She Can Fly: Ever After High-Spellebrating Feminism

Dolls don’t always have the most female-positive origins. Best selling fashion dolls like Barbie are partially focused on helping young women envisioning themselves in a variety of unique careers, but a large aspect of the franchises is the idea of physical beauty and perfection.

This is what makes Ever After High unique among doll series. Following in the footsteps of Mattel’s other monster hit, Monster High–which is all about embracing your imperfections–Ever After High is a multimedia franchise, spanning dolls, a book series, and televised and YouTube webisodes.

While Monster High plays with the idea that the “mean girl” isn’t all that she seems, Ever After High takes it a step further. There is no one-dimensional bully, and the series is focused on the fact that there are two sides to every story. At first glance, it may seem like the Royals, those born into “happily ever afters,” are the easy target to turn into bossy bullies. Instead, each character is multidimensional and simply trying to be their best selves. The best part is the two main characters, Raven Queen and Apple White, could easily be written as antagonists, instead they are close friends who sincerely want the best for one another.  The episodes show that their definition of “best” is colored by how they were raised and how they view the world.

All these things make Ever After High an amazing series, but it wasn’t until the second season of webisodes that Ever After High made it very clear that they have a feminist perspective.

“I love spellebrating being awesome, empowered girls!”

This webisode, The Beautiful Truth, breaks conventions. A character enters a beauty pageant not to win, but to celebrate what’s great about being a woman. And Cedar’s friends are supportive of her interest in being in a pageant, even if it is something they aren’t interested in. Best of all, the girls who traditionally participate in beauty pageants agree that beauty should be something more than skin deep.

Having media tell young girls that beauty isn’t everything is a wonderful thing. Sure, the girls of Ever After High wear fashionable clothing and make up, and some of them are in relationships (although a significantly smaller portion than most doll franchises–in fact, most of the characters say they have no time or interest for boys right now), but Ever After High focuses on–and emphasizes–the importance of female friendships and the power of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Advertisements

Imagine If: Supergirl, Release Date 1963

Imagine if Hollywood had released tent-pole comic book movies starring their iconic characters around the time of the source material’s release date. For the purposes of this experiment, we will say that a movie would be released 5 years after the introduction of the character, and only movies that have been made would be made.

After the success of Supergirl in the comics, and the death of leading man Gary Cooper in 1961, producers were hoping to keep the DC franchises moving forward. They struck upon the idea of a Supergirl feature with an uncredited cameo at the end of the film by the recast Superman. They wanted to keep the film very much grounded in the Superman mythology, so much of the supporting cast is the same.

tumblr_m24g0h4qUC1rn6sipo1_1280Supergirl-Sue Lyon
Star of the Lolita film, which given the content was still huge box office success.

merlin_jonesJimmy Olsen-Tommy Kirk

Disney star, brought just the right amount of goofiness and charm to the role.

Danny-Kaye-Man-from-the-Diners-ClubToyman-Danny Kaye

A Superman foe, producers wanted a somewhat lighter tone for the film. Kaye was a huge film star recently transplanted to television, producers even whipped up a couple song and dance numbers for him.

spencer

 

 

 

 

Perry White-Spencer Tracy

Continuing his role from Man of Steel.

 

 

 

 

 

walter_brennan2Lex Luthor-Walter Brennan

Also continuing his role from Man of Steel.

 

 

 

 

And after appearing in an early scene, his face not visible, appearing on-screen at the end of the film in an uncredited cameo:

james gardnerSuperman- James Garner

She Can Fly: Caught In A Web Of Their Own Design

Marvel released solicitations for their newest female led title earlier this week; Spider-Woman #1 features two covers, one with an image of Spider-Woman and the newly introduced spider-lady Silk by series artist Greg Land, and a variant by Italian writer and artist Milo Manara. While the former cover has caused some grumblings (as all Land art tends to), it’s the Manara art that’s raising the most ire.

SpWo01Manara is an erotic artist. He has been for much of his 30 year long career, and overtly sexualized depictions of women are basically his bread and butter. I can understand, and even appreciate, Manara’s art in certain settings, but I also consider it very alienating as a woman. It was alienating back when Marvel did a year of single issues celebrating female characters, and he was hired to draw the X-Women title penned by Claremont, and it’s really alienating when you consider that Manara is one of the first images women will see when attempting to buy a copy of what is only Marvel’s 8th ongoing female-led title.

Marvel’s been open about actively trying to appeal to female audiences now, especially since the announcement that Thor was to be a woman. Moves like this have garnered Marvel a lot of well-earned positive publicity. However, it’s unacceptable to say that they are trying to make female-friendly comics that, according to Marvel editor-in chief Axel Alonso when he was interviewed about Ms. Marvel #1, don’t just feature “the big-breasted, scantily clad women that perhaps have become the comic-book cliché,” only then to hire two artists who are well known for their associations with porn art (and porn tracing) to not only draw the covers for a female-led title, but also, in Land’s case, to pencil the interiors.

