Batwoman. (And yet, can’t be married because of editorial edict.)

I want comics that are full of women of all shapes, sizes, and ages, not just as the lead characters.

I want women in comics in nearly the same percentage as men, instead of being relegated to the usual pop culture ratios represented these figures: only 11% of family films, 19% of children’s shows, and 22% of prime-time programs feature girls and women in roughly half of all speaking parts. (Cite: Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.)

You want to appeal to female audiences, Marvel and DC?

How about writing fascinating female characters doing interesting things while not dressed or posed with a big sign that says “have sex with me.” I know you can do it. I currently see Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel and Batwoman and I still have my Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone runs of Birds of Prey.

I look at my classic Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and John Byrne and I see characters that I love having awesome stories written about them. I see women who are friends with each other. This is the comic that kick-started Marvel’s resurgence in the 1980s. I bet the men won’t run away screaming if you take some lessons from it and apply it to today’s comics.

I’m not satisfied with crumbs anymore.

I want the whole cake and I want the icing too.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Equality In Our Role Models

Daytona Beach

Here’s a little summer for your 4th of July: Daytona Beach. Image by Corrina Lawson.

Welcome to this week’s adventures of climbing the cliffs of insanity. In the spirit of the holiday, the bulk of the column is about how to spread the idea of equality around to everyone.

But first, some excellent news this week:

Going to GeekGirlCon!

For the first time, GeekMom will have a table at GeekGirlCon,which is taking place October 11-12 in Seattle. Several of us will take part in the panel, “From GeekGirl to GeekMom,” about making the transition to life with minions. My own panel, “Sex Scenes From the Female Gaze,” was also accepted. It includes a group of fellow romance writers and there might be some, um, examples of said female gaze scenes.

SuperTeam Pairing

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a script-to-scene commitmen from the Starz Network. Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Heroes and The River) are the writer-producers developing the novel for television. This is good news for those who thought the project was dead after HBO passed on it.

From the cover of Gotham Academy. Image copyright: DC Comics.

Gotham for….GIRLS?

In unexpected but welcome news, DC announced this week a new monthly series, Gotham Academywritten by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and drawn by Karl Kerschl. Look! It seems like this story is focused on girls who look like teenage girls. It will begin in October.

Sold!

And while girls and women are the target market for this book, I hope it appeals to everyone. Why?

Equality For All, Especially in Role Models

The Question, LGBT heroes

Renee Montoya as The Question. You don’t have to be just like her to be inspired by her stories. Image copyright: DC Comics.

Last week on the GeekDad writers’ loop, we had a short discussion about covering Ms. Marvel. GeekMom has already reviewed this wonderful series several times and the question came up about whether a more, well, male-oriented site like GeekDad should provide similar coverage.

The answer was a resounding “Yes.”

Why?

Because role models shouldn’t be limited by race, gender, or orientation.

This point is implicit in calls for inclusion, but often not stated outright. Yes, we absolutely need to provide young girls with role models like them so they can see it’s possible. We want girls to see women being superheroes and scientists and coders and gamers and, well, everything.

But we also need boys to see women as role models too.

Women often have male role models. A famous fictional example would be Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, who fights crime not because of Batman, but because of her stalwart father, Commissioner James Gordon. J.R.R. Tolkien and Walter Farley were as influential to me as writer Anne McCaffrey.

It was never a question that boys could be whatever they wanted to be. But we also want boys to grow up knowing that women can be whoever they want to be as well.

We want them to be inspired by women as much as men.

All of society is far better if anyone is seen as a possible role model/inspiration for everyone.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Live Action Questing

Great Wolf Lodge, Fitchburg, Magiquest

Magiquest station at Great Wolf Lodge photo by Corrina Lawson

This week’s journeys climbing the cliffs of insanity had a happy ending, with some good news for a geek girl, a little celebration of my latest book, and a trip to a fairy-tale place that can keep my twins occupied for an entire day on their own. And it’s not even Disney.

But first, some fun announcements. My steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, made it to #11 on the Amazon steampunk list last month, which thrilled me. (Yes, there’s still a little of Sally Field’s “they like me, they really like me?” after something like that.)

Related to creative news, Erica Heflin, the editor for my comic stories at Grayhaven Comics, and the writer of Flesh of White, starts a new job this week as the writer for Zenescope Comic’s Wonderland series. Erica assures me it will be a great jumping on point for new readers and it’s set in the fictional Wonderland of Alice.

And speaking of fun fictional places…

Yes, I Do Believe in Magiquest

Fitchburg Mayor

Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong at the Grand Opening of Great Wolf Lodge photo by Corrina Lawson (Yes, they gave out a lot of wolf ears that day.)

Last week, I went to the media day for the grand opening of the Great Wolf Lodge, New England, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. If you’re asking, “where the heck is Fitchburg?”, you’re not alone. To outsiders, Massachusetts is divided into three places: Cape Cod, Boston and the Berkshires. But some of the most beautiful parts of New England are in middle Massachusetts, like Fitchburg, which is just off Route 2, and the gateway up to the Mohawk Trail, a drive that ends on a literal hairpin turn at the edge of a cliff.

Jobs are badly needed in this area, which makes me hope the Great Wolf Lodge leads to a real surge in tourism in this area. Fitchburg officials obviously hope so as well because Mayor Lisa A. Wong as well as several other local officials made a point to attend the grand opening.  I spoke to a number of staff members. Nearly all were local and glad to see the hotel open. Aside: how small a town is Fitchburg? As I was checking in, one of the staff realized that she’d gone to high school with the son of the other staff member. That small.

Economics aside, I haven’t had such a relaxing day with my twins in forever.

What led to this near-miracle?

Several factors:

Magiquest:

The role-playing game exclusive to Great Wolf Lodge in which you use an actual wand to interact with the computerized stations all throughout the hotel. Yes, it does make you feel like you’re a real wizard and it can be played by all ages. It’s sort of a computerized live-action role play and it’s great.

The indoor water park and water slides:

I’ve been recovering from surgery for a torn tendon in my ankle, so I let the twins loose in the water park and took a seat. For nearly three hours. They stopped back in when they became thirsty.

The staff:

The reason it can be so harrowing for me on vacation is that I’m dealing with special needs kids who need a lot of watching. It was with baited breath that I let them play Magiquest on their own, albeit with a phone so they or staff could contact me. They’re teenagers now and they need to do things on their own and it worked very well. But I also noticed several staff helping them through the experience, including a gentleman called Alex who had patience. Thank you.

There was another cool part of the park that my youngest son loved. It’s the Howlin’ Timbers Peak Ropes Course, which is a rope walk/climb up high enough that you must use a harness that hooks you to a safety belt. Because you will slip and fall.

Basically, this was a place where they could actively play and be engaged the entire day, with no lines. I imagine it’ll get more crowded as the school lets out but this would be a perfect place for a geeky family retreat, as everyone seems to love Magiquest.

The sad part is Magiquest isn’t included if you stay overnight. However, the Ropes Course and the indoor waterpark are included, as well as the indoor play area. There’s also an arcade but that struck me like all arcades: a money sink for parents. Right now, you can book a family one-room suite on their website for $153. For $63.75 each additionally, you can buy a pass that includes a Magiquest game, plus a wand, and a few other extras. Note: deals may change as the summer continues.

We’ll probably go back for a day trip, since we have the wands and they remain usable for the foreseeable future. Playing another round will cost about $14 each.

Onto further adventures!

I’m going with the youngest son to Special Edition New York Comic Con on Saturday and Sunday. He’s on a quest to go to the Archie Comics panel on Sonic the Hedgehog. I’m after one of Gail Simone’s scripts. We’re both looking to commission some artwork.

I’ll report back next week on the swag.

The Cliffs of Insanity: #YesAllWomen

Sensation Comics, Wonder Woman

Sensation Comics promotional art by Phil Jimenez, copyright DC Comics

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”–Maya Angelou, who passed away this week.

“I’d love to credit the invisible plane, but Diana’s more than her accessories. The world doesn’t always reward women who DO things, but Wonder Woman shines a ray of hope that you can move into a man’s world (literally!), kick ass, take names, and still have a rewarding life with friendship and love and family.”—new Digital-first Sensation Comics Editor Kristy Quinn.

Usually, I start these columns talking about “adventures” in climbing the cliffs of insanity but this past week seems to have exposed a raw nerve of emotion in many women, beginning with the murders in California by a man who went on long, hateful rants about women and the men who “get” them. Adventures just doesn’t seem appropriate.

I started instead with two quotes, though they seem disparate, because they’re both aspirational. Maya Angelou was a real-life role model for many women, Wonder Woman is a fictional one. But both sentiments are part of this discussion about women, about the daily differences in our lives for being women rather than men and about how to change all of this.

So, you ask, why did so many women get angry at a probably insane murderer’s manifesto, especially as it was likely a product of mental illness? Why did the #yesallwomen hashtag explode on Twitter?

Because this murderer’s actions were only a degree or two off from things we have to think about or deal with in our daily lives.

We’ve all received an angry response if we turn someone down for a date, we’ve all felt unsafe alone at night, we’ve all had to learn, at times, to carry our keys as possible weapons, and we’ve all had to hear the lectures about being careful around men while drinking because that’s just an invitation to rape. And many women have been sexually assaulted. The latest statistics put that at 1 in 6. Which means if 21 women read this column, then at least three of them have been raped. And approximately 10 of them will have experienced other types of sexual violence.

