An Ode To Camp

The 90s were a hell of a time, weren’t they? Think about it. It was a halcyon era for animation and for comic books that people look back at with some shame. I, however, being a real life Disney villain look at this time with pride and joy. So let’s talk about the grim-dark comic book era, camp and why I secretly love Joel Schumaker’s Batman

Here’s the thing: I love how absurd comics are. Orphans become gods. Super heroines are created out of a love of BDSM and feminism. Villains fall into acid and make excellent Kierkegaardian arguments about the nature of good, evil and the absurd. One of my favorite comic books characters is Booster Gold who is literally from the future and uses time travel to be a hero in the past because of his ego despite being a normal regular guy with no powers; just future information. What’s not to love? 

So knowing that about me, it may be a shock that I do not like Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies. I get it, it’s a good movie. But when I grew up and my rooting in the lore of Batman is Batman the Animated Series. With that preface in mind, you may now see why I find those films to be a grim foretelling of movie trends to come. While many praised Nolan for “grounding” Batman and his world; I personally felt it was too much of a departure. I was horrified by a Joker that was an “agent of chaos” and a Bruce Wayne who looked bored in every scene he was in. I was horrified by a Raas a’Ghul who was in a dreary outfit and a Batmobile that looked like some reject Stark Industries project. 

Needless to say; the grim dark method of superhero movies just doesn’t do it for me. When I say grim dark; think of a Zack Synder DC movie. Not that those aren’t valid but they’re certainly…an aspect of comic books. And the grim dark vs. camp debate is one that goes back decades in comics. 

Comics are weird. I say that as a person who loves comics but the absurdity is one of the things I love the most about comics the most. And while many comics are dark and grim (look at literally anything Frank Miller has done) they usually manage a brightness and camp and color that is still fantastic and elements that are still usually hilarious or campy to offset the darkness of the piece. 

It’s always been important to me that most superheroes have a rooting in either propaganda (like Superman and Captain America) or as nearly unrecognizable versions of themselves decades ago (like Batman and Green Lantern) and many of them were incredibly campy. Now, I’ve used camp and campy a few times and let’s back up and do a little defining. Campy is a word that does get thrown around a lot but at its core: camp is humor, expression and style that is extravagant, at times tasteless and tacky and at its pure foundation is pure self-decadence. When I say superheroes are campy it’s because…well, think of Batman in the 1960s. Surf boards, gadgets and strange cars. Think of The Avengers in the 70s and 80s fighting villains that are either powered by rock and roll or cocaine. 

But the late 80s and 90s brought a desire for comic books to be serious and then everyone got different costumes. Color vanished from costumes. Everyone had guns. Jason Todd had to die. Superman had to die and thus any optimism or joy. Comics got serious. 

I feel this most when it comes to comic book movies, especially the early ones. Think of the original X-Men slate of movies that was so offended by the color that they even had the nerve to make a jab at it via a sly comment made by a boring actor trying to play Cyclops. I was shocked. I grew up with the X-Men having iconic and colorful costumes and to think they wouldn’t “photograph” or “film” well just need to look at their local comic book convention to realize that if done correctly: color can still be fantastic. Really only a few major directors and franchises seem to have this issue mostly because for better or worse the MCU seems fine with embracing somewhat comic accurate costumes while shunning color in backgrounds aside from a few noted exceptions to the norm. 

Where I feel the most annoyance with grim and dark is in the storytelling. Now, comics have some dark storylines but in the movies, there’s just no room for levity or joy.  Honestly, the character I see this most in may shock you but it’s the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime comes up a lot on this blog and every time I go out of my way to mention that for me, the true canon version of this character is in Batman The Animated Series. To me, the animated version is the perfect mix of humor, darkness and being absolutely terrifying to a young mind. Which is why its always a shock to me when they make him such a humorless character in live action adaptations as of late. Why take a character with such an iconic design and make him just simply a chaos agent or a mentally ill person. And in many of these instances, nothing is added to the character by taking away his humor or charm. Making him just menacing or just scary or just mentally ill takes away what makes him as a villain so damn fascinating. The Joker’s appeal, in my opinion, is that he has a warped view of the world and of how things should operate and if you need an example of how to balance menacing and funny just look at The Killing Joke

I could go but there’s one more example I want to bring up before I wrap this up and that’s where I feel this trend has negatively impacted characterization and that’s Superman. Now, I’m not the biggest Superman fan mostly because he’s always been a blue boy scout to me and as an alumna of the Bruce Wayne School for Successful Orphans you can probably tell where my allegiance lies when it comes to the DC Trinity. But like Bruce Wayne, I’ve always admired Clark’s optimism and ability to find good in humanity. Which is why Man of Steel was such a damn disappointment. Now, this movie wasn’t the first to want to tarnish the reputation of the Blue Boy Scout like InJustice but Man of Steel just took a character with so much hope and so much joy and made him a sad, moping mess who at the end of the film ends up as a murderer. What is gained by doing this? Is he somehow more relatable? He’s a buff alien who is a Jesus allegory. He’s not supposed to be relatable. And why does making him moody and dark and brooding suddenly make him relatable? It’s just weak writing. 

I miss camp. I miss optimism. I miss color. I miss superheros havings dumb adventures and villains with silly plans that affect only a city block and not the entire world. I fell into comic books to escape the realities of a world that is dark, random and full of violence. 

There has to be a way to balance humor, action and tension and seriousness with color and jokes that make sense. There just has to be.

Wait, didn’t we start by talking about Batman Forever?

So, Schumaker as a director is a hot mess and I cannot and will not say this movie is good but it did something that now I find rare, beautiful and curious. It gave us a Batman that was strong, a Riddler that was hilarious and a Two-Face that was over the top. This was superhero drag and its best and dammit it was good. And I think what makes it so good now is looking at the movies we got after it featuring Batman. So many of them are dark, brooding and take themselves too seriously but it took someone willing to disrespect a narrative like Schumaker to ignore lore, canon and anything else and see the series for what it is: a campy, vaguely homoerotic romp.

I think we fear humor and camp in comics because many of us comic book fans are defensive. We’re used to having to rationalize our hobby as not for kids and that means running away from anything that could “de-legitimize” the thing we like. But camp is what got me to love comics and I have no issue explaining that at the same time as being serious and strong of a narrative there can also be humor and levity.

Embracing The End

_There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story._ Frank Herbert.png

After our last post about webcomics, a very common thread appeared as I ranted about why I fell out of touch with some formerly beloved comics: many of them just need to end. And this doesn’t just apply to webcomics, we realistically could have an entire other blog just on anime series and television shows that need to end for a myriad of reasons.But embracing the end of a series is hard; it’s something that I as a creator have really only dealt with once. I finally finished a long fiction project that I started when I was a teenager (no, you can’t read it).  I’m by nature a creator and ending a work is hard. If left to my own devices I would never finish a story, hell the long fiction piece I was working on I continue to dip into that well with short stories and side narratives. I’m afraid to let this piece of fiction go. But we’ve established that I’m a bit of a self-indulgent writer. This fiction piece will never be seen by mortal eyes so it’s okay for me to relish in trudging up old plot points. But for creators who create to be seen, embracing the end is vital.

Before we dip too far into series that refuse to end, I want to talk about a few that ended perfectly. Cowboy Bebop obviously is a perfectly ambiguous ending that if you don’t question when the movie is supposed to be happening ends a serious and dramatic series on a serious and beautiful note. Adventure Time just gave us an ending full of heart and power thus proving that Pendleton Ward is now even better than his master, Butch Hartman (a man who is physically incapable of ending anything[ unless a network demands him to do so]).

Comic books are always in a strange limbo as far as endings go because death means nothing and a character will continue on despite different continuities and canons but that doesn’t mean that comic books don’t ever end. Watchmen as a graphic novel had a fantastically powerful ending. The Death of Superman was such an intense cultural touchstone that folks actually assumed the comic book industry is would collapse upon itself after the death of a beloved icon.

And even an unsatisfying ending is better than nothing. I’ll go on record saying that the end of Trigun is hot garbage but hey, at least it ended. Wolf’s Rain had a terrible ending that I am still angry about but more episodes wouldn’t have fixed the show’s serious structural problems.  InuYasha and really most of the big shonen series have had lackluster endings but them ending has been so powerful and cathartic.

Enjoy positivity, we’re here to talk about the times where a show refused to end and thus have all dragged us down with its pathetic death rolls. I mentioned Sister Claire in my webcomics post and that’s very high on the list for me as far as webcomics that just need to end: we are so far from the original plot that it’s embarrassing. Case Closed is an anime that started many years before me and is now approaching the 1000th chapter of the manga and the point of the main series is so far buried that it is up to be the next mystery for Conan to solve. One Piece should have ended literally years ago and I am refraining myself from talking about it further because it will make me the angry.  

