I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I friggin’ can’t. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are slowly, but surely, tearing my heart out as I watch a train wreck happen right in front of me. It’s painful and yet I can’t look away. I’ve laughed at a lot of comics (because they were intentionally orsaga_21 unintentionally funny), I’ve gotten angry at comics, but this may be the first time that I’ve been depressed after reading an issue.

But, like I said, I still want more. Apparently I’m a masochist at heart.

Marko and Alana continue their slow slide towards the possible destruction of their family as Alana continues to take the drug Fadeaway while working in the Open Circuit and Marko finds that he may have a slight attraction to Hazel’s dance instructor, Ginny. Elsewhere, the Robot janitor who killed Princess Robot and stole her child makes his way towards a familiar planet and the memory-deficient Prince Robot IV finds out some devastating news.

Short, sweet, and simple right? If only Saga was like that. Sometimes I think the only thing that keeps me reading this arc is the off-chance that Vaughan and Staples will pull a one-eighty on me and completely turn the story around as they seem to do in order to get readers pumped for the next chapter. Unfortunately, this creative team have been brutally honest when it comes to the relationships depicted in their story. As Hazel wisely states, “From the moment it’s formed, a family is almost always under attack.” Of course there’s always a literal and figurative example of anything Hazel says. In the past, Marko and Alana would’ve been the primary example what with their fugitive status and all. Now it’s Prince Robot’s family. His wife’s been killed, his child stolen, and he’s only now recovered his memories after his battle at Heist’s lighthouse…more or less. Even though he’s been one of the primary antagonists for Marko and Alana, we’ve always known his motivations for going after them. Now that he’s been delivered the crushing blow of news, his war has become far more personal.

Marko and AlanaOn a more figurative level, Marko and Alana are facing internal attacks on their relationship that are entirely their own doing. The strain of Alana being at work all the time to support their family and Marko’s lonely house-husband routine have kept the two apart for most of the story; their coping skills aren’t exactly healthy either. This is perfectly illustrated when Marko surprises a still high Alana with candles and sexy times that turn out to be anything but sexy from the reader’s point of view. In fact, the whole scene is heartbreaking. Alana is still tripping after taking drugs to get through the day at work of product placement in lingerie (Vaughan continuing his jibes at media) and Marko is desperately trying to connect with his wife after Ginny shows some interest in him that’s a bit more than complaining about the trials of parenthood. What should be a romantic and/or erotic scene of two people who love each other coming together is juxtaposed by Hazel’s narration regarding how close and yet so far apart two people can be even if they love each other. Vaughan’s words and Staples’ beautiful art tell the same story in very different ways, neither of which make the reader feel good about the scene since we know what circumstances have spawned this “spontaneous” love-making. Though one has to wonder how long Marko was waiting in the shadows all naked-like before Alana entered the bedroom.

Final Thoughts: I would love an entire issue of Klara and Izabel interacting. Those two are definitely Saga’s Odd Couple!

Over the last week fans of the accordion-wielding, Polka-powered musical god of parody that isweird-al-yankovic-mandatory-fun-album-cover “Weird Al” Yankovic were treated to the release of eight new music videos, one video per day, in celebration of Yankovic’s 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun. The videos debuted on different outlets across the internet and showed that Weird Al is still the king of musical comedy as his parodies and pastiches invoke as much laughter as they do bits of social commentary.

The first video released was “Tacky“, a parody of Pharrell’s monster hit “Happy”, followed by “Word Crimes“, a parody of Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I.’s “Blurred Lines”, “Foil“, a parody of “Royals” by Lorde, “First World Problems“, a tribute to the Pixies, “Handy“, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, “Sports Song“, a parody of college fight songs, “Lame Claim to Fame“, a tribute to Southern Culture on the Skids, and “Mission Statement” a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and possibly Young.

In order to maintain the uniqueness of his songs, Weird Al made sure the videos were just as engaging, making more traditional music videos with the help of some celebrity guests and procuring the talents of animators for others. The animated videos specifically serve the purpose of bringing the songs to life in ways that live action would’ve faltered. For example, “Word Crimes”, an admonishment of the grammatical errors, syntax, and text speak that’s invaded our virtual lexicon, incorporates hilarious visual elements to point out just how lackadaisical we’ve gotten in our ability to write simple sentences while also incorporating the ridiculous flashing hashtags from Word Crimesthe source video. Even though “Blurred Lines” was released last year, Weird Al still manages to make the song relevent despite the gap between when the song was deemed a hit and the more current parodies on the album.

The inclusion of songs parodying hits like “Blurred Lines”, “Royals”, and “Radioactive”, though, shows the pitfalls of creating studio albums based in musical comedy. Now more than ever music and comedy have become mediums where relevancy is based in moments rather than the long-term. This is due in part to social media and our massive cultural Attention Deficit Disorder. A YouTube video or an article may get heavy rotation one day and, suddenly, the next day we’ve moved on to the next cat video or BuzzFeed quiz. We consume media as quickly as it’s produced and just as quickly discard it for the next shiny thing that comes our way. So one can imagine that crafting an entire album of parody songs is difficult when you have to pay attention to the Billboard charts for the hits you can work with as well as keep as up-to-date as possible. Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is the most current songweirdal referenced on Mandatory Fun, released in February of this year, and the inclusion of its comedic twin, “Handy”, on the album was more about having a song that was a current hit, which shows in comparison to the other eleven songs that were given more time and production value.

