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Fiction’s Fearless Females

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dana Scully

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I have joined up with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate! This is the fifth year that I have participated in this series with Michael of My Comic Relief and Kalie of Just Dread-full, and this year I choose FBI Special Agent Dana Scully, MD, of The X-Files fame. This iconic role began in 1993 and spanned eleven seasons and two movies over the course of twenty-five years before ending (for good?) in 2018.

While most of my entries (Captain Kathryn Janeway, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Doctor Beverly Crusher and Counselor Deanna Troi) have revolved around Star Trek, this year I added Dana Scully to my roster, which also included Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies. All of these women are fearless in one way or another, but let’s dive into why Scully stands out!

The X-Files became a breakout science-fiction hit on the Fox Network. The show became must-watch tv for a legion of fans before shows were on demand and could be watched whenever you wanted. I distinctly remember watching the first season while I was in college, crowded into a room with my friends. I found this young professional woman an inspiration as I was on the cusp of entering the workforce myself.

The pilot episode establishes that Scully was specifically recruited to work with Fox Mulder, a fellow FBI Special Agent who researches paranormal cases. As a doctor and a skeptic, the higher-ups felt she could de-bunk Mulder’s findings and was tasked to be his partner while writing her own reports. Mulder was a believer in extraterrestrial life and it is established immediately that he feels his younger sister was kidnapped by aliens. While Mulder’s reports included his thoughts and observations on the cases they were trying to solve, Scully was expected to counter with scientific facts. She wasn’t a meek woman ready to simply follow her partner’s lead, she established her own independence and was ready for action as much as Mulder was. While Gillian Anderson, the actress who portrayed Scully is beautiful, she wasn’t unrealistically gorgeous and was given professional outfits that an FBI agent would have worn in that era.

Anderson’s role as Scully would end up having a profound effect on women in the 90s and beyond- “Watching Dr. Dana Scully on The X-Files inspired a generation of women to pursue careers in scientific fields according to a study highlighting the importance of diverse gender representation in media. The study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media showed that the “Scully Effect” — the long-standing idea that Scully’s character encouraged women’s interest in science — was very real. Women who watched The X-Files regularly were 50% more likely to work in STEM fields, and nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed who now work in STEM considered her a role model. “Characters’ images and storylines in media shape our everyday lives in very profound ways,” says Geena Davis Institute CEO Madeline Di Nonno. “In the case of ‘The Scully Effect,’ it shows that when, in media, we have non-traditional roles for women and girls it helps them envision these pathways for themselves.” Read more about this on the Geena Davis Institute website.

The show would weave in the mythology of government conspiracies to hide the truth about alien existence and doomsday plans with standalone episodes. About a third to half of each season’s episodes dealt with “mytharc”, aka alien conspiracy episodes that spanned the entire series but had a tendency to become very convoluted with minimal payoff (but that’s a digression for another post…). We do get introduced to her family, and her Catholic background is established which I felt was important to her character, as her faith was respectfully shown. Smart as a whip, Scully was always prepared for whatever was thrown at her.

Scully and Mulder remained partners for seven of the first nine consecutive seasons, but when the actor David Duchovny who played Mulder wished to pursue other projects, another FBI agent was brought in to pair with Scully. Scully’s new partnership with John Doggett had the roles reversed, with Scully becoming a believer after witnessing Mulder’s alien abduction, and Doggett being the skeptic. Mulder is released in time for the concluding episodes of the ninth season, conveniently back in time for the two movies. After the movies, there was a large gap before two short seasons tied up everything in 2018. This time, it was Gillian Anderson who felt she had given enough time to The X-Files and no longer wanted to continue with the role.

As with any show with two attractive leads, sexual tension between the duo was written into episodes with a “will they or won’t they” vibe throughout the entire run. While I was a fan of the two together, producers wisely kept them apart most of the time, so as to not infringe upon Scully’s professionalism. They are given a happily-ever-after in the concluding minutes of the very last episode with a highly improbable miracle pregnancy. While it was purely fan service at that point, I was equally pleased and frustrated at the tired trope of a woman finally being happy once she has a man and a baby. I can forgive that ending, because in so many other ways, Scully was a role model for women of today.

Gillian Anderson has had an amazing career and has gone on to play other memorable roles in House of Mirth, The First Lady, The Crown and Sex Education and is not afraid to take non-glamorous or controversial roles. Like Nichelle Nichols who transcended her role as Uhura in Star Trek, so has Anderson. She portrayed the character of Scully with so much passion that the STEM fields have better female representation because of her. Her fearless representation of showing a competent and professional woman, equal to any man, still reverberates today!

Check out Michael’s post on Xena the Warrior Princess and Kalie’s post on Red from the movie Us

Header picture from an article in Decider

I love how they kept the opening credits for the entire run of the show, using the pictures of Scully & Mulder from the first season. I re-watched a few episodes from the first and last seasons before writing, and it made me want to dive into the deep mythology again! Pictures and opening credits from 20th Century Studios

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Red from Us

I have joined for the fifth year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series titled: Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, two other bloggers and I will share who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and I will share each entry of the series on this blog. Today’s post comes from Kalie of Just Dread-Full, a superb blog that gives insightful critiques of the horror genre. 

Guest post from Kalie of Just Dread-Full

 Dear readers, gather around the campfire—okay, or the computer screen—as I regale you with a story.  Throughout time, we’ve been entertained with tales of heroes—the Mighty Achilles, Sir Gawain, Beowulf…Spiderman, Superman, Antman, Xena the Warrior Princess…and the list goes on.  I’m here today, however, to discuss a different hero—a single woman who, at a young age, was relegated to a cold, imprisoning underground lair not by any evil villain, but by her own image, staring back at her in a funhouse mirror.  For years, the subterranean woman lived among her subterranean people, a group of have-nots who were tethered to those in the world above, who “lived the lives” of those above ground, albeit without all the artifacts and accouterments associated with living.  Angry at her fate, this young woman grew up and devised a plan, inspired by the image on a t-shirt, that could be executed with a mere lighter and a few pairs of scissors.  The woman planned not just to take over a city, a state, or a nation, but, with the help of the others who lived with her underground, to take over the world, to re-populate the world above ground with her enslaved, tethered people.  She did not want fame, power, or fortune—merely justice and the warm light of the sun, for herself and those she lived among.  Thus, with nothing but cunning brilliance, a few dull sheers, an eccentric family, and some kickass dance moves, a young woman and her family entered the “ordinary world,” intent on inhabiting it by dominating it.

Photo by Universal/ILM/Kobal/Shutterstock (10162635c) Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson/Red ‘Us’ Film – 2019 A family’s serenity turns to chaos when a group of doppelgängers begins to terrorize them.

Okay, clearly I wasn’t suited to write heroic epics, but I think you get the gist of the story I just told.  If you’re a horror fan—more generally—and a Jordan Peele fan—more specifically—the story probably sounds familiar to you, because it’s the plot of the movie Us, albeit told a different way, in a different context.  Us immediately captivated me when I saw it because of the way it blurs the boundaries between the seemingly binary concepts of “good” and “evil,” along with the concepts of “self” and “other.”  I have written about Us before on this blog, however, and I suppose I risk, with this post, the chance of repeating myself.  Luckily, I’m not just writing about the film Us, but about a specific woman in the film for this year’s installment of Fiction’s Fearless Females.  Every year I join a few other bloggers for International Women’s Month, and we take turns writing about women in fiction who somehow—and often in a variety of unusual or unexpected ways—exemplify the word “fearless” – women who show extraordinary bravery in a variety of dire circumstances.  Other contributors to this series include Michael from My Comic Relief and Nancy from Graphic Novelty², all of whom have written/will write about other fearless females and who I have featured and/or will feature on Just Dread-full.