But wait, my usual strawman screeches from the rafters:

But series have to keep going because of money!

Thank you, strawman. Where would I be without you?

Okay, so in anime especially there’s plenty of reasons why a company would keep a series going. Free! Is a series with zero plot that did not need a season three and the third season has taken a series I love and has made me hate it. Boruto is a sequel no one asked for because hey, you kids loved the Naruto. Bleach is going to get a stupid sequel because hey, you love that show, too, right? And many of these series just ended. Bleach’s ending was awful and weak and had easily 4-5 ending points that you can see where painfully drawn out because money. While I could have any entire post about the cash-grab sequel and the horrible thing that is a filler arc, this is more about a lack of an ending due to being a poor writer.

And I don’t say that to insult any writer who is objectively better than I am. But not being able to end a body of work does show some weakness as a writer: one very common to many writers including me, a well-intending idiot.

InuYasha comes to mind. Rumiko Takahashi is a brilliant storyteller and its because of her characters that I am the fan I am today. But she started with a series that could have easily been a few volumes and stretched it out into a series that finished when I was in college. For the record, I started this anime and manga at the same time when I was 12. And it finished when I was an adult: that’s weak storytelling. You can even see the series start and stop and drag on and not know what to do with its at times bloated cast and meandering point. And you can see her be more concise with her more traditional romances, no other series of hers has such a problem ending: she simply struggled with InuYasha. She likely built a world too big for herself and then spent a great deal of time trying to fill that world. Eventually the ending to InuYasha Final Act which was already beginning to meander on after the first anime was cancelled due to her not being able to end she had to rush an ending that left longtime fans like me deeply unsatisfied: but hey, it did eventually end.

Webcomics are an entirely different format that are suited for being longform. And for a slice of life, that’s okay. It’s okay to have a webcomic that doesn’t have a foreseeable end as long as it stays consistent. Girls With Slingshots ran for a small eternity but stayed consistent for its 10 year run and when it did it, it was satisfying and perfectly appropriate for that series. But comics like Sister Claire are now so far removed from its plot that I long for its final end. I’m happy to know that Menage a Three is hopefully wrapping up soon and the other affiliate comics should wrap up.

To rag on a franchise I love, Harry Potter as a world has refused to die because Jo Rowling apparently has too much time on her hands and truthfully her intrusions into the lore and canon of Hogwarts have only soured my desires to continue my studies with the esteemed school: I’m happy to go rogue and create my own stories based on scaffolding that Rowling built for us.

As I mentioned at the top of the post, I divulged that I just finished up one of my long-running fiction pieces. It’s based on a series I love and I started it when I was in high school. I finished a few years ago because I was determined to finish it. During my time after high school, the muse I had to write the series was my then partner, but when my partner left me, I stopped writing. I did my best to will myself to finish the work and I did. It likely will never be published because it’s about as self-indulgent as self-indulgent can be and likely no one would want to read such a thing. But I struggled to end that work and I still dabble in its lore and with its characters because I’m afraid of what will happen if I let this rest. I’m scared I’ll lose that world, those characters, their personalities.

When I say that refusing to end a work is a weakness it’s one I’m fully aware of.

One day, this blog will come to an end.

But not any time soon.

See you next time.

 

Genocide Lite: Our Current Media Obsession

_A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic._Joseph Stalin.png

When I was growing up and watching the shows that went on to influence me, the villains were mostly cartoony. And not just by the fact that they were animated but also that their plans were quite out there. Think of The Joker in Batman The Animated Series, his plans were almost always just to ruin Batman’s day and maybe hurt a few people and rob a bank or two. Even Dr. Doom’s plans for Marvel weren’t huge, he just wanted to be left alone and rule his made up world. The villains all had tangible goals and their plots were usually just an inconvenience to the hero. It’s one of the reasons the egotistical Loki of the first Avengers movie was such a trip for me: I’m used to comic book Loki who rather just steal Thor’s underwear or something.

But as you’ve seen during this magical adventure we’ve had this year discussing framing, villains and villainy: you’ve likely noticed a theme. That theme is that the current bad thing of the era is genocide. And I don’t mean that hyperbolically. It’s literally the aim of most evil dudes in movies recently.

A Buzzfeed article recently discussed that the theme of the last 10 years of movies has been animals overtaking humans as dominant species as a social commentary for our misuse of the planet. But I think the real theme of current movie bad is the systematic or sudden removal of a large amount of people. You’ve seen me mention it over and over again as I rant about framing.

And it continues to bother me each time because I get more and more angry that the prospect of hundreds, thousands, millions of people can die in a narrative and we still side with the villain. So in today’s post I want to talk about when that shift seemed to occur in comics and movies and why it’s so terrible.

Earlier I mentioned the motives of comic book villains during the Gold and Silver age. Most of them had pretty small goals or mostly non-lethal lofty ones. There was a lot of desire to enslave a population or take over a planet or rob a bank. Many of the Gold and Silver age villains barely even had a body count back in the day. It wasn’t until the 70s or so that comic villains got more intense about wanting death as part of their domination. This actually starts to appear around the first introduction of Thanos in the comics during the 1970s. Thanos’ goal in the comics was to woo Lady Death and the only way to do that is to send her souls. She’s impressed by numbers (the O.G. size queen) and so Thanos does all he can to add to his body count to please his mistress. We didn’t get a shift in his goals being objectively genocidal until much later in the comics. Then his motivation becomes the weird meditation on resources we get in the Infinity War movie. We’ve seen comic book characters go down this route before. Parallax wants to eat the Galaxy in Green Lantern, Galactus wants to do…whatever his motivations are and that usually involves a ton of people dying.

The first mark in the shift of genocide as plot point can be seen in a comic that means a lot to me but I don’t get to discuss enough: Watchmen. Moore’s brilliant graphic novel tackles this issue incredibly directly with Ozymandias’ terrible plan being spelled out quite clearly: killing millions, to save billions. There, there’s the shift. Suddenly, the madman isn’t mad, he’s just an extremist looking for the most rational solution to a major problem. And I adore Adrian’s plan. His motivations to stop the war by zapping in a psychedelic interdimensional space squid to wipe out most of New York is flawed but that’s the beauty of Moore’s prose: you can sort of see where he’s coming from. But even though the framing tells us Ozymandias’ plan is rational for that universe, the way everyone else treats him after the reveal of his plan reminds us that this is terrible. The movie is a hot mess but the film also does a great job of demonizing Ozymandias’ dumb plan even though he uses Dr. Manhattan nonsense to vaporize a bunch of folks rather than the space cephalopod.

The only mass death in comics that could possibly rival death toll mounted by Ozymandias was House of M for Marvel. This storyline saw the end to mutants in the decades long run of Marvel comics and in a simple phrase more than half of the characters that made Marvel great simply vanished. It was a heartbreaking event in the comics and we considered Scarlet Witch to be a villain for years after her fateful choice: even if we could empathize with her grief that lead up to the choice to utter that powerful phrase, she’s still a monster for wiping people off the face of existence.

DC Comics did have Crisis on Infinite Earths and there were many many deaths as a result and Blackest Night which is a crisis entirely created by Booster Gold because he wanted to be the hero, dammit. But as we’ve discussed, no one considered Booster Gold to be a hero of anything.

Most of the genocidal villains we get in comics and movies are framed as bad guys because that’s what bad guys do: they suggest that removing an entire section of population is expendable. Think of Star Wars: Darth Vader wipes out an entire planet and we know he’s a bad guy for it and earlier when Vader is still just annoying Anakin, he slaughters a bunch of children and Tusken Raiders and it is firmly shown that he is a bad guy for that. And even though Vader is ultimately a very sympathetic character, we don’t ever forget that he’s still a mass murderer.

Speaking of the 2000s, it’s around this time that genocide seemed to be less of a taboo. By this time, I was watching a ton of anime and several series flirt with this idea: you’ve heard me discuss Death Note frequently but also Bleach flirts with a subplot of wiping out souls and Soul Reapers for the sake of a goal, Trigun hints at this with Knives’ subplot and even if it isn’t straight up death as the goal, several anime focus on purity or a unique group rising to the top. Japan is very eugenics-friendly, which should terrify everyone. Media be it Western or eastern has a ton of focus on Chosen Ones and more pure people and if any part of that sounds scary to you, good. We’re on the same page.

Here is the problem with romanticizing genocide and eugenics: we’ve had actual genocide happen in the world. Hitler wanted to remove Jews and other “undesirables” from Germany, Pol Pot wanted to forge a new future by eradicating the past, ethnic minorities all around the world face persecution and death simply for being a little bit different. This is a real thing with real consequences and our continual sugar-coating of the slippery slope nonsense logic that continues to minimize the dangers of racism, misogyny and homophobia only makes those problems worse. When Thanos’ idea in Infinity War doesn’t sound so crazy, that’s a problem. When Killmonger’s Reconquista sounds logical, that’s a problem. We live in a world that is full of natural disasters, terrorism, racism, homophobia, sexism, hatred, bigotry and population concerns: these are real problems and to far too many people the idea of simply poofing some folks out of existence sounds like a great way to solve all of these complex problems.

