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Fiction’s Fearless Females: Five Fearless Cartoon Females From The 80s

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we had six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and shared each entry of the series on our blog. Today is our last post in the series and comes from Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room who couldn’t just pick one fearless female, he chose five! His blog and YouTube channel centers on great toys, cartoons, movies, and comic books of the 70s, 80s and 90s. For a nostalgic treat, you must subscribe to his channel and look for excellently made videos on themes such as Good Games for Bad Gamers, Rob vs The Internet, sentiMENTAL and Days of Dorker Past. 

Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room

To help celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8) and Women’s History Month (March), I along with some of WordPress’s best bloggers are teaming up to shine a spotlight on some of our favorite fearless females from movies, comics, television, and beyond.

For my contribution to this celebration, I chose the subject of 80s cartoons (Shocker!!). Before I begin let me say that there are dozens of fearless, headstrong, and strong female characters in the world of 80s cartoons. Last year for Fiction’s Fearless Females celebration I did a video for Scarlett, G.I. Joe’s counterintelligence operative and first female character. Scarlett is a very popular character in the world of 80s cartoons, so this time I wanted to talk about some great characters that are lost to time (kinda). Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Five Fearless Cartoon Females From The 80s”

Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel)

Orphan Bruce Wayne is freshly 18 and freshly come into the trust fund he inherited from his parents. He gets in trouble his first night by trying to chase down a member of the notorious Nightwalkers gang. They’ve been targeting rich citizens of Gotham and stealing their money to give to the poor. His brief moment of vigilantism lands Bruce in big trouble: a period of probation working as a janitor in Arkham Asylum. Madeline Wallace, a girl who’s been arrested and committed for being in the Nightwalkers, draws Bruce’s attention. They begin a cautious and barbed relationship as Bruce tries to figure out who exactly they are and how to stop them. Madeline may be his only lead, but she’s reluctant to talk. Who is she, really? Whose side is she really on?

This is another adaptation of a “DC Icons” YA novel, this time originally by Marie Lu. Unlike with Wonder Woman, it feels like we hardly get to see Bruce Wayne before he became Batman, so this felt like a nice change of pace. We see the same determination, smarts, and inquisitiveness that led him to become the World’s Greatest Detective, but he’s not there yet. It shows readers that all heroes, even those without special powers, start somewhere!

However, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief because even as an 18-year-old, Bruce still seemed overpowered. He was performing acrobatic stunts that I would assume Batman could do, but not Bruce at 18. He kept a relatively cool head in high-charged situations, which as we all know is hard for teenagers to do. I wonder if Bruce had maybe started training to become a vigilante before the events of this novel. If there was mention of Bruce training at martial arts and detective work in the original novel, it was lost in translation.

As is ever my nitpick with YA novels, there is another (to me) forced romance in this one. It didn’t even seem like a romance to me, but other characters insisted it was – what? There was very little introspective inner dialogue from Bruce that wasn’t directly related to the Nightwalkers mystery. I felt blindsided and confused by it and don’t feel it served the story at all. Maybe it was fleshed out more in the original novel, but if this was all they were going to do with it in the graphic novel, it would have been better to cut it out altogether.

To make up for the somewhat unbelievable story, the art was superb. Classic Batman colors are used to maximum effect: blue-gray overall with bright yellow highlights. It would have been very easy to overdo the yellow, but it was used carefully and sparsely, to ensure maximum emotional or action-packed impact. The backgrounds and landscapes are rendered somewhat realistically, while the figures have overly sharp and angular features to suggest the hardness Gotham has beaten into them.

While I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for a few aspects of this story, this is still a good old-fashioned Batman mystery set before Bruce Wayne as Batman exists. The sharp art elevates this graphic novel adaptation.

– Kathleen

Lu, Marie, Stuart Moore, and Chris Wildgoose. Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel). 2019.

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Sarah Connor

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Kathleen and I have joined up with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate for a second year in a row! A group of six of us are each picking a fictional fearless female to feature, and includes Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room. So far we have had posts celebrating Doctor Who, Batgirl, Dani from Midsommar and Queen Amidala- and this year I choose Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise. For clarity’s sake, I will be only writing about Linda Hamilton’s original version of Sarah in The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Terminator: Dark Fate. While other actresses have played Sarah, to me Linda Hamilton defines the character.

Pregnant Sarah preparing for the future and remembering Kyle. Photo credit- The Terminator

When we first meet Sarah Connor in the first film, she is a woman of her era (1984), ready for a good time and not too serious about her career. But destiny has another plan, as a cyborg terminator from the year 2029 has just arrived and is intent on killing her, as she is the future mother of John Connor, who will be a resistance leader in the future where robots who became sentient are trying to destroy all of humankind. As a countermeasure, John sends back a trusted soldier named Kyle from his time to save Sarah from the cyborg assassin. Luckily, Kyle finds Sarah before the Terminator does, but he naturally has a hard time convincing her of the truth. But as the Terminator begins leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake, Sarah is soon on the run with Kyle. Kyle and Sarah manage to have a night together, and you realize that Kyle is the father of John, which John must have known when he sent him back in time. Sadly, Kyle dies saving Sarah in the finale, but a flash-forward shows Sarah pregnant and ready to prepare for the coming apocalypse.

Sarah, buff and ready to fight! Photo credit- Terminator 2

The second film is set ten years in the future and shows Sarah as a hardened warrior, who seemingly has stripped away all her previous compassion so she can train John for what is to come. But her dogged determination has resulted in a stunted mother-son relationship and is further exasperated when she is institutionalized and he is placed with a foster family. No one believes her vision of the future, much less her son,  but when a new Terminator is sent back to kill John, Sarah escapes confinement to rejoin John and help him survive. Her off-the-grid living serves them well, and they fight back with a surprising helper, and Sarah is shown as still having a glimmer of mercy which is crucial to hold on to, even during the hardest of times. While her maternal side had to superseded by her need to keep John alive, she deeply loved him. (At the end of the post I included a scene that was cut from the theatrical release of Terminator 2 but included in the director’s cut. I adored the romance between Sarah and Kyle, and the first movie is my absolute favorite movie ever because of their chemistry. Watch it!)