Mostly, we go on with our lives, forging ahead, doing our jobs, and having fun. But I believe now it’s time to start looking at the way things are and decide it’s not acceptable. And the first step to changing things is pointing out where they need changing and why.  Because a full 45 percent of American women experienced other sexual violence, including unwanted contact or coercion.caged bird, maya angelou

So here are my contributions to the conversation.

#yesallwomen because I’m the only one of the GeekDad.com writers told to go back to “licking” someone’s taint for daring to criticize a television show.

#yesallwomen because female directors and producers are still a rarity in Hollywood.

#yesallwomen because when I wrote a post about how a popular SuperBowl Audi commercial reflected rape culture and the girl as a prize, I got comments that proved why this whole discussion is necessary.

#yesallwomen because even on forums I consider safe and friendly, I still get asked “really, does this stuff happen a lot?” Yes, yes, it does.

#yesallwomen because we don’t have a female superhero movie yet.

#yesallwomen because the romance genre is constantly derided and that has very much to do with the fact it’s fiction written mostly by women with female protagonists. Other genres, like mystery and SF, still get some respect.

#yesallwomen because everyone knows Stephen King is the most prolific writer but no one seems to know Nora Roberts is his equal in that department.

#yesallwomen because this hashtag on Twitter was going too fast for me to track on my Tweetdeck column for five days.

#yesallwomen because even in the seemingly progressive future universe of Star Trek, a woman still ends up running around in her underwear because that looks sexy.

#yesallwomen because while adding a single woman to the cast of Star Wars was forward-thinking in 1976, it’s way behind the times in 2014

#yesallwomen because men still aspire to “get your money for nothin’/and your chicks for free,” as if women are a commodity.

#yesallwomen because the world almost lost Maya Angelou’s voice forever in the aftermath of sexual violence.

I could go on but you all get the point. You’re the converted.

But it’s important to keep speaking out because there were still pages dedicated to this murderer to tell him he did a good job or people who don’t realize that some behavior from men puts them in the same corner as this guy.

Or you could just listen to Louis CK: (Disclaimer: I think heart disease might have caught up to women in the U.S.)

The Cliffs of Insanity: GeekOuts, Troll Hunts, and Feminism

We Love Fine Carol Corps

Higher, Further, Faster, More. We Love Fine, Carol Corps

“I don’t want the crumbs anymore; I want the cake & icing. Everyone deserves the cake & icing.” –Bille Jean King.

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. Since we last spoke, a major comic site reboots its entire forum community in response to being called for allowing trolls, I had a major geekout, there was a great talk on the need for superheroines, and I’m surprised by my story being called “feminist” when didn’t realize it was that radical.

But, first, I have to share the geek out with you. My first steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, came out two weeks ago. I had some nice reviews, including one at CriminalElement.com. That was great all by itself but then I received the online newsletter from CriminalElement.com. And not only is my book in it but I’m on a virtual shelf right next to Sex Criminals: Volume 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.

I’m a virtual shelf with Fraction and Zdarsky.

kermit flail

Kermit Muppet Flail. copyright Jim Henson Company.

Yes, I’ve saved that newsletter. I was thinking of printing it out and framing it but that seems a bit extreme.

Now a follow-up to my column about Internet Bullying.

I wrote it because I was sick and tired of “don’t read the comments” mindset in which we can’t talk about issues like adults on public spaces. I particularly called out ComicBookResources.com not only because they’d allowed trolling comments on a post in which former DC Editor Janelle Asselin critiqued a Teen Titans cover but also because of my own bad experience with CBR.

CBR used to host Gail Simone’s forum until it was clear that the moderators there weren’t taking homophobic and the worst kind of insults to female posters seriously. As one of the co-moderators of the forum, I took some flak but it was nothing compared to what my co-moderator took for being a lesbian.

Gail Simone pulled the forum and moved us over to Brian Bendis’ Jinxworld site, where we are today.

Let me put that another way:

One of the most prominent female writers in mainstream comics pulled her board from one of comic’s most popular websites because that website dismissed concerns about continued and frequent bullying and trolling of female and LGBT posters.

So when CBR announced on April 30 that they were completely rebooting its forums and would no longer allow these types of comments, my first thought wasn’t “all right, good for them,” it was “what took you so long?” (Gail Simone also had the latter reaction.) I did wonder if my column had anything to do with it. It was probably part of it, since I called them out on the reason Gail Simone’s forum was no longer there, but I suspect it was an amalgam of things.

Though it did make me think that next time I write a column, I should wish for a pony. Or maybe I should wish for women to be more than a tiny fraction of the women in the new Star Wars. (I’m more likely to get the pony.)

Speaking of dreams coming true….

Feminist? Strong Female Characters?

First, there’s an incredible post about wanting gender-swapping heroes and heroines at the Argh Ink blog which has over 100 comments already. Fun to read and yet another voice in the rising chorus for a female-led superhero movie.

And it’s made me think about some of the reviews I’ve gotten for the steampunk novel. Some of them mention that the main character, Joan Krieger, is the proverbial strong female character and that the novel is feminist.

The Curse of The Brimstone Contract © Samhain Publishing LtdThis made me raise my eyebrows because I wasn’t think “write a strong female character” or “write a feminist book,” when I wrote Curse of the Brimstone Contract. I was thinking that an intelligent, ambitious young woman like Joan would naturally want more than the hand she was dealt. As a designer and seamstress, she sees the benefits of the nobility from the other side of the looking glass. She has the education and drive to do more than marry an eventual husband who will run her business but she’s stuck. I’d imagine a young male merchant in that situation who wanted more control of his destiny might feel the same, though at least he’d be allowed to run the business.

And, of course, the society in the steampunk world is in flux due to all the changes, as it was in our own Victorian Age. It was an age of questioning in science, in society, in politics. Again, it seemed natural that a smart person caught in this situation would chafe at restrictions.

What I’m saying is this didn’t strike me so much as “feminist” as “what a character in that situation might feel.” And I’m a little concerned that Joan is seen as unusual. Why is she so radical? Shouldn’t  a multi-dimensional character be the default?

But I guess it is. I believe I was nonplussed because I hope every female character is like that. (Male characters too but they usually are.)

Well, that’s cool. Joan is called a “radical” in the book and she doesn’t like being a pawn. The hero, a Sherlock Holmes-analogue, accepts her for that but, again, not unusual given the very first short Holmes story that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote for The Strand magazine was “A Scandal in Bohemia.” And in that story, Holmes loses. To a woman. Who outsmarts him.

I wonder what Doyle would have said if someone called that story feminist. Probably not too much, I guess, given he had a love/hate relationship with his most famous creation anyway.

But Joan’s isn’t so unusual. She’s just the latest in a long line. Unfortunately, some of these earlier characters were kept under the rug. Wonder Woman gets depowered for a while. Then she’s brought back. Except now she’s Superman’s girlfriend. Black Canary is created in 1947 as a superhero with a male sidekick and eventually becomes Green Arrow’s girlfriend. Ms. Marvel is raped and impregnated by an interdimensional being and the rest of the Avengers think it’s cool she’s having a baby. (Yes, this was an actual storyline.)

This is why a Wonder Woman movie is important. It’s why the Carol Corps and Captain Marvel is important. History has tended to erase the women. And that’s nowhere better said in this Hugo-nominated essay  “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley:

“Let’s just put it this way: if you think there’s a thing–anything–women didn’t do in the past, you’re wrong. Women–now and then–even made a habit of peeing standing up. They wore dildos. So even things the funny-ha-ha folks immediately raise a hand to say “It’s impossible women didn’t do X!” Well. They did it. Except maybe impregnate other women. But even then, there were, of course, intersex folks categorized as “women” who did just that.

But none of those things fit our narrative. What we want to talk about are women in one capacity: their capacity as wife, mother, sister, daughter to a man.  I see this in fiction all the time.  I see it in books and TV. I hear it in the way people talk.” (But do go read the whole thing, not just the quote, it’s brilliant.)

Let’s keep our narrative this time.

Free Comic Book Day: Children’s Highlights: Jellaby, Maddy Kettle, and Midnight Tiger

maddy_cover-01_sm_lg

Photo courtesy Top Shelf

Now that you’ve read Lisa Tate’s article on why parents should embrace Free Comic Book Day this Saturday,  I wanted to provide a preview of the stories that will be available, especially to kids.

I received nearly all the FCBD issues from Diamond Distributors last week and quickly divided them into three piles: all ages, young readers from about eight to twelve, and teen plus.

To my surprise, the comics available in the first two categories far exceeded those in the last category. Why a surprise? Because right now, the market seems dominated by DC and Marvel stories that are at least teen-rated.

But the selection available for FCBD shows that there are many great stories available for kids and tweens.

ACTION-LAB-FCBD14-Skyword-Midnight-Tig-58981

Photo via Action Labs

These include familiar properties like Sonic the Hedgehog, DC’s Tiny Titans, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Rocket Raccoon, The Simpsons, Smurfs, Adventure Time, a preview of Fantagraphics collection of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Hello Kitty, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Tick,  and a wonderful manga version of Les Miserables.

But it also included several lesser known titles that I’d highly recommend for all-ages or for younger children.

Jellaby FCBD

Page from FCBD edition of Adventures of Jellaby (Capstone)

The Adventures of Jellaby (Capstone) by Kean Soo:

A 10-year-old girl rescues a lost monster, and adventures and humor result. So adorable that it reminded me of Owly. I want to hug the poor monster.

Suitable for adults too. The “aww…” factor is quite high.

The Adventures of Maddy Kettle (Top Shelf) by Eric Orchard: 

A preview of the fantasy series starring an eleven-year-old girl with a pet toad and two parents who have been magicked into kangaroo rats. The art style reminded me, in a good way, of Jill Thompson’s Scary Godmother. There is a full volume of stories already collected for any children hooked from the free edition.