I think it’s a sign of the times that genocide seems to be our main macabre obsession as was slavery and colonialism were the macabre obsessions of the Gold and Silver age of comics. We have to confront that if eugenics, social Darwinism and wiping out parts of the population for a “clean slate” ticks any box for you, you are on a dangerous path. I’ve had to confront that in myself and it’s made me infinitely more critical of the media I ingest.  

I hope you enjoyed this discussion on the deaths of too many fictional characters.

I promise the next topic will be lighter.

 

My Top 10 DC Characters

“Why do we argue_ Life's so fragile, a successful virus clinging to a speck of mud, suspended in endless nothing.” ― Alan Moore, Watchmen

After Infinity War left me so burned, I found myself turning to DC for some comfort. I’ve been a comic book fan for decades and I’m strangely 50/50 when it comes to the two main houses: Marvel and DC. When people ask me which one I prefer I often give them a pretty blanket answer:

Marvel for the heroes. DC for the villains.

This is a pretty diplomatic answer but anyone who really knows me that despite my numerous times playing Tony Stark, DC has held my heart for a much longer time than Marvel can claim.

So to rekindle the forge of my heart that has been pillaged after Infinity War, let’s go over at least 10 characters from DC that mean the world to me. Just like the last time with my Top 20 Animes, this is in no real order but you are welcome to read whatever you like into the order that will inevitably form from the chaos that will be this list.

I think I have to put up a spoiler warning for some reason. Just in case I say something that blows your minds.

  • The Joker
    • Now, it’s irresponsible to have any DC list without mentioning Mister J. He’s probably listening and would be very offended if I left him off this list. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with The Joker. As one of the most iconic villains ever, he’s sort of the Crown Prince of Edgelords and folks who think they’re very dark and deep and post his comments and quotes on forums and social media. My attachment to The Joker is a little more personal. I fell in love with The Clown Prince of Crime in Batman The Animated Series where Mark Hamill’s voice allowed him to be equal parts threatening and hilarious. The Joker has come a very long way as a character. He was at first a mostly cartoonish troll to and now he’s mostly a snarling Hot Topic model. But what makes The Joker so good ties perfectly into the version that is my personal favorite: The Killing Joke. This is The Joker at his best and with enough Kierkegaard to beat any philosophy minor into the ground. The Joker’s main mantra of “Everyone is just one bad day away…” is a powerful one and one I connect to. As someone who (like Batman and Jack Napier) has had a series of bad days, I absolutely deal with the demon of using pain and trauma as a rationalization towards the darkness inherent in all of us.
  • Etrigan
    • Gone, gone, the form of man…God, are there more iconic lines? I love Etrigan the Demon. He’s an older than you think comic book character who was a demon in the time of King Arthur. He’s sworn to fight against Morrigan the Enchantress and oftentimes Klarion the Witchboy (one of my many sons) but he’s also just as likely to be enchanted by Morrigan and be used as a tool for destruction. Etrigan’s design and old-timey speech won me over easily and even though he’s not a well known DC character, I still love him and I have considered getting his little spell tattooed on my body somewhere.
  • John Constantine
    • Still no Batman. Sorry, we’ll get to Bruce but I have to talk about the Hellblazer himself. So John Constantine is a strange case. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know much about him before the wildly popular TV show and the mediocre Keanu Reeves movie that I don’t hate. His character is an interesting one. He’s one of the rare cases of a bisexual character but this was of course, back in the day when bisexual was just analogous for “whore” but Constantine was very proud and aware of his status as a tool. Constantine is a demon-hunter with literally every vice you can imagine and his design, brooding mood and his ability to play well with others made me cozy up to him very quickly.
  • Jason Todd
    • See? Getting closer to Batman. There will be Batman on this list. Just not right now. Jason Todd is a fascinating character study in a comic creator making a character that everyone hates and then immediately punishing the fanbase for hating them. Death in the Family broke me as a youth and his violent death a the hands of The Joker left a massive scar on the hearts of the fans, me and Bruce. And the timing of his death is so important it hurts just as much as a crowbar to the left cheek. Jason Todd dies just after The Killing Joke and Batman’s inability to kill The Joker was one of the biggest reasons The Joker escalated and took Jason Todd from Bruce. The Joker couldn’t break The Bat by taking out Barbara, so he went after his metaphorical son. Jason Todd died for our sins and came back as an even better version of Batman: The Red Hood. It’s all so metaphorical and meta and I love every part of Jason Todd’s journey from way too smart for his own good kid to a vigilante who is at times more effective at cleaning up the streets of Gotham than Batman is. Now, better is subjective. Depending on who is writing Jason, he’s almost like a proto-Damien Wayne (we’re getting to that little anger cinnamon roll). Jason’s often written as a stark opposite to the first Robin, Dick Grayson. While Dick was nice, talented and affable; Jason was snarky, moody and already had the jump on Bruce by their first meeting. We meet Jason Todd as he’s trying to lift the tires and rims off the Batmobile. Jason Todd is the anti-Dick Grayson and you love or hate him for it.
  • Damien Wayne
    • I’m really skirting around The Bat here, I know. We’re getting there, I promise. But first I wanted to talk about this little ball of anger, pragmatism and a little bit of Raas al Ghul magic. Damien is Bruce’s son by Talia al Ghul (even though this was stupidly ret-conned I will stay with this headcanon, fight me) and he is just as wonderful as you can imagine that combination of two angry people can be. Damien’s practical, blunt and emotionless but it all makes sense considering his background training under his grandfather. Damien’s past means that he is guarded and reserved and may be based on skill one of the best and most capable Robins that have ever served at Batman’s side. And with how reserved and confident he is, it’s wonderful to see him break down.I mean, come on, Damien was convinced his Father was too soft on crime so he sent the Court of Owls to kill his own dad! How intense is that?
  • Booster Gold
    • No context. Just love him. Don’t @ me.
      • Just kidding. There was no way I was going to leave it at that. Booster Gold is hilarious. He’s a time traveler from another dimension where he’s super popular but now wants to be even more famous and does all he can to self-insert his way into the narrative of popular storylines. Because of his knack for wriggling his way into other people stories, he tends to do more harm than good. Hell, most of the bad things that have happened in DC lore he has somehow managed to be part of. Also, Booster Gold is one half of the greatest bro-mance ever with Ted Kord, the original Blue Beetle. What’s amazing is that Booster Gold has zero super powers, he’s just the right amount of narcissistic, talented and confident that he just skates into any situation and has the right tool for the job when he isn’t the one setting the fire to get credit for it in the news later that day.
  • Hal Jordan
    • I’m sure many of you are surprised. I’ve always said how much I prefer Kyle Rayner as a Lantern and Earth’s sworn protector and many of you know that Green isn’t even my color when it comes to the Emotional Spectrum: I’m a very proud Star Sapphire.  But Hal’s just such a great character, especially since his post-Crisis and with some of his New 52 edge. The writers have leaned in a little to his naive, good boy attitude and as long as we ignore the movie that no one likes talking about, I think he has an interesting power set and the fun creative edge of the hero the U.S. often needed. Many folks give Jordan a hard time for choosing dumb constructs, but hey, he does his best. He takes a lot of the best parts from his predecessor, Alan Scott, and turns them into a genuine and authentic person who is just happy to be a real hero in more way than one.
  • Zatanna
    • This magical minx was really never meant to be center stage. Her costume at first was revealing, her powers were mostly for show and she never really got to shine much outside of being the plucky assistant and occasional magical expert Batman needed. But she’s still one of the rare instances of a female character that does anything for me. I do think post New 52 she’s a little overpowered but that comic books and it’s fine. I’ve always admired how fun she was during her appearances on Batman the Animated and while her time in Justice League: Dark paints her with way more melodrama, I’m here for it.
  • Raven
    • Another magical girl? Yep. She’s one of the few female comic book characters I can relate to. And no, not just because she’s a moody, edgy, all-black clad, super goth. I mean, sure, for lots of those reasons. But there’s plenty of other reasons there, too! She’s also very empathetic, but her empathy doesn’t mean that she’s always kind. I absolutely can relate to that. Her past is something she is actively trying to run from and hide, I can also super relate to that. And realistically, depending on who is writing her: she is absolutely on par with Superman just based on magic and ability alone. What’s not to like?
  • Batman
    • So as an angsty person, I’m contractually obligated to put Batman on this list. I don’t have a choice. Superman is not boring but he’s also not super relatable to me. He’s very aspirational, as in, I wish I had even a fraction of Clark’s anything but Bruce, despite how unattainable he actually is; there is something intensely human and vulnerable about him. And it’s only in realizing that maybe he’s not a great person that makes Bruce Wayne so compelling. He’s insanely flawed. He has a secret plan to be able to not kill but emotionally and physically break all of his friends in the Justice League just in case any of them were to go rogue. He’s paranoid, driven and his absolutely subjective moral compass punishes relatively low-level offenders while ignoring larger threats because he enjoys the game too much. He pretends that he has some great code about not killing but he’s doing more harm than good keeping The Joker alive and even when The Joker has taken so much from Bruce Way, The Bat refuses to, just on some false moral high ground, to end the Clown. And while we can all look to Superman to have the right answer and do the right thing, depending on who is writing Batman, he may be the biggest villain in all of Gotham. It’s one of the reasons Batman: White Knight has been such an amazing read, if you frame it from anyone else’s point of view, The Gotham Bat is no hero. But many people can relate to Bruce Wayne. I know I could. I lost my parents, did my best to be better than my past and did all I could to make sure that the world was a better place than the one that ensured that I become an orphan by 20. Bruce operates similarly, he wants the world to be a better place while also struggling with the weight of the name he was born into and uses more than one mask to hide years of pain, trauma and feelings of inadequacy. He’s the most human character DC has ever created. We’ve all in some way felt like Bruce Wayne even if we aren’t all billionaire playboys with genius level intellect, a hidden basement space full of bats and paramilitary weapons and an ability to connect the dots that would make Sherlock Holmes even say that some of the connections was a bit of a stretch. Batman is complex and he perfectly reflects the concerns of the eras he’s in. He stands in for a type of justice that many find more satisfying than waiting for proper police procedure. Sure, if the cops get the criminal, there may be a mistrial. If Batman gets him, we’ll that crook will never crime again. But also consider when I was introduced to The Gotham Knight. It was during the amazing Batman the Animated Series run where he was the most balanced he could be. Bruce was vulnerable, suave, capable but still was just skirting around the confines of the law. The animated run did a perfect balance of handling Batman lore from his Silver Age appearances and continues to inform how actors and writers now handle The Gotham Bat.