Ever vigilant. Photo credit- Dark Fate

Other Terminator movies establish John’s further growth as a leader, and Sarah’s eventual demise, but for the 2019 movie, they are glossed over (thank God, as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and the reboot Terminator Genisys (2015) were not good at all) and Sarah’s story moves straight from Judgement Day to Dark Fate. So, in the most recent movie, 25 years have transpired and Sarah remains a warrior, but within the first few minutes, we are shocked to discover that Sarah’s life took a hard and unexpected turn years ago. (Aside- I’m still not on board with what happened and am still salty, but I will resist spoiling it). Sarah is now poised to be a mentor for another woman whose fate is about to change in radical ways.

In the most recent movie, there is a reference to Sarah as viewing herself a martyr for the cause, as purely a vessel for a future man to take center stage, and she resents that her protegee Dani is being terrorized as she had been. Eventually, Sarah, who is battle-weary, heartbroken and angry, learns that Dani’s fate is different than her own, and it connects with what her beloved Kyle told her years ago, “The future is not set- there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

Sarah and John- her love for him was shadowed by her desire to protect him at all costs. Photo credit- Terminator 2

What I have appreciated about the role of Sarah over the years is her transformation from a damsel in distress victim in the first movie to a soldier willing to make hard choices. She sacrificed everything, including a loving relationship with her son, to prepare him and ultimately the rest of the human race for what she expected to happen. Indeed, she almost lost her humanity fighting against a future she wanted desperately to stop.

The recurring theme of No Fate weaves in and out of the Terminator franchise, and Sarah’s courage and empathy are the pillars for her willingness to continue fighting even when the future looks hopeless. And those two touchpoints are crucial in a time when we might feel all is lost, such as the difficult time we are facing today. Our very future looks uncertain, as we face down a pandemic that at best feels surreal, at worst possibly apocalyptic. How Sarah dealt with the hand she was given as her entire life crumbled away unexpectedly, can be a lesson to us all in how to fearlessly face our uncertain future.  Not only did Sarah fight for her son, but she continued to be ever vigilant in helping others, for she never ever gave up.

May Sarah be an example to us-  we alone can shape our fate, for it is not set, but we must be prepared to make it the best we can.

-Nancy

Next week join us as Rob from My Side of the Laundry Room brings the #FictionsFearlessFemales series to a close for the year!

Header picture credit: Buzz Feed News

To catch the other amazing women in this series, check out:

Michael’s: The Doctor

Kathleen’s: Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Kalie’s: Dani from Midsommar

Jeff’s: Queen Amidala

Rob’s: Five Cartoon Females of the 80s

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Queen Amidala

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Jeff of The Imperial Talker– who is an expert on all things Star Wars. His themed haikus are unmatched and deep love for the Star Wars franchise makes his blog a pleasure to read! 

Jeff of The Imperial Talker

Standing behind the doors leading into the royal hanger, the Queen of Naboo, surrounded by her loyal handmaidens and advisers, must make a choice. One path will keep the teenage monarch on Naboo, with her people, risking capture and death at the hands of the invading Trade Federation. The alternative path will take her off-world, traveling with the two Jedi escorting her, running the Trade Federation blockade above her world in the hopes of reaching Coruscant, the capital of the Republic, to plead for help directly to the Senate.

“Either choice presents great danger, to us all,” the Queen says as she turns her head and looks at the handmaiden standing next to her.

“We are brave, your Highness,” the handmaiden responds, calmly speaking for herself and the other handmaidens.

To be brave is to be fearless, to stand firm and unflinching when confronting danger. Either path the Queen takes includes the risk of death, to herself and her retinue, but these handmaidens will face the risk with fearless poise standing side-by-side with their monarch.

But there is something else at play here, another layer hidden in the dialogue between a Queen and her assistant. In this scene from The Phantom Menace, the Queen we see is not the real Queen. No, she is actually a handmaiden, a loyal bodyguard charged with protecting the Queen by serving as a decoy dressed in royal attire. And the real Queen, Padmé Amidala, she is the handmaiden who has spoken.

This truth will not be revealed until later in the film when standing before the Gungan Boss Nass this handmaiden, Padmé, will confidently step forward, risking her own safety, and declare that she is Queen Amidala. Even though this revelation takes place late in the movie the gravity of the revelation reverberates through the entire film. It is possible then to add an interpretation to the statement “We are brave” by considering that Padmé, as Queen-in-disguise, is using the royal “We” when she speaks. And by viewing the term through this lens one can easily believe that Padmé Amidala is not only affirming the bravery of the handmaidens, but she is subtly but confidently affirming, as the true sovereign of the Naboo, that she is fearless.

Amidala's Reveal
Stepping forward, Padmé reveals that she is Queen Amidala.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Again and again we see Amidala model her bravery, in word and deed, simultaneously as handmaiden/Queen throughout The Phantom Menace. This is obvious when she reveals her identity to Boss Nass. Begging for help as she gets down on her knees – an act of pragmatic and diplomatic submission – Queen Amidala places herself and her party at the grace the Gungans. It pays off as her act of fearless humility convinces Boss Nass that Gungans and the Naboo can be friends and allies.

The Queen’s courage is also obvious when she and her retinue travel to the planet Tatooine.

Their vessel damaged as it ran the Trade Federation blockade surrounding Naboo, the two Jedi accompanying the royal entourage must identify a location that is free from Federation control to perform repairs. Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi chooses a locale: the desert planet Tatooine. The head of the Queen’s guard, Captain Panaka, inquires how the Jedi know their Federation enemy is not present on the world to which Qui-Gon Jinn answers, “It’s controlled by the Hutts.” “You can’t take her royal Highness there! The Hutts are gangsters,” Panaka declares, immediately raising his concerns. Never-the-less, Tatooine, a lawless world on the fringe of the galaxy, remains their destination.