My issues with Greg Land doing art on the series aside; I think the biggest problem in this controversy is the ignorance that Marvel and a number of commentators on the internet seem to have about the effects of images like the Manara cover will have on female fans. While some have accused the cover of being “sexual,” the real issue is that it is sexualized. Jessica Drew is not drawn in a way that connotes her power or strength of character; instead, she is drawn in a way that appeals to a primarily male audience and  implies acts of a sexual nature.

SpWo03Some have argued that men are portrayed just as poorly in comic art, but I feel that’s just not true. Statements like that are false equivalences: men in comics traditionally represent the male power fantasy, while women are truly relegated to being nothing more than a vehicle for the male sexual fantasy. Female characters, especially Spider-Woman, are constantly mis-posed and debased by artists for the sake of the male gaze.

It’s an innately female frustration that men don’t seem to understand. Do we ever see Spidey posed like that, asscheeks akimbo? No. In fact, rarely does Spider-Man sport any indication of his male anatomy in standard comic art.

SpWo04What’s worse is that Amazing Spider-man writer Dan Slott has spoken out on Twitter against the women at the Mary Sue for their (anatomically correct) critique of both covers for Spider-woman #1, defending Manara and Land by stating that “Some artists have iconic styles & stick to specific subject matter. If you see ‘em solicited for a cover, & they DO that, why act surprised?”

I would argue that the point, ultimately, is less the artwork of Land or Manara and more the fact that Marvel has the gall to use those images for the first issue of a comic that is supposedly meant to attract a female audience.

 

She Can Fly: Ugg! Can’t We Have Pro-girl Female Characters?

Princess Ugg, the latest comic by Ted Naifeh from Oni Press, could easily be described as a charming, all ages fantasy story about a warrior princess learning to put down her axe and make friends.

Except it’s not.

ugg1The biggest issue with Princess Ugg was solidified in this week’s issue #3, in which a teacher from the Princess Academy tells the titular Viking princess, Ulga, that she needs to learn diplomacy, and that there is no better way to do this than by befriending her prissy princess roommate, Julifer. Ulga attempts friendship for all of two seconds before something her roommate says irritates her because it is stupid, petty, and/or shallow. The issue resolves with Ulga realizing she now has “two enemies”: Julifer and her pet unicorn.

Because strong women can’t get along with other women.

ugg2This attitude is a big part of internalized misogyny (or, in the case of Princess Ugg, straight up misogyny, as the writer/artist is a man), which is when women inherently adopt the culturally sexist attitudes toward women and applies them, consciously or subconsciously, towards all other women, and often even themselves. This attitude is also a huge problem. Showing this competitive attitude, lack of female friendships, and inherent desire to prove how the character is different from “normal”/”other” girls, in media aimed at young girls—however indirectly—is problematic to say the least.

And this sort of attitude is encouraged in most media. Princess Ugg is just a continuation of the presentation of internalized misogyny that pop culture forces on young women. When you look at television, movies, and books, there’s usually only one main female character, which primarily has male friends, and is “unique” and “not like other girls.” This implies to young women that, in order to be liked, in order to be the “main character,” they have to set themselves apart from their female peers.

ugg3This implication that women must constantly be in competition with each other follows through from childhood media (Smurfette syndrome), to pre-teen and teen media (books like Twilight, the Hunger Games, and Divergent put women who are friends at odds with each other, making them battle literally at times, and basically any song from Taylor Swift: “she wears short skirts/I wear t-shirts,” so obviously I am morally superior because I’m not wearing revealing clothing like her), to adult media (any number of rom-coms, any Moffat-written & directed New Who, and even in memes like “fake geek/gamer girls” and “me vs. other girls”).

I’m still giving Princess Ugg a chance. It has potential to be a fun, empowering comic, but at the moment, it’s a big disappointment for me. “Strong female characters” create a double edge sword in pop culture, and continue to limit how we view women.

If a female character is physically strong, then push against the cliché that she can’t like makeup, clothing, and other stereotypical “girly” items. If a female character is popular, move away from the stereotype that she hates other women and only views them as competition. Or, if you want to use the stereotypes to your advantage, create an internal struggle: a competitive woman who wants to have female friends, but often alienates herself with her desire to be the best; a “shallow” girl who actually likes to wear revealing clothing because she is proud of how she looks and wants to spread that self-love to other women; a strong, silent woman who is actually just painfully shy and has a hard time opening up. Re-appropriate clichés; use them to make your character become well-rounded, embrace the idea of flaws that go beyond the classic heroine concept of “she’s perfect, except she’s clumsy.”