This was a fun Top 10 and honestly, if given more time, I’d likely have a very different list that better reflects the years of lore I’ve allowed myself to fall into DC has been creating characters and weaving stories that have touched the lives of millions for decades now and these comic books will always have a special place in my heart. This list is personal, highly subjective and is in no way an accurate representation of even all the characters I like but simply don’t have time to go into further detail. Drop me a comment below if you’d like for me to do a similar treatment to any other property or query!

Thoughts from Wakanda: Musings after Seeing Black Panther

I was afraid to see this movie.

I was afraid that people were going to cinnamon roll the hell out of this film. I was afraid that people were only going to see a diverse cast and ignore any flaws or faults in this film and mostly that has not been true.

Dear reader, I really liked that movie. I loved that movie. It isn’t perfect, but while it’s still fresh in my mind: I wanted to pen down a few of the thoughts about The Black Panther and what it means right now to be black, to be African-American, to be a nerd and to leave a movie theater while pterodactyl screeching.

  • Okay, so Alamo Drafthouse decked this movie out with some of the best promo material and all. Seriously, I’m getting spoiled to the Drafthouse. And all the previews made me giggle.
  • I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with my friend who is also named Amanda and she is white and real talk: she was way more excited to see this movie than I was and we spent a lot of time talking about the fact that this movie is objectively more important to me but she was the one screaming about Wakanda.
  • We also got to have several moments where she wanted to compliment women in beautiful African dress but didn’t feel it was right, so in those times I acted as her surrogate: not that I didn’t also find these outfits beautiful, I’ve seen them before and they don’t hold the same meaning to me.
  • Additionally, I don’t think much of Africa: I came from a family that was never much tied to our own blackness. Remembering Africa meant remembering Slavery and my family chose to focus on bettering their lives than remembering a land so many of us didn’t know.

Here’s a good place for me to talk about my position on and history with Black Panther before the Marvel movies. Truthfully, my favorite run of his was during the 90s and 2000s when he was very much rooted in radical Afro-excellence while also still being very much the blacksploitation character he was created to be. I never had an issue with that as a youth but also fully know we cannot have the superhero equivalent of Coming to America now in 2018.
Let’s actually talk about the movie now: there will likely be spoilers.

  • The casting is AMAZING. There is not a single role that feels out of place or wrong. There is no one role that stood out more to me but dammit everyone was great.
  • I will say it was powerful as hell to see a movie full of beautiful, strong and important black people on screen. So powerful that I did not know that was something I needed until I saw it.
  • The action set pieces may be some of the best done by a Marvel movie: and while they’re actually pretty scarce: this is not as action-heavy as say Civil War was, it was still amazing.
  • The new suit is great, the special effects are great and the soundtrack was great.
  • I did not expect this movie to take me on the emotional ride it did. This movie is not dead parent approved but I am okay with that.
  • Also, how dare another comic book movie make a villian that ends up making more sense than the hero.
  • Andy Serkis is a treasure and it’s so good to see him on screen.
  • Martin Freeman is also a treasure and his American accent is quite good.
    • I was very impressed by this.
  • It was AMAZING to see women of color use technology and be more brilliant than Tony Stark in places.
  • The entire plot of how to deal with African wealth vs. African-American struggle hit me like I did not expect a comic book movie could.
  • I was giddy over the use of Zulu weapons and formations.
    • Seriously, this was like a LARP of the Deadliest Warrior episode that pitted Shaka Zulu against William Wallace.
  • SEEING WARRIOR WOMEN MADE ME SCREAM.
  • Stick around for that post-credits scene. It did upset me but it also did make me smile a little bit.
  • Killmonger is a very human character and his deadpan reactions to things added levity in places there needn’t be levity.
  • There was not a single character that felt out of place and that’s good for a Marvel movie.
  • The small cultural touches made me giddy. Killmonger’s scarification, the tattooed heads of warrior women…lip plates. ALL OF IT made me so happy. Yes, it is pan-Africanism but in the moment it was AWESOME.
  • There are lines in this movie that are so well-delivered that I almost choked on my Mr. Pibb several times. And that’s a damn good thing.

Now in this confluence of praise, I do have some issues with this film:

  • Killmonger is complex and his narrative is very interesting…is a word…it very much did remind me of the actual Black Panther party for better or worse. There’s just one problem with this: we have learned from history that militant African-Americans is not the way to promote equality. And his words ring so true in this era that many people likely will not see this as a problem: and that is the problem.
  • That’s actually just a general issue I had with the film that it does seem like the “villain’s” point of view is likely now one shared by many and in making such a sympathetic antagonist, his viewpoint: which mind you is wrong, seems very okay and normal and a valid way to feel.
  • This is a minor nitpick but the pan-Africanism did start to wear on me as the movie went on. There are so many different languages, religions, clothes and mannerisms that make each country in Africa unique so to see them all sort of just appropriated for the sake of a cool shot: it’s a minor pick but it did wear on me. And while in one breath I can say it’s cool, it also isn’t ideal. And yes, I know this is a fictional African-land but you’re in my world now, so deal with the nitpick.
  • Also there’s a Gorilla tribe that says to be loyal to Hanuman, who is a Hindu deity, which irked me. Not to say there are not Hindu people in Africa: but I’m sure the screenwriter needed a monkey god and just happened to find one.
  • This movie is tensionless. That isn’t a bad thing but despite all the hardship: we know T’Challa will be okay. We know he’s gonna be in Infinity Wars. But a lack of tension isn’t all terrible: just an annoying part of the whole franchise thing.
  • That post-credits scene did upset me a little because it didn’t seem like it was doing much but setting up the next movie and normally I’d be okay with that but as of yesterday, it made me the angry.
  • Some of the humor is meta and out of place and even though I laughed, it is still weak writing.

But all of that side, this movie is iconic and important. I never felt attached to being of African descent but for a moment, in a theater full of people in their finest cultural garb or even those of us just in dresses from Forever 21. I felt an attachment to a fictional place like no other. I felt beautiful and strong for being African-American and I didn’t feel weird for being black, being a geek and loving technology. This movie was the film we needed right now with our current…concerns as a nation and planet. And sure, I had problems with this movie but I am not going to let my personal issues with it diminish how important this film must be to people of color and people in general.
This is the opposite of Wonder Woman for me. Wonder Woman was a passable movie that you couldn’t critique because of how important it was. Black Panther is a great movie that also happens to be very important and while it isn’t perfect: it’s very easy to ignore those flaws.
But this movie is very much a product of today, right now and where we are as a nation, as people and as humans on this planet. It’s one of the biggest reasons I do not think this movie will age well: I think it so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be of color in an unkind world right now. This is not a perfect movie but considering that I walked in assuming that I would not like it and left hooting should tell you just how I feel about this film. It’s political, emotional and real and all coming from a character most only know because of his brief comic book marriage to a more iconic superhero.
I won’t say Wakanda Forever, because that isn’t the goal and shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is to be kind to each other, be better people and help when appropriate. So with that being said: Wakanda For Now.
And long may T’Challa reign.