The album, however, doesn’t suffer when it comes to the timeliness of its songs. Yankovic, his band that still consists of Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, Steve Jay, and Jim West, as well as the marketing team behind Mandatory Fun were smart in utilizing social media to launch the album via the eight videos. Not only did the videos individually saturate the internet, but the combined efforts and instant visibility of eight videos in a row catapulted Mandatory Fun into the #1 spot on Billboard, the first time in Weird Al’s 30 year career that one of his albums has charted so high in its debut week. And while there is some level of nostalgia surrounding Weird Al, there’s also genuine love and interest for the man behind the accordion and which songs he’ll tackle next. What Mandatory Fun’s marketing shows is how essential social media has become to the music industry and Weird Al as an artist.

tackyMandatory Fun has been confirmed to be Weird Al’s last traditional studio album with RCA Records, which is probably for the best if Yankovic plans to stick around. On a recent episode of Comedy Bang Bang, Yankovic was very candid about the fact that he’d rather have the freedom to produce a parody video or song around the same time the hit comes out as opposed to waiting and compiling songs for an album that can take up to two years to produce and distribute. With his plans to go completely digital, Weird Al will be able to create and distribute his work instantaneously, similar to the South Park method of animation production.

What does this mean for the viewing and listening audience? Simply this: more Weird Al!

If I was the meteorologist of Palisade, I’d definitely start rethinking my career options. A rainstorm is one thing, but giant tentacled elder gods? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that isn’t in the job description. Or maybe it is; this is Palisade after all. More importantly, this is Rat Queens.RatQueens_07-1

After finding the missing Bernadette wandering the streets with her still scary as all hell eyes, Hannah takes her back to the Rat Queens’ home to figure out what happened to her despite the fact that she’s still a complete bitch and tried to have the Queens killed. At Casa de Rat Queens, Dee and her husband, Mezikiah, awkwardly catchup. Though he’s glad to see that she’s thriving in Palisade with her friends, there’s a measure of expectation from Kiah that Dee will figure things out and return to their religious community. Because it definitely isn’t a cult. It’s totally a cult. However, Kiah’s visit is two-fold. It seems as though their people were visited by Gerrig Lake who stole an important artifact, the Haruspex Requiem – a death mask containing all the knowledge of every high priest of Dee and Kiah’s people. His reasons for taking the mask? Revenge, of course. Revenge on Palisade and on Sawyer in particular.

The past, it seems, is creeping up on everyone in Rat Queens. Prior to reaching out a helping hand to Bernadette, Hannah and Tizzie get into a fairly heated argument that speaks to a darker past for the rockabilly mage; she’s the only one in Palisade capable of using darker magic, her parents are necromancers, and she’s still using Necrius as part of her spell-casting. We’ve already seen Hannah tap into her darker side during the battle with the trolls and Betty’s concern for how scary it was to see her so full of rage, so it’s very possible we could be seeing a heel-turn from Hannah if she goes completely to the Dark Side. Sawyer and Dee’s pasts tangentially cross paths through the involvement of Gerrig Lake, but only because Sawyer’s past as an assassin caused the death of Gerrig’s wife, the only bright spot in his life in Palisade.

Dee’s religious background, however, has become integral to the plot as all hell breaks loose. Kurtis J. Wiebe has repeatedly stated that Dee’s backstory reflects his own upbringing in a small, religious town and through Dee he explores the complicated relationship people have with religion. Dee left her home and family to find herself separate from the religious community. Kiah, in his own way, tempts her with letters from her mother, but he also points out that Dee wears the markings of their religion, which she didn’t have when she left. If Dee is so skeptical of the tenets of her people and the purpose of their religious practices, then why did she willingly take on the markings of N’Rygoth?

As a lapsed Catholic, I can say that I understand the contradictions inherent in separating yourself from religion yet still finding pieces of it to latch on to. When our lives, our families, are tied up in a specific belief system, and we break away, there’s still a part of us that remains attached. I may not go to church anymore, and I question A LOT of things about religion in general, but I still have my rosary, I remember the prayers, I have tattoos featuring crosses, and sometimes I even try to stick to things like Lent. Like it or not, my religious background isn’t something I can entirely separate myself from. Dee, as far as I know, is in a similar position, and she’s also quick to point out tumblr_n7qv3hNd381rz6qqno5_1280to Kiah that their religion is now being used to torture and maim. But Kiah counters with the fact that their gods are neutral and it’s the actions of mortals that manifests evil. In this case, evil literally manifests in the form of a tentacled creature from the abyss. We have our gods, they have theirs, but it’s nice to know that Wiebe doesn’t blame religion so much as he blames the people who corrupt and abuse it for their own purposes.

On the lighter side of things, Betty is high as fuck and it is glorious! Just that look in her eyes as she hallucinates her candy dream date is hilarious and it provides a welcome interlude in a pretty dark portion of the story, though I expect it to get darker. It’s one of the aspects of Rat Queens that I truly love. The characters and the story aren’t fighting each other. There’s equally as much time devoted to progressing the plot as there is making sure the characters react in their own way. Cracking jokes, eating candy people, it all fits regardless of the looming danger.