Upon landing in the desert Qui-Gon Jinn, accompanied by the astromech droid R2-D2 and the Gungan Jar Jar Binks, will head towards Mos Espa to seek out the parts they need to repair the damaged vessel. But as they head off Captain Panaka will stop them. With him is the handmaiden Padmé who remains silent as Qui-Gon and Panaka speak:

“Her Highness commands you to take her handmaiden with you,” the Captain explains.

“No more commands from her Highness today, Captain,” Qui-Gon responds, “the spaceport is not going to be pleasant.”

“The Queen wishes it. She is curious about the planet,” Panaka retorts.

“This is not a good idea,” Qui-Gon warns. “Stay close to me,” he tells the handmaiden as the group continues towards Mos Espa.

Padme joins the Group
The “handmaiden” remains silent while Captain Panaka and Qui-Gon Jinn discuss whether she should join the group.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The exchange may not seem like much but it serves a clear purpose: to account for Padmé being part of the group heading into Mos Espa. Fair enough, but narratively this should not be necessary. If the handmaiden was part of the group to begin with we would think nothing of it. She would just be someone else who is seeking the parts for the damaged hyperdrive. So why bother briefly pausing the plot to account for the handmaiden tagging along with the party? Because Padmé is no ordinary handmaiden. Armed with the knowledge that “her Highness” IS the handmaiden, this exchange is no longer a narrative curiosity but a narrative necessity, a way of demonstrating, and reinforcing, that behind the veil of “handmaiden” resides a formidable monarch who is exercising her power and displaying her strengths.

Captain Panaka, as noted, expressed his reservation to the Jedi about taking “her royal Highness” to Hutt-controlled Tatooine. While we do not see it, we can presume he shared these reservations with the Queen herself. But now, in a surprising twist, the Captain has escorted the Queen, dressed as a commoner, into the hot desert to join the repair party. Why does he do this? Because “Her Highness” has issued a “command.” She has used her authority and given an order which the Captain is duty-bound to follow.

The command she has given – for a handmaiden to join the party – is a clever trick on the part of Amidala, a way to insert herself while maintaining anonymity. This does not come without risk. Captain Panaka is not wrong that Tatooine, being controlled by galactic gangsters, is a dangerous world. Qui-Gon Jinn acknowledges this as well, admitting that “the spaceport is not going be pleasant.” The Queen does not flinch. Instead, she is putting words into action, showing “We are brave” by placing herself in an unpredictable and potentially precarious situation.

Granted, this decision does seem ill-advised. Being fearless is laudable, but it is difficult to justify being reckless. “This is not a good idea,” Qui-Gon explains, a clear indication that he does not want anyone else to be put in danger, even a young handmaiden (although, for the record, I believe he knows Padmé is the Queen but that is a conversation for another time). Were something to happen to Amidala in Mos Espa – a run in with the Hutts, for example – the consequences could imperil not only her safety but the safety of the planet Naboo. So how can one justify her decision to join?

For starters, we can think about why she is joining the group. As Captain Panaka explains, the Queen “wishes” for the handmaiden to go with Qui-Gon Jinn because “she is curious about the planet.” Thus, we are explicitly told that the Queen is inquisitive, a quality which demonstrates her desire to lead effectively, gaining new insights and perspectives which will inform future decisions. Stuck on Tatooine for the time being, Queen Amidala chooses to step out of the comfort of her royal yacht so she might gain firsthand knowledge about her galaxy. Notably, this is exactly what happens when she meets Anakin Skywalker, a precocious 9-year-old boy, and is shocked by the revelation that he is a slave. The Queen was clearly under the impression that the abominable institution did not exist. In turn, after meeting Anakin’s mother Shmi, the Amidala learns that the Republic’s anti-slavery laws do not extend to every planet. A sobering truth that challenges her understanding of the Galactic Republic’s legal and moral reach, this discovery foreshadows the truth she learns a short time later about the ineffectiveness of the Senate and the Supreme Chancellor.

Padme and Anakin
Padmé meets Anakin Skywalker and learns a harsh truth: he is a slave.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Like her fearlessness, Amidala’s inquisitiveness is laudable. Yet, it does not entirely justify her decision to risk danger in the spaceport. Except, it does if we view it not solely as a pursuit for galactic knowledge. Rather, it should be interpreted as an example of the Queen’s strategic thinking. While Mos Espa is “not pleasant” and dangerous, given the situation it is also the safest place Queen Amidala can possibly be, a fact she must be aware of since she has given the command to “take her handmaiden.” Think of it like this: if the Trade Federation does track them down, discovering the royal yacht on the outskirts of Mos Espa, Amidala will not be there. Instead, the enemy will find the decoy Queen, along with the other handmaidens, the captain of the royal guard, and even a Jedi protector.

Meanwhile, Queen Amidala will be blending into the crowded streets of the unpleasant spaceport as the handmaiden Padmé. She will be fearlessly hiding in plain sight, as she does throughout The Phantom Menace, with no one the wiser.


Fiction’s Fearless Females is in it’s second year! Yay! The series runs for the month of March and along with myself will feature posts by Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, and Mike of My Comic Relief. Be sure to follow each of these blogs (as if you don’t already!) and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series.

*****

The Imperial Talker is Jeffrey Cagle. He holds a BA in Religious Studies from Mercyhurst College and a Masters of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University.  A lifelong fan of everything Star Wars, Jeffrey enjoys combining his academic interests with his love of the “galaxy far, far away.” When he is not lost in his imagination, he is spending time with his family or coaching volleyball.

The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist

“The Escapist- dazzling Master of Elusion, foe of tyranny, and champion of liberation! Operating from a secret headquarters under the boards of the Empire Theater, the Escapist and his crack team of associates roam the globe performing amazing feats of magic and coming to the aid of all those who languish in the chains of oppression.”

