Just Watched #4 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Disclaimer: Man, yesterday was one of the worst days of my life in recent times. Nothing life-alteringly horrible happened, but plenty (like too many) small things went horribly wrong. There was the having-a-long-heated-debate-with-a-friend-about-why-I-don’t-date part. There was the discovering-the-spot-of-grease-that-was-smeared-all-over-the-foot-of-the-stairs-in-my apartment-building part, during which I took a comically bad fall and landed on my hand and hip. There was also (after the grease) the “Oh-cool-it’s-a-thunderstorm-now-that-I’ve-hauled-my-clothes-out-to-the-laundromat” part; I had an umbrella, thankfully, but it wasn’t big enough for me and my clothes. 

So, all of that is to say I got home, had gelato, watched Luther, and refused to write this post until today. Sorry it’s a little late, but enjoy.

So, last week, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. I know that Wonder Woman is out and I still really want to see that, but my order of interest in comic movies will always start with Marvel, then go to DC. Because, after Batman V Superman, and how many people swore that movie was good, I’m just inclined to believe all DC movies are worse than everyone makes them out to be. I still want to support Wonder Woman, sure, but if Marvel suddenly released a Squirrel Girl movie on the same morning the new Batman came out, you better believe I’m watching Squirrel Girl instead.

That said though . . . man was Guardians 2 disappointing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it overall, but it feels like the end of the road for the “fun Marvel movie” formula.

That formula being “Jokes! Jokes everywhere!”

Granted, there were parts of the formula that didn’t crop up, like “the completely non-threatening, zero stakes villain” that plagues a ton of Marvel movies, but Guardians 2 still absolutely failed to balance its action and humor. That’s often a problem with comic movies . . .

. . . but Guardians 2 fails to make that balance in the worst way: by sacrificing good action . . . for a ton of unfunny jokes.

And that lack of balance is what I took from the movie, writing-wise. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie opens with the Guardians fighting an inter-dimensional monster for exposition. You think to yourself, “Oh, sweet. This is going to be some awesome exposition!”

Nope. That action scene is immediately undermined . . . by baby Groot dancing.

It’s supposed to be cheeky irreverence for the action scene, making the high stakes into a joke.

But, no, it doesn’t work. Because that kind of joke only works when it’s used to undermine something the audience doesn’t want to see. Namely, any scene that an audience can fill in the blanks for — something they don’t need to see to understand.

But the Guardians were fighting a tentacle monster that was vomiting rainbows everywhere. Why the fuck would I not want to see every second of that? More to the point, why would I not want to see that instead of more dancing Groot?

That intro sets up a really bad joke climate for the entire movie, making more of its humor start out at a deficit, which means that the best parts of the movie are its genuine action and drama.

I wound up loving Nebula, which I didn’t expect; I also wound up wishing that one of her best lines wasn’t undermined by yet another joke without legs.

One of the better parts of the film was Yandu’s escape, an action scene that almost went uninterrupted by a recurring bad joke.

I liked the villain and felt like the climax of the movie was high stakes . . . although it also tried to break its own intensity with another joke that reminded me of Pixels (so, ya know, the worst kind of joke there is).

What I’m saying here is . . . Guardians 2 made me realize that the delicate balance between action and humor works both ways.

When a story should have levity but doesn’t, that’s bad.

When a story should have levity, but it has way, way too much of it, that’s also bad.

And that matters to me especially because there was a point when Memory had way too much levity.

When I originally sent it out to friends, some thought it was great and didn’t need any huge changes.

Others were honest about how annoying they felt the protagonist was.

My Friend: “He does a lot of thinking about doing something bad, then doing it anyway. And that’s annoying.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

My Friend: “It’s like reading a Silver Age comic, where they talk about — ”

Me: “Omfg, dude, okay. I get it. I swear I’m horrified and I get it.”

They went on to explain that some of his moments were cringy, and, on my next read, I absolutely saw what they were talking about — a lot of placeholder jokes that I just dropped in and forgot because I was trying to hit my NaNoWriMo count for the day.

Now, Kole Buchanan is the same character, but with his bad jokes fixed or excised altogether. He’s also more capable, less whiny.

What I’m saying is, fixing the balance between humor and action in my own novel was an important first step on a road I’m finally nearing the end of.