The Case for Gatekeepers

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. (1).png

I come from a darker era for comic book fandom and really, general nerd-kind. I remember being told over and over again that I wasn’t a real fan because I was biologically female. I was told that I couldn’t be that into comics. I was clearly just doing it for attention. I was clearly just there because I only thought the covers were pretty. And psychologically, that’s really hecking damaging. It’s frustrating having to constantly prove that you are a fan of something. I was quizzed, questioned and dismissed so many times that I just came to accept it and now that we are in a halcyon era of comic book movies and nerd acceptance but maybe… just maybe gatekeeping wasn’t so bad in places.

Let’s take a minute to go over some vocabulary. Gatekeeping is a sociology and recently appropriated fan term that essentially means more “experienced” fans act as, well, gatekeepers and use their knowledge in a certain property or fandom to keep novice or newer fans out. We see this sort of phenomena in a lot in the cringe-inducing comic book guy in most television shows. Think The Simpsons or the literal entire cast of The Big Bang Theory or literally any other popular thing. They all have the same comic book dude who can’t hold a conversation about anything real but will be mad at you if you don’t know exactly what shade of pantone pink the Star Sapphire uniforms are. The normal avatar for this sort of person is usually a white, cis, hetero male and because of that, the view of any other fan that is of color, queer, or female (or a combination of any of those things) is somehow immediately less of a fan. This is also sometimes called fan-gating but that term makes me giggle so I’m just going to use gatekeeping.

The problem is that Gatekeepers think they’re doing a good thing. They think they are protecting their beloved media and often times, they are. Comic books were not always as mainstream as they are now and the knowledge so many comic book fans had (have) was not always valued and was often a source of ridicule and persecution. I was often teased for being able to recite Etrigan’s spell from memory. (I still can, don’t judge me.)

Now, let’s be clear. I am in no way advocating for the gatekeeping of ye olden days. That gatekeeping meant to keep women, queer folks, POCs and others out of comic books, videos games and the like because it was a white man’s hobby. And while, no, that isn’t the view of every comic book fan or generalized nerd human it certainly was the driving force for many of them in the comic world in the 90s and early 2000s (when I was a young impressionable comic book reader). To this day, there are still men who insist that girls only read comics for cosplay and that POCs simply don’t read comic books (It’s almost like black people didn’t make their own comic book line or anything like that…).

Here is also where I’ll pause for all the folks who think that me being quizzed over the canonical order of the Robins in Batman is a valid thing to do as I try to purchase a comic book from a store. (Real thing that happened: ask Carlos.).

I’ll wait.

Glad to have you back. This chapter in Moon Knight was getting a little intense.

So after all that talk about how dehumanizing, exhausting, racist, sexist and miserable gatekeeping was and is…why would I possibly ever say that maybe it isn’t so bad?

Remember that statement I made about comic books and other geeky, nerdy things now coming into mainstream popularity? That was not a thing even 10 years ago (back when the first Avengers movie was barely a concept and we were all still angry at Joel Schumacher for ruining Batman.). And there were plenty of people (me included) who have now found themselves in a curious place. Suddenly, the things we love(d) are now very popular. And that means those folks that teased many of us (me included) now suddenly very en vogue. I’ve had old high school friends suddenly claim that it’s so cool they know a cosplayer: the same folks that 10 long years ago was a sore subject and the butt of many jokes towards me. Now the jock that used to make fun of me for liking The Green Lantern is very excited about Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Now, can people change? Sure. Am I being a little petty? Always. But I think it brings up a valid point. With the influx of new fans, the conversations can be a little strained now. Now we have plenty of folks who say they know comics based on the movies but likely couldn’t tell you much beyond that. Now, casual fans are fine and I love them but most casual fans don’t claim to be experts. It’s the folks that will step to other fans and say they know comics but only do because they’ve seen Captain America: Civil War three times. In so many other fields, I am a dirty casual. I’m a casual gamer, pretty novice with RPGs and while I used to be a strong tournament contender in a few things, I’m by no means as good at Street Fighter as I used to be.

“Stay in your lane.” is a shorthand for that kind of thing I use a lot and a few of my friends have picked it up, too. When Carlos and Ricky are talking stats in Tekken, I tend to shut up and let them. If they ask about stitches, well, it’s my time to shine then.

Another aspect of gatekeeping is one close to my heart and a topic we’ve tackled before. It’s the topic of having convictions, discussions and not being reduced to name-calling when someone doesn’t agree with your ship. During many a gatekeeper’s conversation, I’ve had to defend which Lantern Corps I was in. Which Harry Potter house I was sorted into. I had to explain why I liked a comic and had to prove my knowledge of it frequently. And sure, it was demoralizing and exhausting but it made a fan with iron-clad convictions. When I was on my dear friend Heather’s show ( seriously, listen to it and enjoy several minutes of us fangirling over each other. ) we discussed this sort of phenomena and it comes down to attachment styles. Because I had to constantly fight and prove what I loved an why I was a fan: I have now been able to form secure attachments to my fandoms. Newer fans that have not had to constantly prove themselves have formed insecure attachments often times because they are not being challenged. Because of that, any challenge is perceived as a threat on their person rather than an often times valid criticism of the piece of media they wish to defend.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I wish for the same horrible experience I had as a fan to happen to newer and casual fans. No, not at all. But there is something to be said about challenging a fan. I have this problem a lot with recent film criticism where Internet critics will bash a thing from a comic book movie even though it is likely the most authentic part of the film.

There’s something to be said about being challenged from time to time. There’s something to be said about having to defend your ship. There’s something to be said about being proven right or wrong. And there’s always room for a good, spirited conversation that doesn’t devolve into racial slurs and casually calling someone a homophobe.

In the comments: I’ll be answering questions and ranting about how amazing Damien Wayne is.

Thanks for reading!

 

Thine Vengeance Be Done

-On wrongs swift vengeance waits.-Alexander Pope.png

There’s something wonderful about seeing a character get exactly what they deserve. There’s something satisfying about seeing Valentine get impaled at the end of Kingsman. There’s so much weight to watching Aizen finally bound by Urahara-nonsense magic in Bleach. Our media including anime, TV and comic books, normal books and the like are so full of dastardly characters and when they get exactly what’s coming to them; it’s just delightful. And with all these troublesome characters, it’s even more needed to see their actions treated appropriately in their respective stories. 

In the last post we talked about this I brought up an example from my childhood (ugh) InuYasha. I mentioned how in the anime that InuYasha treats Kagome like hot trash while treating Kikyo like a princess but what’s even more egregious in this series is a character many ignore: Hojo. Hojo is one of Kagome’s classmates and he adores her. He loves everything about her, is attentive and kind and supportive. And what does Kagome do? Ignore him. She totally ignores him. In fact, she chooses the man who actively preferred chasing his dead girlfriend to her company. I’m not bitter. This hasn’t been something brewing in me since I was 13. None of the troubling parts of the series are brought up. No one changes. No one learns a lesson. All that happens is Kagome dumps Hojo to go run around with a forest furry who barely remembers her name and wishes she would go back to the time she came from.  

A series I’ve now mentioned a few times is Antique Bakery and I’ve been nothing but complimentary of the series. Yusuke Ono is a flawed character and guess what? He has to change and be a better man to get to the pure cinnamon roll that is Chikage-san. And when something awful happens to him, you empathize with him because he admits that while what happened wasn’t great and is still terrible he admits that he didn’t exactly do much to not be in the situation. The same goes for the main character Tachibana-san. Tachibana in the start of the series is revealed to say and do terrible things and guess what? The series entirely holds him accountable. He has to constantly face his former homophobia and prove himself to Ono again all the while realistically dealing with the trauma of his childhood. No one was unjustly rewarded in the series except for maybe Sakurako, who got a daughter out of Chikage without him really understanding what being a sperm donor is, and anything be it a bakery, closure, a man or a woman is worked for.

If you’ve ever read my fictional jaunts and other creative pieces, I’m known for unreliable narrators and troublesome characters because they are the kind I love the most. I love the control of information in a narrative and just how much the story changes based upon who has the point of view. Think about how empty Tsubasa is if you take it from Fai or Kurogane’s perspective. It has to be mostly focused on Syaoran and Sakura: there’s no plot otherwise. Or even Bleach is a fantastic example. If taken from the view of the Soul Society, the main plot is just a series of incident reports and a  bureaucratic nightmare as some ginger kid runs around with Hollow powers and not listening to orders. But one of my main tenants in my fictional works is simple: it’s to rewrite or to fix a wrong. Slytherins aren’t portrayed well in Harry Potter. Guess who wrote literally hundreds of words to correct that?