Having just finished the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2001) novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay written by Michael Chabon, I was intrigued enough by the fictional comic book hero to find this metafiction graphic novel about The Escapist.  To continue the charade that Kavalier and Clay were real men this parody recreates the supposed decades-long publishing history of the character, starting in the Golden Age of Comics. This companion book is a homage to the comics of past eras and showcases The Escapist (plus Luna Moth) in many different styles and moves forward chronologically to how comics are typically drawn today.  The collection included a manga type story, a simply drawn gag style strip that would appeal to children, watercolors for Luna, plus all the Golden, Silver, Bronze and modern era types of illustrations and storytelling.

Some of my favorites:

The Passing of the Key– origin story as found in the novel.  Written by Michael Chabon and illustrated by Eric Wright in a perfect Golden Era vibe.

300 Fathoms Down– an elderly Escapist still has it and shows amazing abilities to withstand water pressure. Written by Mike Baron and drawn by Val Mayerik, a favored artist of mine, who illustrated Of Dust & Blood and The Legion of Monsters.

Old Flame– Luna Moth has a battle of the wits with the Devil himself. Written by Kevin McCarthy with a lovely painterly approach by Dan Brereton.

The Lady or the Tiger– gritty what-if story about how the Escapist must forgo love to continue fighting crime. Very emo. Written by David Gold and illustrated evocatively by Gene Colan.

Taking on a life of its own, in another book by Chabon, his essay collection Book-Ends, author Brian K Vaughn (famous for Saga) writes a brief story of fictionally meeting an elderly Sam Clay at a comic convention, and how Clay inspired him to become the “comic book genius”  he is today. Vaughn takes it further by writing the graphic novel series The Escapists.

But to understand ALL of this, you must first read the original novel (that I reviewed on Goodreads):

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

How I struggled with this book! A few years ago this book was highly recommended to me by a co-worker who loved it and thought I’d connect with the two main characters who are creators of a famed comic book series. At 600+ pages, I choose to listen to it on audio but after listening to half of the discs, I set it aside and listened to two other audiobooks before coming back to it and finishing it. By the end, I was in such an apoplectic rage that I could not comprehend why it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The novel spans twenty years from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s and tells the tale of two cousins who are co-creators of a famous comic book character, The Escapist. The story begins in Prague as teen Joe Kavalier, who had trained to be an escape artist, immigrates to America, but not until he helps find and move the famed Golem of Prague (aside- a short story that Chabon wrote earlier about Joe’s childhood, The Hofzinser Club, was dropped into the novel and is now on season five of the LeVar Burton Reads podcast). Once in America, he joins his cousin Sam Clay and within a week both men have teamed together to create the famed Escapist comic. This was part of the novel I enjoyed the most, detailing how the men created the backstory for a very believable Golden Age hero. Success comes quickly for the duo, despite being screwed over for the rights by the fictitious Empire Comics, as it parallels what happened to so many young comic authors and illustrators back in this era. During this time Joe tries to help his younger brother Thomas and his parents immigrate but he is thwarted at every turn, and his anger shines through in the anti-Hilter storylines in the comics. When he falls in love with an artist named Rosa he feels guilty for finding love when his family is trapped in the Czech Republic. Sam gets the short shrift of the story for despite his personal struggles, his story is not developed, and that was a shame for I had began to hate Joe and hoped for more Sam. Tragedy occurs for the cousins, right as Pearl Harbor is bombed, and Joe makes a radical and very selfish decision.

After a brief interlude of Joe’s WWII experiences (which were just odd) a time jump occurs and we find Sam and Rosa married with a son named Thomas. At this point, I disliked every character in the novel, including the pre-teen. Joe’s prior disappearance is forgiven and swept under the rug, and the conclusion was very unsatisfying. The narrative thread of escape was effectively utilized throughout, but in fact, this story would have fared better with 100 fewer pages.

So why did I even stick it out? I did enjoy the behind the scenes look at how the comic industry got its start, the author could have a turn of phrase that I loved, there was a bit of a John Cheever vibe in the last third of the story, and I liked the mythology of The Escapist. In fact, The Escapist has taken on a life of its own and a metafiction comic anthology was created about the “history” of this comic book hero and an essay was written in another of Chabon’s books about Sam Clay. I’m glad I stuck it out, for I indeed liked a few parts myself, but as a whole, it was not for me at all.

-Nancy

Picture header from Tor.com

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dani from Midsommar

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of:  Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Kalie of Just Dread-Full– whose intelligent blog is all about horror books and movies. Her posts are a must-read, for her writing is dread-fully insightful!

By Kalie of Just Dread-Full

Dani Midsommar 5
Dani and her emotionally distant boyfriend, Christian

Warning: Because of the film I’ve decided to talk about, the following subject matter will be unavoidably uncomfortable and dismal. Second Warning: If you’ve not yet seen Midsommar and you want to see it, well, first of all, get to it 🙂 (it’s free on Amazon Prime), and second, you may encounter some spoilers. Okay, you’ve been warned, onward:

I think it would be remiss to discuss the inception of this post without discussing the context. First of all, I’m writing in the fairly early morning of March 20th, which I’ve already mistaken for March 19th, because at this point we’re all basically quarantining ourselves (to the extent that we haven’t been governmentally mandated to quarantine) and the days are starting to slip assiduously into one another. Second, I, the super-introvert who initially prized herself on her abilities to hide out alone in her apartment while interacting with the outside world predominantly via telephone, almost lost my shit trying to execute my original idea: a first person monologue of the naked, decaying, monstrous half-corpse in The Shining who emerges from the shower of room 237 first (presumably) for Danny – in the movie – and second, more overtly, for Jack. You need to understand, I was perhaps overly excited about the idea of a first-person fictional exploration, and one that gave a voice to an otherwise voiceless female, until I tried to make it happen and felt that it flopped completely (the piece was so odd that it was utterly unrelatable). So, here I am, at 6:30 a.m., attempting to execute a “backup” plan for my “Fiction’s Fearless Females”* post before I run to the grocery store to go apocalypse shopping.