And because there’s no way to fit this into the flow of the review organically, just know that Lola’s fight scene is all kinds of awesome. Girl has some skills, I tell ya. Very nice, Roc Upchurch. Very nice!

Rating – 10/10

Final Thoughts: The forecast for Palisade is rain, wind, and a tentacled elder god bent on destruction. Remember to bring an umbrella.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I’m slightly obsessed with Rat Queens, the breakout comic from writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Roc Upchurch. I mean, it’s not like I’ve reviewed every issue or interviewed the creative team as well as Wiebe’s other collaborative partner, Tyler Jenkins, the artist for Peter Panzerfaust. Oh wait, I totally did.ratqueens

Anyway, I’m not alone in my love of the kickass, foul-mouthed, all female quest group operating out of the much beleaguered city of Palisade. Wiebe and Upchurch have crafted a fantasy world with a modern attitude that has drawn in plenty of fans, male and female, to form their own community of social clubs, burlesque shows, cosplay, fan art, and online hangouts. And it seems that the popularity of the book will now extend into television.

Announced by Variety back in June, Rat Queens will be adapted into a 30-minute animated show by Weta Workshop’s Pukeko Pictures and Heavy Metal under the purview of executive producers Martin Baynton and Adam Fratto from Pukeko and Heavy Metal’s co-CEO Jeff Krelitz. Heavy Metal is also producing the television adaptation of Peter Panzerfaust for BBC Worldwide, adding to the wide variety of properties and mediums they’ve expanded to since the magazine that supplies the company name was bought from previous owner, Kevin Eastman – co-creator of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book.

rat-queens-by-wiebe-upchurch-coming-in-septem-L-tcurExAs a producer, Krelitz is eager to bring the exploits of Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty to the small screen, saying:

Rat Queens is a standout in the marketplace as a diving rod for fangirls, a market as yet untouched by most comics publishers. It is not only perfect for the TV space, but much needed.

Krelitz isn’t wrong in his assessment of the television landscape when it comes to courting female viewers. While the “fairer sex” as an audience will watch everything their male counterparts do, Rat Queens presents an untapped well in animation with four female protagonists who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. They’re awesome characters who happen to be women and their sex is never called into question by their male peers. If anything, the Rat Queens can out drink, out curse, and out fight most of the men they interact with or face off against. It’s a chance for a more mature audience to see that being a girl is by no means detrimental to your ability to stab out a troll’s eyes.

I took the liberty of reaching out to Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch to get thoughts on this next step in the journey that is the Rat Queens phenomenon.ratqueensbetty

Wiebe: It’s exciting to have interest from the TV world on both of my projects. It’s the sort of thing you don’t ever expect to happen, and when it does it’s pretty surreal. It can be a slow process, as I’ve come to learn from the Peter Panzerfaust option, which is fine by me because my focus is, and always has been, the comics.

Upchurch: I can’t wait to see Rat Queens animated. I think this will be a great platform for it. And it’s in good hands with WETA and Heavy Metal. They won’t fuck it up.

I completely agree with Upchurch’s excitement for Rat Queens to be animated. The fantasy genre is where a property like Rat Queens thrives in animation rather than live action where the special effects can range from passable to Syfy channel, low-budget, green screen fiascos. In animation, the possibilities are similar to the comics from which they originate, limitless. I only hope the adaptation sticks to Upchurch’s art style. It’s a distinct universe with equally distinct characters. The Rat Queens are a diverse group in terms of races, religions, and sexual orientation, so I hope Pukeko and Heavy Metal stay true to what Wiebe and Upchurch have created.

2986638-sheakoshan-acomicminutepeterpanzerfaust1928Peter Panzerfaust will also need a deft hand to bring it to television. Unlike Rat Queens, Peter Panzerfaust is made for live action. And considering the track record with mini series and television shows produced by the BBC with an historical slant, adapting a book that meshes J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan with WWII sounds like a daunting, yet ultimately rewarding task. Luckily, the production already has some excellent writers on board.

For the time being, both properties are in the pre-production phase. Scripts are being written and Heavy Metal plans to produce a pilot to shop around. Fingers crossed that a network takes advantage of a growing market of female-driven properties and the fans that follow them. In the mean time, please enjoy this motion comic trailer for Peter Panzerfaust that was produced back in 2013.

 

 

Podcast Party

So while I have my own podcast over at Word of the Nerd called That Girl with the Curls (which I highly encourage you to check out), I was fortunate enough to get some screen time with Andy Suriano (Samurai Jack, Cosmic Scoundrels, Liberty Justice), Daniel Freedman and Sina Grace (Burn the Orphanage), Tyler Shainline (Liberty Justice, The Beef), and Image editor and accounts managers Branwyn Bigglestone. This was a special event, one that I hope you’ll watch and enjoy. We talk about all aspects of the comic book industry and I encourage you to check out their books and find them online!

And big thanks to Andy Suriano for getting us all together!

