A Positive Review of Gotham

Gotham promo

Three television viewers break into whoops, cheers, and insane flailing. What would cause such a thing? Oswald Cobblepot walking into a police station and saying, “Hello.” Then the viewers replay the scene and cheer all over again, because we really love Gotham at my house. We love it a lot. On a scale of one to ten, we’re at “fangirl flailing.”

Equestria girls twilight sparkle flail gif - Copy

Apparently Gotham is getting great ratings (yay!), and yet most of the reviews I’ve seen are negative. So, I’m setting out to write a positive review! I plan to explain why I like the show in direct relation to the typical complaints I’m seeing in other reviews. I’m not trying to argue with particular reviewers or saying they should like the show when they don’t — I’m just explaining why I like it, detailing why these common objections don’t bother me, and illustrating how people can have wildly differing opinions of the exact same content.

Gotham promo

1) “I wouldn’t keep watching if it wasn’t a Batman show.”

I honestly don’t understand this objection, because it IS a Batman show. The whole point is that it’s a Batman show. I’m watching explicitly BECAUSE it’s a Batman show, so obviously I wouldn’t keep watching if it wasn’t!

The fact that it’s Gotham City is deeply ingrained in this thing. The Gotham we see on this show could not be anywhere but Gotham. It’s a city of insanity, full of power-mad gangsters, drawing larger-than-life personas up out of its alleys like it’s a force of nature. This show could not exist or function if it wasn’t a Batman show.

I’d also like to take a moment and praise the characters’ tone. They’re not “genre-savvy,” they’re not aware of what’s going to happen just because they know their genre works that way. And yet, no one’s going to stop and say “Hasn’t anyone noticed how utterly weird this is?” because in their universe, it’s not weird. Comically silly villains are not comically silly, they’re played totally straight, and their crimes are gruesome. All that is disturbing to the characters, but not inherently strange. They understand the rules of the game, but there’s a complete lack of self-awareness about those rules… It’s like a whole new kind of genre-savviness! This was the first thing I noticed about the show in its initial episodes, and is still one of my favorite aspects. Again, the show could not function if it wasn’t about Batman comics.

This leads into number two…

2) “It can’t decide if it’s a cop show or a superhero show” and/or “The tone is confused.”

There are elements of this in how some of the cops are waaaaay older than they should be, betraying a kind of “We want to do Gotham Central even though those characters would be way too young in a prequel” situation. However, I don’t feel like the tone itself is confused. It’s dual, and I love it!

therealbatmanBatman is both silly and creepy. There is no “real” version… Adam West plays the real Batman, and so does Christian Bale. Batman’s whole milieu is the same way. The Joker is ridiculous, but he’s also terrifying. The concept of Batman is inherently both things, and I adore this show for being both things! Not only does it suit Batman as a topic, it fascinates me as a ho-hum TV viewer. It makes the show feel vibrant, unpredictable. It makes me want to see what happens. It makes me think of how weird and nuts being a cop in a superhero universe might actually be. It’s a cop show lifted to superheroic proportions, and it’s a superhero show brought down to the nitty-gritty of a cop show. It’s both.

3) “Jim Gordon is boring.”

Yeah, okay, I get this one. I’d like to see more to Gordon. I’d like to see more to his relationship with Barbara, and I’d have liked to see him start out one way and then develop into being another way (i.e. the Gordon we know in the future).

However, I feel like Jim would be a really fun guy if he wasn’t always under duress and taking it so seriously, and I pin that on Ben McKenzie making the best of the lines he’s given. I love watching the facial expressions between Gordon and Harvey Bullock. (Donal Logue is getting widespread approval for his acting job, and I’m totally on board with that — the line “I got you one but I dropped it” still makes me laugh every time I think about it.)

Anyway, the fact that Gordon does take everything so seriously is rather interesting to me. He doesn’t come across as the “everyday guy doing the best he can” that older-Gordon usually is. This Jim Gordon plays the straight man to all the other characters, but in his interactions with all the crazies of Gotham City, I feel a sense of barely-repressed insanity. He’s so straightlaced because he wants so desperately for straightlacedness to be possible, while no one else in this city (meta-speaking, this universe) even sees how insane they are. (Except maybe Barbara, who seems to be totally boring and serious without any undue effort. Part of his motivation seems to be remaining “normal” so she’ll approve of him). I could certainly be reading too much into this, or into McKenzie’s efforts to make something out of a boring role, but my point is that I’m not bored. I’m fascinated!