For now, however, let us go back to the movie Us and focus on the woman I chose for this series (and I’ll note here that I have to include spoilers to highlight why I find this woman extraordinary—if my reasoning wasn’t evident in my opening story).  Anyone who’s seen Us knows that the fantastic Lupita Nyong’o plays two parts in the story: she is both Adelaide Wilson, a perfectly normal wife and mother living above ground with her family, and she is Red, her disheveled doppelganger who appears, one day, with a slightly altered version of Adelaide’s family.  After all, everyone in this story has a doppelganger. 

 We learn, eventually, that the miles upon miles of empty underground space around the world holds these hidden doppelgangers—replicas of human beings who live a weird sort of jittery life in which they emulate the gestures and mannerisms of their human match above ground, but they do so in what looks like a mixture of a classroom and a science lab—a space with no sign of stimulation or comfort, where the doppelgangers interact as best they can, appearing, as it were, to be slightly “monstrous” versions of their corresponding humans (if, that is, monstrosity is defined by a disheveled appearance and affective idiosyncrasies).

But that’s the trick of this film; at the beginning of her movie, Red and her family are clearly threatening to the Wilsons.  They appear, by all means, to be the “scary antagonists” of this incredibly unique horror film.  Only as we learn Red’s true story, and the corresponding story of Adelaide, do we realize that perhaps the lines between hero and villain—even between hero and anti-hero—aren’t that clearly drawn.  Perhaps the real bad guys are absent in the diegetic narrative, and in the entire debacle that unfolds in the film.  Ultimately, the film Us seems to assert what Jack Halberstam so wisely observed—that there is not a distinct binary relationship between “human” and “monster,” and that monsters should not be read as the binary antithesis of humanity.  After all, in some ways, both Adelaide and Red are monstrous, but both women—and I argue, especially Red—ultimately emerge as brilliant and heroic in their efforts to gain a normal, free, untethered life. 

 One of the key things to know to appreciate the movie (this is, also, by far the biggest spoiler) is that Adelaide and Red, who look like twins because they’re both played by Nyong’o and are, in fact, doubles, are also each other; Adelaide is actually Red and Red is actually Adelaide.  We are led to believe, at first, that when young Adelaide (later Red) enters a funhouse at a boardwalk amusement park in California and sees her double—a twin, but not an exact reflection, staring back at her in the mirror—the double takes her underground, but the original Adelaide manages to escape, albeit with the trauma of the experience haunting her.  For some time upon “returning” above ground, Adelaide does not talk.  A scene of a therapist speaking to Adelaide’s parents implies that as a child, after the event, she received therapy for her trauma and loss of speech, and eventually the therapeutic nature of dancing allowed her to regain that speech, deal with the trauma (to an extent), and live a normal life as an adult, with a husband and two children.  That is, initially, the story that the narrative provides us.

However, at the end of the film, the audience gets let in on exactly what transpired below ground, and we realize that it was never Adelaide who emerged.  Rather, her “double” (doppelganger, “tethered,” etc.) kidnapped “the original Adelaide” as a child, trapped her in the underground world and emerged above ground to take her place.  Red (the “replacement Adelaide,” the simulacrum) must become Adelaide, and Adelaide acts differently and stops speaking because it isn’t Adelaide who comes back.  Perhaps, then, to an extent, that is the horror of the doppelganger, who is, in this film, quite literally a “body-snatcher.”  You can be the parents of the doppelganger, the children of the doppelganger, or the doppelganger’s lover, and there’s no way to know that the person you think you know on a deep, personal level is or isn’t really who they say they are.  And yet, in this film, the catch for me was that there was nothing particularly horrific about the beautiful wife and mother, Adelaide Wilson, secretly hailing from an underground lair.  Why be afraid if we cannot tell the difference anyway?  Clearly Adelaide served her role well as a wife and mother.  The observation raises the question, then, if the “doppelgangers” are the scary “others” in the film, what, really, is the difference between self and other?  As a sidenote, if it’s not been made obvious already, when I say “Adelaide,” I try to refer to the child who originally lived underground but emerged in Adelaide’s place and grew up to be Adelaide Wilson.  Red is the woman who originally lived above ground, gets kidnapped, and starts a bloody revolution to free herself and the others who live underground.

 And it is a revolution, if we take up the dictionary definition that a revolution as a “forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.”  That’s the thing with Red—whose name, interestingly, bears what was historically the symbolic color of the communist party: She and her family are presented as formidable weirdos at the start of the story, but her dismal life underground bespeaks to her obvious oppression, and an oppression, no less, brought on by humans.  We don’t really know how the “tethered” doubles came to be or why they’re relegated to underground lairs, but the mis en scene gives us some pretty good clues.  First, there are walls of rabbits in cages.  Though it appears that that the tethered are being fed raw rabbits, the image of rows full of cages with animals brings to mind animal-based scientific laboratory testing, which may not always be insidious but which generally has a negative connotation, especially when not the animals but the presence of the encumbering cages are foregrounded.  To that extent the rabbit in the film is both means for understanding and metaphor—we understand because of these carefully constructed rabbit cages that the “habitat” for the tethered was probably created by humans, but the rabbits in bare cages seem like metaphors for the tethered themselves, who live in spaces that look like bare hallways and classrooms—another clue that this is a very human-made situation.  Indeed, if rabbits are metaphors, and rabbits are often tested on, then it seems possible that the tethered were re-created in the name of “science”—perhaps, specifically, scientific testing that couldn’t be done on “humans.”  We never know, but part of the fun and fascination of the film is the speculation it allows and the sparse but careful clues it provides.  I am starting to think that a hallmark of films I love is that they give you enough to fill in the gaps, but not enough to fill in the gaps with any degree of certainty.  Myriad “backstories,” “prequels,” or other explanatory narratives could be made to explain the tethered, but we can’t know which one, for sure, although we can probably eliminate some guesses.      

There is, then, little question that at least the habitat for these “doubles” was made by humans.  Are the tethered captured at birth and forced to live underground, or are they more like clones, somehow created from the of DNA every human being at birth and then relegated to the subterranean?  Do the details even matter?  The point is, the “tethered” seem to be the creepy doubles of unknowing humans and, possibly, the byproduct of a cruel science experiment.  One cannot help but argue, then, that Adelaide (“Adelaide”) who originally lived underground but devised a method of escape through a portal in a theme park funhouse is a “fearless female” who saw the hopelessness of her fate and made concrete actions by changing it, by imprisoning a look-alike and blending herself into the above-ground world. (This trope is weirdly little mermaid-y, but without the presence of sparkling undersea kingdoms.  And on the mermaid note, Adelaide and Ariel share one commonality: both, when the emerge above ground, cannot speak comprehensibly to other humans.  Hmmm…hmmm…hmmm…).  It may seem “selfish” from a banal reading, but Adelaide’s act is an act of desperation, an act of brilliance, and an act of bravery.  Who, after all, would dare to spend their whole lives practically enslaved and then “sneak in” to the world of the “free,” nonchalantly blend themselves in, learn the language, and live a life that they had little concept of when they were below ground (in this case, surrounded by bare classrooms and animal cages). 

And despite how fascinated I am by Adelaide Wilson, the oppressed who was presumably born into the underground fate and managed to escape it through a mixture of careful maneuvering and pure aggression, “Red,” who is presented as the monstrous other, who’s been living underground for years when the film opens, is the one who fascinates me more.  For Adelaide makes a difficult decision (perhaps) and takes serious risks when she frees herself and becomes “part of that world,”  but Red is the character that the film would have us think is the “monster” and yet—yet, yet, she’s fighting to get some different version of her original life back, and in doing so, she joins all the doubles together, executes a complex plan, and leads what is commensurate to an underground worldwide revolution in which those—doppelgangers, doubles, clones (?)—can escape their enslaved fate and live out the free—or “free”—lives that we all prize so highly, especially in this country.  To that end, Janis Joplin is wrong, and freedom’s not just another word for “nothing left to lose” (take that, my Bobby McGee).  Adelaide Wilson, now free and vacationing in a summer home with her family, has everything to lose because she’s free, and “Red,” who was kidnapped and forced to live underground by Adelaide so many years ago, is willing to come back and take it. 