 

I’m going to admit this right off the bat: I was never excited or interested in a Maleficent movie. It isn’t that I don’t love the character. The exact opposite, in fact. I adore Maleficent because she’s one of the great Disney villains, a powerful sorceress with a wicked sense of humor who revels in her ownMaleficent-Angelina villainy. Oh and she can TURN INTO A DRAGON! She was hardcore before that was a thing, cursing a baby to die because she wasn’t invited to a party. But you know what I never wondered when watching Walt Disney’s 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty? Gee, what’s Maleficent’s backstory? What would possibly make her so damn evil? Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority with these thoughts because Disney thought they’d cash in on the current “You Don’t Know the Whole Story” trend of retelling popular fairy tales by completely botching everything that made Maleficent so badass and interesting to begin with.

Maleficent stars Angelina Jolie as the titular character who we first meet as an orphaned (this is Disney, remember), human-sized fairy with bird-like wings and horns. For some reason she’s the guardian of the Moors, the magical folk who live in peace and harmony opposite the humans who pretty much keep away from them because humans are a cowardly and suspicious lot. But one day a young peasant boy named Stefan wanders into their enchanted world of nature and the two become friends and eventually lovers. Maybe. It’s implied through montage. Unfortunately, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is an ambitious young man and when the dying King offers the kingdom to the one who can kill Maleficent he drugs her and cuts off her wings with an iron chain. Heartbroken and embittered by Stefan’s betrayal, Maleficent gets her chance at revenge at the christening of Stefan’s daughter, Aurora. From there on out it’s a quasi-retelling of Sleeping Beauty only with more incompetent fairy protectors, an equally uninteresting and dull Aurora (Elle Fanning), and an “evil” fairy whose heart grew three sizes after finding true love through the role of surrogate mother to the girl she cursed.

angelina-jolie-maleficent-lgIf it wasn’t abundantly clear I don’t have a high opinion of this story. I got to experience the classic animated movies of my parents’ childhood while growing up during the Disney Renaissance and since then I’ve seen the company try to recapture the love and magic of their previous films while incorporating new technology and altering our perception of the typical Disney Princess movie. I get what they’re trying to do, I applaud it even. The current movie going audience demands a different type of female lead and Disney is not exempt from this. If anything, they’ve been updating their heroines since 1989, making them more proactive characters instead of the passive damsels of the early classics. There have been hits and misses along the way, but there was always a sense that Disney was learning from what didn’t work. Lately, though, it feels like the harder they try to tell a story that subverts their own tropes, the more complicated and unnecessary the stories become.

I’ve made my thoughts on Frozen known, but Maleficent is just a hot mess of a movie full of clunky exposition, an over reliance on CGI, and a story that essentially neuters one of the great Disney villains by turning her into an anti-hero. This isn’t a new thing, by the way, especially if you’re a comic book reader. It’s very common for villains to be turned into anti-heroes after they gain any measure of popularity from the fans. How do you root for a villain? Well maybe they’re not as villainous as you think. Done and done, problem solved. Such is the case with Maleficent. But in giving her a backstory, the movie practically strips her of everything that made her likeable to begin with.

So where do I start with what doesn’t work? Oh, I know! How about the fact that Maleficent was, forKing_Stefan_(Maleficent_Film) all intents and purposes, raped. Yeah, that’s right. When Stefan decides that his love of power is stronger than his love for Maleficent, he drugs her and physically mutilates her body by cutting off her wings. The aftermath scene where Maleficent wakes up to find her wings gone is filmed in such a way that is disturbing and uncomfortable on so many levels. I’m certainly not the only person who’s written about this, but it begs the question of whether or not anyone at Disney read the script and questioned the message being sent by these scenes. For that matter, why did screenwriters Linda Woolverton and Paul Dini choose this as the primary motivation behind Maleficent’s actions? It’s no longer about asserting her power over the “offense” of not being invited to the christening. No, that extremely cold and villainous curse she puts on Aurora is now Maleficent getting revenge on Stefan for jilting her and taking her wings. Even the spinning wheel is just a conveniently placed item, in a throne room for some reason, for her to utilize as the weapon of choice. And because we don’t want Maleficent to be beyond complete redemption, she doesn’t even curse Aurora to die, only to fall into a “sleep like death” with the caveat of true love’s kiss added as a special little “fuck you” to Stefan who gave Maleficent her “true love’s kiss” when they were sixteen.

maleficent-movieThis isn’t a movie about a “strong female character” who does as she pleases. This is a movie about a woman scorned whose every action is predicated on what others have done to her. Specifically, what a man has done to her. And you can get all bent out of shape about me going all “femi-nazi” on this movie, but I really don’t care. I’m all for adaptations and I could even get behind a reinterpretation of Maleficent, but this movie takes all the wrong cues from the animated movie and butchers what could have been an interesting look into the creation of a villain. When talking about the movie to The Hollywood Reporter, Woolverton said this about Maleficent’s motivation:

We based this on the Disney movie, not the fairy tale. I was looking at that scene, and I had done some research, and the biggest surprise is that she’s a fairy, not a witch. I’ve always wanted to do a dark fairy story. Then I watched that scene where she curses the baby, and I’m thinking “well if she’s a fairy, where are her wings?” Suddenly it was “boom. Lightbulb. Oh! It’s the wings!” Then I worked backward from there to create the Stefan relationship.

