Review of Loki: Agent of Asgard #4

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 cover

If you’re just tuning in, I’m doing my Loki reviews in the form of live reactions as I go along, paying special attention to Loki’s possible genderfluidity/bisexuality/etc. I jumped in late so I’m several issues behind. Skip to the Final Thoughts to avoid spoilers!


Yaaaay, Verity’s back!

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 Verity


Sigurd tries to steal Loki’s sword!

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 Sigurd

Now, most of the time a statement like that would indicate “Sigurd’s bi.” Which would be awesome. Since Loki and Sigurd know each other, Loki probably knows Sigurd’s history, so this interpretation is likely. Or, the statement could be there to reveal Loki’s extreme vanity, which is also possible. However, one of my favorite slogans is “Don’t assume I’m gay. Don’t assume I’m straight.” Maybe Loki is adopting this viewpoint and simply cautioning Verity not to make assumptions. That would be nice too.

Next panel, provided just so I can say I love Verity:

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 Verity


Sigurd flirts with Verity and it’s hilarious. Then there’s a flashback-within-a-flashback. Agent of Asgard loves doing that. Then Loki and Sigurd swordfight and make Princess Bride references, because this is that kind of a comic. ;) And they wind up in a dumpster.


So, at the beginning of the comic Sigurd was talking to a dude meditating on top of a mountain, before we flashed back to Loki and Verity. (I told you Agent of Asgard likes doing that.) Now we’re back, and Sigurd accuses the guy of being an evil magician. The guy says “I use my evil only for good purpose.” Who is this guy?

Note from later: His name is Kaluu. He’s an occasional Doctor Strange villain.


If Sigurd dies, he goes to Valhalla and gets tortured by Valkyries. But, much like in the DCU, there are many afterlives. (I assume that, like with the DCU, they had a bunch of characters with different mythologies and magics and had to find a way to reconcile them.) Sigurd, being clever, wants the magician to help him reincarnate into something different, kind of hop the tracks into a different religion/afterlife, rather than going to Valhalla.

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 Sigurd


A tense moment while they swear to the agreement on the sword of truth. Someone is not who they appear to be. And BOOM, Loki wins! Read the comic for the details. ;D

Sigurd goes to prison in Asgard for wandering around in the mortal world. This concerns Loki, naturally. Turns out that heist he’s been planning… It’s on the prisons of Asgard. His agents for that heist? Thor, Lorelei, and Verity. Aw yeah!


Final Thoughts:

This issue was fun, and important for pacing reasons. It finishes what was started with Sigurd in the last issue, and brings Verity back. It’s deftly plotted and written, as I’ve already come to expect from this series. Still, it has a “pause before the storm” quality. The big stuff should happen in the next issue, the end of the arc. Exciting!


Review: Ms. Marvel #7

Ms. Marvel #7 cover


This issue finishes the Wolverine/Kamala team-up, and I am so sad to see it go. It was a thing of beauty.

Ms. Marvel #7 Wolverine

Most of the issue is about the two of them fighting the Inventor’s megagator, with Wolverine imparting wisdom as they go along. We discover that since the Terrigen bomb gave her powers, that means she’s an Inhuman. I had read a review of the new Inhumans comic (sorry I couldn’t find it to link) so I understood the reference and had already put 2+2 together, but I think it would also work as a vague reference that’ll be explained later on. (Wolverine doesn’t tell Kamala, he just knows. I’m not sure if he thinks it’s too much, or if it’s not his place to say, or what. I’ll reserve judgment for now.)

There are lots of funny parts, and one big art spread of them climbing up through the sewers that was a lot of fun, but this was my favorite panel:

Ms. Marvel #7 Wolverine

Wolverine says no, but I hope she finds a way anyway. She’s always wanted to be a hero to help people and inspire them, not to punch people. I love her.

Despite his dubious and cynical advice in this particular instance, Wolverine teaches her some valuable things. The whole time I was thinking that Wolverine really completes the ensemble, and there needs to be a character in that more mature superpheroing spot, even though having Wolverine there himself would obviously be overkill with the number of books he holds down. Never fear! Wolverine calls Captain America about Kamala, not just because she’s an Inhuman, but because he’s impressed with her, and Cap tells Medusa from the Inhumans. They send Kamala a new partner-slash-spy, but I won’t tell you who it is.

IT’S LOCKJAW! The big doggy!

I screamed. I’m not kidding, I literally went “AAAAAH!” and scared my cat.

I’m so happy.