Jim Gordon Oswald CobblepotGordon could’ve been given more depth or a more unexpected characterization and been immediately more interesting, but at the end of the day, it’s also a straightforward move to create a normal guy with whom to contrast the other characters. It could’ve been more subtle, but we’d have still known what the writers were doing, and those contrasts are carrying the story right now. Some are obvious, like the contrast between Gordon as the young firebrand and Bullock as the jaded cynic. But others are more subtle and complex, like the way Gordon and Cobblepot don’t have anything in common, but are experiencing parallel origin stories on opposite sides of the fence and being pushed together while doing so.

4) “Bruce Wayne is shoehorned in, he doesn’t have anything to do with the plot.”

Of course he’s relevant to the plot! The plot is “stuff happens in Gotham City.” Stuff happening in Gotham affects him, and it looks like he’ll be affecting stuff in Gotham, now that he’s interacting with the board of Wayne Enterprises.

David Mazouz Bruce Wayne Gotham

And he’s adorable. My sister keeps comparing him to Artemis Fowl, and it’s an apt comparison so far. Serious, rich, quite smart, with a personal carriage beyond his years and not shocked by crime… but still naive in the face of it.

 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

Doctor Who Review: “In the Forest of the Night” (with finale predictions)

I didn’t dislike this episode as much as the ones I hated… But I didn’t like it as much as even “Mummy on the Orient Express,” a good episode just brought down by Clara Oswald’s existence. It was basically on par with last week’s “Flatline” for me — just meh. It didn’t hang together. It was a decent episode and the pacing was quite good, but it never feels like anything’s really happening or like the episode has anything to say.

Spoilers. Skip down to the big bold heading below if you just wanna see the finale discussion!

Basically, an enormous forest grows up all over the world overnight. (Even in the Sahara? Even on the polar caps? Even over the ocean? Apparently.) Clara and Danny were chaperoning an overnight trip, and they’re now stuck in the forest with a bunch of kids. Yay. Kids are always so awesome on Doctor Who. (Sarcasm). One of the kids, Maebh, has run off, and she finds the Tardis. It so happens that she’s been disturbed since her sister disappeared, is hearing voices, and is being prescribed medication that makes them stop. Eventually the rest of the kids end up in the Tardis while the Doctor tries to figure out the invasion of the trees.

First, you gotta love how concerned Clara is about all those kids! Which is to say… Not worried. At all. Doesn’t even care. Her ONLY distinctive trait was that she was good with kids! Sure, it’s possible to be good with kids without actually caring about their wellbeing, but once again, her “character” is totally inconsistent. Second, if the story does have a moral, it’s “Don’t take your medication, and do whatever the voices tell you.” I’ll agree that some children (and adults) are perhaps over-medicated, but I do not appreciate the common SF/F theme of “psychosis means you know the truth.” I don’t see how that message is anything but harmful.

Doctor Who Review In the Forest of the Night

Still a better companion than Clara. We Geek Girls

Speaking of Maebh, she’s the most prominent aspect of the story that just doesn’t make much sense. She is, apparently, some sort of empath, and having seen/felt the forest happening ahead of time, she thinks she’s the one who caused it. Okay so far. But then she says she started it all, so she wants to be the one to finish it (by sending a phone message to everyone on Earth), and the Doctor lets her… And then she creates a creepy magical simulacrum of her sister? Or something? And if she gained these empathic powers because her sister was missing, and people who’ve lost someone are always looking and listening as the episode states, why doesn’t every bereaved person on Earth know the trees are coming?

My favorite part of this season has been how each episode hangs together thematically. The scripts have been really good in that regard… but this one just wasn’t. The red riding hood theme is there, with Maebh in her red coat being chased by wolves, but it has nothing to do with anything. Then there’s the title, and there is a tiger in the story, but the tiger REALLY doesn’t have anything to do with anything. The forest itself is too bright and happy and green to be scary — and you can’t see the buildings, so rampant reclamation isn’t scary either. The final shot of the girl’s sister was creepier than all of that, to be honest, and I still can’t figure out if she was SUPPOSED to be creepy! That’s all without even discussing the weird solar science. As I mentioned just yesterday, I am not Carl Sagan, and I have no idea if extra oxygen in the atmosphere would be the slightest protection against a massive solar flare. However, I did kinda predict the big twist. So, on the whole, shaky script.

Concept art -- also creepier than finished product. We Geek Girls

Concept art — also creepier than finished product. We Geek Girls

So, let’s talk about the season thus far.

There are several themes (outside of “is the Doctor a good man” and his issue with soldiers) that have held strong throughout the season, which I believe will have an impact on the finale.

