She Can Fly: Oh What a World

Truly, we live in a geek renaissance.

Not only is it cool to read comics, play video games, and follow television series with bated breath, but all those things are absolutely in vogue. No longer do kids get shunned for being into roleplaying games. No longer are adults side-eyed for reading thick fantasy and sci fi novels. The most successful movies are superhero flicks; the best received television shows are based on books like Game of Thrones, and new game releases–be it video, board, or book–dominate conversation. Being nerdy, geeky, dorky is all the rage.

And on top of all those amazing things, we also have an influx of reboots, re-releases, remakes, and sequels that some thought would never actually come to fruition: Mad Max: Fury Road, another season of X-Files, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Twin Peaks (maybe), Baldur’s Gate: Seige of Dragonspear, Ash vs. Evil Dead, another Ghostbusters film…

The best thing of all, is all these sequels and reboots and recreations are, on the whole, surprisingly good. Really, really good.

So why are nerds so critical of them?

The truth is, it’s not simply nerds who are being so critical of these, it’s primarily male nerds (but not all men).

It was men who stated they would boycott Mad Max: Fury Road because a female character was featured just as prominently as the titular hero.

It was men who most actively reviled Star Wars: The Force Awakens for two of its three lead characters not being white men.

It was men who complained that the inclusion of a subtly transgender character in the newest Baldur’s Gate game was “political correctness,” “LGBT tokenism,” and “SJW pandering,” and subsequently attempted to flood the game with negative reviews and dox a one of the game’s writers.

It was men who have been most verbal about panning the Ghostbusters trailer, with their Youtube “dislikes” leading to the video being the “most disliked trailer of all time.”

(It’s also a man who says he won’t review–or see–Ghostbusters because…it won’t star the original cast? Because it “isn’t appropriate”? Because it has a majority female cast? Because it’s simply called “Ghostbusters”?)

These can’t all be a coincidence.

There’s an inherent thread of sexism tying all these “critiques” together.

This attitude of gatekeeping aimed at female and LGBTQ+ fans is nothing new, but since the rise of Gamergate, and the subsequent “Sad/Sick Puppies,” on social media, people who engage in that sort of discourse, regardless of gender, have become more courageous about speaking out.

The truth of the matter is many of these commentators are simply seeking to gain acknowledgement through ruffling feathers. These same people are often the ones to resort the death and rape threats when someone makes a less-than-positive comment about media they like, or even chooses simply to interpret a story element differently than they would. In some cases, these people will even go so far as to create multiple social media accounts on a single platform with the express intent to harass people who disagree with them.

There’s an inherent sense of privilege, whether it’s denied or acknowledge, that all men (but especially white men) have that makes them feel they are–or should be–the target audience for media. All media. In a lot of cases, companies encourage this attitude, like DC Comics’ skewed readership survey, used to affirm their choice of target audience (men 18-37), while other companies don’t actively dissuade it (think Marvel and Disney’s non-response to its lack of female toys back when Avengers: Age of Ultron came out).

New things, even when they are based on “nerd canon” standards, will always face negative commentary, but with the pervasiveness and anonymity of social media, negative comments can quickly turn down darker paths. Though it may be a minority voicing their dislike, it is often a verbal minority, and negative comments are more “news worthy” than positive ones.

When asked about the reception of the Ghostbusters trailer, director Paul Feig said, “Geek culture is home to some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met in my life.”

He later clarified his comments to CBR, ending the interview with a celebration of what it truly means to be a geek: “the bullies are not the norm and I would dare say they are not even true geeks. They are the micro-minority. God bless the true geeks of the world, and here’s to taking our community back from the bullies.”

It’s a beautiful thing that men are no longer the only audience when it comes to geek media. Now if only everyone could embrace that.

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Top Ten Comics You Aren’t Reading (but Should be)

Everyone knows about indie darlings that have hit it big (think Image’s Saga, Bitch Planet, and Rat Queens), but there are tons of non-“big two” titles out there that are ripe for reading. This is my top 10 list* for the best books out there that you aren’t reading right now (but absolutely should start reading asap):

*To qualify for this list, books have to be: published in monthly, single issue format; are current published/have a promise of a sequel or an ongoing series; are not based on pre-existing properties; and are from a publisher other than Marvel or DC Comics. Bonus points to creator owned series!