So, instead of creating a monologue by a startlingly voiceless naked monster-woman who lurks in the bathroom of an expensive hotel, I’m going to take an easier route and discuss Dani (played by Florence Pugh) in Ari Aster’s Midsommar, because she’s nothing if not a complex, often difficult to understand but ultimately at least somewhat fearless fictional female. Michael suggested writing about Adelaide Wilson, played by Lupita Nyog’o, in Us, and I almost did that – because she is fascinating and brilliantly acted – both the original character and the “tethered” version of her character – but I ultimately had more of the “Dani” post already in my head, and felt I could write about her without re-watching Midsommar (I can’t say the same for Adelaide) so I went with my easiest bet, especially since my post is late already (and yes, for that I blame the plague).

Dani Midsommar 6So what we learn about Dani in the beginning of Midsommar is that she seems perpetually concerned about, and perhaps overly responsible for, her sister, who has Bi-Polar Disorder; we don’t know much about her sister beyond that. The sister’s mental illness seems like her defining marker and is the presumed impetus of the calamity that will ensue after the first couple minutes of the film. I tend to be wary of the use of mental illness as a stereotypically cheap plot device, but I guess that’s neither here nor there right now – indeed, it’s another post entirely. So Dani reads an e-mail from her sister about not being able to take it anymore, about “going away” and taking her parents with her, and while Dani’s somewhat coldly indifferent boyfriend, Christian, assures Dani that her sister has said similar things before and it’s an attention-getting ploy, we learn a few minutes later that Dani’s sister has killed herself and the girls’ parents by running a hose from the toxic gas emission of a car through various parts of the home that Dani’s parents and sister share. And, if I recall the film correctly, Dani’s the one who finds them all dead. Though there’s not much in the way of typical horror movie gore, the scene is both chilling and gruesome through its terse, simple camera shots, and the whole ordeal invokes that macabre sense of morbidity that is, in my opinion, becoming such a hallmark of Aster films as he continues to add to his repertoire.

Losing your entire immediate family to a murder-suicide, finding the bodies, and being in a situation where you can (wrongly) justify your responsibility for the travesty’s occurrence is a catastrophic trio of trauma. Indeed, this sequence of events seems noteworthy and calamitous enough to comprise a cinematic climax, and yet, all these events do is lay the foundation for a plot that’s enigmatic and emotionally grueling – for at least some of the main characters in the diegetic narrative, and for the viewers, who are likely astounded to contemplate what direction a film that starts such a way will go, based on its sinister and disturbing beginning.

Dani Midsommar 7
Pelle comforting Dani, something Christian has trouble doing

One element of the film that interests me, of course, is Dani’s reaction to the trauma she faces, and how her reaction drives the narrative. I’m also tempted to make the case, as I analyze Dani a little bit closer, that while I do like her character, her “fearlessness” in this film might be – depending on how you read the film – her shortcoming, her Achilles heel, her downfall, even if it’s a laudable characteristic. Fear, after all, though sometimes needlessly hyperbolic and speculative, and though pretty much always unpleasant, has served its purpose for centuries when it creeps through our psyche and settles in the deepest recesses of our mind. And it is also, in some sense, a leveler – an irrevocable marker of the human condition. The word “fearless,” to that end, is always used with a certain implicit qualifier: the reality that everyone is afraid at some point, even if they appear confident, even if they walk through their terror with grace and seem to surmount it. At the same time, when we rally against fear, from a religious or socio-cultural standpoint, what we seem to be rallying against the most is an excessive amount of fear that traps us and mutates our daily life into a chaotic labyrinth of “what ifs” and “I hope nots.” In fact, it seems especially appropriate in these times to admit both that fear is indelible (and indispensable) while warning ourselves that too much fear will consume us. Fear itself, in reasonable doses, keeps us from touching hot flames and fighting bears. In the abstract, it’s not such a deplorable emotion.

And in Midsommar’s narrative, it could have been an emotion that saved Dani from a lot more trauma – trauma compounded upon the initial trauma of losing her family in a horrible way. It is obvious to the viewer that Dani’s boyfriend, Christian, is not “good boyfriend” material. Though he’s not malicious, his friends are a pack of immature douchebags who happen to be anthropology PhD students, and Christian is much more of a follower than a leader. This is a group of guys who puts Dani down, keeps trying to persuade Christian to break up with her, and objectifies women constantly and consistently when they’re together. So when, in a gesture of fearlessness, Dani talks Christian into taking her with him and his group of friends to experience a Midsommar festival in Sweden, her fearlessness is a bit distressing. We’ve already seen her constantly try to appease Christian and to make him think and feel that he’s right about every one of their disagreements by this point in the film – and we don’t criticize her for it, because it’s understandable given her situation, and anyway she’s still remarkably level-headed for a young 20-something year-old woman who’s lost her entire family in the blink of an eye. But it would be reasonable, based on her desire to go to Sweden with Christian, to infer that she really does think he’s right about all their disagreements, that she deems herself wrong for wanting the amount of support and affection she secretly desires (and certainly deserves) from her boyfriend. The film keeps Dani in her place just enough for us to assume we know better than her, and it thus tempts us all to say that if we were in Dani’s situation, we’d never go on a trip with a bunch of immature assholes to watch an unusual, possibly religious ceremony in another country, especially if the option followed shortly after the deaths of our entire family. But, what we fail to realize when making that self-assessment is that most of us have never been and will never be in Dani’s position. Whether she is afraid of Christian’s month-long absence or desperate to escape the sadness of her post-traumatic daily life (or some combination thereof), we are likely to sympathize with her desire to go to Sweden with Christian and his friends, even as we cringe at the precariousness of the situation.