So, watching Guardians 2, seeing Drax laugh really hard at something for the umpteenth time, I had a quiet sigh of relief.

Thank God for honest friends.

~~~

Hope you enjoyed that one. As a man who has only recently found his way through the Marvel-nurtured struggle of levity VS drama, it’s good to be on the other side. Assuming that I am on the other side and the jokes in Memory are actually funny and well-timed . . . Yeah, I’m-a get back to editing now.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

I’m actually going to go grab a breakfast burger and Advil for my hip. Then I’m going to eat, bing-watch some more Luther, and then edit. That’s my sick day plan, and I hope your plans for today, whatever they are, are awesome.

Thanks again just for stopping by, and, as always, write well.

Just Watched #2 – Logan

I’m a firm believer that, any franchise–no matter how terrible or vapid–can have its one amazing installment. Given enough time and enough freedom, I think that all the right elements can finally come together to make something absolutely amazing. Sometimes, it takes forever. Often, it takes so long that it doesn’t happen at all. But, in some reality, there are four Ben Affleck Daredevil movies, and the fourth one is the best comic book movie of all time.

But, even believing that, I never would’ve thought I’d say what I’m about to say.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that the best comic book movie of all time . . . is a Fox X-Men movie.

I can’t explain how thoroughly and repeatedly I’ve been disappointed by the Fox X-Men. Even when I did enjoy one of their movies, it always came with a caveat. “X-Men 2 isn’t as bad as X-Men.”First Class was pretty good for an X-Men movie.” “I enjoyed Days of Future Past, but holy shit–the weird inconsistencies . . . with Fox’s own continuity that they established.”

But Logan . . .

Logan is a beautiful, sad masterpiece.

If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil anything.

Now . . . even though I think you can argue that it’s the best, I don’t know if Logan is my favorite comic book movie. Because one of my criteria for a favorite anything is that I want can watch it, play it, or read it over and over again. And I’m not sure I can ever watch Logan a second time.

I cried. I have no qualms telling anyone–I absolutely cried. It hit me really, really hard. Harder than any other comic book movie ever has. Because it pairs romantic, comic book ideas with extremely real drama–with genuine, human concerns and emotions–so well that it actually hurts to watch it. In this case, it’s literally a juxtaposition of childhood escapism with adult grounded, adult fears.

Fears I’ve had. Logan centers on emotions I’ve felt as a single, older man who has genuinely considered giving up. It feels like I’ve had to fight everyone for my entire life, because I had a violent asshole of a brother who, at his best, would casually steal my belongings, and, at his worst, would slap me around for answering the phone for his creditors. To get through that, I fostered a passive personality that attracted all of the wrong people.

Having lived through that life, now trying to squash that reflex to be passive, I’m a man who’s tired of fighting; I don’t like starting fights with people and I absolutely fucking hate people who start fights with me “for fun.” I’m also a man who just wants his own family but has no idea how to start one. A guy who still doesn’t even have the money to date, trying his best to take care of his mother. I’m in my 30’s and trying to figure out how I can find a new apartment big enough for the both of us. I don’t know how.

Logan is the story of a former X-Man, living in a world where there are no more X-Men. He works a shit job so he can earn enough money to buy a better life for himself and an aged Charles Xavier. His companion in this is Caliban, a mutant who takes care of Charles when Logan is working, but in his day-to-day, Logan is alone. There is absolutely no love interest in this movie, because of course there isn’t; Logan has to focus on taking care of Charles. On working and escaping somehow.

That’s only the exposition, but, hopefully, the similarities to my life are clear.

And, hopefully, the movie’s ability to convey basic, human drama is also clear. There’s no Red Skull, trying to destroy the world with a cosmic cube. There’s no alien invasion in New York. There’s no protagonist who dresses up as a bat and tries to convince you that, no, really, that’s totes realistic and not at all ridiculous, you guys. Logan has an antagonist and a bit of comic book-ish conspiracy–rising action in the form of a woman who asks “the Wolverine” for help escaping a para-military group, a mysterious girl in tow–but those things are more like vehicles for the drama. They are a way to tell you something about the world. About the expectations of a man.

And, I wish I didn’t have to add this, but I don’t “the expectations of a man” in the douchy way some might think. This isn’t a movie about some old bro dude recapturing his glory days from high school. Logan is more mature than that.

Because it focuses on the fears of older men. The fear of not being able to take care of the people you care about. The fear of passing your prime, but still needing to fight, only you’re not able to anymore. The fear that, no matter how far your run, your mistakes–the demons of your past–will always be there, and you just have to deal with that.

And, again, without spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s a movie that tries to say one thing to the people who have all of these fears. The people who are tired of fighting the world and their demons.

“Don’t be what they made you.”

I’ve never felt like a comic book anything changed my life.

But after seeing Logan, came home and made as much time as I possibly could to write. I’ve tried to center myself and work toward what I want out of my life.

Because, even though things have started turning around for me, I realized I still don’t think I deserve it. Somewhere, all of the world’s fucked up programming ruined me. I kept expecting to lose the new job or fuck up in some major way.

But I’m right there. I’m starting to live the life I want.

And to actually accept that, I only need to do one thing.

Be who I am, not what they made me.