If you’re looking for media with positive female characters, it does exist. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic continuously champions the idea that women can be friends even if they don’t share all the same interests. The Princess and the Frog was one of the first Disney movies with a supportive female friendship that was actually a major part of the plot. Sailor Moon embraces the idea that all women are different, and that they are stronger when they are together. Parks and Rec features multiple different kinds of female friendships and mentorships, which include a lot of humor and sarcasm. There is good media out there that supports the idea that strong women don’t have to hate other women.

It’s okay to have a strong female character, but that doesn’t mean she has to fight alone.

GAME THE GAME: GenCon and Me

I wish GenCon was an alien, and we were in a movie together, that was a schmaltzy ET ripoff.

My first GenCon I was a D&D guy. I got a picture with Gary Gygax, his Lucky Strike dangling from his lip. I played D&D games. To me, D&D was gaming. I even won a two part D&D tournament. I proudly have the certificate displayed.

But, I grew, as a gamer, and during what I would consider the golden age of printed product tabletop gaming (yeah, it’s a niche era), I remember roaming the dealer’s room, and picking up my copy of Underworld, and my copy of Orkworld, because they were both released at GenCon. My tastes had matured and expanded. I played Hong Kong Action Theatre and loved it, I loved roaming the hall looking for cool new games to try out!

GenCon was about trying new games, buying new games. But then… something happened. Even if this age of information accessibility and social media, I am having trouble finding details on what new products will be released at GenCon.

Full disclosure, I am now part of a Gaming Company, and we do not necessarily have awesome new products debuting.

But, we are running lots of games for our products, and will have the first public playtest of an upcoming game: Retrostar! Plus, hopefully, a legend of game design will be stopping by one of my games for a cameo. As King Missile might say, “that’s way cool.”

Is it wrong to want to spend money on awesome new games. I want to have an index card in my pocked with notes on which places to be sure to hit and what games to buy. I want to go back to my hotel room, and be flooded with feelings of “ohwowthisissocool, I can’t wait to play it.” Because, I still have Orkworld and Underworld, and they still get read by me, and I still love them.

Take my money, someone, please!

GAME THE GAME: Retrostar Design Blog #4: Starbuck’s Cigar

Retrostar is moving along, at FTL speed if you will. We have done a play-test.

Today, I’m going to talk about experience (XP). I wrote a superhero role-playing game. It does not have XP. This causes panic in many gamers. Lack of XP freaks people out. Even with the Indie Game Design Explosion, XP is still a thing.

Monsterhearts has very cool XP system, and in a game I was running I had big plans for incorporating it.

Marvel Heroic (not an Indie Game, but based in Indie Game Ideology) has an XP system, which on first read through is neat, but in practice is broken, and leads to some oddness: Kitty Pryde should be breaking hearts all the time, and after 5 sessions, Black Panther is now more powerful than way more established characters. Hmm… that didn’t work for me.

So, Retrostar v1.0 had no XP system. Mike and I discussed it, in the genre of 1970s sci-fi TV shows, XP wasn’t a thing. Then, we all sat down and played, an inevitably, the topic of XP came up. I am holding firm. There is no XP system. But, in the grand gesture of compromise, we are going to try something else.

Starbuck’s cigar.

Freud would raise an eyebrow and look at me, taking notes. Starbuck frequently had a scene in BSG: OS where he would grin, lean back and light up a stogie. Yeah, it was a different time, when characters were seen smoking, but more than this, this was part of who he was.

So, Retrostar does some things that are unusual. The GM creates about 40% of each character, defining their background. The players then figure out their traits and casting (who is the actor playing them: an grey-haired veteran actor with a voice that brings with it gravitas, or a former model with beautifully layered hair who looks great in a red swimsuit).

But, when you sit down to begin a series, some parts of the character will be undefined. We won’t know about Starbuck’s cigar until we see it in play. So, characters are going to define some of the other bits of their character, in keeping with the dials of a Retrostar series: Thematic, Recurring, Cheese, and Plot. SFX is already taken care of through k3wl p0w3rz and laser pistols and the like. So, Starbuck’s cigar becomes his recurring thing, and Apollo being a single dad becomes his Thematic thing. And it won’t always come up in every episode, but when it does, the player will get a cool bonus. Because, this is what made episodic television so comfortable, the familiar combined with the narrative.

So, there will not be XP, but there will be character refinement. And folks will complain. But I am confident trying this out to see how it works.

We want Retrostar to feel different from your sci-fi RPG of choice. We want it to feel like episodic television. This is deliberate, a feature, not a flaw. We hope that folks will embrace it. So, in the game we played one player decided that her character frequently disrobed, and another observed that her character would frequently do a cool karate kick. We have rules for that.

So get excited! Excited for a trip to the future: the year is 1993! The game is Retrostar!