One last thing. I highly recommend reading the fan letters on the last page. I’ve enjoyed them every month. In this issue they have several different letters about representation… One guy says he’s not Pakistani or Muslim, but he is gay. He writes, “I’ve faced discrimination before, I’ve felt like an outsider for who I am so seeing a character like Kamala come to life so triumphantly … really made me feel like Kamala was in part made for me.” Their response is, “Steven, this book IS made for you.” So awesome.

A Writer’s Guide to Conquest and Assimilation, Part 1

When you conquer a country or a planet, how do you control it? You’ll want to literally control the people to prevent violent outbreaks and get them to work for you, but if you’re thinking in the longterm, you probably also want to bring them on board with your presence, your authority, and your philosophy. Sci-fi and fantasy elements can be used to highlight certain aspects of this process, and they can also spin it in interesting new directions.

I’ve been collecting tips from various history and political science classes I’ve taken for a while now. This advice is conceived for certain kinds of sci-fi and fantasy stories involving international/interspecies politics, either as a backdrop or a main theme, but if it’s useful for historical fiction or any other kind of story you want to tell, awesome! I just hope these thoughts inspire you, and help you think about your plot and worldbuilding in a new way.

Part 1 is about the basic strategies available to conquerors: Force, charm, and the non-conquest conquest.


Lord of the Rings Aragorn

Ah, Lord of the Rings.

This is the most obvious method for an invading force to use, and will probably be the foundation for any post-conquest efforts. That original conquest is your opportunity to use your geographical worldbuilding and whatever fancy weapons you’ve designed. It’s your opportunity to make protagonists angry, to make protagonists feel guilty for the harm they caused, to illustrate a character’s nature and to set the scene for the story to come. Of course, force can come in many flavors… There may have been a sprawling set-piece of a war, but there may also have been a one-on-one battle between rulers. In SF/F, maybe there was mind control involved rather than physical force.

Beyond the conquest, you have the assimilation. You’ve gotta have a police force, and the culture within the police force (violent? hands-off? entitlement or service-oriented? bred to serve or volunteers?) will dictate how the populace responds to them. Are the conquerors trying to maintain a “business as usual” atmosphere, or are they imposing martial law? Don’t forget mind control… Maybe the cops get it, maybe the cops dispense it, maybe everybody gets it and there’s no need for cops at all.

It’s not only about law enforcement, either, it’s about the sorts of laws being passed. Is everyone forced to pay homage to the new rulers? Are they forced to stop speaking their own languages, and start speaking a new one? Forced to stop practicing their traditional religions, or prevented from referencing the old government? Forced to work, or serve in the army? Are the conquers using force in a calculated way, or are they just trying to smash out resistance and hoping people forget about it?


Instead of ruling with an iron fist, the new government may want to win over its subjects with gifts and charity. If you can make them better off than they were before, you may find yourself with a large pool of loyal subjects. Maybe your character is military and values the new dragons they’re allowed to use against a smaller enemy. Maybe the flying trains finally run on time. Maybe your character is pro-conquest because her little brother was healed by the conqueror’s advanced medicine. Then again, maybe your character resents all those gifts, or the gifts are only going to certain segments of the population — maybe dragons get gifts but humans don’t!

The Pirate Planet

A new golden age of prosperity! Riches in the streets!
(From “The Pirate Planet,” Doctor Who.)

With a charm strategy, the government will probably allow the populace to continue its old practices and hope to bribe them into complacency and assimilation. They may discourage the old practices through economic incentives, such as charging a fee to use certain services, or placing a tax on anyone who doesn’t join the conquerors’ religion. Or it could be as simple as social pressure, where those who assimilate have better employment and social opportunities.

You can come at it from either direction — if you know the government is passing out presents, then think about how the people respond, or if you know how your character feels about it, you can work backward to figure out what kind of government you have. It’s best to be consistent unless you’re contradicting yourself for a reason — you might have a well-meaning government official who’s trying to win people over but has no understanding of the local culture’s value system and who does more harm than good, causing other officials to use violence in response, for instance.  Or you could certainly have a well-planned strategy combining both carrot and stick, with lofty rewards for those who join in and terrible punishments for those who do not. Just try not to have those in power flip-flopping whenever it suits your plot, because readers notice that kind of thing and will call you out on it!


This was an especially effective option in the ancient world, when “conquest” would’ve meant “bring me stuff.” The conquered party was generally left alone, allowed to keep its own culture/language/religion, but was compelled to send tribute at regular intervals, and might have a new governor. Tribute could be measured in money, food, luxury items such as spices or textiles, soldiers for the army, etc. (You could make this something totally weird and cool in a sci-fi or fantasy universe! Just think about what’s valued in your world. The Aztecs valued horticulture and demanded tribute in the form of rare plants for the rulers’ gardens, among other things. You could do wacky, like weird flowers, or you could do dark and make it soldiers or other human tribute.)