The implication of the film is that every human on earth has an underground double, or a tethered, because there’s a lot more space underground than we think (and the tethered, it appears, live in more crowded confines than those in the ordinary world do).  To that extent, the tethered people are Red’s world, and Red is leading not just the equivalent of a worldwide revolution, but, insofar as these two groups of people have been separated their entire lives with, in the case of the above-grounds, little to no knowledge of the other, she’s leading a revolution that is not like a takeover from outer-space, albeit one that comes from the other direction (which is, I suppose, another parallel worth considering, especially in the wake of Peele’s most recent film, Nope).   And she successfully orchestrates this complete takeover—for, by the end of the film, we see the tethered holding hands and forming a line above ground, like the “hands across America” image that we’re shown earlier in the movie—a lot of people above ground have died, and it appears the tethered, all over the world, are winning or have won.  And yet, we can’t call them evil. It is not malice, or killing for the sake of killing, that they do. It is a retaliation for a sort of colonization, for the tethered, to some extent, are subjugated the way a colonized person might be.  They are not just assimilated but are, instead, simulations, but they are (perhaps) assimilated simulations whose actions are extremely controlled and who are denied practically any external phenomenon, let alone useful resources.      

But in her powerful retaliation Red, in a sense, ignites the apocalypse, which is bloody and traumatic and scary for many humans who probably had no direct knowledge of the oppression of those underground, but is, still, a revolution—a complete takeover to escape a life of horrific oppression and to have the chance to live a decent existence, with buildings and plants and sidewalks and sun, above ground.  It is even more important to consider, I think, that Red was born above ground and has planned all this while living below it for years upon years, being somehow, peculiarly, tethered to Adelaide above ground so that she enacts a lot of the gestures Adelaide enacts, but without the external world to interact with.  (This movie could also be interesting, I think, from a phenomenological perspective). She has virtually nothing except the other tethered and some scissors that were left below ground as if they were classroom tools.  And yet, she successfully organizes the entire takeover of humanity—but not out of some act of malice or evil.  Because the only way the tethered can escape the bondage (at least, we infer) –the bondage of the underground, the bondage of being tethered to those above and being forced to imitate their gestures and interactions—is to kill their doppelgangers.

 I always hated when people would say, of my friends who died of alcoholism or addiction, “they must die so that others can live,” but it would appear to be the sad paradox of recovery that seeing enough people die of addiction or alcoholism convinces the recovering alcoholic to stay away from that stuff, and there’s a similar sad paradox of existence in this movie, insofar as that paradox is implied by the word “tethered” which means to tie with a rope or chain and restrict movement.  These underground beings are restricted by the invisible ropes that tie them to their comparatively privileged doubles above ground.  For killing the “above-ground” beings seems to break the rope, the chain, and then (not wholly unlike the proletariat taking over the bourgeoisie and forming a new world order in communist theory) the tethered, who have been tethered their whole lives, are set free.  Red and her family only seem like monsters through the myopic view of the diegetic humans in the narrative.  The situational irony of the film is that we know more than the human characters, so we understand that, no matter how fundamentally “bad” violence is, it’s tenuous and inconsistent to consider the tethered “monsters,” when the real monsters are probably the people who created and/or trapped them to begin with, and who aren’t featured in the diegetic narrative but are part of the above-ground beings, the normate humans.   

When Michael and I discussed what we would write about for “Fiction’s Fearless Females” this year, I originally considered a few other females, and Michael’s point provoked some thought within me: “Fearless” does not necessarily mean “heroic.”  The word hero, after all, as the introduction to this piece implies about fictional heroes, is deceptive, contested, and can as easily be applied, by dominant cultural ideology, to colonizing imperialists as it can to actual revolutionaries.  To that end, I guess I make two claims, here: If Red’s bloodshed negates her heroism, she is still about as fearless as a female can be with her decision to take over a (still male-dominated, normate-dominated, resourceful) world with a group of oppressed people and a pair of scissors.  But, we could argue that she is heroic in addition to being fearless.  In Homerian Greek myth the “heroes” went to war over the kidnapping of a single woman, Helen of Troy, because of that woman’s status and beauty.  War and its corresponding notion of “heroism” has been used for the acquisition of power, possession, and status, practically since agrarian culture sprung up and “war” so-called, became a thing.  A woman who is kidnapped, forced to a tethered non-existent existence underground, and leads a revolution to gain her freedom and the freedom of others is, in this case, still a killer, but we might categorize her motivations as “just,” and beyond that, clearly she’s not just fighting for her own freedom.  She is the one being down there, the only one, who has lived above ground at all, and she’ll use what she knows and risk her life to free them all.  Whether or not she is a “hero”—a word that is unimportant, anyway, in noun form—there is certainly something heroic about her. 

There’s so much you can do, conceptually, with this movie, and I can’t try to do it all right now, but I’m interested in two concepts, predominantly: the first is the doppelganger, which is often considered an evil twin or a harbinger of doom in fictional literature, and which indeed appears to be so in this film.  The doppelganger is also a metaphor for “self-seeing”—as worded by one website—and to this end, of course, the whole film could be read and has been read as a metaphor of seeing our more malevolent natures and emerging from them.  It’s a good reading—one, I think, that Peele even hinted toward—but it’s one of many ways, only, to read the film. 

The other thing I keep thinking of is Baudrillard’s simulacrum, which I know little to nothing about (I’ve never read Baudrillard) but which I googled when I was writing this piece.  What is interesting about the world of the tethered people is that, in many ways, it’s the antithesis of a simulacrum.  If a simulacrum is a near-exact or completely exact representation of an original, but one that, to Baudrillard, represents the truth or the hyperreal, than the world of the tethered is nothing like the world above.  Perhaps, then, it is the opposite of the real or the hyperreal because it’s a sort of non-simulacrum or an antithetical simulacrum. The beginning of the film, for example, shows people riding carnival rides above grounds, and beings moving awkwardly in abandoned hallways below ground, somewhat imitating the practice of riding rides, but without the excitement and pleasure of an amusement park ride to experience.  The subterranean is nothing like the world above; it lacks almost every type of phenomenon that the world above has.  So the world below cannot really be considered a simulacrum, but to some extent, the doubles can be.  What happens when you replicate a human but deny them the things that nurture humanity?  What happens to the simulacrum when it breaks, when only a part of the set-up is an exact replica, or when you put the replica into and environment that is antithetical to its needs? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and perhaps they are more philosophical than they are practical, but we could say this much: if the simulacrum represents the hyperreal, then the doppelgangers in Us are certainly about as alive, as real, as hyperreal as one could imagine.  And through cunning and courage, they release themselves from their horrendous fate, led by Red, this week’s fictional fearless female. 

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Xena Princess Warrior

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and I have joined for the fifth year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series titled: Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, two other bloggers and I will share who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and I will share each entry of the series on this blog. First up is Michael from My Comic Relief– whose blog is must-reading for his brilliant views on comics, Doctor Who, social justice, Spider-Man and of course this iconic warrior! 