I don’t know where she got the idea that Maleficent was a fairy, but fine, let’s go with that. If you take that angle, then why is she human-sized while all the other fairies in the live action movie are small? Is there a hierarchy of fairies? Were there other human-sized fairies? If so, what happened to them? Those are the questions I’d rather Woolverton asked because they start to form a different story. Even in the animated movie there’s obvious animosity between Maleficent and the three good fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. When Maleficent theatrically ponders why she didn’t get an invitation to the christening Merryweather clearly states, “You weren’t wanted.”

Now that’s a loaded statement. Why wasn’t she wanted there? What led to this bad blood between thesleeping_beauty_maleficent_dragon_phillip humans, Maleficent, and the good fairies? If you think about the animated movie, as a whole, it’s more about a battle between Maleficent and the trio of fairies looking after Aurora. They bestow the gifts on the baby, one of which actually lessens Maleficent’s curse from death to sleep, they rescue Phillip from Maleficent’s castle, and in the final battle they give Phillip the shield and sword needed to battle her when she TURNS INTO A DRAGON! Hell, Flora practically guides the sword into the dragon’s chest for Phillip. This is a story about fairies battling each other using human pawns. Any prequel would have to include the origin of Maleficent but there’s also room to explore the world she inhabits in-depth.

The live action movie even sets up that there’s tension between the humans and the Moors, so why wasn’t that the story? Maybe make Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather major players in a battle that splits the world of the Moors over aligning with the humans because Maleficent descends further into darker magic in order to ward off the humans who she sees as a threat to her world and her people. Battles, political intrigue, and magic would all still be possible but the movie would have room to explore Maleficent as a character in her own right instead of trying to retell Sleeping Beauty through a revisionist lens.

Flora Fauna and MerryweatherAnd by revisionist, I mean they make every character who isn’t Maleficent nearly intolerable. Clearly this movie is not meant for an audience who knows the animated Sleeping Beauty. Despite Woolverton claiming Maleficent is taking its cues from the 1959 film, which is an adaptation of the French fairy tale La Belle Au Bois Dormant with the score and songs adapted from the 1890 ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Maleficent bares very little resemblance to its animated predecessor other than Jolie’s outward appearance and the inclusion of the curse on Aurora. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather aren’t even called by those names probably because their CGI, uncanny valley doppelgängers (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple) are so far off from the originals that it would be offensive to keep their names from the animated film. The movie goes out of its way to make the good fairies as incompetent as possible to the point that a young Aurora would’ve fallen off a cliff or starved if not for Maleficent’s interference during her childhood. All of that, however, is in service of bringing out her nascent maternal side that ultimately leads to the subversion of the “true love’s kiss” towards the end of the film.

Again, I understand what the movie was trying to do but the execution of it was poorly handled especially when Prince Phillip shows up so late in the story that you can see them telegraphing the big “twist” a mile away. Not that Phillip is all that interesting anyway. He and Aurora are about equal in terms of dullness. It’s sad really because there was some opportunity to give at least Aurora some character development but the movie opts for just having Elle Fanning smile a lot, cry, and fall asleep.

If I was going to harp on one more thing (and if you made it this far, congratulations and I’m sorry!),MALEFICENT I’d say the actual climax of the film really misses the mark. Granted, Stefan’s descent into madness is interesting and the film definitely sets up what should be a huge climactic battle between Stefan and Maleficent, but the movie takes away the one thing that always belonged to Maleficent: SHE TURNS INTO A FUCKING DRAGON! Not so this time around. Nope, turning into a dragon gets handed over to Maleficent’s lackey Diaval (Sam Riley) while she’s busy being captured in a net of iron. Really, movie? I mean, you had one job. One. Job. Make sure Maleficent turns into a dragon and you couldn’t even make that happen. For all the faults of the movie I could follow the logic and the purpose behind certain decisions, but when you take an iconic moment away from your main character I have to ask how much Woolverton and Dini were paying attention to the original movie.

It’s not like there wasn’t a way to make Maleficent turning into a dragon work within the parameters of the story. Sure, she’s weakened by the iron net over her, but people get surges of adrenaline all the time that help them overcome a lot of things. Why not make that Maleficent’s final act? She’s already woken Aurora, now she just has to deal with Stefan. Seeing him through the net, ready to strike with his sword, she use her last ounce of strength and magic to turn herself into a dragon, whipping the net off and going on the offensive. She deals with the soldiers and then charges Stefan, but he manages to stab her with the sword as they both fall from the castle. It’s a dark ending, but since Aurora is supposed to be the innocent ray of sunshine and hope, she sees the sacrifice made by Maleficent and makes sure to unite the Moors and humans. But I guess that would’ve messed up the already jumbled tone of the movie, so whatever.

640px-Phillip_and_aurora_in_maleficentThat’s not to say the movie doesn’t have it’s good moments. Angelina Jolie completely embraces the role of Maleficent and she has some fantastic scenes and great lines. Her interactions with Diaval are probably my favorite because the two actors have great chemistry. Sharlto Copley is woefully underutilized, but his scenes are still engaging as he falls further into madness. There are also some great designs on the Moors and the CGI is impressive, but it’s not enough to make the movie work as a whole.