First, “In the Forest of the Night” contains another scene of Missy watching stuff on her screen. Missy is not a theme or an arc as yet — she’s simply foreshadowing. I’m not sure Moffat understands the difference. However, I’ve pointed out the possible theme of a meta-story in other episodes. Robin Hood was indeed our “artist” of the season, since there hasn’t been another one, and then there are the Listeners. Missy ties into this because, for all intents and purposes, she’s watching Doctor Who episodes on TV. I hope the idea of the Doctor-as-story will be important in the finale. This is where I see Clara’s “Clara Oswald never existed” comment coming into play.

My brother pointed out a theme of red herrings, or sudden turnings. The Orient Express was designed specifically to research the mummy. Robin Hood wasn’t a robot. The bank heist was planned by the Doctor. The trees aren’t invading, they’re saviors. The moon was an egg. The Listeners were (apparently) Clara all along. Fellow Who-reviewer Gene’O has pointed out in his reviews on Part Time Monster that we have no indication that Missy is a villain yet — she could be an ally, gathering other allies to help the Doctor. That’s looking plausible right now.

What about the plotline we thought we were getting in the first few episodes, the robots looking for heaven? Well, we see the Cybermen in the next-time trailer. They’re robots. And those other robots we saw? They’re robots taking human parts. Just like the Cybermen. Maybe Missy is the creator of the Cybermen, and the other robots were failed attempts? Maybe Missy is actually a tool of Cybermen displaying hitherto-unseen creativity. (There’s also just a general “robot” theme, though, and not all of them are looking for heaven — the Skovox Blitzer, Rusty the Dalek, Gus the train AI, etc.)

This is shaping up to be an intense finale with a lot of questions to answer. Here’s hoping for a new kind of finale!

Sunday Summary 10/26 – Super-exclusive sneak peeks

New to the Blogroll:

Diversity in YA and Disability in Kidlit. I found both of these through a Lady Geek Girl & Friends Web Crush Wednesday back in August. They’re great industry-type blogs to follow if you’re interested in representation in novels. (You can follow non-Wordpress blogs in your WordPress reader: Go to your reader, click “Edit” next to the “Blogs I Follow” button, and it’ll give you a space to paste in the blog’s URL).

(Also, in case you were wondering, I’m planning to subdivide my blogroll soon for ease of use! It’s one of several things I have planned for the new year. Exclusive sneak peek #1. Wink wink.)

What I’m Up To:

I did figure out how to use this here espresso machine, although the milk foamer seems to have developed a fault...

I did figure out how to use this here espresso machine, although the milk foamer seems to have developed a fault…

Well, hm. This is the first Sunday in months when I actually don’t feel like I have stuff going on to talk about, at least that isn’t going to get a post of its own. I have some exciting blog collaborations coming up, which you’ll start hearing about next week…

And my posting days have been a bit weird lately, I apologize. Stuff is going on, but it’s really just “more of the same,” i.e. school topics, the big paper, and writing. (Sneak peek into the life of a sci-fi writer: I’d be having a much easier time right now if I were Carl Sagan. But I’m not, so I’m not.)

I’ll keep posting at least two things per week (four if you include Sunday Summaries and Doctor Who reviews). Those other two posts may just keep being on weird days for a bit. I’ll have my shit together at the end of November. (I want to have my whole paper done by the middle of November, when I have to do a poster presentation, although it may spill over a little).

Also, I forgot to mention it last Sunday, but I’m still very behind on my blog reader. I actually hit the point (7-8 days behind) at which my computer haaates loading that many posts, so I’ve switched over to catching up on one blog at a time. So, I’m up to date for some of y’all, and two weeks behind for others. Sorry!

Exclusive Sneak Peek into Next Week’s Posts:

Monday: Doctor Who Review

Tuesday (night): “A Positive Review of Gotham”

A post on my first paper draft

Something for Eclectic Alli’s Masquerade Ball! I think — I think! — it’ll be a flash fiction. You (and I) will have to wait and see exactly what it contains. (And, indeed, whether or not it’s self-contained or interacts with the blog ball itself as a meta piece… It’s a mystery to us all.)

Review: The Book of Life (2014)

Does anybody else hate it when “book” is in the title of a movie? Just me? Okay. That aside, I saw The Book of Life yesterday and deeply enjoyed it. The animation is beautiful, vibrant, and creative, and the characters are too. Before I start talking about the plot… Oh gosh, that animation. Gorgeous.