~~~

I would talk about what Logan taught me writing-wise, but it’s a movie I can’t discuss for too long without getting emotional. So, instead, I’ll just say go and see it. Even if you don’t like comic book movies, just give this one a chance. It’s more intense, emotional, and heartfelt than any of them by far.

Everyone, thank you for reading. It still feels weird to post only once a week, so, at some point, if I can figure it out, I’d at least like to step it up to twice a week. Until then, thank you to those of you who are still dropping by, and I hope you’re all doing well.

For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out, which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless though, thank you everyone just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Muse Tuesday – The Eternal Frontier | Ant-Man

When he woke, Hank found himself wedged into a runnel of wood grain. Wide-eyed, he checked the time and found he’d only been asleep for a few hours, as planned.

“Son of a bitch.” He sighed through his nose. “Shrinking faster than I thought.” 

Maybe exponentially.

“Or with serious gains.”

You’re talking to yourself again, Hank.

“Not like there’s anyone here to listen.”

But if there was?

He shrugged.

And then sat up. The grain flowed around him in a dark river of iterating rings, dappled and imperfect. If the malfunction in his suit was speeding up, he’d be able to watch the dapples get bigger as he walked over them, becoming holes he’d step into.

And then pits he could fall in.

Eventually, pigment would turn into patterns–messes of atomic structures that would be impossible to recognize as blue or red. Nets of molecules that would part beneath his feet.

“Okay. You know what? I like talking to myself.”

Talk to Jan.

Blinking, Hank pulled the recorder off of his suit–a piece of black box protocol just for such an occasion. He took a deep breath. “Jan . . .”

The edge of the grain river was up to his ankles. Had it already been there?

He shut his eyes. “Beautiful . . . impossibly intelligent Janet Pym . . .” He swallowed, and licked his dry lips.

Walk. You can still get to the manual particle override, but only if you start walking now.

“I know.”

Then why aren’t you walking?

He adjusted his grip on the recorder, fabric creaking. “I’m going to take a moment with this. Because it’s maybe the last time one of my experiments tries to kill me. And I know you love when that happens–these stupid adventures of mine.

“But I’m pretty sure the experiment’s going to win this time. And that . . . feels depressingly appropriate. Of all of the ways I could die, this, somehow, feels right.

“So, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to detail this entire, stupid adventure of mine–this last one–so you can at least laugh at it some day.”

Please.

The river curved away ahead of him–an arc of thirty paces.

“But, ya know, as I explain, I’m just gonna walk too. Because the only thing scarier than the idea of dying here . . .

“. . . is the idea that this is the last time I’ll ever fuck something up.

“And, having said that, I realize now that I didn’t say I’m afraid I’d never see you again. I also realize that this recorder has no rewind feature.”

He sighed as he started walking. “Goddammit.”

~~~

So, this is the one idea I’ve ever had for an Ant-Man story. It was super fun playing up Hank Pym’s tendency to be terrible, but toning it down–making him a combination of genuinely horrible, abusive Hank Pym, and lovable, clueless scientist Hank Pym (who’s my favorite). The result was a total fuck up, which feels like a perfect fit (especially after his arc in The Ultimates).

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

If this is your first time here, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

No matter what you do, though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #1 – Iron Fist

Welcome back for another rip roarin’ week of talking about fantasy. And writing. And probably cute animals at some point.

We’re starting off with a super reactionary piece that I’m going to tie into one of my greatest fears as a writer–losing the ability to be objective.

Before getting to that though, let me explain that this is Just Watched, a series where I get to react to a fantasy-based movie or show that I just watched.

And, for this first one, I just finished Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix.

Now, I’m not just going to review it here, because I hate doing reviews for anything.

But . . . I wanna have a relevant rant! So, let’s jump right in!