I really wish I could’ve liked this movie more, but this doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the upcoming live action adaptations of Cinderella, Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast. Something’s getting lost in the translation here. The classic animated movies are timeless, but who knows how Maleficent will be viewed five, ten, twenty, or fifty years from now.

Ya know, for all the good that can come out of the comic book community, sometimes it really sucks. So I’m just gonna dive into this one because I don’t feel like any fancy setup intro. Even after a couple of weeks to mull things over I’m still pissed and the only way I can convey that, in the least destructive way possible, is to write about it.teen-titans_1-600x911

Two weeks ago Janelle Asselin, a former editor for DC Comics and Disney, did a guest article for Comic Book Resources in which she critiqued the cover art for the upcoming relaunch of Teen Titans that will debut in July with a new #1. In the article, Asselin was highly critical of artist Kenneth Rocafort’s depiction of the new Titans cover: the odd relation of characters to the background, the position of the single person of color, and the highly sexualized rendition of Cassie Sandsmark, a.k.a. Wonder Girl, standing front and center with her very large and unnatural looking breasts prominently featured. In dissecting Rocafort’s version of Wonder Girl, Asselin was also able to branch out and discuss not just the purpose of a comic book cover, but also talk about the demographic for which the comic is being made and marketed. Suffice it to say, women weren’t the target audience.

This critique, based on Asselin’s experience within the industry, however, came under fire from artist Brett Booth, artist for The Flash and former artist for Teen Titans. In some strange form of artistic solidarity, Booth began attacking Asselin’s credibility on Twitter, which then turned into a series of tweets from Booth and his supporters calling Asselin’s critique a biased nitpick with some sort of hidden agenda towards bashing DC Comics. The Outhousers has a great breakdown, including the tweets, of how this all escalated. The final tweet from Booth, however, is something I want to address. Because a woman dare question the costume choice and sexualization of a teenage girl on a book being marketed to a largely male demographic, Booth concluded:

 

 

Now, in all fairness, I’m not trying to demonize Booth. I would hope he’s a good person and he has said that his statements towards Asselin were in reaction to her criticism of the artwork, not the sexualization of Wonder Girl. While those two issues aren’t mutually exclusive in the context of the article, I suppose I can see where he’s coming from, but as with most things on the internet, intention gets lost in the translation. But even if he was just coming to Rocafort’s defense, his remark about putting female characters in burkas as a non-solution is in and of itself presenting a false dichotomy of how superheroines should be depicted in comic books.

Harley QuinnWhen women criticize how female superheroes are depicted in comic books is isn’t necessarily a THIS OR THAT situation. We’re not prudes and we can appreciate the male and female forms in a variety of ways. Sexuality is not the issue, but the context of that sexuality and who that sexualized rendition of a female superhero is meant for are of greater concern. When Brett Booth uses the burka as the extreme opposite, he creates a duality that ultimately undermines the real issue. It’s the comic book equivalent of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy. Women are either pure as fallen snow OR wonton Jezebels. There’s no middle ground, no gray area, no actual understanding of human nuance. Just a nice, neat package complete with an easily identifiable label. I’m sorry, but no. Thanks for playing, now please exit the planet.

Sex sells. We all know it, we get it, and female readers of superhero comics specifically understand this because it’s pretty much shoved in our faces. Though we make up almost half of the reading audience, with our numbers continuing to grow, women and girls are still marginalized when it comes to marketing comic books. The same can be said for movies and tv shows involving superheroes or anything believed to be “for boys”. Don’t believe me, take a look at Giancarlo Volpe’s short comic about the focus groups for Green Lantern: The Animated Series. Three groups for boys of varying ages, one group for girls of all ages. Guess who gave the most thoughtful feedback. Or go back and listen to Paul Dini on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman where he lays it all out that girls are considered unwanted afterthoughts when it comes to marketing products. The point is, women and girls, are still looked at as outsiders. Despite our growing presence, when we look to the superheroines of Marvel and DC, most of them are being written and drawn by men who’re catering to an audience that the companies at large perceive as, or want to believe is, predominantly male.I am Wonder Woman

I want to be clear on this, I’m not saying men can’t write or draw nuanced and dynamic superheroines. One of my favorite books is Wonder Woman, written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Cliff Chiang. This actually presents us with an interesting surface comparison of Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl. Chiang’s Diana is proportionally sound with her body type a reflection of her life and training as an Amazon. She’s athletic and muscular, but still possesses her femininity. And save for a brief glimpse of side boob, Wonder Woman, as depicted by Azzarello and Chiang has never been shown as a sexual object. Even her costume, by all accounts a one piece bathing suit with knee-high boots, looks more like plated armor with the silver eagle atop the corset covering her breasts in order to prevent spillage. Diana’s sex appeal is ostensibly left to the reader to interpret through the actions of the character. Cassie, as drawn by Rocafort, is, as pointed out by Asselin, proportionally wrong. She says:

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Wonder Girl’s rack. Perhaps I’m alone in having an issue with an underaged teen girl being drawn with breasts the size of her head (seriously, line that stuff up, each breast is the same size as her face) popping out of her top. Anatomy-wise, there are other issues — her thigh is bigger around than her waist, for one — but let’s be real. The worst part of this image, by far, are her breasts. The problem is not that she’s a teen girl with large breasts, because those certainly exist. The main problem is that this is not the natural chest of a large-breasted woman. Those are implants. On a teenaged superheroine. Natural breasts don’t have that round shape (sorry, boys).