The Book of Life poster

If you haven’t heard of the movie yet, it’s a Day of the Dead movie (timed to come out just before Halloween). La Muerte and Xibalba, two gods of the underworld(s), lay a bet on three kids: Both boys, Manolo and Joaquin, want to marry the girl, Maria. Each god picks a side, and they wager their kingdoms on it. Maria leaves for school in Spain, and we jump to them as adults, when Maria returns. Manolo just wants to play his guitar, but he comes from a long line of famous bullfighters, and they want him to continue the tradition. Joaquin, under Xibalba’s influence, has become a famous action hero who defends the town against bandits. Maria, for her part, is outspoken, smart, and action-packed, but signals she’ll be receptive to their advances if they’re genuinely interested. The men are totally aware they’re competing to impress Maria, but Xibalba rigs the game, and Manolo ends up having to travel through the underworld(s) to win Maria and save the town. (The plot and style do bear a surface comparison to The Corpse Bride, or Tim Burton’s work in general, but I see that as mostly coincidental. You don’t need to enjoy Tim Burton to enjoy this, you just need to enjoy movies and art. That said, if you liked The Corpse Bride, you’ve GOTTA see this).

So, it’s two men fighting over a girl. Meh, right? Not really, because even though Manolo is highlighted in most descriptions, the story doesn’t belong to just one of the men, or even both. It’s also not the YA trope of the girl trying to decide between two boys she likes. Instead, the story is about three fully-realized people and the complexities of their relationship, embedded in their community and families. Each character has their own personality and trajectory. Even though the story has that “folk tale” quality, it’s a multilayered version. It’s the kind of folk tale that adults would enjoy and relate to just as much as their children, rather than the kind of fairy tale that’s explicitly representational and meant to teach a lesson.

Both the men are decent, good people, they just both have some unfortunate “bro” tendencies to overcome. I was rooting for both of them to do that, and they do. (As a matter of fact, I was also rooting for both of them in the romance storyline. All three of them love each other, right? They all learn to respect each other and get along, and they’ve always been a group of three, not two competing couples. Let’s just say my headcanon turns out a little differently). Maria’s story has some room for improvement, because she doesn’t grow or change — she starts awesome and stays awesome. (And she has a pet pig). That’s great, but without her own full arc, she remains a bit of a “reward” for the men. It works well enough for me in this situation, though, because she does have that fully-realized quality I mentioned. Even more important, the movie gave a presence to women in general, where other treatments of the time period (or outsiders’ treatment of the culture) might ignore them or only include Maria, since she’s sexy. Instead, women are present throughout the movie, as they would be in a real culture. They’re mothers, grandmothers, bullfighters, revolutionaries, goddesses, sometimes several things at the same time.

La Muerte and Xibalba

Gratuitous picture of La Muerte (my favorite character) and Xibalba (who looks oddly like Discord and acts like him too).

Speaking of the culture, director Jorge R. Gutierrez has done an excellent job of demonstrating the rich content to be mined in Mexican stories. I’m really happy to see this story come from within that culture, from creators who understand it. Gutierrez is Mexican. Manolo and La Muerte, (arguably) the two most important characters, are both voiced by accomplished Mexican actors, and they’re not the only ones. It makes a palpable difference — the movie is a story, not an exoticism. The treatment of bullfighting was also excellent. It is something with a long tradition and history, but it’s also needless cruelty. Both those things can be true and honored at the same time, and Gutierrez does that.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. There’s a vaguely-mariachi version of “Creep” by Radiohead, and that’s just the beginning! The music creates a modern, fun, funky tone, and totally works within the movie, especially given the framing story of modern kids in a museum. It sets the right tone, of a fairy tale that’s living and changing and speaking to modern emotions.

The Book of Life was a high-quality movie that will bear multiple rewatchings. I keep trying to call it “effortless,” but that’s not the word at all. It’s skillful, never strained, but it’s the sort of skill that shows off all the dedication and passion of the creators behind it. Recommended for all ages.

How to Choose a Research Topic

I started off wanting to do ancient Greece, and now I’m studying 1700s literature. Weird, right? Hopefully the steps I took to get there will be useful for any of you who want to know how to choose a research field, what to do with a history degree, or even just how to choose a research paper topic! (I’m an undergrad history major working on my senior thesis, which is just a 20-page paper, but is important for graduation and often dictates future research topics).

Nezahualcoyotl statue

I wrote a paper about Nezahualcoyotl. Pic from Wikipedia.