But in addition to my desire to keep tight control of my narratives, I also don’t like crappy behavior go without comment or punishment. If a character is awful, they are seldom rewarded and that is directly related to the less than ideal narratives I read as a young fan. So many times flat out criminal behavior was rewarded in anime and manga. Stalking? No, he’s just very attentive. Manipulation? He clearly cares so much to turn your friends and family against you to keep you isolated. Physical violence? No, she hit you because you deserved it. You shouldn’t have done something to make her hit you. That carried on into, tragically, some of my very earliest relationships. I remember being 14 and 15 years old assuming that if a boy treated me the way InuYasha treated Kagome, he wasn’t an abuser, he was just playing hard to get. I, luckily, grew out of that pretty quickly (just kidding, it took literally years to retrain my brain and to demand more from my partners and to treat my partners in turn better).

I think that’s why as an adult I love more complex narratives so much. I’ve mentioned the character of Klaus von Wolfstat a few times now and he’s from a little series called Maiden Rose. It’s a war-era boy’s love series and Klaus is the overbearing and obsessive lover of military leader, Taki Reizen. Klaus is…complicated. He’s done terrible things, is a literal addict (but it’s okay because it’s historical, right?) and somehow even as a chibi manages to be taller than everyone else and still somehow have a 6-pack.  But within the canon of Maiden Rose despite how troubling and upsetting Klaus’ behavior is, he is seldom rewarded for his actions. Taki rebukes him often, is cold to him after an incident of less than desirable attention being provided and he is generally hated by the rest of the cast. Every time Klaus is slapped, injured, shot at or yelled at, it somehow lessens the dull pain of how awful of a character he is. No one is there to romanticize his actions or say that what he’s doing is actually okay, he is only met with cold indifference.

On the other hand, there are instances where the wrong character does seem to get picked on as almost a scapegoat to ignore a more disturbing part of the narrative. Let’s take a character that I actually love and does not get the credit she deserves, Millie. Now, Trigun’s an anime that ruined me as a kid. It was probably one of the biggest series to cement my love of dubs and good American voice acting and had characters I’ve loved for years. But a character that is almost entirely ignored despite how important she is to the narrative is Millie. She’s often overshadowed by Meryl because, well, Millie’s not bright. But her optimism is inspirational to the bulk of the cast and she could even be compared to Rem as far as being innocent and fair goes. But what happens at the end for her? Well, Trigun’s ending isn’t exactly favorable to anyone in particular. The ending is unsatisfying for many and disappointing to say the least and leaves our two main females in nearly the same place they started and Millie is even more left into obscurity because she does somewhat fade during the 3rd Act.  Is she at all rewarded for her bravery or empathy or kindness? Nope unless you count getting to bang Wolfwood once. No one is really rewarded for anything in that series so it’s the perfect example, really. Nothing matters. Just like Vash entered in like wrecking ball and so he leaves in quiet cloud of melodrama. Again, I’m still clearly not bitter over this. I clearly haven’t written 15 better versions of this ending since I was 16 years old. No, I’m a well-adjusted adult.  

For an example that isn’t as dated as I am, BoJack Horseman is great about making sure that bad deeds in the show are properly dealt with. BoJack doesn’t get away with anything and honestly, he’s probably punished too severely for some of his actions. Really, the only character in that show that does get away with murder regularly is Mr. Peanutbutter and well, we all know how that works.  

I do think the current cynicism of the world is better about holding characters accountable. Under the Red Hood is probably one of my favorite Batman movies and I love it so much because it makes Bruce Wayne face one of his greatest failures. His inaction cost Jason Todd his life and thus created the Red Hood. The Red Hood is a phantom Bruce made and in letting him live and refusing to kill The Joker based on some falsified moral high ground, now he has to face his demons and a vigilante that can take down enemies in a frighteningly efficient manner. We desire as a community and as a world justice. Why do you think Law and Order: SVU is still running? Only in a fictionalized New York do the police always answer the phones and every case at least seems some sort of justice. We now crave for bad things to happen to bad people and frankly with how the world is right now, I’m okay with that.

Are any of you surprised? I’m Team Kira, after all.

Hold your characters, your media and those in your life accountable, dear readership.

 

To My Sweet and Precious Cinnamon Roll

All things truly wicked start from innocence. Ernest Hemingway.png

Today I want to tell you a little story about an anxiety-riddled 24 year old Japanese man and the 27 year old Russian sadist that like a creeping vine slithers into his life. You may also know this little narrative as Yuri On Ice. I got a lot of flack for my disliking of the show and really it is pretty tsundere of me to keep talking about it but hey, blame my lifestyle as a panelist. I have to know what’s popular and for some reason everyone loves ice skating now. But it illustrates my point very well. In friend and fan circles I get accused a lot of just not liking canon pairing and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love canon pairings when they make sense. YoI has the same problem so many canon pairings do: the romance is not earned. What does Yuri do to earn Victor? Sure, he skates around a little but what changes did he have to make? More important, what in the name of all things good and holy did Victor to do earn Yuri? This is a young man that to imagine erotic love has to compare his lover to food. Fun fact, most relationships based on food imagery aren’t exactly healthy. The relationship may be cute and vanilla but it isn’t earned.

Now, when I say earned what do I mean? An earned relationship is one that just makes sense. The chemistry is solid, the tension is valid and it has to be satisfying. Satisfying does not always mean happy, just satisfying and most importantly the characters have to be on the same field and deserve each other. A great example of this for me is InuYasha, actually. Kagome is a piece of wood as far as characters go and InuYasha treats her like hot garbage. They abuse each other all throughout the series and it was frankly predictable and disappointing to see the series ship them off after years of them just yelling at each other. On the other hand, InuYasha and Kikyo were surprisingly balanced from what we’ve seen while they were both of the living. They challenged each other, they were on equal footing and most importantly they treated each other with love and respect. InuYasha with all his angst and baggage knew that being cruel and indignant to Kikyo wasn’t a way he could treat her and she then treated him with kindness and empathy since that was really all that he needed. She demanded more from him and she got it.

To contrast, think of Naruto. Naruto the series spent 15 years trying to ignore Hinata as a character despite her ardent love of Naruto the character. Over the run of the series Naruto runs away from the girl actually paying attention to him to run after either Sakura or Sasuke and then Shippuden tries to ham-hand Hinata in and she deserves so much more. It was nice to see her get her happy ending but you know what else would have been nice? Seeing them actually make a connection and fall in love.

The same actually happens in Bleach. The series goes very far out of its way to set up Ichigo and Rukia as comrades and equals. They spend a comedic amount of time together, they respect each other and they are on equal terms as far as strength for quite a while and Rukia can and does stand on her own. Who does Ichigo end up with? The wet paper bag that is Orihime. Why? Because fans can’t have nice things.

Let’s also discuss the topic of cinnamon rolls. For those assuming that we’re talking about pastry you aren’t wrong but let’s talk about the term as it is used on the Intertubes. For fans: a cinnamon roll is a pure character. An untainted and unexplored territory who is too good for this world and does deserve better than anyone can offer. You do all you can to keep cinnamon rolls safe from the horrors of this cruel world.

Yuri Katsuki is a cinnamon roll. Nunally in Code Geass is a cinnamon roll. Matsuda in Death Note is a cinnamon roll. Alphonse Elric is a cinnamon roll. Got it? Awesome. This list is technically subjective but most people do agree on who is a cinnamon roll and who isn’t. Cinnamon rolls are interesting because of who the series often pairs them with and for some reason cinnamon rolls are paired with the more time-worn characters thus creating the “hijinks” that ensues when an experienced man tries to “take on” a virgin or the subtle but not rare use of the cinnamon roll: the damsel that needs to be protected.  

I’ll poke a hole in one of my favorite series: Gravitation for one of the best examples. At the start of the manga and before the publishers changed the ages around because things were getting uncomfortable; Shuichi is 19 years old, just starting his music career and doesn’t have a single cruel bone inside of him. He then almost immediately meets Yuki Eiri, a man who originally was meant to be nearly 10 years his senior and has seen some stuff to put it very lightly. Yuki is cold, crass and frankly, abusive to his younger partner but the series plays it off like things are just fine. So do I not ship Shuichi with Yuki because I’m a Mary Sue and want Eiri to myself? No, actually. I’ve been cosplaying as Eiri for years: why try and Mary Sue with him when I’ve been him?