~~~

A few weeks ago, the media received a preview of Iron Fist–the first six episodes. And reviews of those episodes were . . . universally negative.

Me, being a fan of anything Marvel since I was a kid, was worried. But I also . . . wasn’t surprised. I was there for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil. I remember the prism covers of the 90’s, Spider-Man 3, the first X-Men movie.

That is to say that I remember when Marvel was terrible. Just, non-stop garbage.

And I’ve been waiting for the first major crap fest to spoil Marvel’s streak of movies and shows.

Not because I want them to tank . . . but because I want to be sure that, when that time comes, I can see that crap fest for what it is.

Because, as a writer, I have to stay objective. About everything.

I know Iron Man 2 wasn’t great, and I know people hate Iron Man 3, but I didn’t mind the former and actually liked the latter.

That . . . has worried me to no end. Because, if I can’t be objective about franchises I love . . . how can I be objective about my own writing?

I’m also terrified of becoming the guy who forgives Batman V Superman, a movie that double abbreviates “versus” in the title. There are a bunch of Marvel movies that I didn’t like (Ant Man, for example, and I still think Thor: The Dark World was the absolute worst of the bunch [it’s boring, goofy in the worst ways, and has the premiere example of a horrible, toothless MCU villain]), but I’ve been thoroughly terrified of how blind BVS fans are. I’ve met writers who liked it.

The idea of being that blind of a writer actually fills me with dread.

I’ve listened to people balk, “Well, the fight between Batman and Superman was actually pretty good.”

Me: “No, it wasn’t.”

Them: “I mean, with those characters, that was the best they could do, really.”

Me: “No, it wasn’t.”

Them: “Well, I thought it was pretty good.”

Just the idea of having that little quality control . . . Fuck’s sake.

As I’ve told friends in the past, my intake, as a writer, matters–across all media. Being discerning of that intake is incredibly important. I have to watch and read things that I can learn from.

At the very least, I need to avoid things that are going to instill terrible habits in me.

I can’t excuse BVS having a terrible plot, because that would make it easier for me to write a terrible plot in the future.

Which is why I was immediately worried when I finished the first episode of Iron Fist . . . and liked it.

But then, relieved when I got to the end of the sixth episode and clearly saw (as with Iron Man 3) what it was doing wrong. By the end of the second to last episode, I was genuinely bored.

Thank . . . God.

Iron Fist is a show that does not understand what it’s supposed to be about. Danny Rand, the protagonist, is a sweet, loving guy who has the power of the Iron Fist–which basically means he’s the best fighter in the world.

This is not a show about that.

It’s first about him returning to New York and getting his company back, because, like countless other super heroes, he’s the incredibly rich son of an incredibly rich (and dead) businessman. Slowly, the plot builds momentum, but it always does so with regular cuts back to boardroom meetings and moments of character drama that would be great if they didn’t happen so often.

Sprinkled in, there are a few decent fight scenes, but they afford very little use of the actual Iron Fist.

It’s a strange thing to watch. I’m not adverse to the business drama side of the show–two of my favorite characters are exclusive to that side–but it’s not what anyone signed up for when they sat down for a fun, combat-oriented show based on a comic.

Especially because none of the combat delivers in a way that Daredevil didn’t. In fact, every time a fight starts in Iron Fist, I think, “Man, the hallway fight in Daredevil was so awesome. I wish I was watching that.” In part because Iron Fist returns to the highly choreographed fighting that Daredevil abandoned.

Oddly, the show also backpedals in the diversity department. And, yes, sure, I mean that the protagonist is another rich white guy. But, removing race from the equation altogether, he’s a rich male super hero who likes to listen to classic jams. Marvel’s Netflix shows were awesome because they were so different from Hollywood’s superhero formula. Iron Fist goes all-in on that formula and it just feels . . . samey.