Step 1: Assess interests

I’ve always been interested in ancient history. That’s just my thing… Maybe because I like questions more than dates! My trouble was, my Greek and Latin were both very rusty, and not offered at my school. I had rudimentary knowledge of hieroglyphics at one point, but have forgotten most of that too, and who ever gets clearance to go to Egypt? Then I took a class in Modern Latin America and realized duh — Latin America has ancient history too, and I do speak Spanish! (I’ve lost a lot of it since high school and study abroad, but could pick it up again very quickly.) I settled on ancient Latin America as my broad field, and figured I’d narrow it down later on. There were added benefits in that I had a professor of Latin American history available to me, and that it’s a growing area. Studying Greece and Egypt as a historian is kind of like studying sharks or dolphins as a marine biologist, if you know what I mean.

Step 2: Assess applicability

A year or two ago, I realized I didn’t particularly want to teach history. If I ended up doing that it would be okay, but I figure in an ideal world, people who teach kids are there because they WANT to teach kids, not just because they have nothing better to do. College would be even more palatable, but I still wasn’t crazy about the idea. I did some research into “What do you do with a history degree” — I wanted something history-related, not law school or other fields in which you get a history degree just as a generic research degree. Ta-da! Museum studies and public history!

If I was going to do museums, my choice of research field would matter a lot less. It wouldn’t be something I was locked into forever. Spending a lot of time and effort becoming an expert Latin Americanist looked less useful. So, it was back to the drawing board on assessing my interests: I’d gotten involved in Amnesty International while in school, and had been reading up on human rights and their history just because I was interested. While doing that, I read a fascinating book called Inventing Human Rights by Lynn Hunt, an expert in French history, who pinned the growth of human rights partially on the growth of novel reading as entertainment. That was a radically interesting notion to me, because when we’re talking about what I’m interested in, what do I always come back to? Books and stories!

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I just knew I needed a new research area, and I chose the history of human rights. It interested me, it crossed time/place restrictions (I always hated the idea of choosing one research topic and being stuck there forever), and I would love to end up in a civil rights museum of some kind! I knew I was on the right track and felt much more comfortable with this game plan.

Step 3: Assess resources

I initially wanted to research how animal rights led to children’s rights. It’s a weird story: Some people wanted to take a child away from abusive parents, but there was no system in place for that. They went to animal rights activists for help, and lawyers applied the animal rights reasoning to children’s rights. This was in New York — same thing happened in England. I found this story in The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. The trouble was a lack of sources. There were newspaper accounts that were very slippery indeed, and if I wanted to go further than that I’d probably have to get access to old ASPCA records and things like that, if those records even existed. I just didn’t have access to the sources I needed for a 20-page paper. (Maybe a blog post one day, though!)

That’s when I remembered Hunt’s theory about the novels making human rights possible. (She and her theory had also been mentioned at length in Better Angels, which I’d read for another class). A few quick searches revealed there were plenty of usable sources on the history of novels, history of literacy, history of human rights, and scientific studies of empathy, and surely with all those available I could smash them together somehow! Plus, it’s books. There’s no trouble finding primary sources, because you have the books themselves, plus often contemporary reviews of the books and letters from the author, because we authors tend to be wordy people.

Pamela Samuel Richardson cover

I wrote about Pamela for Banned Books Week.

Step 4: Reassess whatever you’ve ended up with

I took this step after I had the bones of my research paper ready. The novels/human rights intersection sounds smallish, but is really quite large, and I chose to focus on one transformative book. (Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson). I’d started out with ancient Greece, with a more firm beginning in the Aztec Empire, intending to become a world-renowned expert in some tiny aspect of it. It was something of a gradual, incremental change, but now I was about to start an entire paper on a women’s novel from 1740 England, with the intent of going to museum school afterward. This plan was totally unrecognizable from what it had been before. Did I really want to do this?

Yes. Unqualified yes. Check off this step and move on.

Intermediary step before paper: Identify pitfalls

 

I knew right off the bat, and especially after doing my preliminary research, that writing about this topic might be tricky. It would be very easy to verge into literary analysis, or even sociology, rather than writing a real history paper. Those would be pretty interesting too, but NOT my field, and I wouldn’t be able to write a proper sociology paper even if I wanted to do that. I need to incorporate some literary analysis and some sociology or my argument won’t make sense, but I can’t let them take over the paper. Having these things written out beforehand was really valuable when it came time to do a detailed outline and research.

So, there I am! I’ve finished a first draft of the paper in question, and am just starting on a second draft. I hope this was helpful for y’all, and I’m happy to answer any questions about history major-ing or the topics in question.