Dani’s perhaps harmful and hyperbolic fearlessness is evident almost immediately when the trip begins. Pelle, one of Christian’s anthropology friends, the one who’s from Sweden and invited the rest of the guys to the festival, offers the group some ceremonial fungus to celebrate the oncoming tradition. While popping hallucinogens might not seem like the most enticing undertaking for a person who’s witnessed a major trauma and is in an unfamiliar place with a “boyfriend” who only half-likes her, Dani’s fearlessness (of the consequences) and/or her fear (of not fitting in with the guys) drives her to take the mushrooms anyway. Of course, when she does, it’s not a pleasant experience for her – a reality that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s read or heard the least amount of information about hallucinogens. Such drugs tend to morph with your mood, to emphasize, exaggerate, and re-create your most salient or your most subdued, secret insecurities, fears, and impulses, so the fact that Dani takes the mushrooms is a decision that could underscore the degree of naivete embedded in her fearlessness; it does not seem inaccurate to argue that, perhaps, she believes she can handle more discomfort (more additional trauma, even) than she actually can.

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Dani mid-ceremony as May Queen

While I could dissect this film scene by scene, doing so might actually require that I re-watch it (and, as you probably know, life in an apocalyptic plague is surprisingly busy), and I think such an article might get tedious. After having done some of my own research on the film, there are two slightly overlapping but dichotomous reads of the events that ensue once the group reaches Sweden. For a little background, the rest of the plot takes us through the often gruesome, always unpredictable, generally strange Midsommar festival, with its sacrifices (homicides), dining rituals, and bizarre sex scenes, and we’re likely to learn that after a certain point, rather early in the film, Dani couldn’t escape the festival if she wanted to. Indeed, the visitors who do try to escape after witnessing the first “sacrifice” (the ostensible suicide of two village elders) only show up later as semi-mutilated corpses that the cult caught and killed. So the question of Dani’s decision making, to the extent that it was ever relevant, becomes eclipsed by the question of her agency: Dani, we come to see, fairly early in the film, loses the ability to choose. Indeed, the cult and its Midsommar ritual seem so careful, so calculating, and so manipulative, that Dani becomes more or less an object tossed about amid more knowing subjects, a person following the mandates of greater forces – with trepidation, but without much option to do otherwise.

Until, that is, we reach the concluding scene of the film – and here’s where our different readings of the film might impact how we assess Dani’s fearlessness. The last scene of the film foregrounds a tent full of corpses – corpses of other visitors that have been killed, stuffed with straw like scarecrows, and positioned upright in the tent like deranged dolls. The corpses await their final burning – the ultimate sacrificial gesture committed by the cult, after a variety of dining scenes, games, and unusual rituals – but they require one more body to sacrifice. So they present Dani with an option: she can sacrifice Christian (who has not only mistreated her, but cheated on her when coerced into a sex ritual at one point in the film), or a presumably innocent man that she doesn’t know. They’ve given Christian a drug that paralyzes him so he can’t try to escape, and they sit him next to an innocent stranger. Presumably because of the coldness, even the cruelty, that Dani has experienced from Christian, Dani chooses to sacrifice him, and one of the final scenes of the film focuses on Christian being burned wearing a giant bear suit in the tent that he shares with the other corpses, while the rest of the members of the cult dance in celebratory unison outside the tent.

Some viewers consider this conclusion a happy ending, and if we take that route, it’s easy to position Dani as the fearless victor, despite the fact that joining a murderous cult and becoming their revered “May Queen” during a strange ceremony are both rather fortuitous occurrences. It’s obvious throughout the film that Pelle, who invited most of the group to Sweden knowing full-well they’d be sacrificed, has always liked Dani. Indeed, throughout the film, he treats her more kindly than Christian does. So Dani exercises the power given to her by the cult, mandates Christian’s sacrificial execution, and will live in Sweden with her new family, the cult – a family that includes Pelle, who we might presume was hoping for this ending the entire time. I’ve even read speculation that the death of Dani’s parents and sister were a set up by Pelle, a way to dictate her circumstances so that she’d chose to accompany Christian to Sweden. I don’t know if I completely accept this reading of the film, but it does position Dani as both intrepid explorer and ultimate victor against her creep of a boyfriend.

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Danny and Christian watch a sacrificial cliff jump.

My read of the film tends to be, I suppose, more traditional. I don’t doubt that the read I just provided is more original, that it “reads between the lines” in an interesting way. Indeed, those who adhere to the aforementioned reading tend to see Hereditary and Midsommar as Aster’s cinematic couple – one depressing and dismal (Hereditary), and the other airy and light (Midsommar). Such a read supposes that death and terror are always going to be imbricated in the narrative of a horror film, but that even horror films, with all their concomitant hideousness, can produce hopeful messages. I, on the other hand, don’t view Midsommar as particularly hopeful. Like all the visitors who visit the cult, Dani tends to be tossed around by their traditions; she fills the role they tell her to fill during the ceremony, even though she gets to wear a crown of pretty flowers and becomes the May queen. We have no reason to infer that her queenly status will last past the Midsommar festival, and after that, who knows what strange events she’ll have to undergo at the behest of her new cult-family. Even her position of “power” at the end of the film puts her in a tenuous space: she must select a person to die. Though she can use her temporary power as a means to get back at her asshole of a boyfriend (an option she chooses, in the end), she doesn’t have the power to reject sacrificial killing completely, and the elaborate drawings that adorn the walls of one of the buildings owned by the cult – drawings that rightly predict the end of the Midsommar ceremony – lead us to believe that more uncomfortable, even horrific traditions await Dani. What’s more – she’s stuck. This isn’t a chosen family; it’s a family she accidentally stumbled into and one – if those who tried to escape previously are any indication – one that she can’t leave.