By Michael Miller of My Comic Relief

It’s Tuesday, March 8th – International Women’s Day 2023!  Once again I’ve teamed with other bloggers – Kalie of Just Dread-full and Nancy of Graphic Novelty2  – to celebrate some of our favorite female characters in all of fiction.  In a wave of ‘90s nostalgia I decided to write about Xena this year.  How has it taken me five years of doing this series to get to Xena?!!?  Xena: Warrior Princess ran for 134 episodes over six seasons from 1995 through 2001.  Starring Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O’Connor as her best friend Gabrielle, the show took hold of pop culture in a way few things have in my lifetime.  It left a lasting impression, too.  As I told everyone who I was writing about this year I kept getting the best responses.  “Ahh!  I loved that show!”  “She was my hero!”  “I loved Xena!”  “I watched her show all the time!”  With Xena: Warrior Princess premiering when I was in seventh grade, Xena wasn’t just an iconic character for me; she was also archetypal.  In many ways, Xena formed my understanding of a “fearless female hero.”  She was my first fully fleshed out example.  She wasn’t part of an ensemble cast.  She wasn’t guest starring in another male hero’s show.  Xena rode alone (well, with Gabrielle of course!) and there was nothing she couldn’t do.

So I invite you, dear reader, to wander down this road of memories with me as I celebrate one of the most iconic and important heroes I’ve ever met.  (And if you wanna let out your best rendition of Xena’s famous warrior yell as we go, feel free!  I won’t tell anyone ;D.  I’ve been doing it again for weeks now, too.)

Traditionally when I write these pieces, I do a deep dive rewatching the entire run of a character or a show to dialogue with the entirety of the character(s) I’m spotlighting.  But this is different.  As I began rewatching Xena I had so many thoughts and so many feelings and just allllllllllllllllllllllll the memories that trying to develop a thread woven through her entire 134 episodes didn’t flow.  Instead I want to explore the feelings which came back as I watched, reconnecting with the impression Xena left on middle school-aged me as I do a close reading of a few moments from Xena: Warrior Princess’ first season which speak to why she is such a fearless character.

Gabrielle and Xena / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

And who knows?!  Maybe all those other ideas, memories, and feelings will turn into future pieces and Xena will become a regular theme on this site!  Only time will tell I suppose.

Before I sat down to write this piece, I hadn’t seen an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess in over twenty years.  But as soon as I began the first episode it felt like I never stopped.  You know those friends who you can go years without seeing and instantly fall back into rhythm with them when you see each other?  It turns out Xena is that sort of show for me!  As soon as I heard the opening notes from the gaida (the Bulgarian bagpipe) as the theme song began I found myself reciting the narration!  (Yes, it really is a gaida – I did the research)  It all came back to me!

In a time of ancient gods,


and kings,

a land in turmoil cried out for a hero.

She was Xena

A mighty princess forged in the heat of battle.

The power…

The passion…

The danger…

Her courage will change the world.

That intro! Ahhhhh, the memories! / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

As I found myself reciting the above words flawlessly after over twenty years, I noted something I never noticed before (or at least I don’t remember noticing it) – the tense of the words.  It’s all in past tense – “a land in turmoil cried out for a hero,” “a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle,” even framing it as “a time of ancient gods, warlords, and kings” speaks to the past – until we get to the end.  “Her courage will change the world.”  How much predicting of the future Joseph LoDuca (who composed the Xena theme song and wrote the lyrics) planned to do here is anyone’s guess.  But he was right!  Xena’s courage did change the world! 

She wasn’t the first female hero to headline a TV series.  She follows in the footsteps of greats like Irish McCalla in Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman, and Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman.  But Lucy Lawless was groundbreaking in her own right in Xena: Warrior Princess.  The show inspired countless people.  It still has legions of devoted fans (as a little poking around online will show).  And so many future heroes – kickass warrior women in particular – can credit part of their origin to Xena.  Plus, it was a spinoff show which far outshone its predecessor in both fan adoration and cultural scope/influence (Xena was first introduced as a villain then love interest on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys).  And the sapphic nature of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship – best friends with the flirtatious hint of something more which fans often speculated about – helped pave the way for the beautifully realized relationships we see today, like Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy on HBO Max’s Harley Quinn.  In an interview with Page Six Renee O’Connor said Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship was “baby steps” towards larger change, “I think that the opportunity to be forthright is more evident in all media now.  I just think it would definitely be embraced wholeheartedly.  I’m grateful that people aren’t looking backward.  They just move forward.  People have to break ground, and if that’s what ‘Xena’ was, at the time … yeah, it came at the right moment.”

Bathing together was one of the ways Xena: Warrior Princess danced around the sapphic nature of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship. / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

As a kid I was always intrigued by how – though Xena was a spinoff from Hercules – Xena always seemed tougher.  Like, if my back was against the wall and I had one favor I could call in, I’d want Xena standing beside me over Hercules.  Sure, he’s a demigod and has incredible strength and gauntlets forged by Hephaestus and that’s nothing to sneeze at.  But Xena is Xena.  It always felt like she could stare down an entire army with those steely blue eyes and one arched eyebrow.  Anyone foolish enough to try and fight her anyway was going to live to regret it…if they lived at all.

Her character always seemed comfortable standing among gods, too.  While Hercules was obviously plucked from the myths of Ancient Greece, Xena was created by writer John Schulian and writer-director-producer Robert Tapert.  As a kid I devoured mythology.  For Christmas in 1994, Mom and Dad got me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, a hardcover illustrated tour through Greek mythology.  I read that thing again and again and again.  The following year they got me D’Aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants as well and books on Celtic mythology soon followed.  I could tell you those stories forwards and backwards (which…I guess it’s not really surprising I grew up to study and teach religious studies).  Xena was so strong, so bold, so commanding, so much larger than life that it always felt like she belonged among the goddesses, gods, monsters, and historical figures she crossed paths with.  She could certainly more than hold her own.  Her story captured my heart in the same way those well-read books of myths did, too.

Ares, the God of War, tries to temp Xena back into his service. / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

Sure, the show could be campy.  That’s part of why I loved it!  The overly acrobatic fight scenes.  The gale-force whooshing sounds of swords.  The murmuring of crowds with a few distinct phrases clearly called out to let the viewer know what they thought.  That thing she’d do where she’d run in a circle – in midair – keeping herself aloft by kicking her adversaries in the chest.  The fact that her chakram (oh! my! gosh! her chakram!!!!!) followed the same physics as Captain America’s shield.  And of course there was that one time she literally juggled a baby while fighting King Gregor’s men to protect the child from being killed because of a misread prophecy.  The thing with Xena was, even in all the camp, she was an absolute badass! 

The idea that she was always the most lethal person in a room, capable of felling dozens of trained killers by herself always felt authentic.  Her threat and skill, her ferocity and power never felt filtered through or lessened by the camp (which wasn’t the case for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys).  Again and again we hear how Xena lead one of the largest armies the world had ever known, sweeping over the land and conquering all in her path.  We see how the mere mention of her name – let alone starring into her piercing eyes – is enough to make any warlord or arms dealer falter.  The fact that she unfailingly radiated that aura while juggling a baby when fighting or having acrobatic duals on elevated balancing beams three times in the first ten episodes just shows how much of a badass she was.

Xena’s arc on Hercules saw her debut as his adversary, the warrior princess with the aforementioned army, before leaving that life behind, inspired by Hercules’ model (“The Warrior Princess” S1E9, “The Gauntlet” S1E12, and “Unchained Heart” S1E13).  So when Xena: Warrior Princess begins, Xena has abandoned her warlord ways and is beginning her own quest for redemption.

Xena’s chakram, sword, and battle armor and leather, as she prepares to bury it and leave her fighting life behind. She soon picks them back up again in the service of defending the innocent. / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

The theme song reflects this, too!  In my research to figure out what sort of instrument opens the theme song, I also learned – in addition to the spoken English narration – there is Bulgarian chanting happening over the music!  If you’d like to see they lyrics in the Cyrillic and Latin alphabet, here you go:

Жената язди самотна / Zhenata yazdi samotna
Нейното минало срази я / Neinoto minalo srazi ya
Срещу войските от тъмен свят / Sreshtu voiskite ot tumen sviyat
Воюва за добро тя/ Vouva za dobro tya

Рогови звънове идват / Rogovi zvanove idvat
Напрейте път на война / Napreyte pat na voyina!
Тъпани бият в ритъм / Tapani biyat va ritam
Принцесата е пак тука / Princesata ye pak tuka!