Naturally this ties into force, because you have to be able to make them bring the stuff, but it’s more of a transaction and less of a personal assault, (assuming the tribute is in stuff rather than people). You may still generate hard feelings, but you may also be seen as “Just doing your job,” because there’s less opportunity for individual conquerees to be affronted by individual conquerors, and an economic strain isn’t usually on the same level as an assault on your personal traditions. Characters who’re motivated by resentment for this kind of conquest will probably have strong feelings about their locality or ethnicity, and be offended because the tribe itself has been humbled, with any personal harms coming second. This can also depend on the quality of the local governor, of course… Depending on the level of autonomy, that person could make things very hard or very easy for the populace.

Part 2 will cover some more specific aspects, such as religion and education, that could play into any of these overall strategies. What do you think so far, and what have I missed?

Alien August!

So I created a race of hedonistic cloud people for Alien August over at Check it out! The competition runs until the end of August, so there’s still time to submit an alien profile if you’re interested.

I’m trying not to come up with story ideas about the clouds, but it’s a losing battle…

Sunday Summary 8/17

Bits and Bobs:

I’ve added “Essays” and “Reviews” categories to the sidebar, so if you just want to read one or the other, you can click there. They combine the other categories — all history, fandom, and writing essays are under “Essays,” and the same for “Reviews.” Let me know how it works and if it’s helpful for you!

I have moderate plantar fasciitis in one foot — just one, for some reason, but entirely brought on by a particular pair of crappy shoes, which happened to be the only ones I owned that were wearable at work. I was gonna buy some good ones as soon as I could, and then I suddenly realized it’d been eight months and I had plantar fasciitis and I’d never bought new shoes. Finally, now that the summer’s almost over, I bought some sandals, and with birthday money given for that purpose, these gorgeous puppies:

floral boots

Available at Target.

I never wanna take ‘em off. And my foot’s already improving, thank you. :D

I can’t leave off the Lauren Willig… I started The Secret History of the Pink Carnation yesterday and very much enjoying it. I’m also starting her newest standalone novel, That Summer, to jump into the last half of the Facebook readalong. It’s not too late to join in!

Coming Up This Week:

Mechanisms of conquest and assimilation for SF/F writers (in need of a less clunky title…)

Reviews of Ms. Marvel #7 and my next issue of Loki: Agent of Asgard.

Reviews of Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation and the new Doctor Who episode, pending me having something interesting to say about either of them. :)

So, what’s up with you?

Suzie81’s Questions!

This morning I saw Nerd in the Brain, Sourcerer, Part Time Monster, and Eclectic Alli had all posted answers to these same questions… Turns out it’s a social media experiment, with lots of bloggers answering the same questions from Suzie81. It’s ending sometime today, but people are still posting links, so I figured why not squeak in at the last minute! I usually don’t make posts this close to each other, so I’ll take this sentence to plug my last post, a museum visit to a samurai armor/weapons/art exhibit. >.>

1. How did you create the title for your blog?

I really don’t remember. I’d been thinking of starting a blog for a while, and “Things Matter” was on the list of title possibilities. “Webs of Significance” was another finalist, and I know that’s a quote…

2. What’s the one bit of blogging advice you would give to new bloggers?

Try new things — new formats, new types of posts, new schedules, new content. The stuff you think is bad will be hugely popular and what you think is your best work will be largely ignored, so try everything!

3. What is the strangest experience you’ve ever had?

Oh gosh, I don’t know. I’m torn between thinking of too many and not thinking of any at all. Sometimes I have weird realizations that the world is not as I thought it was, or that I myself am not as I thought, or my feelings are completely different than I expected them to be, and those are probably my strangest experiences. (Trivial example — I think my favorite color might, possibly, be hot pink. If my goth-aspiring 13-year-old self was here, I shudder to think what she’d say.)

Pinkie Pie cute face TardisBrony

I blame Pinkie Pie.

4. What is the best thing that anybody has ever said to you?

Once when Rose had to answer a prompt of “happy,” she thought of me. :)

5. When presented with a time machine, which one place and time would you visit?

I think I’d want to go to the future and see if everything turns out okay.

6. If you had to pick a new first name, what would you choose?

People still call me Fate after an old username, and I still call myself that in my head, so I’d probably go with that for simplicity.