In light of Dani’s situation, we might suggest that she’ll have to maintain a certain level of her already evident fearlessness to adapt to the new life that sits in front of her. It’s tempting to see the floral head-wear and the kindness of Pelle as inviting signals that Dani’s found a better place, a better group of people, but I doubt that. Dani, who certainly exhibits a type of fearlessness that we can all applaud when she moves on with her life after her family’s death, when she asserts herself and emphasizes that she wants to go to Sweden with Christian, is ultimately – or may ultimately – be a victim of her own courage. One reading of Midsommar definitely does not reward female fearlessness, to be sure. But perhaps what my dear mother says about life is true: The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe Dani’s situation isn’t ideal now that she’s a member of a hidden Swedish cult, but is the situation really much better than living in a city and country where your parents have been killed and your sister killed herself, sharing a house with a cold, distant boyfriend who stays with you because he’s afraid to break up? Quite truthfully, I’m tempted to invoke the cliché, “six to one, half-dozen to another” to answer this question. After the death of her parents and sister, Dani’s position in the world is cruel and traumatic no matter what line of plot twists we choose. And she does buckle under this cruelty, but she never breaks. For maintaining her sanity in the face of chaos, for maintaining her sense of self in the face of a boyfriend who constantly ignores or disparages her, Dani is, truly, a fearless fictional female.

Just Dread-full’s note: The “Fiction’s Fearless Females” series is a tradition that was started last year between multiple blog. This year, participating blogs include Graphic Novelty2 (Nancy and Kathleen), My Side of the Laundry Room (Rob), The Imperial Talker (Jeff), My Comic Relief (Michael) and me! Because life has been busy, I haven’t posted any other installments of this series, but I likely will in the days to come. In doing so, I plan to broaden my generally genre-specific blog to allow space for some new voices and perspectives. As such, stay tuned! (P.S.: Pardon the inconsistent italics; WordPress is being counter-intuitive).

The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television

You most likely recognize Rod Serling as the host of the popular TV show, “The Twilight Zone.” That’s what he’s most known for, but he had a long and varied career in radio and television well before “The Twilight Zone!” After his service in World War II as a paratrooper, he used his G.I. benefits to go to Antioch College. He discovered his love of radio during his work/study internship at WNYC in New York City, and became the manager of Antioch’s radio station, ABS, in 1948. It was here that he tried his hand at writing anthology shows – and his skits got him noticed. Navigating through fame, fortune, a grueling work schedule, and a marriage, he spoke out against commercialism and censorship in the radio and television industry. He protested executives changing scripts he wrote based on the war, the Emmett Till case, and more. It wasn’t until he penned the first script for “The Twilight Zone”, a science-fiction story containing all the elements he had previously been censored for, that he found an audience willing to listen.

Koren Shadmi writes as if Rod is telling us his own life story. Quotes pulled from Rod’s scripts, shows, and interviews make for an immersive experience. Though he died at 50 from heart problems, it feels as if Rod is speaking to us himself.

As a biography, it’s very straightforward reading. The book is broken down into chapters covering a different era of Rod’s life. The panel layout is clean and clear. The art is all in black and white, like the television of his era, with a deep purple/blue used as an accent color.

I learned a lot by reading this graphic novel biography. “The Twilight Zone” was a product of a man who lived through World War II – one of the most horrific and tragic events of mankind. Through the shows he wrote, we were able to process and heal from this event (and many others, as the show is still very popular today) through that one ubiquitous and timeless method that we humans know: storytelling.

Kathleen

Shadmi, Koren. The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television. 2019.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (The Graphic Novel)

Before she was Wonder Woman, Diana grew up on Themyscira. It isn’t always easy being the youngest of an entire island full of warrior women. They were reborn as Amazons because they died nobly, with a goddess’ prayer on their lips – every single one of them except for Diana. Some call her Pyxis (clay pot), some say she’s made of mud. Diana is determined to prove her right to be among them during an annual race across the island. Along her route, Diana witnesses a shipwreck and rescues a girl about her age from the wreckage. Her name is Alia, and with her coming strange and terrible things start happening on the island. The girls discover Alia is a descendant of Helen of Troy, whose blood was cursed to make her a Warbringer: a harbinger of death and destruction. Diana removes Alia from the island to try and find a way to remove the curse. If it fails, Alia asks Diana to kill her instead, before she can start another World War. Killing another is against the Amazon code. Can Diana remove Alia’s curse, or will she be forced to do the unthinkable?

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s YA novel (the first in the “DC Icons” series) that came out in 2017. At the heart of the story is the moral dilemma that Diana faces: is it better to spare one life yet potentially cause countless other deaths, or better to take one life to spare countless other lives?

I was appreciative of the Amazon’s origin here, as it was written first in George Perez’ run. Myths and deities other than Grecian are included as a result, though the focus is on Grecian myths primarily.

It being a YA novel, there was a romance between Diana and another character that to me seemed forced. There are representations of people of color – Alia herself is African American, which contributes to the story in multiple ways – and LGBTQ+ characters. Wonder Woman’s character is tolerant and accepting of all kinds of people, so I was thrilled to see many types of representation here – where it’s right at home!

Differing hues of sea blues and greens dominate the book. Other colors such as red and yellow are used as highlights. Decisive and precise lines accentuate the characters’ strength and determination. Though there is a lot going on sometimes, especially in the action scenes, the panels are never cluttered.

This is an impressive adaptation of the best-selling YA novel. The dilemma young Diana, and her diverse companions, face compels readers to keep going until the very end.

– Kathleen

Bardugo, Leigh, Louise Simonson, and Kit Seaton. Wonder Woman: Warbringer (The Graphic Novel). 2020.

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Five

Season Five, y’all! Twelve stories are part of this season, with the fantasy genre being the most dominant of the short stories.

The Simplest Equation by Nicky Drayden

The Simplest Equation was a sweet tale of love, quite a difference from the toxic love found in the previous story of Levar’s podcast (in season four). Two students sit near each other in a college math class, and Mariah hopes that this new alien girl Quallah, whose species are known for their math skills, can help tutor her. The two get to know one another and fall in love, but then Quallah gets an offer to go off-world to study so Mariah uses math equations to build her a declaration of her feelings. The unique conclusion proved that the simplest equation is love!