Doctor Who Review: “Flatline”

“Flatline” was a pretty normal “freaky idea of the week” type of Doctor Who episode, but channeling Flatland. The monsters are two-dimensional. It’s a creative idea, but… meh. Maybe my undying love of Flatland is to blame, but it was kind of disappointing. Episodes (and horror-ish sci-fi movies) like this are always a let-down for me, where you spend the whole story curious about the premise and then you never find out anything about the aliens. I’m left with no idea who they were or what they wanted, so why should I care? What’s the point? It’s just a big shaggy dog story. In this story in particular, there are some cool effects to start with, but then they use a lot of questionable “this is a de-flattener” type science trying to make the concept work, or they just spend a lot of time running away from 2D monsters that have been needlessly rendered as 3D.

The other bit of creativity in this episode is to trap the Doctor away from the action and give Clara his position of leadership. It doesn’t make me like her any more, but it is a clever plot device, and nothing really happened to make me like her less. I’m just annoyed that the Doctor was constantly telling her “You can do it! You’re stronger than you know!” etc. The Clara we were told we had wouldn’t need that kind of a pep talk, she’d just DO it. To be fair, she really is sort of “doing it,” she doesn’t act like she needs constant propping up, it’s just THERE for some reason. Of course, at the end she’s convinced she pulled it off wonderfully and that it doesn’t take any particular skill or fortitude to be the Doctor, which isn’t true. (So, I guess something did happen to make me like her less).

The episode also continues the “Am I a good man” theme by giving Clara the Doctor’s role and effectively letting him watch himself — or at least be forced to listen to what Clara thinks of him. He finally passes judgment — he says she made an exceptional Doctor, but “goodness had nothing to do with it.” I think he’s decided he’s not a good man, and that both worries me and makes me sad.

A few bits and bobs:

  • First, they kept on repeating “listen!” — coincidence? Probably, depending on how well the creators predicted the response to “Listen.”
  • Second, the episode culminates in Twelve’s attempt at an Eleven-style “I am the Doctor and this plane is protected!” speech. A lot of people seemed to love this, so more power to y’all, but it fell totally flat for me. (So to speak). It worked for Eleven, but when Twelve did it, he seemed more lost than ever about who and what he’s supposed to be. (This is a comment about Twelve, not about Capaldi).
  • Third, I echo the observation on Brotherhood of Evil Geeks that the Doctor seems to be “trying out” new companions this season, even with Clara standing right there. He’s done that before, often just before a supporting character dies, but it does seem to keep on happening in this season. Surely he can tell that Clara’s time is running out.

All told, it wasn’t an awful episode. I really enjoyed the creativity involved with the shrinking Tardis, the graffiti artist fooling the 2D beings, and whatnot. I just don’t think it’s the best Who has to offer.

Sunday Summary 10/18 – Coffee style!

I have two blogs to add to my blogroll: Geekritique and Scifi Jubilee. They’re both great pop culture blogs that I’ve been following and interacting with for a while, and really I just thought they were already on the list… Sorry!

Halloween coffee mug

Getting into the Halloween spirit.

I’ve got my coffee and my muffin this morning, and no theme or big event to talk about, so this is a more casual If We Were Having Coffee type of post.

Let’s be realistic, if we were having coffee, we’d end up talking about our blogs a lot to avoid awkward silences. I’d tell you how I’m never sure exactly what I’m doing here, but I like it. I’d tell you how I didn’t have time for more than one essay post last week, but I never have time for all the posts I want to write… I’ll get to that villains post eventually! You don’t even wanna know how long my list of possible posts is getting, but I’ve had this post kicking around for a while called “When is a Villain Not a Villain?” Maybe I’ll get to it this week, but there’s no theme for this week’s posts — the next few weeks will be more typical for me in that regard, with a blend of past/present/future posts. You can expect to see some posts about my research paper this week, though! I haven’t received any feedback on my first draft yet, but over the next couple weeks I’ll be posting some resource reviews, how the first draft went and what I learned, how I chose my subject, and stuff like that. (Discussion of what I learned from my first draft will probably wait until I get some feedback from my authority figures!)

We’d chat about all the things keeping me busy this week instead of blogging. It’s not been “busy” the way I think of it, full of deadlines and more things to do than I have time for, but it’s been a week packed with events. There was a Phi Alpha Theta initiation at school — it’s a history society, our idea of “crazy” is “professors doing dramatic poetry recitations,” so in that sense, things totally got crazy. There was a wizard-themed event at one of the libraries I frequent, which was mostly for little kids, but hey, I share many interests with little kids! These interests include snacks and Frozen, so I had a good time. Then last night I visited Sloss Fright Furnace, one of the local Halloween haunted house thingies. I mentioned last week that I wanted to do that, so, success! I didn’t think it was scary, maybe I’ll try a different place next year, but it was fun!