I do put Shuichi with someone. I put him with Hiro. Hiro is hardworking, understanding, kind and most importantly they did date before and things were more than healthy. Do I leave Yuki alone? Not at all, a headcanon of mine actually places him with Ryuichi. Why? I feel like they have more to bond over both being creative people. Back to the cinnamon roll point, Shuichi in the run of the manga is brought down to so many of his lowest points because of Yuki. Shuichi deserves happiness and support and he needs that and he will not and cannot get that from his Cool Beauty. Shuichi deserves Hiro while Yuki is best off honestly being a bit of a playboy. Cinnamon rolls are too pure for this world, need our protection and for some reason series are terrible about forcing these characters into the arms of the most corrupt and battle-born characters.

Now are there characters that have benefited from being around someone lighter and more loving. Yes, completely. Antique Bakery has a great set up where even though Ono is a less than ideal person he does his best to impress and actively be better for the man he loves, Chikage. He does all he can to be better so he doesn’t cause trouble for his partner and there is something admirable about that.

So that pin you’ve been holding about characters getting what they deserve is important now before we wrap up. I come from a troubling generation of fandoms and writing. Acts that are flat out criminal were considered cute and things that are objectively abusive were considered to be loving reminders from an attentive partner. When terrible things happen to good characters and the perpetrator isn’t punished in the series, it feels like a rather personal attack. It fundamentally bothers me now to see characters in any series get away with something awful and those actions be either ignored or praised. Let’s pause here to talk about especially in anime and manga: this is a weird topic. So many acts that are on paper misogynistic are less stigmatized in Japan because reasons that really could be its own blog post so I won’t pull many anime examples from this but I will pull an American comic example. Harley Quinn is a character that almost no one seems to approach well. She was first brought into the famous Batman the Animated Series universe and was quickly so popular that she became a part of the main lore and canon of the entire Batman franchise. Harley, for those that have been living under a rock for 25 years, is the loving sidekick to The Joker. The Joker is a complex character and an awful garbage person who has done terrible things to Harley and has abused her almost from her inception as a character. But in recent depictions especially the things that The Joker has done have been turned into now for some reason endearing acts of love and devotion to his beloved Harley. He pushes her out of buildings because her cares. He punches her until she passes out because he loves her. He leaves for for dead in countless situations because they are meant to be. The movie Suicide Squad perpetuated many of those concepts and suddenly you have a bunch of kids running around calling one of the most abusive relationships in media ever as #RelationshipGoals. Harley, the victim of brainwashing and abuse she is, deserves so much more. It’s one of the main reasons I was so happy to see her shipped off with Poison Ivy and they now can work on healing her emotional and physical scars and help improve her mental health.

The flip of that in comics is probably everyone’s favorite bisexual demon hunter, John Constantine. Constantine is a hilarious character and a noted garbage human being and he feels the consequence of every bad choice he’s ever made. That demon he gambled with? They remember. The girl he tried to pick up in Hyde Park? She remembers. Constantine is constantly told off, slapped, hit and made aware of the mistakes he’s made so when he does apologize, when he does admit to an error it has some weight to it. He can see he made a less than ideal choice and he can at least admit to it and try to do better (he never does better).

Remember, kids. Make sure your relationships are earned. It’s much more fulfilling in the end.

That was fun, wasn’t it? Let’s do this again sometime.

Aspirational vs. Actual

“When you see a good person, think of becoming like her%2Fhim. When you see someone not so good, reflect on your own weak points.” ― Confucius.png

It’s a bit of a joke in my friend group that if there is a troublesome character in a series that I probably will love them. Characters like Klaus von Wolfstat and Jean Baptiste Hevens are not great guys; they’re awful characters but they hold a special terrible place in my heart. I will shun main characters to join the tea party of evil and remain blissfully in the darkness until a better, more compelling character saunters in. So today I wanted to talk about what makes a character compelling, why the good side isn’t always the fun side and the two main ways I can like a character and when that fails spectacularly.

While I have your attention, I mentioned “troublesome” characters earlier. Here’s what I mean by that. There are characters that are just garbage human beings and you cannot and should not like them but dammit, they can be fun. Let’s take a mainstream example: Light Yamagi of Death Note. He’s an egotistical sociopath who wants to take over the world and remake it in his image. He may speak of justice but to use a literal murder book, you’re probably already at least a little bit of a sociopath. Lelouch of Code Geass is another great example. This charismatic manipulator has used and abused everyone around him all for some goal. He’s not a good person but it certainly is fun to watch. It’s easy to recognize a character as terrible, denounce their actions in real life and in the series while also thinking they’re quite fun.And it’s even better when characters get what they deserve…(another blog post, perhaps?).

There are two major ways that I like characters in popular media: we’re gonna use a lot of anime examples today and also some comic book ones because this is my blog and ergo my rules. The main was is a character I actually like because they are like me (and I say like me based on tons of factors: we’ve talked representation before, haven’t we?). These characters like Sasuke Uchiha, Uryu Ishida and Yuki Eiri (notice a trend? We did talk representation, right?) have traits more like me. They bring with them family drama, a desire to be their own person, charm that masks pain and a grounded realism that just nearly borders as nihilistic pessimism. Then there are aspirational characters. These characters are special: they are who I want to be. And this hasn’t changed much even though I’m now an on paper adult. These are characters that have something in them that I want to be like selflessly charming or cool under pressure or unyielding optimism and while easy answers include Sebastian Michaelis, Tohma Seguchi and strangely enough Orihime Inoe. Now, before the bulk of you complain about my noted anime misogyny…let’s talk about why Orihime is on this list.

When I started watching Bleach I was 17 years old. I had lost my dad 5 years before that, I was a high school upperclassman and was running a successful but stressful anime club. I was a charming and affable host-type with a winning personality but that hid the fact that my home life was less than ideal and that I was exhausted by what it meant to be a student and even just to be a functioning human person. While Bleach mostly centers around Ichigo Kurosaki, a 15 year old who lost his mother and his magical adventures hunting Hollows and navigating the Soul Society and the world of Soul Reapers, his counterpart for most of the series is a girl named Orihime. She’s not the brightest crayon in the box but she has a lot of heart. She similarly faced loss but instead of being bitter and cynical like Ichigo (cough and me) she was kind, loving and generous. I envied her ability to still see light in a world made so dark by personal loss. Which may explain why I was (still am) so disappointed with how she was treated by the series. The series took her light and humor and caring and turned her into a Arthurian quest object and not in a way that I like. The same could be said Naruto Uzumaki in so many and slightly more tolerable ways. He also faced isolation, loneliness and dealt with being misunderstood for years (Yeah, I was angsty kid…am still an angsty adult. Don’t judge me.). But instead of becoming a monster like Gaara did or a non-committal forest dweller like Sasuke, Naruto decided to be as kind as possible: he wanted to treat everyone in a way that he never was treated and dammit that was inspirational as a teenager.

But it may be all of the reasons listed above that I tend to love villains and antagonists so much. I’ve mentioned before that most of the development and tension goes to the antagonist, leaving some rather bland female characters in its wake. It’s Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z who gets the character arc and has to change his views the most. It’s Sasuke in Naruto who gets the arc of redemption and then the very quick ignoring of that redemption to continue to be a forest jerk. It’s the antagonist that has to learn a lesson and there’s something that set up that is very appealing to me. What lesson does Luffy learn in One Piece? No lesson. Not a damn one. But you bet your ass that the rest of the cast learned plenty of lessons like not trusting Luffy to do anything. I find a story of learning, accepting and/or rebellion far more compelling than a Jerry Stu main character learning no lessons and getting to continue through a series with little to no meaning consequences or tension.

But you’re not here to listen to me talk about compelling characters and storylines. You’re here to listen to me rant about villains and why I chose the dark side. I’ve had a predilection for villains and villainy since I was a little. My dad famously learned Jesse’s side of the Team Rocket motto for me so I could be James. I fawned over Prince Vegeta when he was first show in Dragon Ball Z as a villain (a sign my family should have probably taken note of) and really if you think about it the roots of modern fangirl me as linked to my obsession of Lord Sesshomaru and Master Naraku from InuYasha. Why do I love villains so much? Am I just an edgelord? Well, maybe. But rude of you to assume that. Yes, it doesn’t help that I’m a bit of an angsty human creature but the real reason I love villains goes back to a point I made earlier. The villain also gets to learn a lesson. For some reason, villains are just better written. Let’s go to a series I could probably talk about forever Cowboy Bebop for an example. Vicious (literally his name) is one of the most compelling villains in anime ever and his motivations while shoestring thin are enough for you to understand his goal, reasoning and methodology. He is the perfect foil to the main protagonist, Spike, and his design, voice acting and overall manner in the show make him one of the most interesting characters in the entire series. Vicious also gets to live such a full life in the series but one of so many questions and mysteries. Why did he sleep with Julia? What is his relationship if at all to Gren? Why does he have a mythical dragon raven? Those questions are never resolved and never will be thus creating one of the best anime villains in my opinion ever.