Shoggoths in Traffic by Tobias S. Buckell

This magical realism story begins with two co-workers from Michigan who steal a car from a criminal and plan to drive it to Miami for a significant payout but run into a problem in Indiana. Witnessing a hit and run, they are leery to help due to them driving a stolen vehicle, but try their best to get the motorcycle rider to the ER. That their navigation keeps glitching ties into the unlikely connection between magic and technology. I wasn’t entirely sold on who the dude they were helping claimed to be, but it was a fun story nevertheless.

Cuisine des Mémoires by N.K. Jemisin

Ever since I listened to this I have been seeing the author, N.K. Jemisin’s name everywhere! This tale evocatively showed how we often pair food with memories, as a birthday dinner at a mysterious restaurant promises that any meal can be recreated. A divorced man is skeptical and orders a meal made by his ex-wife and it is recreated to the last spice. Memories flood him and he tries to figure out the mystery but learns more about himself in the process.

Small Medicine by Genevieve Valentine

In this futuristic tale, a young girl’s grandmother dies, and the grandmother is replaced by a robot to ease her family’s grief. While these robots are built to look like loved ones that have passed on and meant to be a solace to grieving family members, they end up confusing them and not letting them move on. The disquieting story makes you ponder what happens to the natural order of things when life becomes too modified by technology.

Face Value by Sean Williams

Face Value reminded me of a Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Poirot caper set in a speculative future with transporters and fabricators. In this tale two peace-keepers listen to an inventor talk up his newest invention, a supposedly rare metal that he wishes to turn into currency. Of course, all is not what it seems, and the first inspector called in the second just so he could pontificate on how he figured out the inventor’s ruse.

Blur by Carmen Maria Machado

I grew frustrated with this magical realism tale. It began very promisingly as a woman on the way to visit her girlfriend, who loses her glasses at a rest stop, which renders her unable to continue driving. Stricken with fear that her abusive girlfriend will be furious with her, a man she meets decides to help her finish her journey, but then the story goes sideways. While there is a lot of symbolism about her accepting that she needs to step into a new reality and leave her girlfriend, I believe the message got muddied with the surreal aspect of it.

Tiger Baby by JY Yang

Felicity is an accountant in her 30’s, who unhappily still lives at home and dreams of being a tiger. In fact, the dreams are so regular and realistic, she actually feels she is the wrong body. Dismissive of her parents and newly pregnant sister, instead she takes great pleasure in feeding the neighborhood stray cats, but at this stage, I pitied and disliked her for her delusions and inability to connect with people. When she loses her job, something magical happens to Felicity but it is not quite what she had always dreamed about but might be more what she needed.

The House on the Moon by William Alexander

In this futuristic short story set on the moon, a disabled middle school student on a field trip visits a castle that had been shipped up from Earth. The rich owner had been an eccentric man who had been part of the Eugenics War but had been pardoned by the government and allowed to move to the moon. Some disquieting truths are brought up, and we realize the boy almost lost his life because of his disability. The ending was implausible, but there were enough interesting threads to think on, that I wish this story had been longer as to delve deeper into how discrimination affects people with disabilities.

The Water Museum by Nisi Shawl

In a future drought-affected world, a man is tasked with assassinating a woman named Granita who owns the rights to the Great Lakes watershed and runs a water museum. Granita was quite a character and I found her very appealing as she toyed with the man she picked up hitchhiking, who didn’t realize what he had gotten himself into. However, in the end, the reader realizes Granita is profoundly selfish as she used her wealth to hoard water and deprive thousands of people of its use for her own wasteful and narcissistic purposes. A lesson in that a pretty face and charismatic personality can hide a dark heart.

Jump by Cadwell Turnbull

I really engaged with this tale, as I connected with the couple Mike and Jesse who inexplicably experience something so fantastic that it can not be explained or recreated again. Mike is desperate for it to happen again, but this miracle or glitch in the universe’s design can’t be replicated, although he and Jesse try for years to do so. Eventually, Mike’s obsession begins to rend their relationship apart and the couple divorce. As they say their final goodbyes, Mike asks Jesse to try one last time, and… we don’t know what happens next! Although the conclusion was very predictable that it would end that way, I actually found it perfect.

The Specialist’s Hat by Kelly Link

This spooky tale was very ambiguous, and that made it stand out, as you will wonder what just happened when the story is over. Twins Claire and Samantha have recently lost their mother, and have moved with their father into their ancestral mansion out in the country- a typical setup for a horror story concerning children. Many plot twists are thrown in such as missing presumed dead ancestors, an absent father walking in the woods with a mysterious woman, a ghostly babysitter, a creepy twin vibe and a strange hat up in the attic. More questions will be raised than answered by the end of the tale, and you will not be clear what elements of the story are fantasy, horror, psychological or symbolic.

The Hofzinser Club by Michael Chabon

As coincidence would have it, I am two/thirds of the way through the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, in which this story is now found in- although it originally was a short story first, and then dropped into the novel as a backstory for one of the main characters immigrant Joseph Kavalier. In this tale, Josef (before he Americanized his name in the novel) Kavalier, who lives in Prague in the 1930s, is a promising escape artist. He and his brother Thomas wish to join The Hofsinzer Club, an exclusive club for magicians. While talented, Josef’s wish to emulate Harry Houdini goes awry and the boys nearly drown during a dress rehearsal of an escape trick in the river. A very evocative story, and a refreshing step away from the fantasy stories that have been dominating the podcast lately. The author and Star Trek fan, Michael Chabon, is now executive produce of Star Trek: Picard and I am hoping Burton’s inclusion of the story means we will see his Star Trek character Geordi LaForge in the Picard series.

I struggled with this season, as not many of the stories really affected me. If I have to pick favorites they would be Jump and The Hofzinser Club, but they both pale to some earlier favorites I have had in previous seasons. But nevertheless, I look forward to season six, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

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