I’m ready to get back to the text-based life of a recluse, though. Homework and paper revisions are looking pretty good right now, coming up right after I bang out a few novel pages! That’s really exciting but nerve-wracking too. It’s never very easy for me to just jump back in, especially because I know I’m not writing at the top of my game the first couple days back, and it’s a struggle to keep on going when you know for a fact you’re not writing very good stuff. Just have to remind myself it’s temporary, and the only way to do it is do it.

What would you like to chat about if we were having coffee?

My Top 14 Indie Comic Books

My definition of “indie” is extremely loose here: Basically anything that’s not Marvel or DC, including some DC properties. It’s just an easy way for me to distinguish between “Marvel/DC” and “everybody else,” but I’m on the hunt for better terminology if you have any suggestions! 

1) Abadazad by J.M. DeMatteis

A three-volume series designed for middle-grade readers, combining prose with comic-book illustrations. The prose happens in our world, and the (gorgeous) art represents the world of Abadazad…

Out from Boneville cover2) Bone by Jeff Smith

If you like comics, or you WANT to like comics, you’ve gotta at least TRY Bone! It’s cute and funny, but if you read the whole series, it builds into a pretty awesome fantasy epic.

3) Courtney Crumrin by Ted Naifeh

A cute-goth series that achieves both cuteness and gothness. This is another one that seems directed toward middle-grade readers, but is super intense. Several volumes.

4) Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon

Thanks to Outright Geekery for recommending this one! It takes one man, a Brazilian writer, and shows all the most important days of his life. Unfortunately, he dies on each one. Intrigued? You should be.

5) Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley

This is a newspaper comic strip about a cat. It’s kind of a less-cartoony version of Garfield, maybe? The misanthropic Bucky is paired with a sweet Shar Pei named Satchel to create hilarious shenanigans beloved by cat and dog owners alike. Lots of collections!

6) Grease Monkey by Tim Eldred

A single-volume sci-fi comic, in which aliens have arrived on Earth and “uplifted” gorillas to sentience. (They offered it to the dolphins first, and they said no.) The story follows a human and a gorilla on a defense station above Earth, where they’re mechanics assigned to an all-female squadron of space fighters. Space opera does not get better than this!

Herobear Vol. 1 cover7) Herobear and the Kid by Mike Kunkel

It’s superheroes, it’s Christmas, it’s fantasy about toys coming to life, it is adorable! The first volume is a couple years old now, but there was another series published this year.

8) Hypothetical Lizard by Alan Moore

This is an Alan Moore short story adapted into a graphic novel, set in a brothel that caters to specific magical needs. The viewpoint character has a permanent mask over one side of her face, allowing her to observe but never translate her observations into verbal statements since she’s only seen things with one side of her brain, which allows her to cater to magicians who don’t want their secrets told. It’s everything Alan Moore — philosophical, fantastical, traumatic. (CN: Rapey abusive situation.)

9) I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura

A story about a girl who kills giants. The crying is strong with this one. (CN: Bullying, cancer.)

10) Icon by Dwayne McDuffie

This was a series published by Milestone Comics, a company that was designed to create minority superheroes that’s been folded into DC and is generally being ignored. (Static Shock came from Milestone too!) Icon is kind of black Superman. It’s a fascinating story cancelled after two volumes.

11) The Masterplan by Scott Mills

Another one of my favorite sci-fi comics, one volume. It’s got time travel, mad scientists, all my favorite things!

Owly Vol. 1 cover12) Owly by Andy Runton

An adorable wordless-comic series about a little owl in the forest, kind of a Winnie-the-Pooh type setup. Appropriate for all ages, from little kids up to adults!

13) Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire

A six-volume series you’ll find in the “mature” section of the comic shop. It’s a dystopian future following a boy with reindeer attributes — the children born after a certain point all have animal qualities. It takes a supernatural turn later in the series, but it pulls off a stylistically satisfying ending. Kind of a Walking Dead tone here only with more child deaths.

14) We3 by Grant Morrison

This is a slim volume about three cyborg animals — like, real-world animals, not anthropomorphized ones. The crying is strong with this one too, it’s awful. Why do I do this to myself?

My Top 10 DC and Marvel Characters

Just for funsies, here are my top 10 superheroes and supervillains! (It’s only limited to DC and Marvel because I’ve got another list coming…) As with any favorites list, these are entirely subjective, and the explanatory notes are merely veiled iterations of “I just like ‘em.” They’re on this list because when they appear in a story, I go “YES!” and want to read it!

1) Batman

Hey, I had to include Batman! A character of perennial interest, who I believe represents a perfect balance between simplicity of concept and variability of story.