The villains get the long-con plans. The villains get the cool dramatic music but the villains most importantly get to let their emotions show. Naraku’s plan is literally to ruin one relationship because Kikyo wouldn’t date him that one time. Aizen’s plan is to become a god because reasons. The villains get to be irrational, angry, melodramatic and sad. Villains get to throw over tables, lash out when angry and break things when plans go awry. Who else gets to be that emotional? And sure, some villains are stoic. Aizen almost never lets that same smug smile leave his face. Vicious is a great marble statue of angst and anger. But so many other fantastic anime and even movie and comic book villains get to have so much fun. When I first started my jaunt as an in character cosplayer I had so much more fun playing antagonists and villains because of how emotional and outrageous they could be. Oh the photo-shoots.

Only Yuki Kitazawa could make 10 U.S. dollars a terrifying object. Only Frieza could demand so much physically from Goku and his group of mostly useless friends. Only Envy and the rest of the Homunculi could make Edward question his morals in such a way. And while we’re talking about Fullmetal Alchemist, let’s think of Shou Tucker. Dr. Tucker is a madman but what’s terrifying is when he starts to make sense. He makes obvious comparisons to himself and Edward despite still being an objectively awful human being was a perfect counterpoint for the main characters and the main plot. And even though he really only appears for like…2 episodes, think of how much of an impact he leaves on the series. He is then a constant reminder or what not to be as an alchemist, as a creator or as a man. And that may be the best thing about villains: they show you what not to be. Ever want to learn a strong lesson? Look at a villain and say “Probably shouldn’t do that.” Don’t try and be an Aizen, be an Urahara. Don’t be a Naraku, be Miroku (Scratch that, just go for Koga. Aspire for that.).

That was a lot, wasn’t it? Next time, we’ll talk about cinnamon rolls, earned romance and when a character gets exactly what they deserve.

A Fan Need Not Always Be Positive

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. Norman Vincent Peale.png

We’ve talked about fandoms, criticism, cynicism and hype so today let’s wrap up the discussion with a little chat about forced positivity, totem culture and why criticism again does not negate enjoyment.

In all honesty, I thought I was finished with this topic. I got my feelings out of my system. I was done talking about how delicate modern fandom is. Oh, I was wrong. I was so so wrong. It started with a friendly little talk about Harry Potter. I was talking about the popular magical franchise with my coworkers. We’re all sorted into different houses. We have different opinions of the movies versus the books. And then I mentioned that I felt the series was still a bit tired. I brought up points that it despite what the novels do well still continue to perpetuate biblical-esque oversimplifications of good and evil. I said that it continues to shun a diverse cast to focus more on the homogenous main cast. I said that while I loved the movies and read most of the books that it still was like so many other young adults novels, slinging a storied narrative with unilaterally good and unilaterally evil characters except for Snape but we don’t talk about Snape. And after listing the valid complaints that I had, my coworker went on to say rather simply:

Well, I still like it. It sounds like you’re a hater.

Dear reader, how I clutched my pearls.

Me? A hater?

Now, I’ve always prided myself on being the type of fan that never hates something senselessly. I always give something at least 3 episodes (if it’s a tv show or anime), the first 3 chapters (in the case of manga and comic books or novels) and at least the first 30 minutes or so of a movie. I always give something a chance. I research voice actors, writers, directors, intention and all. If I’m going to comment on anything: positive or negative, I try my best to speak to the topic with some ethos.

A hater to me has always been someone who needlessly is critical to the point of being obtuse. And since I pride myself on being an informed fan hurt my ego to the core. And it brought up a more important question. Even though I said I liked this series, can I apparently have no negative opinions on it? When did liking a thing mean that is has to be perfect in every way?

In the last post I mentioned more than once that the shows I care about the most I am the most critical of. I can see the cracks in Fullmetal Alchemist even though that anime got me through one of the most difficult times in my life. I can admit that Axis Powers:Hetalia is a silly totem anime to had but it kept me and my friends close during a time when we were all so far away. I can admit that. But Harry Potter is one especially that seems almost too big to discuss. So many people have had their lives changed by a story about wizards, magic and a world that provided a home away from home for so many. Even in my darkest of hours, Hogwarts was a place that I could escape to when my own home was just as bad as the Dursleys. But just because I enjoy something, doesn’t mean that I can’t see its flaws. Unfortunately, this totem culture with Harry Potter and other media artifacts are frustrating. I love deep conversations and you can’t have a conversation when someone cannot or will not see their beloved body of work complexly. But because so many escaped with Harry Potter, coped with Harry Potter, made friends, families and memories with Harry Potter but that does not mean that it’s perfect: even if it was immensely important to you personally.

Now, here’s where I put some of my own personal flaws on the board. I admit that just because I find totem culture exhausting, that does not give me the right to be disrespectful and I’m willing to admit that if there’s a series I don’t like (looking at you, Yuri on Ice and Attack on Titan) that my opinions can be harsh, unyielding and overbearing. So, call a spade a spade, if I’m mean, I’m mean. However, if I have valid criticisms and present them well, it’s just as rude to be dismissive just because a piece of media means a lot to you.

Speaking of valid criticism, let’s talk about forced positivity. I’ve talked a few times about Internet critics and the juggernauts of fan culture and their either hyperbolic hatred of all things (Looking at you, CinemaSins and Nostalgia Chick) or their emphatic love of all things (Looking at you, Kevin Smith and Chris Hardwick). I take particular umbrage with Chris Hardwick. I’ve been a fan of his since he was the only true nerd on G4 and his particular brand of nerd comedy and at the time obscure references to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Doctor Who were welcomed to a nerd like me who ended up making similar references only to find them falling flat upon my usual familial audience. And then he became popular. Suddenly Nerdist wasn’t just a blog or a screenname: it was a brand. And now as he partners with The Walking Dead and other big studio productions, Chris Hardwick suddenly could not comment on anything negative about the shows he mentioned or reviewed for fear of alienating fans and advertisers. And while sure, plenty of things are better than ever before when it comes to movies, comics, books and games but certainly something can be not as good. Certainly, some of these properties have flaws. Nope, not if you watch The Talking Dead, a show Hardwick hosts with help from AMC. So of course, each episode of The Walking Dead is a monolithic wonder. Each one perfect, special and magical. Even the episode where it’s literally just an hour of walking in the woods. Or even a more recent movie like Suicide Squad. Anyone who loves comics, movies or comic book movies can admit that at best this movie had flaws and at worst was an acid-spitting neon death trap but if you hear from Kevin Smith (the unappointed patron saint of nerd culture) it was a damn masterpiece. I’d like to know which movie he saw. The film I saw was far from a masterpiece. I think the idea of forced positivity is actually quite interesting and many Youtubers have discussed it as well as more than one very well-written article on the subject. There is a feeling that you must if you are online, be positive. And for many of us that struggle with mental illness, faking happiness or joy for a property or product just doesn’t help. If you show me an anime while I’m not in a great head space, it’s unfair then to say that it’s my fault for just not enjoying it or not enjoying it to your level.

But I have some ideas of where totem culture and being too defensive came from. Fan culture has a history of being far from kind. While the outside world was mean to nerds, geeks and fans for years, we also became quite mean to each other. The early years of fan culture created strong ships and massive canons to guard those ships. I have lost plenty of ships, destroyed headcanons and even changed my opinions on shows by weathering the storm of early fan culture. But not every fan took that struggle as a positive. Some took those constant fan battles and bullying and it has made them defensive and afraid of criticism. I’ve heard this time and time again:

Don’t attack my ship.

It’s an admittance of weakness. It’s saying that you don’t want to engage in war. It’s saying you much rather sail the seas of fan culture without incident. You take down your canons, your masts and sail on.

But what so many of those who say “don’t attack my ship” miss out on is the ability to harden your fleet. Sure, sometimes a ship get destroyed. Canons are wrecked. Dreams are dashed upon the cold hard rocks of fandoms, true canon and battles over OTPs. I lost so many ships, Internet and forum battles and came out of that a hardened, knowledge and worldly fan. I resisted the urge to simply revel in echo chambers and I have surrounded myself with people that not only most of the time disagree with me but people who I actually share little in common with.

From that proving ground, I was able to discuss what I like effectively, criticize without cruelty and discuss without hurting others. And while I can respect that some saw a battleground of lost fan ships and decided it was best not to participate in the war, I encourage every fan to at least try and have a discussion about a series or property they like a lot. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had have been effectively fruitless. I can’t always get someone to see my side and I can’t always get someone to change my mind. That however doesn’t mean I wasn’t thankful for the conversation.

Stay kind, fandom. Stay open. Have conversations. Embrace other opinions. And most importantly, have fun.