10. Another Castle (Wheeler/Ganucheau, Oni Press)

Still a fledgling comic (which may explain why people aren’t gushing about it like they should), Another Castle is a beautiful play on the damsel in distress story. When the kingdom’s princess is kidnapped by an evil power, the handsome prince thinks it’s up to him to save her. Except he’s not very adept at fighting, where as the princess is an expert in all things combat, strategy, and sneaking. So while the prince bumbles about, it’s the princess, and her newly-made friends (a dreamy gorgon and a sheepish, wimpy demon), to plan her own escape and save the prince, her kingdom, and her father at the same time. The clean, colorful art compliments the energy of the storytelling perfectly.

9. Tomboy (Goodwin, Action Lab)

Definitely not an all ages title, Tomboy is part murder mystery, part slasher, only the heroine of the title is the one doing most of the killing. Tomboy plays with reader expectations by setting up a story about loss, but turning it into one of revenge. The teenaged hero takes matters into her own hands when her best friend and his father are murdered, but only becomes proactive after she begins to hallucinate her favorite anime character, who tells her how to go about exacting revenge. It’s a dark story, fabulously written, with unexpectedly cute (and, at times, gory) art. The disparate nature of the art and plot may be why people don’t initially pick it up, but it is definitely worth reading for just that.

8. Jonesy (Humphries/Boyle, BOOM!)

Just recently announced as an ongoing, Jonesy should be THE comic for the tumblr generation. From its zine-inspired art, to its referential voice, this comic is all about what it means to be a modern teen. The titular heroine loves donuts, ferrets, Stuff (a musician, not just “things”), and…she can secretly make other people fall in love with anything. Of course, this power is usually her downfall. Along with her friend, her father, and her abuelita, Jonesy lives the life of a normal teenage girl. Well, mostly normal.

7. Superzero (Conner & Palmiotti/de Latorre, AfterShock Comics)

Everybody who reads comics wants to be a superhero sometimes. But have you ever actually tried to get your own superpowers? The heroine of this comic is will to do anything, and does everything–radiation, bug bites, the death of her parents–yet she still can’t seem to achieve her super dreams. Unrelentless, she keeps pushing and pushing until…well, the comic starts off grounded, but ends up going pretty far out into the galaxy. The writing hits this concept out of the park, with the art playfully reflecting its references to a range of comic origin stories. One of many great series that launched AfterShock, I suspect it will gain more popularity as the publisher expands.

6. Henchgirl (Gudsnuk, Scout Comics)

While some people want to be heroes or villains, others just want to make a living. But sometimes, in a town full of capes and cowls, the best way to get money is by henching. The heroine of this title is lazy, funny, and a little bit dense, but also lives in a world where people can fly, lift buildings, and shoot carrots from their fingers, but can’t tell that someone is the same person when they put a pair of thick glasses on. The comic is a bit like if Scott Pilgrim slapped on a mask and stopped playing music, with fantastically rough art and expressive characters. The story is fun and light, but has an underlying depth to it. This comic slid under a lot of people’s radars, but is a must read!

5. Diesel (Hesse, BOOM!)

With the first volume wrapped up, Diesel has set up a wider story than it might initially seem. The comic starts off about airships, steampunk pirates, and a spunky heroine who can sometimes shoot sparks from her fingers, but turns into a world-hopping political adventure, with plenty of intrigue and a good does of humor. Though it sounds complex, Hesse exceeds at having the comic make sense. The cartoony art compliments the more comedic tone, but also gives the comic more powerful moments of darkness.

4. Zodiac Starforce (Panetta/Ganucheau, Dark Horse)

I love magical girl stories, but it’s rare that we get more than a brief epilogue of the heroines after the great evil has been defeated. Zodiac Starforce’s entire existence is a subversion of this trope. Taking place a year after the day has been saved, the girls still have their magical powers, but no evil to fight. Then something goes awry, and it’s up to the Zodiac Starforce to save the day. The comic plays with the tropes of classic girls’ cartoon characters, but features different body types and sexualities prominently. Although the first volume just ended (and came out in trade), Panetta confirmed to me on Twitter that a second volume is in the works, with a release date to be determined. This comic needs more love, as it is a standout within the magical girl subgenre.

3. Princeless (Whitley/Various, Action Lab)

I will never not take a chance to praise Princeless, a series all about princesses saving themselves. The most significant thing about this comic is how all the princesses are women of color. The story follows one of seven princesses as she escapes her tower by befriending the dragon that protects her, and then goes on a quest to save her sisters. The book plays with gender roles, but allows each character to be who they are without judgement. One of the best examples is when the eldest sister, a girly girl who is obsessed with her appearance, refuses to be saved from her “captivity” because she likes where she is, and she is helping the people in her own unique way. Princeless celebrates the difference in women (and men), while also being a fun-filled book of adventure and daring.

2. Shutter (Keatinge/del Duca, Image)

This comic is a hair’s breath away from being number one on this list. Since issue #1, I fell in love with the dreamy art, the modern take on a pulp story, and the fully realized characters (including a lead WoC and a supporting trans character). The comic has only gotten better since then, including meta-textual moments, a variety of beasts and aliens (all of whom co-exist with humans), and a sentient cat clock named Cassius (with all the implications that brings). Each issue of Shutter goes places that the others have never been, but always stays true to its roots and inspiration as an action/adventure comic that pays homage to the pulps of yore. Unlike some of its brothers and sisters at Image, Shutter has been quietly successful and has a very loyal fanbase, but I feel it is due much more praise and attention.

 

Before we hit my choice for number one, honorable mention shout outs to Insexts (Bennett/Kristantina, AfterShock Comics), Paper Girls (Vaughan/Chiang, Image), and Goldie Vance (Larson/Williams, BOOM!), which are just a few more great books out there that are definitely worth picking up if you haven’t already.

 

1. Public Relations (Sturges & Justus/Hahn & Marzán & Wilson, Devil’s Due/1/First Comics)

Public Relations has it all: dragons, damsels, scathing satire, dirty jokes, its own recorded music for the in-comic band Peter Smurfy, Garfield references…the list goes on. The reason this title is at number one is because I’ve yet to meet someone else who shares my passion for it. I text my friends random panels from Public Relations every time I get a new issue, hoping to share with them a fraction of the giggles I got from it. This is one of the best comics being published right now, with slick art, sharp writing, pop culture wit and awareness, yet no one seems to be reading it! This is the number one, must-pick-up title of 2016, if only so I can have someone to talk to about it.

 

Have you read any of these titles? What comics do you think this list is missing? Let us know in the comments section!

DC Rebirth: A Superfan’s Hopes and Dreams

10409702_10204602647689225_9151817959937890043_nFriend of Zeist, Mike is barely able to sleep, with DC’s non-reboot event Rebirth coming out next week. To refresh everyone’s memory banks, DC has been in a constant state of reboot for most of the 2000s:

  • 2005- Infinite Crisis
  • 2008- Final Crisis
  • 2011- Flashpoint
  • 2015- Convergence

I won’t get into too much analysis and nitpicking and deconstruction of the DC hype, instead, I’d like to hear Mike’s take on things, because he is pretty much the demographic DC is looking to recapture.

  1. Do you think it will be a reboot? I think certain elements will be rebooted, much like New 52 tried to keep elements from the pre-Flashpoint DCU.
  2. Do you care about anything post Flashpoint? I’ve enjoyed a lot of the Batman stuff.  Specifically Batman Eternal and Batman & Robin Eternal.  Justice League hasn’t been bad, but its reliance on the Big 7 has not thrilled me.
  3. Did DC drop the ball post-Covergence, which hinted at the returns for many characters that have been missing in the post-Flashpoint universe? Yes!  If it had carried through some of the pre-Flashpoint elements.
  4. Guesses on who will die? My gut says a Flash.  A Flash has been killed in Crisis and Zero Hour. In addition Flash vanished after Infinite Crisis, and Flashpoint was all the fault of a Flash.
  5. Which characters will return? Again, my gut says a Flash.  A new Flash appeared as a result of Crisis and Barry Allen returned in Final Crisis. Booster Gold and/or Rip Hunter-you can’t have a multiverse threatening Crisis without Booster.  Also Ted Kord Blue Beetle obviously returns as he stars in the new BB book.
  6. Do you think it will last two years? It depends.  If Rebirth turns out to be another DCYou in New52 clothing, no.  DC will implode in less than two years. If Rebirth is indeed a Rebirth along the lines of Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth, then yes.
  7. Is the commitment to legacy contradictory to the commitment to the “freshness and newness of the New 52.“? Yes.  I think DC has learned its lesson that legacy is the backbone of their comics line.
  8. Any clues on what the Big Secret will be that tackles the very nature of the DC Universe? Someone has been manipulating time since the original Crisis.  
  9. Batman’s mystery? If they’re smart, they tie it back to the letter from Flashpoint Thomas Wayne that Barry Allen delivers to Bruce at the end of Flashpoint.
  10. The new evil? Some new multiverse level threat on the lines of the Time Trapper, Anti-Monitor, Brainiac, etc.

 

She Can Fly: What’s Truly Outrageous

I watched the Jem and the Holograms movie.

And I liked it.

The movie wasn’t mind blowing, but it was a sincere coming-of-age story that took cues from what it means to grow up in a world where you can post videos of yourself for all the world to see in a matter of moments. The cast had better diversity than a lot of popular films, focused on the interplay of almost exclusively female characters, and played off the source material without being tied to it.

In all, it worked well as an homage to the Jem cartoon series, but took plenty of liberties to translate the material to make sense in a modern setting.

So this got me thinking: why was it so reviled?

What about this simple, sweet film made people call it “a dud,” “terrible,” and a “box office failure”?

Well, when you look at the numbers, Jem and the Holograms, a wide-release movie, only made 2.3 million dollars, which absolutely does make the movie a dud, and a failure at the box office. However, the movie only had a budget of $5 million. Compare that to, say, Bill Murray’s Rock the Kasbah, a similarly music-themed movie that released in theaters around the same time, and you’ll see that Murray’s movie made only 3.2 million dollars, with a budget three times bigger to that of Jem’s.

You know which movie wasn’t called a “total box office failure”?

It seems to me, part of the negative reception of the Jem film, part of the reason people were so quick to dismiss and bash it, is because of a double standard in the film industry. Jem and the Holograms is female led, aimed specifically at young women, and directed by someone closely associated with dance movies, a genre that is stereotypically popular with women.

Film is already an industry well-known for it’s gender inequality, and studios and audiences alike are quick to disregard films starring female characters. Usually, women in film have to embody an ideal of perfection that often doesn’t make them much better than a sexy lamp.

Only in the past two years have we begun to see Hollywood explore a side of women beyond the perfect (but clumsy) romcom trope and the sexy “strong female character, with some female-driven (often female written films) starring semi-realistic, more fleshed out characters who are women; characters who are free to fart and burp, be strong, be weak, have sex, abstain from sex, be tight laced, be “loose,” without harsh judgement implied in the script.

But fans and critics alike judge this move harshly. Some critics even had the gall to argue that Jem and the Holograms is “implausible” and an “unrealistic representation of the music industry.” (I suspect these are the same critics who might say that Wall-E is an unrealistic portrayal of the future of humanity, and that positing robots might develop autonomy is implausible.)

The other reason for it’s lambast-ion is because Jem and the Holograms is not Jem the cartoon.

Fans of the seminal 80s girls cartoon were upset because the film lack glamour, glitter, fashion, and only had a small dosage of fame. And yes, it’s not the 80s show; but, frankly, how could it be? But the expectation for the movie to be exactly like the show, however out of place that would have been, remained. Ultimately, fans wanted the film to fail because it wasn’t the technicolored jaunt they remembered from their childhoods. Fans wanted to denounce the movie because it didn’t follow the canon.

Fans are the worst.

Fans are so attached to the specific image of a character of property that they have in their mind, that they remember from their childhood; this image is so colored in nostalgia, therein lies the true fault. Fans want something from the movie that probably never really existed; fans want perfection, but only the perfection they remember.

Everybody has a favorite version of something. Heck, I’ll admit I can be guilty of being too wedded to canon, too! But when canon starts to effect your enjoyment of other mediums, you allow your judgment to skew in a very specific way.

The beauty of adaptations, homages, and remakes is that they embrace what’s different about the era in which the content is being made: whether it’s improved graphics and CGI, restyled and revamped characters, re-imagined genders and roles, or setting the story in modern times with characters using modern technology.

Jem and the Holograms is a happily sterile movie, one without cursing or innuendo, and in the landscape of modern film, that’s a rarity. Jem and the Holograms is not shy about the influence of Youtube, and uses real Youtube videos to orchestrate points (whether it be building tensions with an interspersed video of a drumming prodigy or simply involving fans by using the videos they posted online where they talk about Jem), and sometimes this comes of as passe and hokey. But at the heart of it, Jem is a sincere movie. Though cautiously gentle, and clumsy at times, the film has a sweetness to it that has been overshadowed by mainstream media and, even more so, fans.

So, if you’re a fan of the Jem cartoon, maybe just pretend it’s someone else named Jem who is just a little less truly outrageous than the original?