Skyward & Midnight Tiger (Action Labs) by (W) Jeremy Dale & Various (A) Jeremy Dale, Ray-Anthony Height (CA) Jeremy Dale

Skyward is the adventures of Quinn and his dog Jack in a fantastic world that features a berserker enemy. The FCBD edition focuses on Quinn’s eventual enemy, the Midnight Tiger, and how he and the warring clans were created. I love this manga-influenced art style, and while there isn’t much of Quinn and Jack in the FCBD edition, the Tiger’s origin is compelling. As with Maddy Kettle, a full volume of Skyward is already collected and available for $10 at Jeremy Dale’s website.

These are my picks among the FCBD offerings but you may want to check out the full list of what’s available at the FCBD website and see what your kids like as well. Many of them have free download previews available, so even if you can’t make it to a shop, you might find some new favorites.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Internet Bullying

Wonder Woman #25 cover by Aaron Lopresti, copyright DC Comics

Wonder Woman #25 cover by Aaron Lopresti, copyright DC Comics

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. This week was a banner one for the internet, as a former DC editor who happened to be female had the unmitigated gall to criticize the composition of an upcoming DC cover and received rape threats for her professional opinion.

That brought out defenders and yet another talk about the sexual harassment women face in comics and on the internet. Why do we keep having this discussion? Because even now, some men still ask, “Do men really talk to women on the internet this way?” (Warning: Some obscene language in that thread, some of it by me.)

But the talk got me thinking about message boards and comment threads. And I kept running one question over and over in my mind—why are bullying and general harassment, especially toward anyone non-straight, non-white, non-male—allowed in many internet public spaces?

We’ve all seen it. Don’t Read the Comments! people say. And I’m wondering two things:

1. Why are we allowing those kinds of comments to be published in a public space in the first place?

2. If we want to allow those comments so as to bring the attitudes into the light, why are we allowing them to go unchallenged? If the trolls take over the comment threads, pushing out any reasonable discussion, doesn’t that let the bullies win? So why do we let them?

To backtrack, I want to define “public space” not as a space run NOT by the government but a space where the general public is allowed to comment, especially on spaces run as commercial enterprises to allow public discourse. If a private individual wants to run their site and allow whatever they want, that’s one thing.

Teen Titans #1 Cover by George Perez, copyright DC Comics

Teen Titans #1 Cover by George Perez, copyright DC Comics, which we can all agree is awesome.

But if BleedingCool.com, a commercial website, opens forums to allow discussion, that’s another.

Because in the latter case, I’m saying that website has a responsibility to not allow the inmates to run the asylum.

When I worked for daily and weekly newspapers, we used to get letters to the editor. Those letters wouldn’t be published in the newspaper if they were obviously insulting, profane, or anonymous. There were standards for letters to the editor. In some case, we published anonymous letters but only if we knew and had vetted the identity of the letter writer.

Basically, the newspapers had standards. Those standards were in place because the paper was giving a public forum to someone and felt a responsibility to keep that forum a civil place. (To say nothing of vetting facts so the newspaper couldn’t be sued.) All that went by the wayside with the rise of the internet. Even comments on reputable newspaper websites aren’t held to that high standard.

In some ways, this is a good thing, because people can now talk directly to each other without getting approval from a third party.

In some ways, this is a bad thing because people can now talk directly to each other.

Anonymously.

And with that ability to hide, the horrible side of some humans take hold and we get rape threats over an opinion about a comic book cover. Or we get a small group of people who can basically drive women away from whole sites that talk about comics. I’d love to go back to Comicbookresources.com or even over to BleedingCool.com to talk comics. But my experience at CBR ended badly, with an entire forum being moved, and the comment threads at Bleeding Cool are basically a cesspool, especially if one has the gall to point out that maybe women or minorities or gays in comics or movies are not portrayed as well as they could be.

Why should I have to avoid these sites? Why should this small subset of humanity basically drive all the reasonable people away? Why should I have to risk sexual harassment on those boards in order to talk about comics?

Answer: I shouldn’t. No one should.

Which brings us back to our two choices. Either moderation that drives away the bullies violating Wheaton’s Law—Don’t Be a Dick—or taking on the bullies head on until they’re the ones feeling unsafe in that space. Ban them. Require them to put their name behind their words. Call them out. Something.

Because silence equals assent, as was made clear in this column, “Fake Geek Guys” at Comics Alliance by Andy Khouri.

Guys out there reading this column, if a women or LGBT individual or a non-white person is picked on in a public forum for who they are and you do nothing to defend them, the targeted individual is going to think they have no allies, that they’re alone, that no one basically gives a crap. And I can’t argue with that reasoning.

Women and others in these groups are used to having each other’s backs. But we get tired of always having to do it. If you really think this kind of thing is vile and want to stamp it out, if you really do give a damn, step up, not back.

Speak up instead of shrugging. Suggest the person doing the harassing go away instead of telling the target not to read and get worked up over that stuff.

And websites, unless you want others to naturally assume those people doing the harassing represent your website and what it’s all about, do something.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Forgotten Creators and Superhero Themes

CaptainAmericaWinter

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Freedom or Security? copyright Marvel Entertainment

Welcome to this week’s installment climbing the cliffs of insanity in pop culture. These past couple of weeks were thought-provoking ones for me, as I absorbed in a single gulp Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the newest episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and began the complete box set of Hill Street Blues.

What do they all have in common? The first two are, on the surface, about one thing and, yet, beneath the surface about something more thought-provoking than first appears. The question remains whether the MAoS will get there as well but this past week’s episode showed promise.

But first, I wanted to give props to a director that I’d never heard of before this week and yet one who obviously has had a huge influence, particularly on our newly geeky world.

What Do Batman ’66, Star Trek, Hill Street Blues and Remington Steele all have in common?

Bob Butler.

If your first thought is “who the heck is Bob Butler?” I’m with you. I’m guessing only the most hardcore Trek fans know he directed the original pilot of the show, broadcast later as the two-part episode “The Cage.”

"Let's be careful out there!" Michael Conrad, Hill Street Blues, copyright MTM.

“Let’s be careful out there!” Michael Conrad, Hill Street Blues, copyright MTM.

But Butler should be better known. In a long career, he put a personal stamp on all the shows above. He’s responsible for adding in “Biff” “Pow” subtitles in Batman, he pioneered the hand-held camera work in Hill Street Blues that led to a revolution in television and movie directing, and he also co-created one of my favorite shows from the late 1980s, Remington Steele, which launched the career of one Pierce Brosnan as the “fictional” title character.

I was moved to look up Butler after watching the bonus features on the Hill Street Blues complete seven-season box set. Nearly everyone, from co-creator Steven Bochco to the actors interviewed gave credit to Butler for the signature look of the pilot that featured the hand-held work during roll call, people talking over each other, and more going on in a single frame than should be possible. It was so revolutionary, Bochco said, that people didn’t know how to watch it. The pilot, he said, tested “though the floor” with a group of potential viewers. NBC put it on anyway.

Happily, there’s some great stuff on the internet available on Butler’s long career, including an interview with the man himself.

MAoS could have used Butler to find some sort of signature look. Instead, it’s just finding its way at nearly the end of the season.

But I urge everyone to check out the Hill Street Blues complete box set. Aside from the continual use of corded phones, the show doesn’t seem very dated at all. It’s chaotic, funny, tragic, and ridiculous all at the same time. Also, I’m in love with the way the late Michael Conrad delivers his lines.

What Does The Winter Soldier Mean Anyway?

I expected Captain America: The Winter Soldier to be a good story. I expected to enjoy Anthony Mackie as the Falcon and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. And I knew the action sequences would be terrific.

What I didn’t expect was underneath the big-budget action movie would be the theme of what freedom really means, to individuals and to countries.

MEGA SPOILERS AHOY!!!

Captain America has always been a political superhero. In his very first issue, he’s punching out Hitler. (Which led to the comical scene in Captain America: The First Avenger.) During the 1970s, Steve Rogers even quit being Captain America for a time because he felt he couldn’t represent the American dream while under direct orders from the American government. And there’s also the famous single issue when he almost ran for President of the Marvel Universe.

He’s known as much for his inspirational value as for his ability to punch out villains. Which is why I was so thrilled to see Steve making a speech to appeal to the best in humanity when he invaded S.H.I.E.L.D. to defeat the HYDRA within. And which is why his insistence that “all the secrets be out there,” is utterly in keeping with his comics persona. I’m not certain how much the writers of this film wanted to reflect the current political climate simply because they may just have been following the character instead and concluded the Captain always reflects the current political climate.

But did Captain America do the equivalent of a Snowden? Was he right to let all the information be released? Did S.H.I.E.L.D. have a point in creating those three carriers to target people and save lives before crimes are committed? (The last is answered with a very resounding “NO!” in the movie.) Is Nick Fury as bad as Alexander Pierce? And will the release of the information have any negative side effects?

Steve Rogers has always consistently believed in the power of human goodness and freedom in the comics, and he made a similar call here. His inability to kill the brainwashed Winter Soldier is symbolic as is his inability to become cynical and believe that people, if given a choice, will choose to do the right thing. Bucky Barnes is humanity warped by secrets and lies.

And Captain America saves him.

Those are some pretty heavy thoughts from a superhero smash ‘em, big budget movie.