7. If you were a B Movie, what would it be called?

Starship Captains Don’t Wear Dresses. When I was a kid, they said that would be the name of my biopic. ;)

Museum Visit: Lethal Beauty at the BMA

“Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor” is a temporary exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art. You guessed it — it’s samurai weapons and armor! That stuff is also combined with some Japanese art. The exhibit will be on display at the BMA until September 21, but if you can’t make it, take your own tour with their online smartguide! I can also suggest buying the book, also titled Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor. It’s just $25 and contains detailed descriptions of the exhibits, along with excellent pictures to take away. (There’s no photography allowed inside the exhibit itself.)

It's okay outside, though!

It’s okay outside, though!

The armor and weapons were stunning. The docent stressed the quality of the workmanship and the extreme precision that went into these things. She also touched on the historical development of the samurai, their function as a social class, and the decline of their military importance — the exhibit contained some repurposed pieces, like a basket made from sword scabbards, made when the samurai needed money and not swords. The standout for me was the big panel painting of the Battles of Ichinotani and Yashima. It’s so detailed, you can follow individual warriors throughout different events in the battles. There were also some very old manga books and two separate artists’ renditions of the 47 Ronin story, laid out parallel to each other for comparison. Down the hall, the BMOA has a permanent Japanese collection with two full sets of impressive samurai armor, and artistic artifacts outside of weaponry, so I do recommend checking that out in tandem with Lethal Beauty or just on its own.

As far as the museum itself, I was very impressed. It’s a polished and professional exhibit. They provide magnifying glasses for tiny objects, and diagrams of how the swords were put together, plus there’s that book and walkthrough that people can access as desired. My mom is a karate teacher, and I had the opportunity to see the exhibit with one of her classes, thus getting a real tour… Haven’t done that in a long time! Our docent was engaging and good with the kids in the group, and I liked having someone to indicate points of interest. Of course she simplified Japanese history and tradition for tour purposes and the younger kids, and Mom had some complaints about her Japanese pronunciation, but hey, whatcha gonna do. (I was also introduced to her as wanting to go into museum work, and she said, “You know what… DO.” So that was affirming. :D )

Of course no one can touch the artifacts — we were told even the museum workers couldn’t touch the weapons, a specially-designated person from Japan is entrusted with that job — but there’s a fun interactive room off to the side with coloring pages for kids, a write-a-haiku magnet wall, and a variety of books at various age levels, with benches where you can sit and read them. They have hashtag posters up to encourage sharing. There’s a photo op inside with mock samurai armor, and also one outside with a face cutout.


Interesting Carictars: Poems

C.S. Lewis Poems coverThis book is Walter Hooper’s collection of various C.S. Lewis poems written throughout his life. The preface implies they were mainly post-1930, so I’m just squeezing them in here. Many actually published in magazines under various names, some appearing in his books. Also, being post-1930, they’re mostly post-conversion.

The poetry here is so much better than the poetry in Dymer! Maybe because Lewis never intended most of them to be published, they have a beautifully relaxed quality. They seem like poems that naturally popped into his head, rather than words he strained to generate. (Of course, that also means some of them feel slightly unfinished). They have a splendid variety of forms, styles, and subjects. As with much of his poetry and technical work, it’s packed with allusions, and some poems are essentially meaningless if you’re not familiar with the allusion, so you want your Google open while reading. The book would be improved with a few footnotes, both to source allusions and to provide context of where/when poems were written and/or published.

Some personal highlights were the fantasy-related poems, especially the ones like little fantasy short stories in verse:

“Impenitence,” a poem defending the existence of anthropomorphic animals in stories, in which he cries “Begone, you fusty kill-joys!” which is delightful;

“The Country of the Blind,” which talks about a transitional stage on the way to the famous country of the H.G. Wells short story, about how language would change and at some point there would be people using metaphorical language that other people still understood literally;

“The Late Passenger,” a rhyming poem about an animal late to Noah’s Ark; and

“The Dragon Speaks,” a tired old dragon’s meditation on his hoard.


Next month — or, well, this month — I’ll be reading The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton, another one of Lewis’s favorite and formative works. I’ll try to get through the first volume of Lewis’s letters, and also start looking at biographies to compare renditions of his early life, but that’ll spill over into September.

I'm reading all of C.S. Lewis' books in chronological order!

I’m reading all of C.S. Lewis’ books in chronological order! Go here for more information.

Home School Student Interview: Hannah


I was interviewed on Nerd in the Brain about my experience as a homeschooler. :)

Originally posted on Nerd in the Brain:

I’ve done several interviews with home school parents in the past (and will continue to!) to share information about the wide variety of styles and methods that are being successfully used in the home school world.