“Why is Danny listening to Outkast?” I wondered as episode one started.

The answer: because this is a Marvel anything.

“Why am I watching a kung-fu master, trained in heaven, attending a board meeting?”

The answer: I don’t know. I really don’t.

All of that said, I don’t hate the show. Danny being a nice, naive guy at least makes for a . . . unique MCU protagonist.

But I am still really glad that I can be objective enough to see the massive flaws in Iron Fist. Its pacing. Its manic plot, incapable of deciding where it’s taking us until the very end. Its totally nonsensical moments (there’s a lot of “No, we can’t call the cops!” on this show, along with too much, “Just call Daredevil!” shouted by me, at my TV).

My point is, even though it went about it in the worst ways, Iron Fist still taught me some things:

  • Sudden changes of setting and circumstances happen in real life. They also fall into the Stranger Than Fiction trap, and make for a choppy, unsatisfying plot.
  • Don’t shy away from a crazy premise. Make it believable. If you avoid it, the reader/viewer will know.
  • When it comes to superheroes, never, ever write a white, male orphan/heir to a multi-million dollar company. Especially if it’s a company with his last name on it. It has been done. So done.

~~~

Well, that took . . . way longer than I expected. I hope this one was interesting, and I promise that next time, I won’t go over 1000 words (ugh–why is it 1AM?). Regardless, I absolutely appreciate the read and I hope your week started off well.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, regardless, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

The Latin Bechdels – Part 3: The DAGGER Test

Disclaimer: I’ve taken way, way longer than intended to get this post out. Why? Because I wanted to figure out the perfect way to talk about the DAGGER without offending anyone. I’m not sure that’s possible; the DAGGER Test is designed specifically to call certain elements of fantasy–some of them beloved–into question. I took pains not to mention any particular series or novel, but I’m sure that the DAGGER will criticize something you love.

That said, I’m not naming names in this post because the goal here is not to call anyone out. And also because the weird, exclusionary elements or ideas that the DAGGER points out are all institutional.

That in mind, I’m not saying that any of the elements herein need to be abolished forever or that they are universally, eternally wrong.

All I’m trying to do with this post–if I’m destined to be a popular author one day–is give a large audience food for thought. My goal is to challenge a few old story standards, not start a flame war. 

That said, here we go.

We’ve finally made it to a long, serious discussion about what I’m calling the DAGGER (Degrees of Archaic, Grandfathered, Generalizing, Exclusionary Racism) Test. Unlike the last two, this one does not focus on racism against Latinos in fiction; instead, the DAGGER is about institutional racism, as a whole, in the fantasy genre.

Now, despite the name of the test, I don’t think the DAGGER is a violent thing (which probably means I should change the test’s name . . . but no). What the DAGGER exposes shouldn’t be looked at as really harsh, intentional racism. Instead, what it exposes is institutional racism; most of the stories that fail the DAGGER on any level don’t fail because the people responsible for them are horrible bigots. In most cases, creators fail the DAGGER because fantasy, like the rest of the entertainment, has a long-ingrained tendency to white-wash everything.

I think that, for most writers, it’s strangely difficult not to be exclusionary with fantasy. After all, the genre has its roots in medieval England–with characters exclusively speaking with heavy, British accents so often that we don’t even notice it anymore. Many fantasy stories focus solely on a cast that comes from royalty (even stories where the young prince is trying to save commoners rarely deals with the actual commoners). And fantasy races are a major part of many fantasy settings; if you take that fact and pair it with America’s pro-white tendencies, of course things are going to get hairy.

What I’m trying to say here is, I love fantasy. I love fantasy races as well. I love the idea of a story taking place on an enclosed continent, with the sea standing as a big, mysterious barrier between our characters and the Otherlands/the Far-away/the etc.

But I do think that there are certain standards we need to question as fantasy writers. A few practices that are a bit quaint that we should try to steer away from.

Classifying these quaint standards and making them into degrees that can be applied to stories is all that the DAGGER Test is about.

Do you want to figure out if your fantasy story is quaintly exclusionary of real-life races? Take the DAGGER Test. The more degrees your story has, the more exclusionary it is.

The DAGGER Test

Criteria for Passing: Your fantasy story has none of the seven following degrees of institutional racism.