I only wish MAoS had followed up the themes as well as they followed up the plot events of The Winter Soldier. The show kicked into full gear this week as S.H.I.E.L.D. basically collapsed and they found out who was a friend and who was an enemy. It appears the difference between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA may simply be an inability to summarily execute people. Well, that’s good, though it doesn’t go into the fact that Coulson himself killed two people who might have been S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in his own search for the truth of his resurrection.

It’s a good character development that Coulson, the nicest and most idealistic of spies, has gotten his hands on money in his pursuit of “the truth.” But I’m hoping that complexity is explored in the next three episodes. The movie gave a hopeful ending to letting the truth set you free, while the show is asking the question of what truth and trust actually are.

At least, I hope they’re doing that. So far, it’s a bit muddy. So far, they haven’t done a good job following up on character development but, I admit, in retrospect Ward’s rape by Lorelei has some shadings simply because it’s entirely possible he wanted to go bad and didn’t need any urging.

We’ll see. The show has earned a reprieve from me, at least until the end of the season.

The Cliffs of Insanity: NickMom Geeks Out

This week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity include my guest-appearance on NickMom’s Take Me To Your Mother show, and a few musings on Hollywood and geekdom, especially on that apparently elusive unicorn, the geek girl who goes to the movies.

You can view the full episode of “Andrea Geeks Out” in the video above, though if you’re looking for me, my minions and I are about halfway in. Still, if you do that, you miss the Scrabble moms teaching Andrea about the word “douchebro” and, at the end, Andrea goes LARPing and has a great time. I’m particularly proud of my youngest son’s appearance.

Putting my not-so-glamorous appearance on television aside, I have an announcement to make.

I Can Quit You, Arrow

Arrow’s been teetering on the edge for me the last five or six episodes and last week’s Birds of Prey showcase sent me off the cliff. Not that there was anything spectacularly wrong, it’s just there was nothing entirely right either. It bothered me last season that Helena Bertinelli’s Huntress devolved into a cop killer but I thought, well, she’ll evolve. No, in her return appearance, she once again showed no moral qualms about shooting or killing police officers or innocent civilians. Huntress is an anti-hero, not a stone cold killer.

Moira Queen, Arrow

Yes, Moira, I know exactly how you feel. Image copyright Warner Bros. & DC Entertainment

In any case, it’s hard to enjoy a show when the main character is written as a horrible human being. Ollie last season was depressed and suffering from PTSD and seeing him awaken and become more human was a great story. This season has turned into “all my exes,” with Oliver angry at everyone around him for keeping secrets, while he once again jumps into bed with the sister of his true love, making him the biggest hypocrite of all.

Plus, there was too much stupid in this episode. I’m not sure who was dumber: Ollie, for letting his sister walk home alone in a bad neighborhood even though he knows everyone is in danger from Slade Wilson, or Laurel, for not recognizing her sister in a mask and wig. I’m giving this victory to Ollie since his stupidity put someone else in danger and Laurel’s only a danger to herself for the moment.

For me to come back for a third season, Arrow will have to significantly improve. But I gravely fear we’re headed for a fridging of Moira, who the writers don’t seem to have any idea what to do with, or either Laurel or Sara. Not interested.

But onto movies that keep getting better and better…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is out next week!

I couldn’t think of a cute subject heading for that because I’m too excited. Here’s the latest trailer. Enjoy.

Now, can we get a Black Widow movie?

There’s no audience for it? Yes, there is. Check out this report from The Mary Sue about the demographics of the movie-going public.

Here’s my favorite quote:

“But what about people seeing the largely white male worlds depicted in the multiplexes? Turns out that a whopping 52% of the moviegoing public is women. In fact, “Females have comprised a larger share of moviegoers (people who went to a movie at the cinema at least once in the year) consistently since 2009.” That’s right. The majority of people who go to the movies are women, but we’re seeing stories that are about men 85% of the time.” 

So, now that we’ve established we (the female movie-going public) have money clout, here’s my wish list:

Wonder Woman, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, and another, better, televised version of Birds of Prey, not necessarily in that order. And while we’re at it, how about a big screen version of Eve Dallas?

The world needs to be introduced to Eve Dallas.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Superheroes On Television Still Need Work

AgentsShieldWard

Agent Grant Ward of S.H.I.E.L.D., copyright Marvel Entertainment & ABC Television.

WARNING: HUGE SPOILERS, EVEN FOR DOWNTON ABBEY

Welcome to this week’s installment climbing the cliffs of insanity, where I take a trip through some superheroes on television. We’ll touch on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, Gotham, and Flash.

I was liking S.H.I.E.L.D. Now I’m sort of angry about where the show is going and definitely angry about the rape of Agent Ward and how it’s played out so far.

I liked Arrow last season, liked the beginning of this season but now I’m getting bored. However, Barry Allen was great when he guest-starred on Arrow, so I’m hoping the upcoming Flash series will be one to watch.

And Gotham? Gotham is like someone reached into my head and create a show just for me.

But first, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Ward.

Agent Ward was raped on this episode. Lorelei, an Asgardian escapee, took over his mind, made him fall in love with her, and the spent a night having sex. This is non-consensual sex. This is rape.

It’s not a place I expected A0S to ever go. I’m not thrilled it did, simply because the show has been very PG since it started and I began to assume it was always geared to an all-ages audience. However, having gone there, I hoped the show would deal with the implications of what happened to Ward.

No, instead, he was the one apologizing and no one seemed to be concerned about his trauma. In fact, May slugged him.

It’s possible they will deal with Ward’s trauma sometime later this season but there were no indications of that in this episode. Instead, it showcased the double-standard regarding male rape, that men are always happy to get some, and if the women is beautiful, they can’t be traumatized. Even though it was clear Ward is more than a little attached to his lover, Agent Melinda May.

It reminded me strongly of how Tom Branson’s situation was handled in Downton Abbey this season. The scheming maid plied Tom with whiskey and then snuck into his room for sex. She had full knowledge that he was drunk and took advantage of it.

In both cases, if the genders were reversed, there would be an uproar. There certainly was one over Anna’s violent rape in that same episode of Downton Abbey. Imagine if Melinda May had been grabbed by Loki and hypnotized into having sex? Uproar! I suspect the only uproar over male rape would be if the raped happened by another man. Say, if Loki had raped Hawkeye in The Avengers as well as mind-controlling him.

Instead, several people I spoke to this week shrugged off Ward’s rape. Hey, the big hunky agent had some hot sex with a hot villain. What’s the problem?

In Comics, Women, and Rape and Women, Television, and Rape, I wrote that much of problems associated with depicting rape in popular entertainment centered around rape not being about the victim but how the *man* reacts to the rape. Downton Abbey‘s rape was handled exactly that way, with everyone worried about Bates killing someone rather than how Anna was coping. It was all about Bates. Tom’s situation was at least about Tom, rather than someone else.

But it looks like Ward’s rape may be more about the reaction from May and, if so, would follow in that pattern.

That’s extremely disappointing in a show that I’ve come to enjoy, especially since I watch it with the whole family.

(And we won’t even mention the murder of those two guards either, though at least the show was handling that…)

And onto a certain emerald arch…

Arrow writers, you have failed this show.

First, I confess, I have a horrible fangirl SQUEE! happening every time the Arrow and Black Canary go into action together. Omigod, Arrow and Canary are riding a motorcycle together after the bad guys. SQUEE. Arrow and Canary exchange weapons mid-fight. SQUEE. Arrow and Canary talk morality together. SQUEE.

Well, you get the picture. But I need more than that. New York Times Bestseller Author details some of the reasons in this great post about Arrow’s storytelling.

For me, while failure is probably too strong a word, the storytelling certainly has lost its way.

I’m in the minority, at least among comic fans, because the consensus among them seems to be “greatest superhero show ever.” (I think they’re underestimating original Bionic Woman, myself.) They love the nods to the comics, they love the superhero action, and seem to forgive a number of incredibly idiotic plot developments like Moira’s trial for genocide being over in ONE DAY and then a bank backing Moira’s subsequent run for mayor.

And, of course, that’s putting aside Oliver’s refusal to talk to his mother after she confesses a secret that he’d already said wouldn’t change his mind about her. I suppose you could argue it’s character development but not if we’re back to last year’s relationship all over again. That’s going backwards.

Basically, the show is giving a lot of fanboy SQUEE moments too, so it’s forgiven by fanboys and fangirls.

But those moments aren’t enough. The first season had a very specific focus and character arc for Oliver and those closest to him. The overall single Big Bad gave it focus. This season was supposed to be about Oliver’s journey to becoming a hero. But the Big Bad is diffuse this year. Yes, there’s Slade Wilson (love you, Manu Bennet), but there’s also Merlyn lurking about, and then we lost focus dealing with Laurel’s ridiculous breakdowns, Diggle’s been pushed to the side, and what the heck happened to Summer Glau and running Queen Industries?

There’s a lot of stuff going on, it’s halfway through the season, and it’s not getting any more coherent.

Give me more than a SQUEE show, okay?

Grant Gustin as the Flash, show copyright Warner Bros. & DC Entertainment

Grant Gustin as the Flash, show copyright Warner Bros. & DC Entertainment

Let’s hope Flash does better. In the meantime, everyone is debating the Scarlet Speedster’s costume.

And now to a show whose very concept made me lose my mind, in a good way…

Gotham. Without Batman.

Yes, I realize that will send most people scratching their heads because what kind of show can you make set in Gotham City without Batman.

You focus on Jim Gordon and his battle against corruption in the years before Batman.

I have a thing for police shows and I especially love the cops in superhero fiction. Gordon is my favorite among those. Since the publication of Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Gordon’s role has slowly become more prominent in the Bat-universe and, while he had some dumb moments in the recent Batman films, he still came across as a strong character and now one firmly rooted in public consciousness as something of an action hero.

Gotham-TV-Show-Fox-Logo

Gotham logo courtesy Fox.

A superhero police procedural with a strong season-long arc about Gordon trying (and somewhat failing) to take on corruption all by itself is a strong concept for television. And the casting has me excited, as they’ve gone outside the box to create a diverse cast, even race-bending Sarah Essen and giving Barbara Kean, Jim’s fiancee, an actual job as a doctor. (In the comics, she’s just a long-suffering wife who eventually divorces him.)

Fox, which will air Gotham, has this summary of the show’s plans for the first season. Gordon (Ben McKenzie) starting out as a detective, paired with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and investigating the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne?

Hell, yes.

And I will  just cross my fingers and hope the show brings more quality writing and characterization than S.H.I.E.L.D and Arrow.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Honor the Past & Press Play, Not Pause

John Stewart Green Lantern

Green Lantern John Stewart in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. He’s  my kids’  favorite Green Lantern. Copyright DC Comics.

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. Today, we honor two pioneering comic creators, one of whom can still be helped. Check at the bottom of the column for how you can be a hero for the creator of Rocket Raccoon, currently appearing in the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer.

First, I wanted to talk about a comic creator, Dwayne McDuffie, who is sadly not with us any longer. Still, we can carry on his work.

I’ve talked a great deal about issues facing women in comics, particularly the lack of female writers at the big two publishers, Marvel and DC Comics. But the myriad issues facing minorities, particularly African-Americans, about breaking into comics also deserve the light shined on them as well.

“There are less writers of color in the combined creative pool of the top two publishers of comic books then there were at Milestone in 1993.” 

Yesterday marked the birthday of the late Dwayne McDuffie, who left behind a body of work that includes co-founding Milestone Media. Milestone led to McDuffie writing and story-editing episodes of  the popular Static Shock animated show. From there, McDuffie became a staff writer for the Justice League animated series and story editor and producer of Justice League Unlimited. During his time with both shows, McDuffie wrote, produced, or story-edited 69 out of the 91 episodes of the series.

If you came to a love of superheroes via the animated universe, you owe a great deal to McDuffie. He’s largely shaped the image of DC heroes to the public-at-large.

Unfortunately, McDuffie didn’t get nearly enough comic writing work during his lifetime, even from DC Comics, and there currently are no signs that either DC or Marvel is committed to providing work to minority writers of talent.

The quote above is from a column at ComicbookResources.com by creator Joseph Illidge, a former Milestone editor and currently the head writer for Verge Entertainment. Illidge’s column it part of a month-long series running on CBR, The Color Barrier, which is spotlighting a number of minority creators. 

When DC or Marvel asks who they should hire, they should immediately check out the creators from this CBR series and also this list of Quality Black Produce Independent Comic Titles from the foolscrusade tumblr.

Why is representation so important, for women, for minorities, and for others currently locked out of the mainstream superhero world?

Because, superheroes have moved beyond the realm of comics and become pop culture icons. The stories our society tells about itself is our present-day mythology. If the only people who can be heroes are straight white men and the only people who can create these heroes are straight white men, what does that say about us as a society?

Nothing good.

And speaking of honoring storytellers….

Bill Mantlo needs your help.

This is your chance to be a hero by helping a storyteller from Marvel’s history. I knew Mantlo’s work first from Iron Man and collected his runs on Micronauts, Rom: Spaceknight, and The Spectacular Spider-Man. He’s entered the news this week for two reasons.

One is that he created Rocket Raccoon. Two,  he was struck by a car in 1992 and suffered catastrophic head injuries. He’s required full-time medical care ever since.

Rocket Raccoon

Rocket Raccoon as written by Bill Mantlo, copyright Marvel Comics

As his work for Marvel was work-for-hire, Mantlo and his caretakers get absolutely nothing in compensation from The Guardians of the Galaxy movie. This isn’t the time or place to debate the merits of work-for-hire but it is the time and place to ask Marvel Entertainment to consider making a gesture to someone who contributed so much to a property likely to make them millions of dollars in profits this year.

But you can be a hero too, either by directly donating funds to Mantlo’s family by using these buttons provided by comic writer Greg Pak or by donating to The Hero Initiative, a charity that specializes in helping out comic creators in serious financial need.

We’re living in a golden age of geekdom where it’s now popular to love superheroes and show off our geek pride. Let’s remember those that provided the imagination and the stories on which the framework of the current day success is built.

And let’s also remember that the framework will be stronger if it includes everyone, on the page and behind the scenes, rather than being restricted to only one segment of our society.

Rocket_Raccoon_film

Rocket Raccoon in The Guardians of the Galaxy, image Marvel Entertainment

Oh @%#*!!! Is That Today? Very Last-Minute Party Activity Ideas

party idea main photo

Some last-minute party activities include a sidewalk art gallery, rune crafts, and Post-it 8-bit art. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

It’s the morning of the party. The snacks and cake are made or bought. The themed decorations, if any, are up, and about 10 to 15 kids will be buzzing around the backyard in just a few hours’ time.

Unfortunately, you’ve forgotten to find a good way to control the masses for two hours. You need to find them something to do, before the pack of cute little minions turns into their evil counterparts and starts eating the furniture.

Never fear! Here are some quick party time-fillers and take-home crafts that could be used for several themes—and actually look like you planned well in advance:

making the art

Some sticky note 8-bit art in progress.

Theme: Minecraft/Video Game Party
Idea: Sticky Note “8-Bit Art”
What You Need: 1-by-1-inch or 2-by-2-inch Post-it or other sticky notes in assorted neon colors and construction paper or poster boards (black looks best).

This craft was inspired by a recent trend of Parisian office workers in high-rise buildings, who created 8-bit window art for other offices to see. Some of these images are pretty impressive, but the beauty of 8-bit art is that it can be as simple or elaborate as you want.

Depending on how much space you want to take up with the activity, this mosaic-style craft can be done on both large and small backgrounds. Use simple images from popular retro or 8-bit style games, such as Space Invaders or Minecraft, or try to design your own. Once the design is in place, you can use a little school glue on the edges to tack the notes down a little more permanently.

Theme: Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter/Fantasy Party
Idea: Rune Making
What You Need: Black, brown, grey-speckled or other “stone-colored” polymer clay; toothpicks (for carving); small squares of cloth or square party napkins; and yarn or curling wrapping paper ribbon.

This is a craft that yields really neat results with very little effort. All the kids need to do is roll small amounts of polymer clay into balls and lightly flatten them with their thumb. Next, use a toothpick to gently etch the rune marking.

runes

Set finished runes on individual pieces of foil to keep track (left). Several smaller runes or one larger runestone can be easily made in a short amount of time (right).

The Lord of the Rings Wiki has some good Dwarf Rune examples to print out for reference or the kids can make up their own writing.  For the more ambitious rune-maker, a larger runestone can be made to resemble Kili’s Talisman. Here’s a tutorial for it from my family site.

To keep track of who made which runes, cut out squares of foil and write each person’s name on it. Most bakeable polymer needs baking for about 30 minutes at 275 degrees, so this is a good craft to get kids started on early. It also gives them something to do while the party guests are still arriving.

Towards the end of the party, let each guest place their baked and cooled runes in the center of the square cloth scrap or paper party napkin. Then, bind the corners together like a pouch using ribbon or twine. Little pre-made pull-string pouches can also be used, if you have time to hit the craft store.

Theme: Mary Poppins/Art/Cartoon Party
Idea: Sidewalk Art Show
What You Need: Sidewalk chalk (and a sidewalk).

This activity travels well, so it will work anywhere from a home to a public park. Draw a long series of square drawing spaces, so it resembles a film strip, if the drawing space allows. Each guest can get their own small chalk box (often found with party favors) or let them share a larger bucket you might already have on-hand. You can give them a theme or topic to draw or let them go crazy with their own imagination. Once the photos are completed, invite the older guests to peruse the “gallery” or let each artist give their own brief description of their street art.  Reward each guest (either verbally or with a small favor) for their own, unique “Bests” (Best Use of Purple Banana Shapes, Best Dancing Spider-Man). If the guests play along well, this “awards ceremony” can get pretty funny and be the highlight of the party.

IMG_2394

Send them on a hunt to build their own goodie bags.

Theme: Pirate/Adventure/Mystery Party
Idea: Treasure Hunt-Goodie Bag Builder
What You Need: Homemade “treasure map” or “mission list” (print about four or five copies); small containers (sandwich bags, plastic cups, etc.); and assorted small trinkets (chocolate or coins, plastic jewels, individually wrapped small candies or fruit snacks, etc).

This is a great excuse to not have to make goodie bags, but have the guests do it themselves as part of the fun.

Hide the various bag items around the party area and divide the guests into teams (about three or four guests each). Give each team a “treasure map” or “mission list” with a series of easy clues to decipher. Then, each player gets a small bag, cup, or box in which to hold their findings. Start each group at a different number on the list, so they don’t all go the same place at once—and send them on their way to solve the mystery and gather items. It’s not a race, so encourage them not to try and run each other over in the process. Once complete, each guest should have a self-filled party bag to take home. The items don’t have to be anything very fancy, since the thrill of the hunt is what makes this cool.

See GeekMom Amy’s Birthday Party Scavenger Hunt for a fun gift-finding variation on this for the birthday girl or boy to enjoy.

ectoplasm

Take home a jar of slime to share with family.

Theme: Ghostbusters/Monster/Sci-Fi Party
Idea: Jars of Slime
What You Need: Cornstarch; water; food coloring; and small jars, plastic water bottles, or sealable sandwich bags.

This a chance to take an elementary-level science experiment and turn it into a party activity by creating a Non-Newtonian fluid. Mix a good amount of water and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl, adding the cornstarch little by little until the fluid is thick and hard to stir.

What makes this fun is getting to experiment with the properties of the fluid, which changes its viscosity with stress. In other words, slap at it or hit it and it will thicken up. Gently set your hand in it, and the mixture will “liquefy” more, and the hand will slowly sink. Try to pull your hand out fast and it will get stuck. Slowly and gently move it, and will come out easily. The “messy and gross” element of this makes it especially fun for kids age 7 to 12.

This is also fun for a Halloween party and can look like The Blob or Ghostbusters’ slime, with a very small amount of red food coloring.

Give each guest a plastic zipper-lock bag, a small plastic container, or a glass jar, so they can take a sample home to show their own families and friends how it works. Sending kids home to their parents having actually learned something new is an added bonus.

Hopefully, these ideas will help ease the stress of filling time and give guests something more valuable than any favor—great memories.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Black Widow’s Changing Shape

Image courtesy Marvel Entertainment

© Marvel

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. I made a short trip out to California last week to get a look at Dreamworks Animation’s new feature, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and a look at a super-secret project that may turn out to be next fall’s Frozen–an unexpected and highly unique hit.

But while I was gone, Marvel Entertainment released this promotional poster for the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And it’s a measure of how used to overly sexualized women’s images in superhero stories that my first thought was, “Well, it’s not that bad.”

And, if this was just an isolated incident, it wouldn’t be that bad.

For example, Widow is at least looking at the camera and not showcasing her butt, as she did in the promotional images for The Avengers. Of course, her waist has been heavily photoshopped to be longer and thinner, and her hair is also arranged just so to be sexy.

But there’s that pesky context. A context that the actor in the poster is well aware. First, there was her comment in Entertainment Weekly when The Avengers was released that she knew she’d have to “wear pasties” to get a Black Widow movie approved. Then there’s her schooling of the journalist who asked her a question about her diet for the movie after asking Robert Downey Jr. about his performance. This prompted a “Why do I get the rabbit food question?” response from Johansson.

To add more context, news is trickling out about which Marvel cinematic movies have been added to “Phase 3″ of Marvel Entertainment’s plan; phase 3 meaning the movies scheduled to be made for viewing after Avengers 2. Not one of them has a female lead. And, of course, Norse Thunder God Thor and all his confusing mythology will have three movies.

How many movies does Wonder Woman, who a similar amount of confusing mythology, have?

Oh, right. ZERO.

So when I see this poster, I think of all that, and I think of how in the big splash page of the current issue of the big DC Comics event, “Forever Evil,” good and bad teams are aligned to fight and yet, up there in the corner, there was still a place to showcase Catwoman’s butt.

And I think of Felicia Day, who got flak for simply cutting her hair short, and then some irate types created a meme supposedly Day before and after her haircut. The point being, I suppose, that Day with hair is sexier. The problem with that?

The “Before” photo wasn’t even Felicia Day.

Context.

But there is hope. Queen Elsa would like to point out a few facts.

What’s that you say, Elsa? Wait, I know. You’re laughing all the way to the bank being the star of the biggest Disney movie in like, forever, surpassing $300 million in domestic ticket sales as of January, with about double that  worldwide, which puts it on the path to become the biggest grossing Disney movie of all time.

This for Frozen, which is about female friendship. In which sisters are co-leads. And this supposedly in a town that says this kind of movie just will never work. Too tricky. Girl cooties!

I’m sorry, Elsa. To Hollywood, you apparently don’t exist yet. 

elsa frozen

Elsa, from Disney’s Frozen © Disney

Oops. Watch out, guys. I wouldn’t piss her off. Or the legion of fans and moviegoers behind her.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Women, Television, & Rape

Downton Abbey Series 3

Downton Abbey Series 3–that’s when the melodrama really kicked into gear. © Carnival Films & Masterpiece

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity.

This week was a banner week for women in television, and I say that will all due sarcasm.

First, there was The Mary Sue’s post on the Celluloid Ceiling Report, showing nothing had changed for women in Hollywood in the last sixteen years, despite supposed efforts to move women in decision-making positions in Hollywood.

Then I read a brilliant essay by an Oscar-nominated director–“Hello, my name is Lexi Alexander, Difficult Bitch. Nice to meet you!”–who called b.s. on Hollywood’s supposed attempts at diversity.

And, finally, the news that a possible Wonder Woman show was nixed by the CW network before even a pilot was filmed.

Because, you know, Wonder Woman is “tricky.”

And then there was episode 2 of season 4 of Downton Abbey.

MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW FOR DOWNTON ABBEY, INCLUDING THE ENTIRETY OF SEASON 4

First, for those of you saying, “But, wait, you gave away a spoiler with your title,” you’re right, I did.

One, because this event absolutely deserves a trigger warning for the roughly one-third of the female population who have been the victim of sexual assaults, and two because if I told you that a horrible thing happened to a woman on DA and she didn’t die, you’d know exactly what I was talking about anyway.

That’s how prevalent rape is as a plot device. And, make no mistake, this is rape as plot device in a soap opera, not a serious look at how women dealt with rape in the 1920s.

I ranted a while back in a cliffs of insanity column, on Comics, Women, and Rape, and how it’s used as the worse thing that can happen to the men in the life of the woman who’s been assaulted. Of course, misuse of rape as a plot device isn’t limited to comics. Television has issues too. Not just Downton Abbey. This season also saw a female cop nearly raped by an acquaintance on Blue Bloods, which would have been an interesting storyline except for the fact that the episode was about what a great guy her partner was, as he man-splained why she should report the assault.

I theorize that the lack of women writing, producing, and directing our popular entertainment may have something to do with all of this.

DA isn’t part of Hollywood, being a British production, but series creator and writer Julian Fellowes has fallen prey to the same kind of mistake. He has done some interviews explaining why he choose for the brutal rape of Anna to happen in Season 4, mainly resting his position on that rape is traditionally a problem for women and would especially be an issue for women in the 1920s, just as women inheriting an estate is.

Well, I agree. Rape was definitely a problem in the 1920s (it is still a problem now) and especially in the servant class who had no power to punish the rapists. Women who were raped were  absolutely viewed as soiled and wrong.

But all that is beside the point because DA has completely lost the right to pull the realism card to defend the rape.

To start:

1. There’s the miraculous cure of injuries from World War I.

Sure, the poor footman who had cannon fodder stamped on his head died horribly yet in true soap opera fashion, of course, marrying his true love for a last moment of happiness. That is so pure soap opera melodrama, it’s not funny.

Then Matthew is sadly paralyzed–more melodrama–yet still manages to look as gorgeous and healthy as before his injuries. We see him be stoic and self-sacrificing. Do we see him struggling to use the bathroom? Clean himself? No, all we see him is manly declare that he’s no good for Mary because he might not be able to have children. We don’t see him lose any dignity at all. And then, magically, he’s cured. Oops, misdiagnosis. No lasting trauma, no thing. Again, absolutely pure soap opera.

For good measure, I give you poor Thomas’ hand. He took a bullet right through the middle of it. For a while, it bothered him. But then, it didn’t. All better. No problem with fine motor movements that might keep him from doing the job of a valet, no mention of a lingering pain. Yes, that’s realistic. Not.

2. The servant/master relationships on DA are by no means realistic.

When push comes to shove, the lords of DA show their humanity by helping out the poor servants who have so little. Always, it seems.  Even when one of the maids has a baby out of wedlock with one of the lordly hospital patients, they lend their home for a meeting between the maid and the upper-class grandparents. They also step up for the cowardly, incompetent Moslesley.

No one at DA is in fear of Robert swiving the servant girls–he nobly refuses!–and no one is even in fear of Carson hitting the women or otherwise abusing his position. He’s too good. He’s too pure.

This isn’t a realistic depiction of a manor house of the time period. It’s a soap opera with the trappings–excellent trappings–of the time period. I like the melodrama but let’s not pretend it isn’t what it is.

3. Rape is realistic because it was a problem of the time.

Absolutely true in real life.

Except in DA, until Anna’s rape, we never got a hint of how the women have to account for perhaps being raped. Oh, they’re careful not to be alone with men but that seems social convention, not any serious worry.

Mary let a strange man in her room. Cousin Rose has been dressing as a servant to better appeal to a hot gardener, even Sybil often spent time alone with the chauffeur, who somehow restrained himself from even trying to kiss the poor girl and instead waited years for her to say, “Hey, no problem, let’s get married.”

If you’re going to be realistic, you have to be consistently realistic. DA has consistently taken a soap opera treatment of the plot, even of tragedy.

Now we’ll take how realistic Anna’s rape, and its aftermath, is in the episode it takes place.

1. For realism’s sake, Anna would already be wary of strange men who seem overly friendly. Women would have to be of that time period. She’s one of the smartest characters on the show, and she’d know when someone was flirting with her, and that it would be inappropriate.

2. She wouldn’t need her husband to point this out to her and, even if she did, the realism of the times would make her stop and think, “You know, he might be right, I should be more careful.” Because, realism says it’s a very real problem and this is a man she’s just met.

3. Anna is brutally and horrifyingly raped and beaten. (I’ll give the show that: the scene was staged for maximum terror. It’s more realistically depicted than even Sybil’s death because if you’re dying in childbirth, that whole bed is going to be messy, there’s going to be throw-up and, well, childbirth is more than just sweating and screaming. It’s really, really, really messy.)

But having been so beaten, she pulls it together awfully fast.

–She gets Mrs. Hughes to help her change clothes.

–She gives her husband an excuse for the wound on her head.

–She walks home under her own power.

Anna after the rape.

Anna after her rape. Yep, that definitely looks like injuries from a floor/table. © Carnival Films & Masterpiece.

If we want realism, a person who’s been that brutally beaten is going to be in shock. She might even have a concussion. She’s going to be bruised on her legs, her wrists, and the area between her legs. None of these other injuries show, either directly or indirectly. She walks just fine, for example.

She’s going to be in emotional shock. Anna sort of is when Hughes finds her but then she pulls it together enough to say a curt word to her rapist instead of cringing back in horror just minutes after the deed is done?

No. She’s not. She’s going to still be incoherent and terrified.

4. Bates is a war veteran. He’s very smart and clever. He’s also, especially in this episode, very protective of Anna.

When he sees her shaken up with a nasty wound, does he grab her and hold her (or at least try) and find out what’s really wrong? Nope. Does he recognize the difference between hitting the floor/table and injuries made with fists, as he should? No. Does he see the bruises on her wrists? Oops, no, because apparently, they’re NOT THERE.

Does he notice some fear from his wife when they talk to the rapist in the hallway? No, but I’ll give him a pass for this one because Anna is apparently immune to emotional shock–even the minor kind her husband might notice–because, uh, writer reasons.

Instead, he accepts what she’s said without trying to get close to her and lets a woman who supposedly just fainted walk home alone. In the dark.

Yeah, right.

Absolute realism fail.

Absolute story fail.

But, I thought, I’ll read ahead. Maybe the rest of the season deals with it better. Apparently not. Anna moves out without telling Bates why she can’t be touched. (And Bates is smart enough to guess what this might mean.) Then the big reunion seems to be about Bates assuring her he still loves her. Oh, well, how nice of him.

As a comparison: when I watch Spartacus, I expect brutality, even rape. I also expect the show to deal with that brutality maturely, and it did, very, very well.

When I watch Downton Abbey, I expect to get melodrama. I don’t expect a horrible rape thrown in as a plot device  to keep the Anna/Bates relationship interesting. There is a story promise inherent in the way a show is presented. Spartacus never broke it.

Downton Abbey has.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Read These, Feel Better

Welcome to this year first installment in my adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity. I’ve been absent for a bit, dealing with a serious health problem concerning my youngest son, but I’ll hopefully be more on track  with the start of this new year. As a general rule, I want my entertainment to be fun, to be hopeful, and lift my spirits in some way, even if it’s just by making me think. I needed that kind of entertainment badly last month and that need inspired this week’s column, my first annual: “I Would Totally Read This While Sitting With a Relative in the Hospital Award.” Leaving megalopolisLeaving Megalopolis by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore. I put this into GeekMom’s best comics of 2013 list. This story should be a total downer, as it’s a cleverly disguised super-powered zombie story. And yet…the book absolutely made me feel better about the world, the total opposite of my experience when I tried reading The Walking Dead. More people need to read this book. But, no, you can’t have my copy. It’s a Kickstarter original. Eye of Minds The Eye of Minds by James Dashner–A teenage gamer in a dystopian future is drawn into a virtual and real world game of life and death as he searches for the mastermind enslaving gamers and threatening to burn out their real world brainwaves. Yes, this sounds depressing. Why is it here? Because when my son was feeling terrible, I brought him this book, which was recommended by his older brother. I read him the first chapter out loud, my son then demanded I turn over the book to him, and he then read it in a day. Any book that makes my kid forgot what a lousy holiday he’s having is automatically on this list.

Flash #233

This classic Flash comic was the first one I bought that featured Barry Allen. copyright DC Comics

The Flash #26 by Christos Gage and Neil Googe. I haven’t read a Flash comic in ages, though The Flash series was one of my very first buys as a kid. The cover  of that book , Flash #233, featured the Reverse Flash taking over Barry’s life and made me a fan of the character in one issue–especially as it was a complete, one-in-done story. Like that story from years ago, this December’s issue of The Flash was a one-in-done story featuring Barry Allen. And for the first time in ages, I felt that same magic. The villain isn’t as memorable as the Reverse Flash but, oh, wow, the uses of Flash’s super-speed, especially in one breath-taking sequence as Flash literally runs on air, are wonderful. Googe’s art really shines. And, of course, the hero wins at the end. If I wanted to convert someone today to Flash fandom, I’d hand them this issue.

batgirl beyond

Batgirl Beyond, copyright DC Comics

Batman Beyond Unlimited digital-first series: Terry McGuinness being mentored by an older Dick Grayson. A Batgirl Beyond is introduced. And the Justice League of this world includes an older, wryer Superman looking to begin his life over. How can an alternate universe series set in a world that’s supposedly grimmer be this much fun to read? There were the team-up of Batgirls past (Commissioner Barbara Gordon) and  future, the Batgirl Beyond, Superman asking the Justice League of the future dating advice (okay, he asked cranky old Bruce too), and engaging characters all around.

My Tumblr Feed: Yes, Tumblr has been knocked for being full of “crazy over-the-top social justice” types. I’m not sure where all those scary people are but they’re not in my feed. My feed contains some of the most awesome gif images from some of my favorite entertainment, with special nods to Doctor Who–the 50th anniversary special inspired some of the most imaginative posts–and Sherlock (ack, I can’t read those posts until I see the episode) and all of the wonderful classic comic art.

For a representative sample, check out dorkkybatch’s Sherlock + hair ruffle, or the Winchester gifs from asyouwishswam or copperbadge’s noticing that Hulk loves his pies. These all came popped up on my Thursday feed.

And now I’m going to mellow out and re-watch Pitch Perfect again.

“I love you, awesome nerds.”  

The Cliffs of Insanity: Wonder Woman and the Bechdel Test

Wonderwoman Dec 12 2013

This future Wonder Woman isn’t that far off from her contemporary version. Image from Justice League 3000 #1, copyright DC Comics, art by Howard Porter

Welcome to this week’s adventures in climbing the Cliffs of Insanity. This week, I focus on a couple of feminist issues in the superhero world, one in comics, one in television. The comic? Superman/Wonder Woman. The show? Arrow.

I have received review copies of the first three issues of the Superman/Wonder Woman series, otherwise I’d never read a comic whose premise drives me nuts, namely that Wonder Woman and Superman’s romantic relationship could be at all interesting. There’s just no spark there.

But as I was reading the third issue, I noticed something that bothered me far more than a story problem.

A comic that co-stars Wonder Woman doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.

Wonder Woman, the symbol of female power, is co-starring in a story where her only conversation with a woman in issue #3 is about a guy, namely Superman.

Why is this a problem?

First, a disclaimer: The Bechdel Test isn’t always an indicator of quality. It asks three simple questions: Is there more than one woman in the story? Do they have a conversation? Is that conversation about something other than a man?

These questions developed as a “test” basically to find out if a particular movie was at all interested in presenting a female character as other than a romantic interest—i.e., the girlfriend. It also can show just how few female characters exist in some movies. Failing the Bechdel doesn’t necessarily make a movie terrible or against women. Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock, doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test because Bullock and George Clooney’s characters are stranded in space. It’s still a great movie.

What the Bechdel test can show is that a specific story isn’t interested at all in telling anything from the female point of view and it can showcase a more overall trend with the lack of female stories in mainstream entertainment. It seems a ridiculously easy bar but even hugely popular movies, like The Avengers, barely pass.

However, even in shows or movies that focus on women, it’s easy for them to pass a reverse Bechdel test where the questions are about men. Take Orange is the New Black, a great show, full of awesome and diverse roles for women. Yet still, there are four important male characters and that have significant storylines. Men aren’t left out because, well, they are part of the world.

Yet women are often forgotten, not even rising to the level of supporting characters. Even in this comic where the most prominent fictional feminist icon is featured.

There is one other woman in the story and Wonder Woman talks to her friend about, yes, a guy. (Superman.) Superman has a similar talk about the relationship with his buddy, Batman. (This is a great scene though I’m not sure Batman is the guy I’d go to for relationship advice.) But then Zod somehow falls to Earth, Superman, Wonder Woman, and other heroes are called to deal with his hostile response to arriving on Earth, and there are no other women in the story save Wonder Woman.

There was the Justice League of America, all men, confronting Zod, another man. Wonder Woman tied up Zod so Superman could decide what to do with him. This speaks less about the quality of the writer of the series, Charles Soule, and much more about the inherent problems right now in DC’s Universe, especially with Wonder Woman.

Once upon a time, Wonder Woman’s books featured her sister, Donna Troy; her protege, Wonder Girl; her female friend, Etta Candy; and, of course, an entire cast of Amazons, including her mother, Queen Hippolyta. The inter-generational connection is one of the most fascinating elements of WW’s mythos. Or was.

Now?

Donna Troy doesn’t exist in the current DC Universe. Wonder Girl is unconnected now and stuck in the story hell that is currently Teen Titans. Etta Candy is Steve Trevor’s assistant rather than WW’s friend, and the Amazons? Well, they’ve been revealed as murderers and child slavers, and Queen Hippolyta the worst of the lot. (I think they’re currently all turned to stone as well.)

Basically, all of Wonder Woman’s relationships and friendships now primarily revolve around men, including daddy issues with her father, Zeus (a retcon).

It’s sad that comics from over 30 years ago pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, including two that were smash hits in the early 1980s: Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ Teen Titans, and Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men.

Again, I ask: Why the heck are we going backward?