I thought it would be every bit as spiffy and interesting to start sharing thoughts from the students of home school…to hear what they have to say about their “non-traditional” educational experiences.

I want to give a great big, huge thank you to Hannah of Things Matter for agreeing to take part in the very first home school student interview on the blog. :D She was home schooled right through 12th grade and is now in her senior year of college.

Okay, enough of my babble…let’s see what Hannah has to say:

1. Do you feel like the fact that you were home schooled benefited your education? Why or why not?

Yes, definitely. Once…

View original 1,300 more words

Interview with Comic Writer James Mascia

James Mascia is a high school English teacher who wants to make literature more accessible to students, whose comic book writing credits include The Poe Murders, many volumes of High School Heroes, and others. His latest project — currently a Kickstarter campaign — is an adaptation of the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. You’ve probably seen a version of it somewhere, or a TV episode inspired by it, or something like that… It’s the one about the guy who crashes on an island and meets a big-game hunter who wants to hunt a human! In this comic-book version, it’ll be a sci-fi story with a spaceship crash and alien big-game hunters! Last week, Mascia contacted me about promoting The Most Dangerous Game, and graciously agreed to do a short interview.

Unfinished cover art.

Unfinished cover art for The Most Dangerous Game.

Q. Not only are you adapting “The Most Dangerous Game” into comic-book form, you’re also transforming it into a sci-fi story. What’s the reasoning behind that?

Mascia: I’m adapting the story to introduce it to people (students mainly) who have not read it before. In my school we have a lot of reluctant readers, and this is another way of allowing them to read the story that might be more interesting to them.

Now, I didn’t do a straight adaption because I see no creativity in that, all I’d be doing in that case it stealing the words from the page and adding pictures to it. That, to me, isn’t creating something original. Just like when I created The Poe Murders, it isn’t a simple retelling of Poe’s stories in a graphic novel. It’s sort of a “what if” scenario in which it explores what might have been if all the stories were connected and happening in the same place at the same time. So, when I started thinking about “The Most Dangerous Game,” and asked myself how I could do it differently, a science fiction story seemed natural (especially since I’m a huge sci-fi geek myself). So, I changed up the story a little bit, and instead of Rainsford crashing onto an island in the middle of nowhere, he crashes onto a planet, a planet inhabited by an alien named Zaroff, who uses the planet as one giant wild game park.


Concept art for Zaroff. Love it!

Q. In the video on your Kickstarter page, you mention you’ll be including a teacher’s guide with everything a teacher or homeschooler needs. Having been homeschooled myself, I was excited to hear us mentioned. Have homeschoolers always been part of your target audience, and has that changed your approach at all?

Mascia: I’m sorry to say that they have not always been my target audience. But when I created The Poe Murders there was interest in the graphic novel simply because it has a lot of the Poe stories included. Parents who do home school saw it as a way to teach Poe to their kids. So, when I was coming up with the idea for The Most Dangerous Game I thought about putting it together with the teaching guide for that purpose.

Q. Did you use Kickstarter for any of your other projects? Do you recommend it for other writers and creators, and do you have any tips?

Mascia: I have used Kickstarter before (years ago). But at that time I didn’t know what I was doing and ended up with a whopping $0 in contributions. Since then I have run 2 successful IndieGoGo campaigns (1 of which allowed The Poe Murders to be published). I moved back to Kickstarter, mainly because it gets more press and therefore more contributions.

Yes, I would definitely recommend it for writers and creators. However, running a Kickstarter campaign isn’t just a throw it up and wait for the money to come rolling in. It is almost like a full time job. Even though the campaign started only a few days ago, I have been working on it for the last few weeks (putting it together, inviting people to join in, and using social media to make people aware of it before it even went up). Since the campaign launched, I have been sending out press releases, emailing blogs, posting on Facebook and Twitter for almost 5 or 6 hours a day (luckily being a teacher, I have the time to do so in the summer). So, again, don’t take a Kickstarter campaign lightly. It is a lot of work, especially if you are running it by yourself.

The only tip I have is to spend a long time creating your campaign (I spent 2 weeks on mine before I launched, and I’m still making modifications). I would also recommend sharing it with all your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and other social media platforms prior to launch. Remember, Kickstarter won’t even post your campaign on their site until someone pledges money to it. So, the quicker you get a pledge, the sooner it will be posted on their site.

Thanks James!

Again, here’s the link to that Kickstarter. You can see more of the art there, and contribute to the campaign if you feel so inclined. I’ll leave you with the unfinished art for page 1: