November 23, 2015
So we’ve got three comic-book inspired TV shows centered on women characters now. All in the same year. It’s like we’ve turned a corner or something. (Now if someone can just manage to put out a movie… Wasp, we need you!)
But what I really, dearly love is that the three shows are completely, utterly different in just about every way you can name.
Agent Carter: Stylized period piece, un-powered main character dealing with old-school comic book style villains, lots of competency, capability, with a believable amount of angst that ties into the larger franchise.
Supergirl: So, so happy. Girly, even, and I mean that in a good way, with Kara’s insecurities and joy. (I’m reminded of that scene in Tangled, where Rapunzel alternates between happiness and feeling like she’s a horrible person. Supergirl also captures that very real emotional state.) It’s also a bit over the top and cheesy, but intentionally so. So much fun.
Jessica Jones: Dark, in the “gritty” mode of comic book storytelling, focused on the pathology of superheroism. This is not a fun world. These are not happy people. The story is agonizingly difficult. The “anti-Supergirl,” if you will. (I’m not finished with this yet — couple more episodes to go. No spoilers!)
Whatever anyone thinks about these shows, and I’m sure everyone will have a different favorite (I think I’m going to have to come down on the side of Agent Carter, ultimately), I just want to recognize this moment: We have three really different, really awesome shows about women heroes.
That’s what we’ve needed all along. Not one show about a woman hero. Not a “token” show. Acknowledgement that “woman superhero” never meant just one thing. We needed to have a number of shows, with enough variety, that we can finally not even mention that these are “women superheroes.” These are just more comic book shows, and they happen to star women.
So freaking great.
November 18, 2015
I saw a thing pondering, or suggesting, or rumoring, or something, a Doctor Who and Game of Thrones crossover. I’d only be okay with that if it included the Ninth Doctor standing on the ramparts at King’s Landing shouting, “Everybody lives! Just this once, everybody lives!”
I still haven’t been watching Doctor Who. I think I’m about three years behind at this point, and I don’t actually mind all that much.
I have, however, been watching The Last Kingdom, aka crack for early period SCA people. All my Saxon persona friends should watch it. I’m trying to figure out why I like this when I bounced off Vikings, which covers almost the exact same period, and I think it’s the level of soap opera. Vikings seemed overly dependent on angst and drama, while The Last Kingdom is really digging into the politics and religion of the time (almost the same thing then, really), through the experiences of this one character. It’s much more engaging, I think.
And now the state of the desk: This has been a very strange year, work wise. I’ve been bouncing around between lots of different projects — I just did it again last week, and picked up a novel draft I’d set aside for six months and added 10,000 words. Stuff is getting done, but it feels scattered and without solid deadlines nothing has felt very finished or final.
Getting El Hidalgo de la Noche out was a victory. The short story collection, Amaryllis and Other Stories, is moving ahead prodigiously (and is available for preorder at a special low price!). And I will have new stuff coming out for the new year! I’m just not entirely sure what it will be right at the moment.
A strange time. More on that when I’ve collected my thoughts enough to talk about.
October 28, 2015
The panel I was most excited about being on last weekend at MileHi Con was called something like, Superheroes in Movies and TV: Oversaturated or Raising the Bar? I argued for “Raising the Bar” of course. We’re living in a golden age of live-action superhero drama and I’m absolutely loving it, because it means I can skip the drek and still have plenty to watch. And because yes, the bar on these things is now high.
It also stands to reason that with this massive proliferation of superhero movies (how many is just the MCU planning in the next four years? A dozen?) & TV shows, that eventually we’d have to get a good one starring a woman superhero. Statistically, the powers that be just couldn’t keep avoiding making a movie or TV show about a woman superhero without it looking like they’re just avoiding it. And the longer we went without one, the worse that avoidance looked. But everyone was scared of failing. I get that. Nobody wanted to be the one to screw this up.
So, I’m very, very happy to say we finally have a thing to point to say, Look, yes, it can be done. It can be done well. It can be FUN! Because yes, I watched the first episode of Supergirl, and I really liked it. Now maybe Hollywood will get off its ass and stop making excuses.
Two things to talk about with this, besides the fact that I cried like a baby through most of it — Kara is here, she’s adorable, and she’s super-heroic, and that’s all most of us wanted.
First, the pacing is astonishing. Conventional TV show pacing would have had Kara saving the airplane (the first superhero outing is usually either an airplane or a tenement fire, ever notice that?) at the end of the first episode and spent the rest of the time angsting and building up to it. Instead, it happened in the first fifteen minutes. And then we got maybe two more episodes’ worth of action packed in under an hour. This was a little jarring — I had to think about it some, because I’m not a fan of opening prologues/voice-overs, but I think this one worked because the show made a decision to blow through the backstory as quickly as possible. And as far as packing in so much other story: this is a pilot, and the show gave us an entire foundation right at the start. My guess is things will slow down from here out, but I kind of love that we’re not going to spend ages on an origin story, and that Kara gets to be a hero right out of the gate. The show is going to be about her being a hero, not her trying to figure out if she should be one. That’s excellent.
Second: you know how one of my big pet peeves about stories featuring Strong Women Characters (TM) is when they only have one strong woman character, which makes the story about a Chosen One and not strong women, really? Supergirl is FILLED with strong women. It has as many named women characters as men. Kara’s boss, her sister, her mother (and can I tell you how much I love that it’s her mother who inspires her, who she turns back to?), that mysterious bad guy at the end… Much like Agent Carter, this is a world filled with women, and lots of different kinds of women, with lots of different strengths. Just like, you know, the actual world. This is so appropriate for this story. We need women heroes because women are here, and they’re heroes.
So yes, I liked this show a lot. We’ll see if I like the second episode as much. Don’t screw this up, people.
(Also, I’m going to have to watch Ep. 1 again just because I missed the Dean Cain and Helen Slater cameos the first time through.)
Addendum: I’m suddenly debating about whether to call Agent Carter a superhero show. It’s a spin off of Captain America of course. She’s an amazing character, but I think what we’ve all been waiting for is a woman with superpowers. That’s been the missing ingredient. So while Agent Carter is magnificent, Supergirl hits that target we’ve been missing for way too long.
October 21, 2015
Hanzai Japan, including my story “The Girl Who Loved Shonen Knife,” is now available! Here’s a sneak peek of my story:
“I bet the school is home to a secret laboratory creating superheroes,” I say, and Miki and Ru just stare at me. I keep going. “You know, like some of our fellow students may in fact be superheroes in disguise, with strange mental and physical powers. There’s a secret high-tech gymnasium under the real gymnasium where they do their training.”
Miki says, “If there are secret superheroes, why don’t they do something to save the city?”
That is a very good question.
So we decided that the characters of Arrow totally fit into Hamlet:
Hamlet: Ollie, who is haunted by the ghost of his father.
Claudius: Malcolm Merlin
Polonius: Det. Lance
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Felicity and Diggle
Which of course would leave Yorick for Tommy Merlin.
And Fortinbras is Amanda Waller, which means the last scene is her walking on stage and going, “What the hell happened here?” and Thea sort of shrugging weakly with a confused expression on her face.
October 19, 2015
I’ve given myself some homework — something you need to know if you want to be a pro writer is that there is always homework. I’m analyzing LeGuin’s The Dispossessed for structure. This story follows one person through much of his life, alternating between current pivotal events and flashbacks telling the story of his life. It’s a good structure, I think, that packs in a huge amount of information about the main character, his world, and his place in it. I’m contemplating a similar structure so I really want to get a handle on what the book does well.
It also turns out this is a book that reads differently at different points in one’s life. The last time I read it (and first time, I think) was for grad school 15 years ago. I was 27. I turned down a lot of pages to note things on those pages (without actually marking passages, alas), and this read through I can’t think of what I wanted to note back then, because of bunch of entirely different parts of the book are jumping out at me this time. Some of them are things I need to hear at this point in my life, oddly enough, so I’m enjoying this read through. And making notes.
TV: I seem to have stopped watching Castle. This used to be the center of my Monday night dinner parties, but we have so many other shows we’re trying to watch (Flash! Arrow!), that we can’t be bothered. The end of last season was such a perfect series finale, and the one episode I’ve managed to catch from this season doubled down so egregiously on the stupid conspiracy thriller plot that the show does so badly, that I just stopped watching and barely noticed.
I’m finally watching The Bletchley Circle, and I started liking it after I decided to stop being so furious at how condescending Susan’s husband is toward her. It’s such a contrast to the couple of times she speaks with men who have an inkling of what she did during the war.
And…I hear there’s some Star Wars buzz around today? Up late last night, someone posted a 15 second clip from the new trailer. 15 seconds. But it had X-wings and pilots and something big happening and dammit but I started crying.
I’ll tell you what I’m looking forward to with all this new Star Wars stuff: meeting some new people. Following some new characters and new stories. My favorite Expanded Universe stories were always the ones dealing with new characters: Rogue Squadron, Tales of the Jedi, etc. This is a huge, rich, amazing universe — that’s why we keep coming back to it. But I want to meet some new people in it, please.
September 28, 2015
If I may indulge in a little TV literary analysis. I think I mentioned I’m rewatching Babylon 5. I’m about halfway through season 2. I might also have mentioned that one of my favorite TV shows of all time is Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, an obscure one-season wonder kids show from the 80’s. I was fourteen when it aired, and the show had a huge impact on me creatively.
I mentioned this because the story editor and head writer of Captain Power was J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5. I make an argument that Captain Power was something of a dry run for Babylon 5 — maybe not intentionally or consciously, but you can see Straczynski trying out ideas that would come to fruition in B5: an ongoing science fictional storyline with a plot that builds from episode to episode, an ensemble cast of close-knit characters who all have rich and diverse backstories. An ethos that values peace over war and is continually determined to show the destructive cost of warfare. It’s unusual to be able to track common literary impulses of a single creator across TV shows and/or movies because they’re usually so collaborative, but I think this is one example where it’s possible. (Another is Joss Whedon and his talent for writing stories about broken people coming together into emotionally close-knit teams, and his reliance on impalement as a plot device.)
Then there are moments where the ties between the two shows are a lot more obvious. Like how both shows have ultraviolet clearances, and how CP character Tank comes from a genetic engineering program called Babylon 5.
And then I’m watching B 5 and suddenly think, “Wait a minute, that scene looks really familiar.” Which leads to this:
This is destroyed San Diego from B5 Season 2 Ep. 6, “Spider in the Web:”
This is destroyed San Francisco from Captain Power Ep. 1, “Shattered” (I tweaked the brightness a bit because the original was really dark):
And taking screen caps in order to do a side by side comparison may very well be the third nerdiest thing I’ve ever done.
August 17, 2015
My event at the Tattered Cover two weeks ago was recorded, and you can now listen to the podcast!
And here’s a new Holy Taco Church newsletter!
Current TV watching: I’ve started re-watching Babylon 5 all the way through. I’ll take as long as I need. I’m only up to season 1 ep. 6, but I am reminded how much I really really like this show. This is my third time through, I think. I also think that criticisms of the show — bad acting, bad writing, bad production values, etc. — are off base. These aspects of the show aren’t any worse than the average episode of 90’s Star Trek, and criticisms of it ignore the incredibly ambitious thematic and narrative scope of the show. Having seen the whole thing through once, it’s very cool to see the seeds planted early on. Earlier than you might remember. Ep. 1.06 might be our first glimpse of a Shadow vessel, though we won’t know what they are for another season yet. Ep. 1.05 features a side plot where the various alien races give presentations on their dominant religion, and in the middle of the Minbari ceremony Delenn gives this very significant look to Commander Sinclair — and that won’t pay off for a couple more seasons.
Also in that episode, right at the end, Sinclair present the dominant Earth/Human religion — no one knows what he’s going to do, he hasn’t told anyone about the presentation he’s worked up. Well, this is what he does: he has gathered together representatives from every different religion he could and introduces them to the alien ambassadors one by one. And the line of representatives stretches out, dozens and dozens of them. It’s so earnest and endearing, it’s just great.
Complain about the production values of the show all you want, but that one scene of Sinclair presenting Earth religions in all their astonishing diversity is as great — and more deftly presented — a celebration of human diversity and ingenuity and value as Kirk or Picard ever gave a speech about.