Arrow Misses the Mark

There are a great many things I love about Arrow. I love the redemption story of Oliver Queen. I love how his character arc over one and a half seasons has been so well done. I love Felicity Smoak and Diggle, his team, and his mother, Moira Queen, a terrific, flawed, intense, multi-layered woman. The writer in me loves how well the flashbacks are woven into the stories of the present. I liked the nerdy Barry Allen featured in the last two episodes.

Bottom line: I enjoy the show.

The problem is I’m developing a squick when it comes to the female characters. Now, it’s Oliver’s show, so plot elements should always revolve somewhat around him. But lately the vibe is “Oliver and his women” and it’s getting ridiculous. Oliver has slept with four current supporting characters: Sara, Shado, Laurel, and Isabel Rochev. His mother has been mainly off-screen, for plot reasons, and his sister, Thea, has been reduced basically to worrying about her boyfriend, who is the driving force of their storyline.

The final straw for me was when the writers decided Felicity also has a thing for Oliver, a change from the first season, where she liked him but didn’t see him as relationship material. There was more chemistry in season 1 between Felicity and Diggle.

Then, to make matters worse, in this week’s episode, Oliver is given a Sophie’s choice between his two lovers/girlfriends, Sara and Shado, as the two women are reduced to props for Ollie’s angst. And, at the end of the mid-season finale, it’s shown that whatever happened to the women Oliver didn’t save is the driving motivation between the behind-the-scene villain.

It’s all about the pain of the men.

And that’s frustrating. Sara’s re-appearance as Black Canary was very good and I loved the fight scenes featuring her and Oliver but mostly, I loved that her story was about her. I was hoping for sub-plots like that for the other female characters or something to show they’re not simply satellites in Ollie’s orbit. Alas, there’s only a lame plotline of pill addiction for Laurel and now it appears she’s gotten involved with a villain. ::sigh::

Get better at this, Arrow. Please.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Will Things Change for Women in Comics?

harley quinn zero resized

That is a very good question, Harley. Page from Harley Quinn #0 by written by Amanda Conner,and Jimmy Palmiotti, drawn by Dan Panosian. copyright DC Comics

Welcome to this week’s adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity and, yes, once again we’re talking about women in comics. Why? Because I’ll keep talking about it until things actually change. This week, the discussion over sexual harassment in the comics industry continued with many female creators chiming in with their experiences.

In personal news, my kids and I took a trip into New York City to tape a segment for the Nickelodeon show, Take Me To Your Mother, and I received a cover for my upcoming steampunk detective romance, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. (Have I mentioned I’m never satisfied with just one genre?)

That’s the Sound of a Butterfly Flapping Its Wings

Sexual harassment of female creators in comics, in the mainstream press, at conventions, and even in the independent press has historically been an issue. But as I noted last week, it’s not an issue of the past, it’s one of the present and it affects what we read, the characters we love, and the myths we tell ourselves.

And if anyone thinks that comics, particularly superheroes, aren’t important inspirations, I’ll only point to Batkid’s adventures in San Francisco last week, one of the most heartwarming news stories I’ve read in ages.

The current discussion (or furor depending on where you read the articles) was kicked off when comic creator Tess Fowler identified Brian Wood of the X-Men, DMZ, and a game designer for Grand Theft Auto, as someone who made a pass at her one year at San Diego Comic Con, watched her for hours in a bar, invited her up to his room to help her with her ‘career,’ and when she didn’t show, publicly humiliated her on the con floor.

Fowler’s full account of the incident is on her Tumblr. Brian Wood released a statement that didn’t dispute the basics of Fowler’s account.  Heidi MacDonald at The Beat covered it last week, as did The Mary Sue.

Fowler’s account led to another woman, Anne Scherbina, coming forward about her harassment by Wood, which led to a blind item at a comic news site basically alleging she’d been providing sexual favors at work. Mariah Huehner, formerly of DC, Virgin, and IDW, also talked about remaining silent for years about harassment she experienced, as did Janelle Asselin, a former editor for DC Comics, on her Tumblr.

From Huehner’s Twitter: “I mean, who does this sh** have to happen to before you care about it? Who else has to be subjected to this?”

From Asselin’s Tumblr post:

because there’s always a reason for us to stay silent about our attackers.  In my case and in the case of many of my friends and acquaintances it’s because we want to keep working in comics and we don’t want to get wrapped up in the insanity that invariably follows the outing of such harassers.  It’s even come up that saying anything at all, even not naming names, could impede getting work (a big consideration for me at the moment).  Here’s the thing: if you don’t want to hire me because I’ve lived through harassment and refuse to be scared off from the comics industry, frankly I don’t want to work for you anyway.  I, and other women who have been harassed, shouldn’t have to feel shame because we were harassed.  I can be ashamed that I didn’t always call out the behavior, but I can also know that occasionally, as often as I could, I did the right thing and stood up for myself and other women.

And Gail Simone, current writer of Batgirl, Red Sonja, and The Movement, pointed out in her twitter feed that Colleen Doran, author of the classic A Distant Soil, and Lea Hernandez, an Eisner-nominated creator and artist on Simone’s Killer Princesses, have been talking about this for years and taking all kinds of abuse for it. Doran told me at New York Comic Con that she wished for a time that she didn’t enter comics because of all the harassment.

Think on that. We might not have Colleen Doran’s brilliant storytelling because of this.

This is unacceptable. Everyone who’s anyone in this industry knows this stuff goes on, even at the highest levels. No one’s naming names because the female creators fear, quite rightly, that they won’t get work if they do. They’ll be labeled “problems” or “bitchy” or even “crazy.”

That means the problem isn’t just the direct harassers. No, the problem is those enabling those direct harassers by not calling them on it or taking action. After what I’ve heard this week, publicly and privately, I will never believe those in charge don’t know who among their people are problems.

Enough.

We’re losing too many brilliant creators this way. When Doran talks about wishing she never started her comic career partially because of this stuff, when others never get their work seen because they’ve been hit on my editors and refused them or are turned away if they’re not pretty enough, their stories are lost and that’s a tragedy for everyone who loves comics.

The harassers are a problem. They’re a small minority. But there’s another group who stands by, does nothing or even belittles the events that happen.

So if you’re a guy and you’re standing around and watching when an incident happens at a con—do something or you’re part of the problem. If you’re an employer of a creator who does this garbage, impose consequences or you’re part of the problem.

If you’re in a position to hire and you notice you’ve only got two female employees out of 200, you’re part of the problem. That’s not hiring for diversity’s sake, that’s correcting the impulse that obviously led you to self-select male creators for your entire work force. If you’re working for DC Comics and you actively work to sideline female characters because they’re not “sexy” enough or if you change their body type to make them more “sexy” and thus more f*** (see: Amanda Waller), then you’re part of the problem.

If you’re on a message board and someone relates a story of harassment, don’t let your first response be “oh, it wasn’t that bad” or “ah, she’s crazy” or “hey, I’d hit that too.” If you do, you’re also part of the problem.

Some of these are larger problems, some smaller. None of them are happening in a vacuum. The sooner we all realize it, the sooner change will come. That’s why I’m writing this, to keep the conversation going until action is taken.

A sea change is coming, slowly and it will eventually become a tidal wave.

Or so hopes the optimist in me.

Meanwhile, while the internets were abuzz, the mom in me was busy schlepping my four kids into New York City so we could be stars. Well, not quite stars. Maybe geek stars?

Forbidden Planet Field Trip!

Last weekend, all four minions and myself went into New York City to be part of a morning filming of the NickMom television show, Take Me to Your Mother, at the Forbidden Planet near Union Square.

I love trips to the city because they’re always an adventure.

Crossed off the bucket list as a result of this one:

1. A real NYC, hair-raising, terrifying taxi ride.

2. Proper New York City-style pizza! I ordered way more than I expected the five of us to eat. We had one slice left.

3. Forbidden Planet, of course, a city mecca for geeks.

4. Seeing the Empire State Building, all lit up, only a block away.

5. Finally figuring the proper exit door to take when leaving  Grand Central Station. (And, no, Grand Central Station never gets old.)

And the filming itself?

A fascinating process. We all dressed up in some form or another. I was Lois Lane (Amy Adams-style), my youngest daughter was Wonder Woman, my eldest wore her Sunnydale High School shirt, my eldest son rocked his Bobby from Supernatural cosplay, and the youngest son wore a Flash t-shirt. (Jay Garrick version.)

Comedian Andrea Rosen narrates the show, asking parenting advice from different types of moms so her kids don’t grow up to be jerks.  She asked us questions about what geeky means, what type of things we’re geeky about, and whether my being a geek influenced my kids.

That all was fun–and less nerve-wracking than I expected–but I was more interested in watching the behind the scenes stuff.

The crew set up the shoot as a mock book signing, with Andrea asking us questions while we were “in line.” There were numerous cameras, various lights, and  crew that numbered about ten. (They all kept moving around, so I couldn’t get an accurate count.)

I wish I had more time to ask all the crew how they got into this work, and what they loved or hated about it. (Hey, I picked Lois as a cosplay for a reason.)

Our segment will only last about a minute or so, though filming took nearly half and hour and will air in the spring at some point. So stay tuned for details.

And speaking of geeky kids, one of my very first geek-outs when I was a kid was over Sherlock Holmes. I devoured the Canon for years, until I nearly had not only the stories memorized but also the notes in W.S. Baring-Gould Annotated version.

And so you can imagine my glee when I sold my Holmes-inspired romantic steampunk, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. It’s due out in ebook on April 22nd and here’s the cover:

CurseoftheBrimstoneContract-The-R-1