And if you’re curious what the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir is saying, its English translation is:

The woman rides alone,
(Her) past nearly crushed her,
Meeting the armies of the dark world,
Battling in the name of good.

The sound of horns is coming,
Make way for the battle,
Drums beat at (the) rhythm,
(The) Princess is here.

Incidentally, learning this really feels like coming full circle for me.  In 2007 I was flying to England for two weeks to visit a friend doing her student teaching in Bognor Regis.  In the Detroit Airport, waiting for the red eye flight to London, I met Yana – a Bulgarian girl about my age who was also travelling alone.  We chatted for a few hours at our gate and moved seats to sit together for our eight hour flight.  Yana was a nervous flier so she asked me to stay awake with her, not falling asleep unless she did first.  We talked and laughed and told stories all night long.  At one point she showed me the Bulgarian romance novel she was reading and asked me to try and pronounce the words.  It…did not go well XD.  I didn’t even recognize the alphabet!  But I tried until Yana just read to me.  We lasted as long as we could but ultimately fell asleep, arms wrapped around each other, somehow contorted so the plane seats didn’t make it uncomfortable.  We slept together until the sun gently woke us by poking through the window.  It was one of the most unique nights of my life.  And NOW I’ve finally learned some Bulgarian!  Back to Xena…

Xena is cast out by the townspeople who fear her despite her just saving them. / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

So much of the first season sees people cowering when they realize it’s Xena the Warrior Princess standing in their midst.  Townspeople fear her.  Travelers flee from her on the road.  And the warlords, rulers, and arms dealers she meets in her travels regard her as a worthy peer, dangerous threat, or both.  But it’s her reputation as one of the leaders of the “armies of the dark world” which breeds these reactions, a reputation she is trying to change.  “The woman rides alone / (Her) past nearly crushed her” though now she is opposing those “armies of the dark world / Battling in the name of good.”  What I love about those lyrics (which I just learned! ahhh! learning is so fun!) is how they speak to the weight of her past.  She’s trying to be better now, to devote her life to helping people, but the shadow she cast is not an easy one to get out from under.  Yet she is dedicated to trying all the same.

When we talk about fearless characters, that’s a pretty tall order.  Her greatest enemy is her past and, despite all the evil she’s done and death she’s reigned down on the innocent and warlike alike, she believes she can change.  Xena believes she can be better!  Xena believes she can become the best version of herself!  That sort of character complexity was something we didn’t see on Xena’s sister show Hercules and I think it’s one of the reasons Xena: Warrior Princess gained such a larger fan following then and now.  In addition to showing incredible courage, this act is also one of the pieces of her character which make Xena so inspiring to so many people.

Most, if not all of us, have parts which are burdened with shame, parts which are burdened with guilt, parts which are burdened with regret, and even polarized parts at war with other parts within us.  Xena looks at all of that within herself and believes she can grow, heal, change, and transcend.  She believes in the best version of herself and then she lives it into existence.  How can that not resonate with us?!!?  That journey inward – to touch those parts burdened with shame, guilt, and regret and then begin to heal them in a way which allows transformation – is scary.  In being willing to attempt this journey and then succeeding in her transformation Xena models a remarkable courage.  We’re drawn to this part of her character, I think.  Most, if not all of us, seek similar courage in our own lives.  Xena inspires us because she has this courage and she inspires us to believe we can touch it within ourselves as well.

Xena meets her old ally, Marcus. / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

When Xena attempts to free the Princess Jana (Nicola Cliff) from her kidnapper Mezentius (Stephen Tozer), a ruthless arms dealer, she encounters Marcus (Bobby Hosea), an old ally and lover from her warlord days.  Alone in one of Mezentius’ weapons stores, Marcus challenges Xena.  He knows she’s changed and what she’s trying to do…and he tells her how he tried to leave this life once, too.  You can see the pain and torment on his face, conjured by the memories of what led him to leave and the guilt over what led him back.

Xena – “Come with me now.  How many of us are left from the old days?  Most of them are dead.  Marcus, I don’t want to stand by your grave.”

Marcus – “You’re not better than me, Xena.”

Xena – “You’re right.”

Marcus – “What makes you think I want to?”

Xena – “What made you think you wanted to?  Marcus, it is so simple.  You do one thing – one good thing – for no other reason than you know it’s right.  That’s the first step.”

Xena doesn’t just believe in her own potential to transform, she sees it in others as well.  In Marcus, she sees someone like herself, someone who needs a path to follow to become who they want to be.  And Xena offers him one.  What a beautiful model, too!  If we are seeking similar courage in our own lives, if we want to be better, to be different, to transform in some way, that’s all it takes.  One thing.  One act.  One step.  Then it grows from there.

When I think of Xena’s fearlessness, there are obvious moments of courage.  We see her running into battle regardless of the odds to protect those who need protecting, standing face-to-face with the roughest and most brutal of men traversing Ancient Greece and not even blinking, and of then we see her intimidating those very men!  But to my mind, the moment of courage which stands equal to her faith in her ability to find redemption and rise above the sins of her past to be transformed, is her friendship with Gabrielle.

When they first meet, Gabrielle tries to convince Xena to take her with her. / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

I’m not going to explore the sapphic nature of their relationship beyond what I said above.  It’s beautiful and it’s important and it was groundbreaking in so many ways, but to explore and celebrate all that in a way worthy of it, I’d need to look at the entirety of the show.  It is, perhaps, the story for another piece.  What I mean by the courage Xena demonstrates in her friendship with Gabrielle here is how she lets her in in the first place.

While on the road to redemption, Xena is coming from a dark place.  She is the Warrior Princess.  She road at the head of a fearsome army.  She conquered and killed in a way few could, a way which leads Ares (Kevin Smith), the God of War, to attempt to woe her back.  He offers her the largest army the world has ever seen, encouraging her to bring justice by conquest and offering her the chance to rule the Earth as his Warrior Queen.[8]  The people she ran with were rarely nice, many were overtly evil, and a great many of them are now dead.  It’s safe to assume Xena doesn’t have the best track record with loving, caring, mutually symbiotic relationships where you are seen, heard, and accepted just as you are, and you in turn see, hear, and accept the other in the same way.  Where would she even have had the chance to practice such a relationship in her adult life so far?

It’s clear she doesn’t want Gabrielle to travel with her either, despite Gabrielle pleading with Xena to take her with her after Xena saves Gabrielle’s village from the warlord Draco (Jay Laga’aia).  Gabrielle wants nothing to do with the boring life of a farming village or being married off to a man she doesn’t love.  Xena refuses, leaving the village without Gabrielle.  However, Gabrielle follows Xena and keeps at it.  By episode’s end, Xena’s agrees to let Gabrielle travel with her.[9]

Xena and Gabrielle listen to someone who’s approached them in a bar, seeking their help. / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

Gabrielle grows from sidekick and tagalong to best friend and trusted confidant.  And yes, Gabrielle has a lot to do with it.  She isn’t one to take “no” for an answer to begin with and she chats tirelessly (as someone who does the same, I get it – I always want to know more! share with me all your thoughts and feelings! I love hearing it!).  Gabrielle’s growth over the first season is remarkable on its own.  But Xena lets her in.  That’s 100% Xena’s choice and Xena’s doing.  No matter how much we may wish it were otherwise sometimes, we can’t control other people’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.  So Gabrielle does her part but Xena meets her there.  Xena has the courage to let her walls down, to open up, to trust.  Gabrielle is willing to receive that, to be a loving steward of what Xena shares with her (slowly at first), just as Xena does for Gabrielle.  It’s so beautiful!

It takes courage, too.  Nothing has the potential to hurt us quite like the people we love the most.  So the more people we let into our lives and into our hearts, the greater the chance we have to be hurt and the larger the degree of hurt they can cause.  Every loving relationship is a risk.  Not everyone is willing or even able to open themselves to that sort of connection (and that’s fine – there’s no judgment here – everyone’s on their own journey and comes to it in their own time).  Fresh on her road to redemption, which is incredibly courageous in its own right, Xena finds the courage to open herself to Gabrielle and begin building what will be the most important relationship of her life


Gabrielle and Xena together in…Season 5, I think. / Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: Warrior Princess

Xena’s courage did change the world.  We see it in the lasting effect her character and this show has had on pop culture and on the hearts and minds of those who love her.  Xena’s courage also has the power to change our world now, if we can touch it in our own lives.  If we are willing to believe the best in ourselves is possible, if we are willing to open ourselves up to the life-defining love of friendships like what Xena and Gabrielle share – knowing they may bring pain at times but that the pain is worth it and we can grow and move through it together – we, too, can be transformed as Xena was.  We are transformed in our hearts which then transforms our world.  I love you, dear reader, and I believe you have the courage to bring such beautiful change to your own life whenever you may need it, just as I believe I have the power to do so in my own life – just like Xena taught me.

Happy International Women’s Day!  Be sure to check back here through the month of March – as well as following Kalie’s and Nancy’s sites – to see which character everyone else chose to celebrate this year.  Thank you, too, for taking this little journey down Memory Lane with me.  If you’re curious, I am still taking my time and savoring my rewatch of Xena: Warrior Princess and I am loving each episode as much now as I did when I watched them in middle school.  When it comes to heroic archetypes in my life, I’m lucky to have Xena among them.

Photo Credit – Renaissance Pictures’ Xena: The Warrior Princess

Header pic from Screen Rant

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Star Trek’s Beverly Crusher & Deanna Troi

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, I am concluding our Fiction’s Fearless Females series with two Star Trek friends, Doctor Beverly Crusher and Counselor Deanna Troi. This is the fourth year that Kathleen and I have participated in this series and joining us is Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, and Jeff of The Imperial Talker.  What is wonderful about this series, is there are no winners, as each woman featured is fabulous and ALL are deserving of praise!

Star Trek is my favorite fandom, as many of the posts on my blog revolve around the movies, television and web series that have been inspired by the original classic. While some of my previous posts were about the iconic Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and the indomitable Captain Janeway, here I picked a duo who were on the series The Next Generation, which is the series that forever cemented me as a Trekkie. Many of our FFF posts this year have centered around female friendships, so these two women aboard the Enterprise-D came immediately to mind.

The Next Generation was the first Star Trek to feature a brand new crew (there had been Star Trek: The Animated Series in the 70s and there had been the movies, but both utilized the original crew) so establishing a new set of characters is a fraught move, as you want everyone to work well together. And while I could wax poetic about my favorite Trek show’s crew, I want to feature the two characters that ended up standing out to me.

Hanging out when off duty

Authentic female friendship representation in books, tv shows and movies is scarce. Perhaps you have heard of the Bechdel Test, which is a measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. So often the only time you see females interact is because it somehow revolves around a man, or the women are being snarky and undermining one another. I think there is more effort nowadays to represent female friendships, but when this show was on the air from 1987 to 1994 it was still rare.

Doctor Beverly Crusher was introduced as the ship’s doctor, a widowed mother whose teenage son Wesley later became an ensign on the ship. Counselor Deanna Troi was a half-alien empath who gave counsel to Captain Picard and offered much-needed counseling to the crew during their long space journies. The first season was a bit dicey, establishing the tone of the show and fleshing out the characters and how they related to one another. The character of the doctor was off the ship during the second season, but once back on during the third season and onward, Crusher and Troi’s friendship developed in a believable manner.

At this time IRL, I was in high school and college and developing my own female friendships, some of which were fleeting, while others I still have to this day. I have seen females support one another, and others backstab one another, but in this ideal, Crusher and Troi rocked their friendship. Sure there were times that they met to talk about men (the below picture of them meeting to exercise showcased a bawdy conversation between the two that was refreshing to hear) but talking freely and without judgment is a true indicator of the realness of a friendship.

Meeting to exercise and gossip

Another plus with these women is their development in their professional life on the Enterprise. The actresses were hired partly because of their beauty and their potential to be love interests (Crusher with Captain Picard and Troi with Commander Riker) but they were able to grow as officers on the ship. Both characters retained their original jobs, but got command experience and moved up in ranks during their tenure on the Enterprise. And they supported each other as they moved through the ranks.

I have been blessed with some wonderful friendships, many of them lasting for decades, and I realize that it takes time and effort to maintain them. But I truly think watching women who developed a genuine friendship and who supported one another, during a critical time in my life, helped shape my ideas of the worthiness of prioritizing friendships and extending kindness to others.

Crusher was at Troi’s side when she married Riker

Star Trek presents an idealistic and Utopian future, with Earth moving past its racial and cultural differences, and ready to explore space. The tagline was “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”.  And boldly go it did- the series has given us many iconic friendships (both male and female)- and seeing people look for connections and community in the future is something we can all aspire to.

Live Long and Prosper, my friends.


My post is the last in this year’s series, so make sure you check out the previous entries:

Michael of My Comic Relief- Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy

Kalie of Just Dread-Full- Ellie and Sandie from Last Night in Soho

Kathleen- Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Jeff of The Imperial Talker- Shmi Skywalker

Please give them a follow to catch their posts as all have great content outside of #FFF!

TV series + four movies together!

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Shmi Skywalker

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the fourth 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 five bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman or women to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Star Wars expert Jeff of The Imperial Talker who discusses adventures in a galaxy far, far away…

Guest post from Jeff of The Imperial Talker

Young Anakin Skywalker turns and runs back to his mother, telling her that “I just can’t do it mom.” Offered the chance to flee his life of slavery on Tatooine, to travel the galaxy and become a Jedi under the tutelage of Master Qui-Gon Jinn, the 9-year-old boy has a reasonable moment of doubt. He has only ever known this life with Shmi, his mother. As an audience we know very little of their life prior to meeting them in The Phantom Menace, only small bits that are often short on details. Anakin and Shmi used to be the property of Gardulla the Hutt and are now owned by the junk dealer Watto. Shmi has taught Anakin to care for others who are in need, and she says he has no greed. Anakin is the only human who can fly a podracer, having incredible reflexes that are uncommon for a human. We learn these and other facts, but they remain superficial, lacking any depth to better understand the trajectory of the life Shmi and Anakin have lived together. When Anakin says he does not want to leave, and his mother never-the-less insists “don’t look back,” we are otherwise lacking any meaningful understanding of what looking back truly means.

Except, there is one very important piece of information that we did learn that something that is stunning and adds incredible depth to both characters. At one point, Master Jinn enquires about the boy’s father, wondering who he was. To this, Shmi offers something startling. “There was no father,” she tells the Jedi Master, “I carried him [Anakin], I gave birth, I raised him, I can’t explain what happened.” In other words, Anakin is quite literally a miracle.

Qui-Gon Jinn takes this information and runs with it, taking a blood sample from Anakin that evening, a sample which confirms what he already suspected, that the boy has a unique and powerful relationship to the Force. Curiously, though, Qui-Gon takes no further interest in Shmi other than briefly wanting to free her from slavery along with Anakin, something he is unable to accomplish. Once Anakin is freed, with plans set in motion for the boy to join the Jedi, Qui-Gon will also ask Shmi if she will be alright, but this is a question that Shmi has little time to contemplate. Her son has been set free, he can now leave the arid sands of Tatooine for a better life, something she could not offer him.

It is unsurprising that Qui-Gon’s focus becomes freeing Anakin. Afterall, The Phantom Menace is a story about the discovery of Anakin, the “One who will bring balance to the Force,” and his first steps on the journey to becoming Darth Vader. The Star Wars saga which creator George Lucas crafted by adding the Prequel Trilogy is the story of Anakin Skywalker, of his fall to Darkness and his redemption, but this story is not possible without Anakin’s mother. She is the linchpin, the one character who was needed to establish his inevitable importance. All of the other characters, the events, the details, all of it could be different, could be changed for us to arrive at Anakin’s downfall. Shmi, however, is central to Anakin’s story. Even though she occupies a mere sliver in the great canon of Star Wars, she never-the-less plays one of the most critical roles.

Miraculous births are fundamental to establishing the importance of religious figures, and virgin births are incredibly common across a wide spectrum of religious traditions. Jesus is the most obvious and well-known example, born to the Virgin Mary, but he is not the only one. In one Aztec story, Quetzalcoatl was born to the virgin. A legend about the Muslim poet Kabir describes that he was born to a virgin Hindu. The list goes on and on (just google it). Thus, what Shmi describes to Qui-Gon Jinn follows this archetype, establishing Anakin’s special importance as a religious figure.

However, with Anakin as the focus of this miraculous information, Shmi becomes lost in the background. For a long time, I took Shmi for granted, never stopping to consider that her agency and voice in the matter is hidden behind the veil of Anakin’s importance. She could not explain what happened, we are but neither is she given the chance to explain whether she even wanted a child, not to mention any other reactions/emotions she felt when she learned a fetus was developing within her. As a man, I have no clue what it must feel like for a woman to discover that she is pregnant. I am incapable of understanding this experience, all I can do is listen and learn about what is undoubtedly a very personal and varied reaction from one woman to the next.

On this point, I am not suggesting George Lucas should have put words into Shmi’s mouth on this topic in The Phantom Menace. That could have just made things far more awkward. I do think, however, that Shmi Skywalker deserves to have her story told in a much more dynamic way that elevates her agency and voice regarding a pregnancy that was imposed on her, not chosen by her. We should not assume that just because Shmi could not “explain what happened” that this implies a passive acceptance of the pregnancy on her part. Instead, what she honestly tells Qui-Gon Jinn should be the jumping off point for a deeper dive into her lived experience, for this particular aspect of her story to be written by a woman or women in such a way that elevates her to the same level of importance as Anakin.

And that is the thing that I believe needs to be emphasized. Shmi Skywalker is just as important as Anakin precisely because she is, at the very least and in my opinion, an equal partner in the balancing of the Force. Like Anakin, Shmi Skywalker is also a miracle, she is the Divine Mother, and it is long past time that her story, her agency, and her voice are amplified.


Fiction’s Fearless Females is in its fourth year!  Yay!  The series runs for the month of March and along with myself feature pieces by Nancy and Kathleen from Graphic Novelty2, Kalie from Just Dread-full, Michael from My Comic Relief.  Be sure to follow each of these blogs and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series. Just follow these links:

Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy

Ellie and Sandie

Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Welcome to the latest installment in our yearly Fiction’s Fearless Females series! Michael of My Comic Relief kicked us off with his post on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy of the Harley Quinn animated and comic book series. Kalie of Just Dread-full followed with Ellie and Sandie from the film “Last Night in Soho.” Look out for Jeff of The Imperial Talker’s post in just a few days, and Nancy’s post next week!

In last year’s post, I teased the heroine I had in mind for this year’s post. Our friendship theme for this year fit perfectly for who I had in mind: Black Canary. This was a prime opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Quick note: I’ll be talking strictly about the comics, as the movie with the same title shares… the title only. It not only doesn’t focus on Black Canary, but didn’t even include all canonical characters that make this team so special.

There are (to date) two iterations of the Black Canary character: Dinah Drake and her daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance, who we’re going to focus on. The character you think of when you hear “Black Canary” is most likely the second iteration. Though both are blonde bombshells and martial arts experts sporting tight leather bodysuits and fishnets, Baby Dinah’s signature superpower is her Canary Cry: a supersonic scream that she can control and direct. But as we’ll see, that’s not her only power…

The Canary Cry, as seen on the Justice League animated series (GIF source)

Baby Dinah grew up surrounded by heroes. Her mother, the first Black Canary, was part of the Golden Age Justice League of America. Naturally, Dinah wanted to be a crimefighter, just like her mom and the heroes who were family to her. Mama Canary, not wishing a vigilante’s dangerous life upon her only daughter, forbade it. In a classic #FFF move, Dinah went against her mother’s wishes to follow her dreams. She trained with Ted Grant (Wildcat) to become a martial arts expert and took up the mantle of Black Canary. She even starts operating out of a floral shop in Gotham, just like Mom did. She goes on to become a founding member of the Justice League International and joins the Justice League, where she meets Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), marking the beginning of their romantic relationship. After the death of her mother and a bad breakup with Oliver, Dinah finds herself adrift and unsure of what to do with her life. (Source)

Enter Oracle (the hero Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl 1, became after her paralysis due to Joker’s shooting, as outlined in my 2020 FFF post), seeking the perfect operative for her covert operations. This was the case in Birds of Prey #1 (the cover of which is the featured image for this post!), written by Chuck Dixon in 1995, published in 1996. The rest is history.

Now, up until this point, Black Canary had very rarely had her own book, in an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” sort of situation. That changed with Birds. Though she shares the limelight with Oracle to start, Huntress in 2003 when Gail Simone took over the helm, and an ever-expanding roster in later years… Dinah is very much the heart and soul of the book. She might share the title, but she is the embodiment of everything the Birds come to represent over the course of the run.

Of course, the biggest themes of the book are that of friendship and found family. Barbara, in selecting Dinah as her first covert operative, gave Dinah a second chance to find her purpose as a heroine. Conflict in the earlier issues stems in part from Barbara and Dinah’s clashing personalities and work methods. Barbara as Oracle is methodical, meticulous, and organized. Dinah’s Canary is a little more loose and a go-with-the-flow type of gal. They each cause the other no end of grief, until they learn to trust one another. But once they do, Barbara and Dinah, along with Helena Bertinelli as Huntress later, grow so much closer than mere coworkers.

The cover of trade paperback Vol. 3 (reviewed here), which collects the beginning of Gail Simone’s run, when Huntress was added to the roster

In fact, it’s Dinah who suggests that Helena becomes part of the team. Barbara is resistant because she doesn’t approve of Helena’s more violent methods of crimefighting. But when Dinah welcomes Helena with open arms… what is she to do but give her a chance? And though Barbara and Helena clash the same way she and Dinah did in the beginning, and even through Helena’s brief departure, they learn to trust each other. With that burgeoning trust comes a deep respect for each other. They become partners, friends, sisters. They become a team in so many other ways than just a covert operations unit. And none of it would have happened without Dinah.

Dinah, as a character, is idealistic and humanitarian. She is (with few exceptions) willing to give everyone, even the most heinous villains, the benefit of the doubt and a chance at redemption, rehabilitation, and in Helena’s case, friendship. Helena had been an outcast of the Batfamily due to her violent tendencies, but Dinah does what they didn’t: give her a chance. Conflict within the team further arises from this clash of ideals. Barbara’s faith in others has been damaged due to the trauma she suffered. Helena naturally distrusts and is quite cynical of everyone. Dinah leads by example by being open, accepting, and willing to give everyone a fair shot.