So, yeah, Cassie’s one-piece costume stops exactly mid-breast. This is a girl who can fly and has to regularly throw a magical lasso and punch people. Unless she has some Acme-strength superglue on hand, the second she swings her arm or breaks the sound barrier she’ll be experiencing a wardrobe malfunction. This depiction of her is overtly sexual for the sake of being sexual with no consideration given to the character.

Ms. Marvel to Captain MarvelFor another comparison, let’s look at the costume change for Carol Danvers, formerly Ms. Marvel now Capt. Marvel. As Ms. Marvel, Carol definitely had a few costume changes, but the most iconic one was the one piece black bathing suit with a lightning bolt, sash, arm-length gloves, and boots. Carol Danvers, a former United States Air Force pilot, though superpowered but not invulnerable, was flying around in a uniform her former superiors would probably classify as unbecoming of an officer. So when Kelly Sue DeConnick took over the newly minted Capt. Marvel with Carol as the titular character, she made sure the costume reflected the character, making Carol’s new costume more in tune with something a soldier would wear even if they happen to associate with mutants, aliens, and a giant green Hulk. Does it cover her up? Yes, but so what? It has everything to do with how the uniform is an extension of the character. When we see a superhero in their outfit it’s supposed to evoke specific feelings: hope, fear, inspiration, etc. When we look at Wonder Girl, what’re we supposed to think of her? Who is she being drawn for?

The depiction of superheroines and how artists draw them extends, to no one’s surprise, into the world of cosplay. Cosplay is itself a fascinating sect of fandom and the time and effort people put into their costumes is something to be commended. Women who cosplay, however, have to deal with more unwanted attention than men who cosplay simply because the costumes available to them are derived from characters who are regularly drawn with more skin showing than their male counterparts. The amount of anti-harrassment and zero tolerance signs that go up during conventions, if they bother to put them up at all, is a direct correlation to the actions of men who think that because a woman dresses sexily it gives them the right to ogle, harass, or solicit them. She dressed like Power Girl, so that means she wants the attention, right? If she didn’t want the attention she wouldn’t have chosen to dress like that character. Never mind that the woman in question is dressing as a character she identifies with who happens to have a costume with a boob window and no pants. Nope, clearly anyone dressed as Power Girl, Black Canary, Huntress, Starfire, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, or Harley Quinn wants people to stare at them to validate their sexuality, not because the character means something to them.best-of-cosplay-power-girl

This leads to the final point I want to make regarding the Scantily Clad OR Burka dichotomy: the double standard of sexuality, superheroines, and female readers. The standard male response to women criticizing the sexualization of most superheroines is that male superheroes are equally as sexualized or presented as an unrealistic ideal because COMICS! Again, it’s people making assumptions who don’t understand the issue. Are comic books essentially power fantasies? Yes, but with the dearth of female creators, especially at DC and Marvel, this means that most of these power fantasies are coming from the male perspective. Heroes like Superman and Batman get to be muscular, tall, and handsome while exhibiting strength of body and mind. They’re also entirely covered up. Female heroes like Power Girl, Black Canary, Huntress, and Wonder Woman are shown in one-piece bathing suit outfits, thing-high boots, fishnet stockings, boob windows, and bare midriffs. They’re idealized, but they’re also highly sexualized. Let’s face it, we’ll always get the fan service bare-chested man, but you know what will never happen in a DC or a Marvel book? Dick slip – and I’m not talking Dick Grayson slipping on a banana peel. There will never be even the slightest notion of a male character’s fly being down or his pants being ripped off while going commando based on the design of his costume. They will always be covered up, no matter what.

Wonder Girl -Cassandra-Sandsmark (2)In the case of female readers, our power fantasies are being dictated to us, but our means of ownership or reaction to those fantasies put us in a no-win situation. A lot of women identify with superheroines who dress in the aforementioned style of dress. In fact, those women own that sexuality and find it and the costume empowering. And what do they get for taking ownership of those characters? The words “slut”, “whore”, “attention-seeker”, and “fake” get thrown around a lot. Hell, even in Justice League: War Wonder Woman is called a whore by the leader of a mob who’s hanging her in effigy based on her costume. In an animated movie supposedly for kids! And should women go the opposite route and critique the costumes of superheroines, we’re called “prudes”, “femi-nazis”, and told we’re “over-reacting” and “nitpicking” because we have an agenda against men in general.

God forbid female readers just want to enjoy reading a comic book without having to think about how Starfire’s spine bends like a snake or how low the zipper goes down on Catwoman’s outfit. That’s our agenda, folks. We just want to be able to read our comics and enjoy ourselves without having to explain to our daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, friends and family why we feel uncomfortable talking about or showing them our passions.

And if you’d like to see a more distilled version of this argument, I’d highly recommend the Nostalgia Chick’s look at the Charlie’s Angels movies.

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog. Emerald City Comicon and life in general tend to get in the way of regular writing from time to time, but I plan on making up for that in the future.

So, to tide you over, I thought I’d share the identity of the artist I’ll be working with on my story, “Checkmate” for the Killer Queen Anthology.

And the artist is…Bobby Breed!

You can find his work over at deviantART, which might give you some more hinst as to how my story, based on the song “White Queen (As it Began)”, might look.

Bobby Breed art

We’ve all been waiting patiently and the day is finally here when we can see our Kickstarter dollars made real in the form of the Nightwing: The Series trailer from IsmaHAWK:

Passionate people making passionate art! For those unaware, IsmaHAWK is the production team of Danny Shepherd and Jeremy Le who are as much fanboys of filmmaking as they are about a certain DC Comics character. In case it wasn’t clear, they’re big fans of Dick Grayson/Nightwing, former sidekick to the Dark Knight. And being the fans that they are, it didn’t take them long to realize that Nightwing has never really been given his due. Sure, Dick Grayson as the first Robin has been given plenty of attention, but outside of the comics and a few cartoon appearances, the guardian of Blüdhaven hasn’t exactly made a name for himself. IsmaHAWK, set out to rectify that.

Prior to the creation of Nightwing: The Series, the team created a five-minute short, Batman: Nightwing in which Nightwing faces off against Red Hood, a.k.a. Jason Todd. The video garnered enough attention and positive feedback that IsmaHAWK decided to take their love of Nightwing to the next level with a Kickstarter campaign for Nightwing: The Series, which was fully funded in February of last year. Over at Word of the Nerd I was fortunate enough to interview Danny, Jeremy, and fellow writer Mortimer Black on DC Confidential before the Kickstarter was fully funded and I’d encourage you to go back and listen to the episode since the trio were a blast to talk to and every bit as enthusiastic and excited about not just Nightwing but comics, movies, and geek culture in general.nightwing

Nightwing: The Series, as described by IsmaHAWK :

follows the adventures of Batman’s ex-sidekick, Robin. After a falling out with his former mentor, Dick Grayson aka Robin leaves Gotham City in order to create his own identity in the city of Blüdhaven . The series will delve a bit into Nightwing’s origins and flesh out the character. We hope to pull in new fans as well as appease and excite existing fans.

I can safely say that, based on the description of the series, the trailer doesn’t disappoint as we get glimpses of Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Danny Shepherd) possibly visiting his parents’ graves, the corrupt culture of Blüdhaven , a little weapons fabrication a la Batman Begins, Barbara Gordon, and from the look of it we’re going to get Nightwing vs. Red Hood Round 2!

Responses to the teaser trailer have been nothing but positive and the guys from IsmaHAWK couldn’t be happier. When I reached out to them for comment, they had this to say:

[We] just want to thank the supporters who believed in the project even when we really didn’t have anything to show for it at the time. We just hope that everyone enjoys watching it when it’s released as much as we enjoyed making it. We won’t let you down!

I don’t doubt it! Now that we’ve gotten a taste of what Nightwing: The Series will look like, all I can ask is where’s the first episode?!

If you want to keep up-to-date on the goings on for Nightwing: The Series, you can subscribe to IsmaHAWK’s YouTube Channel, follow Danny Shepherd and Jeremy Le, and like them on Facebook.

I told you I’d have an announcement to make soon and here it is. I will be contributing my first professional comic book story to the Killer Queen Comic Anthology for Red Stylo Media!KillerQueenstrokes-and-stuff-300x100

Here’s the official synopsis:

KILLER QUEEN is a collection of comic art and stories inspired by the discography of one of the greatest bands in the pantheon of Rock-n-royalty, QUEEN! This year, the artists and writers were challenged to turn their stereos up and take inspiration from Queen’s prodigious, diverse catalog of music. All the art and stories are original works inspired by a theme or premise in a Queen song, sometimes by the band itself.

Killer Queen is the latest anthology series from Red Stylo Media, following previous anthologies like Poe Twisted, Shakespeare Shaken, and Unfashioned Creatures (an anthology inspired by Frankenstein). In addition, Red Stylo also publishes a number of other graphic novels and comics like ORPHANS, City of Walls, TORCHBEARER, and Azteca.

I’m thrilled to be participating in such an awesome premise that got me to dive headfirst into the deep cuts of Queen’s discography. The first draft has already been written and sent off, so I’ll be editing soon enough, I suspect. As for what the story is about? Well…how about I give you the song it was inspired by for now?

I’ll be providing updates when I can, but I really wanted to let everyone know because this will be fulfilling one of those bucket list things by getting a foot in the door of the comic book industry as a writer.

Killer Queen will begin to roll out stories digitally in September with the book edition following in October. You can also keep up-to-date on the project by following @red_stylo, checking out their Facebook page, or the Killer Queen Facebook page as well. You can also follow me on twitter, where you’re more likely to get more frequent updates.

Once again, I’m over the moon about contributing to this anthology and I can say from now on that Queen is what made me a comic book writer. How is that not awesome?