Beta Ray Bill

marvel.wikia.com

2) Beta Ray Bill

This guy was, I believe, the first non-Thor personage to wield Thor’s Hammer for any length of time. He’s basically awesome, but what I really love about him is what I read in the writer’s explanation of him: There was an idea to create someone else worthy of wielding the hammer. The first thought would be another hunky blonde bro, but they chose to go a different route. They made Bill physically monstrous, but a virtuous and honorable person nonetheless.

3) Detective Chimp

Yeah… He is indeed an excellent detective, but he’s on this list because he’s adorable.

4) Lori Lemaris

An obscure love interest of Superman’s, way back in the day. She still appears occasionally in Aquaman-related media, and I feel like she should have her own series. Just sayin’. (Can I spoil a decades-old comic? —- She’s this random girl he meets as Clark Kent, but she turns out to be telepathic… And a mermaid.)

5) Magneto

He’s my go-to example of a villain who really believes his own schtick. He has valid reasons for feeling the way he does, but he never seems to realize that his methods are only making the mutant/human situation worse instead of better.

Pied Piper

villains.wikia.com

6) Pied Piper

A minor Flash villain-turned-antihero. People always talk about Batman’s rogues gallery, but the Flash has some seriously undervalued gems… Pied Piper is also notable as one of the older gay characters in DC, and sometimes I wonder if that’s why he doesn’t get many appearances.

7) Saint Walker

The most-featured Blue Lantern, a bearer of the power of hope! I think he was one of the great successes coming out of the whole spectrum-of-lanterns event (along with Larfleeze, who was a close contender for this list). I feel like Saint Walker gives me the feeling he’s supposed to give people around him, that unwavering commitment to hope and feeling that everything will be okay.

8) Swamp Thing

I’ve never really had the experience of being asked to prove my geekdom,  and sometimes I think that’s because I lead with “Oh, who’s my favorite character? Swamp Thing.” It’s true, though. I mentioned the other day that I came to comics via Alan Moore, so I read his run on Swamp Thing pretty early on, and that led me into my love of Swamp Thing in general.

9) Thanos

Again hearkening back to that post about how I got into comics: After the first Avengers movie came out, with its glimpse of Thanos at the end, I went off and read everything I could get my hands on about the guy. He turned out to be a remarkably compelling character, a bloodthirsty tyrant who does what he does because he’s trying to win Death’s love. They gave a nod to that in the “it would be to court death…” line, but I’ll be interested to see if they keep that as a central part of his character!

10) Wonder Woman

A pretty new addition to my ranks of favorite characters, and almost entirely because of the old Lynda Carter series! (I also mentioned some good comic versions of her in my Strong Female Characters in Comics post.)

Honorable Mention: Alfred Pennyworth

Ah, Alfred, the unflaggingly understated gentleman, without whom I rarely enjoy a Batman story. Seriously, the ones without him are just not as much fun for me. ;)

Alfred Pennyworth

batman.wikia.com

Review: Ms. Marvel #9

If you’ve been waiting for Ms. Marvel to be collected, wait no longer! Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal is available TODAY. It collects the first arc, issues #1-5, and you’ll save about a dollar an issue if you buy them in the collection. (Captain Marvel Vol. 1, She-Hulk Vol. 1, and Hawkeye Vol. 3 all come out next week!)

Ms. Marvel #9 cover

Back in our monthly release schedule, though, we have Ms. Marvel #9. As usual, it is top-notch. This issue is more action-packed than some of the others, opening in the midst of a giant robot battle, introducing Kamala to Medusa of the Inhumans, and tossing her into another fight with the Inventor’s goons. It moves pretty quickly.

Kamala handled the news about being an Inhuman, i.e. having alien ancestry rather than being a mutant, really well. She’s stunned, but she keeps on going. As she did with Wolverine, she knows her worth and refuses to be sidelined in the fight against the Inventor, even though it was just sort of happening rather than being done to her on purpose, if that makes any sense.

Bruno also gets a chance to shine here. When the giant robot is smashing their school to bits, Bruno runs straight toward danger to help his friends. Then he goes with Kamala to New Attilan and holds his own there as well. And, of course, Lockjaw remains adorably awesome.

Ms. Marvel #9 Lockjaw

I’m not having any trouble following Ms. Marvel as a newcomer, I think G. Willow Wilson is doing a great job of introducing things while simultaneously assuming many readers will have an existing base of knowledge. If you’re curious you can read up on the Inhumans on Wikipedia or wherever, but you don’t have to before enjoying this series. (I was familiar with Lockjaw already from Pet Avengers, but not with the greater existence of the Inhumans).