For example, there’s an arc where Dinah and Sandra Wu-San (Lady Shiva) trade places for a year. The two women share a tentative bond, as they were trained by the same martial arts sensei. However, again, the two women are very different: Sandra is the world’s deadliest assassin, while Dinah has a code against killing. Shiva offers to further Canary’s training, but Dinah refuses, fearing her morality will slip. They arrive at this compromise instead. Dinah goes to train for a year as Sandra did, and Sandra joins the Birds for a year, calling herself the Jade Canary. Dinah hopes her time with the Birds allows Sandra to warm up to new experiences and helping people rather than killing for hire. The rest of the team might (and certainly did) call her crazy – but Dinah believed what she was doing was right: giving Sandra a chance to grow and change. (Sources 1 and 2)

The cover of Birds of Prey #95, showing “the two Canaries” (Image Source)

Dinah Laurel Lance, as Black Canary, might be one of three top billers on the Birds of Prey book – but she is the heart and soul of the story. Barbara Gordon as Oracle gave her the chance to reinvent herself as a hero, and Dinah went above and beyond the call. She showed herself, her coworkers-turned-sisters, and us the readers, the power of friendship. As corny as it sounds, Dinah’s greatest power is her loving acceptance of others and her willingness to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Though she is the loudest – literally and figuratively – of the bunch, her power comes from the quiet, understated kindness that she gives to everyone.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you likely know that Birds of Prey is my favorite comic book series of all time. I’ve reviewed the entire series in trade paperback for this blog and am currently re-reading the newly published omnibus editions with my husband. It’s been a joy to take a deeper dive into the friendship this series is famous for with #FictionsFearlessFemales this year. Look out for the rest of this year’s series!


Fiction’s Fearless Females: Ellie & Sandie from Last Night in Soho

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the fourth 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 five bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman or women 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, a superb blog centered on the horror genre. 

Guest post from Kalie of Just Dread-Full

Every year a group of bloggers and I write about fearless fictional women to celebrate International Women’s Day. Each of these bloggers will be featured on my blog this year. The blog-a-thon started with Michael of My Comic Relief and, after my post, will go on to feature Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2 and Jeff of The Imperial Talker. Here’s my contribution to the Blog-a-thon this year!

Soho 1

Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho opens in the warm home of a quaint British town, a home where main character Eloise basks in her vintage-inspired bedroom listening to music from the 60s. The opening scene is so reminiscent of life sixty years ago, in fact, that we may suspect that we are in 1961, not 2021, and because of Wright’s ability to establish a scene we may also feel like we’re temporarily inhabiting a much more idyllic time period than our own. Certainly, that is what Eloise/Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) imagines, the main character who we meet in the film’s beginning. Ellie has just been accepted to fashion school, and we get the impression, based on her excitement, that a glittering life in Great Britain’s fashion hub looks just as perfect, just as idyllic, as the 1960s do in her eyes. But sometimes attractive surface appearances mask a more insidious lurking reality—a fact which may be true of Soho in general, and is definitely true of Soho in the 60s, a reality that Ellie will soon find out.

Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Ellie & Sandie from Last Night in Soho”

Today is International Women’s Day, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the fourth 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 five bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. First up is Michael from My Comic Relief– whose blog is must reading for his brilliant views on comics, Star Wars, social justice, Doctor Who and of course these DC ladies! 

By Michael Miller of My Comic Relief

It’s International Women’s Day and for the fourth year in a row I’ve teamed up with some fellow bloggers – Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2 – to celebrate some of our favorite female characters in all of fiction.  This year I was having trouble deciding on who to write about.  I wanted to rewatch Harley Quinn on HBO Max and read Tee Franklin’s Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour but should I write about Harley Quinn or Poison Ivy?  Then it hit me!  The entire show (and comic which serves as Season 2.5) is anchored in their relationship.  I would be hard pressed to write about one without writing about the other.  Plus, for a series celebrating “fearlessness,” it’s within their friendship where Harley and Ivy find and demonstrate the most incredible courage.  Standing beside each other, they (ultimately) own and face their greatest fears.  So I’m writing about Harley and Ivy and the type of friendship we should all be so lucky to have.

Given the focus of this piece it’ll have major spoilers for S1&2 of Harley Quinn as well as light spoilers for Tee Franklin’s (as brilliant as it is beautiful) Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour.

Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy”

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Nomi Sunrider

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the third 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 in our last one of this series, and comes from Star Wars expert, Jeff of The Imperial Talker‘s 2021 #FFF post, re-posted here with permission.

Seeking a refuge for healing and peaceful contemplation, Jedi Knight Nomi Sunrider returns to the planet Ambria and the dwelling of Master Thon, her former Jedi Master. Traveling with Sunrider is her beloved 4-year-old daughter Vima and fellow Jedi Knight Sylvar who, like Nomi, seeks the peace and wisdom which Master Thon can offer. The joyful reunion with Master Thon is brief, however, disrupted by the sudden ambush of reptilian creatures swelling with the Dark Side of the Force and controlled by Sith assassins. Commanded to destroy Master Thon and his company, the Sith-controlled creatures surround the Jedi and launch their assault.

Found in the fourth issue of Tales of the Jedi: The Sith War, a Dark Horse Comics series published in the 1990s which details stories of the Jedi living thousands of years prior to A New Hope, the vicious attack by these dark side creatures was emblazoned in my mind as a ten-year-old Star Wars fan, the deadly battle masterfully captured in a single image. The muscular reptiles tower above the Jedi , mouths baring sharp teeth and yellow eyes manifesting the evil driving them. In the background, Oss Willum – a Jedi being mind-controlled by a nefarious Sith spirit – commands the attack from high ground while his accomplice Crado, an acolyte of Sith Lord Exar Kun, stands closer to the fray. At the edge of the battle the Jedi Sylvar slashes at a creature with her yellow lightsaber while closer to the center Master Thon grabs one of the reptiles by the neck, pushing it away with his own muscular arm.

It is Nomi Sunrider who truly stands out, though; she is the reason this image is so unforgettable. Resolve and grit etched on her face as she braces for an attack, Sunrider holds her right arm in front of her, lightsaber in a guard position, the blue blade extending across her body horizontally. In her left arm Nomi clutches her daughter Vima, the child clinging to her mother in fear of the reptilian attackers.

Today, the power on display in this image, what it conveys about Nomi Sunrider, is apparent to me in a way I could not fully appreciate as a young Star Wars fan. Back then, I was enamored by the battle itself, the action being my focus above and beyond any subtle metaphors a picture meant to convey. Yet, this image of Sunrider stuck with me, it captured my imagination in a way other moments in Star Wars comic books did not. Why that is I cannot say. The simple fact is that the image never left my memory, and as a result, I have always had a fondness for Nomi Sunrider. For that I am incredibly grateful because when my interest in Star Wars shifted away from the “Wars” as I got older, when I began to experience the deeper layers of characters and events, my understanding and appreciation for Nomi Sunrider fundamentally shifted.

Sunrider’s story in Tales of the Jedi is rich and complex, with moments of incredible joy and devastating heartache. Through it all one thing remains a constant: her love for Vima. As a young Star Wars fan I could not fully appreciate the power in this image, or Sunrider’s story more fully, because at that time I could only see Nomi Sunrider as a Jedi Knight. I was obsessed with the Jedi, trapped in the belief, like Luke Skywalker, that the Jedi were great because they were warriors. In a sense, the glow of Sunrider’s lightsaber in the image blinded me to the deeper and far more important meaning being conveyed. I could not see back then as I do now that that the brave determination embedded on Nomi Sunrider’s face and reflected in her defensive stance is not that of a Jedi alone. No, it is more significantly that of a mother protecting her frightened young child.

Nomi Sunrider is the very best of the Jedi Order in Tales of the Jedi, a living symbol of Light Side of the Force which the Order serves. But her devotion to the Light Side cannot and must never be disconnected from her devotion to her daughter. Nomi Sunrider’s fearless love for the Light Side of the Force is fundamentally grounded in her motherhood, in the unconditional love she has for Vima. And that is exactly what is reflected in this singular image.

Fiction’s Fearless Females is in it’s third year!  Yay!  The series runs for the month of March and along with myself feature posts by Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Mike of My Comic Relief, and Green Onion of Green Onion Revival Project.  Be sure to follow each of these blogs and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series. Just follow these links:

Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)

Martha Jones

Lieutenant Nyota Uhura

Lisa Simpson

Norma Bates

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