She Can Fly: Don’t Spin Us A Web, Sony, Tell Us Who She Is!

Deadline and ScreenCrush recently reported that Sony Pictures is ready to take the Spider-man franchise further. After revealing new release dates for the upcoming Sinister Six (November 11, 2016) and Amazing Spider-Man 3 (just pushed back to 2018) films and an announcement about a Venom Carnage project, the studio also stated it would further expand their cinematic universe by creating a spinoff movie with a superhero film rarity: a female lead.

While not much has been revealed about the project yet, Lisa Joy Nolan (who only has a few credits, including writing for Burn Notice and Pushing Up Daises) is writing the script and Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach are producing the project. The film has a potential release date of 2017, but the star of the movie has yet to be announced. Rampant speculation has already begun, with Deadline offering up characters like Silver Sable, Stunner, Firestar, and Spider-Woman.

StunnerWhile Stunner is definitely an odd choice (villains who aren’t in the pop ethos the way Loki and the Joker can be hard to sell a solo movie on—especially before they appear, or are even hinted at, in a franchised movie), it’s exciting to hear that Sony is the first company that has actually acknowledged and making moves towards a female led superhero solo film.

Silver Sable is easy to translate into film; a superspy from a foreign land, she’s quite a bit like Black Widow. Picking Sable would kind of be salt in the wounds the Disney has for not owning all the rights to Marvel’s film properties. However, Sable is not the most approachable character in the Spidey-verse, and her ties to characters like Doctor Doom (who sits in 20th Century Fox limbo with the rest of the FF) ultimately make her an unlikely selection.

FirestarFirestar is a great choice (who doesn’t love that 70s classic cartoon, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends?), but easily leads into the same issue that Fox and Disney had with Quicksilver/Pietro/Peter. Once again, I could see them following the Ultimate universe, and having Spidey’s classmate Liz Allen (who has yet to be introduced in an Amazing Spider-Man film, but could easily be retroactively inserted) become imbued with microwave powers—but without the permission to use the concept of “mutants,” I’d worry that OsCorp would become the sole creator of all Spider-Man friends and foes.

Meanwhile, most of Spider-Woman’s stories lay with the Avengers, and by extension SHIELD, SWORD, and HYDRA. I could easily see Sony take the same route as the current All New Ultimates, and have Jessica Drew be a clone of Peter Parker. This could be a really compelling story-line (one that Spider-Man writers just love to use), and a great way to introduce a queer superherione (Ultimate Jessica Drew “came out” in a recent issue, with the explanation that, as a clone of Peter Parker, she likes women, especially red heads).

Black CatBlack Cat certainly seems the obvious choice, as Felicity Jones portrayed OsCorp office worker Felicia Hardy in Amazing Spider-Man 2, but I worry that a Black Cat film would follow in Catwoman’s paw-prints, trying to make an anti-heroine come off as more heroic than she actually is. That said, Black Cat would be an easy character to justify in the SCU (Spidey Cinematic Universe), attributing her bad luck powers to experimentation on staff at OsCorp or by showing that she only worked at OsCorp to infiltrate the company and steal some valuable tech prototypes.

My pick? Any of these ladies would be stellar stars of a solo feature, so I’m not going to put one over the other. Instead, I think that any number of the women could, and should, get their own film, leading up to a group feature a la Marvel Divas, which presents the misadventures of superwomen friends, with plot lines like Felicia trying to reform, Jessica coping with her daddy issues as an adult in the dating world, and Angel (or Liz) dealing with her powers and the negative effects they might have on her health.

Imagine If: The Incredible Hulk, Release Date, 1967

Imagine if Hollywood had released tent-pole comic-book movies starring their iconic characters around the time of the source material’s release date. For the purposes of this experiment, we will say that a movie would be released 5 years after the introduction of the character, and only movies that have been made would be made.

Jack_Lemmon_-_1968Bruce Banner-Jack Lemmon

A well known commodity in 1967, Lemmon has always been about that rage lurking just below the surface, producers are taking a risk, hoping that audiences accept the beloved Lemmon as the tortured Banner.

 

 

 

MV5BMTQ4MTcyODAyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDUwOTQ2._V1_SX640_SY720_Thunderbolt Ross-George C. Scott

General Turgidson to General Ross? Yes!

 

 

 

 

valleyodpicBetty Ross-Patty Duke

Already an Oscar winner and TV star, this would be her breakout adult role!

 

 

 

David Nivenas James Bond in Casino RoyaleSamuel Sterns/ The Leader-David Niven

“A great head, and a great mustache!” Was found scrawled by a producer on the back on Niven’s head-shot.

 

 

 

 

Charles_Bronson_-_1966The Abomination-Charles Bronson

Silver screen tough guy of few words, fluent in Russian, this would be a breakout role for Bronson!