    1. Your fantasy world features no people of color. The entire world has been explored, but nowhere in that thriving fantasy world does a person of color exist. This does not apply to a fantasy world where the entire planet has not been explored (i.e. analogues of medieval England). Not every series clarifies this point, but The Wheel of Time is a good example of a story that makes it clear that there are other cultures in distant lands and across the seas.
    2. Your fantasy world features people of color, but none of them are named and none find their way into your plot. Because it’s as unlikely as it is unwittingly exclusionary (in most cases [I choose to believe]).
    3. Your fantasy world features people of color who double as a character class. While fantasy cultures can be really cool, sometimes, they’re awkwardly one-note. For made-up example, if “He’s a Vaneth assassin” is synonymous with “He’s a Vaneth,” the end product is a very generalized culture. “He/she is Vaneth, which means he/she only does the one thing that Vaneth are good for.” To be clear, this does not apply in a case where the fantasy culture is shown to be complex, with varying social tiers, jobs, ideas, etc.
    4. Your fantasy world only features either white Humans . . . or abnormal/inhuman fantasy races of varied skin color. I feel like this one is a bizarre accident in most cases (a mixture of an enduring, old Hollywood preference for white characters mixed with a love of monster fantasy races [like orcs]). But still, if not handled correctly, that combo sends a really bad, subliminal message: “You’re white or you’re a monster person with weird-colored skin.”
    5. Your fantasy world features fantasy races that are also all white. The tendency to make all characters white often spills over to fantasy races. And, really, of course it does. There are some series that challenge this very well (The Elder Scrolls series does an awesome job of presenting elves of varying skin color and culture), but most of the time, its an all white cast of humans, dwarves, and elves saving the day. It’s neither better nor worse than the fourth degree; it’s exclusionary in its own way.
    6. Your fantasy story features a fantasy race that is better than all of the others. That race is also whiter than all of the others. Although I love them, elves, who typically sing better, dance better, make superior weaponry, and use superior magic, are often exclusively light-skinned, commonly with bleach blonde hair and bright blue eyes. In stories that feature drow, this degree doesn’t apply only if the drow are not portrayed as evil/thieves (Extra Disclaimer: I also love drow, but I have to call it like I see it).
    7. Your fantasy story features people from far away lands, but they’re all just white people who dress and/or talk differently. Because sometimes ethnicity in a fantasy world amounts to other white people getting wacky with their color choices. To be clear, this does not apply to people in a distant town on the same, enclosed continent; if I traveled south on horse back, I’m going to find people who sound different and dress differently from how I dress (it’s called the south and I’m scared of it). Here, the problem is when invaders arrive from a different continent, wearing crazy armor that looks like it’s made out of swords (or whatever) and they’re all . . . still white people for some reason. Now, hey, vikings. I know. It isn’t unrealistic for a race of white invaders to lay siege on a continent controlled by another white race. All I’m saying is that maybe we should question when the invaders/foreign delegates/etc. are also white but wearing different clothes. Is there a strong, creative reason for it? . . . Or was it just an easy, reflex choice? Are you trying to mirror actual history or are you just shying away from representing people of color?

Now, considering these degrees, you probably know a fantasy series (again, not naming names here) that has a little or a lot of DAGGER in it. And, really, almost everything does.

But, again, the goal here isn’t to point fingers or sling flame. It’s to cast an evaluative eye on fantasy as a whole–it’s weird, quaint predilections.

So, for anyone reading this, I’m not asking for you to raise arms against me or anyone else. I’m asking you to just consider the DAGGER. Particularly for aspiring fantasy writers, take the DAGGER with you. Please.

Because, if there was ever a time for us to start re-evaluating fantasy, as Americans, it’s now. Just the other day, I saw on Facebook that Chick-fil-A (seriously, Chick-fil-A) of all places finally stopped making contributions to anti-gay groups.

Hearing that and thinking about other recent events here in America, with our government and our people getting amazingly progressive . . . maybe it’s also time for us to question the standards of fantasy. Not to abolish elves, stories on enclosed continents, or stories logically dominated by white characters–I’d never suggest any of that–but to actually cast a raised eyebrow at those ideas. Time for some of us to reconsider putting them in our stories. Time to make harder, more complicated choices about the characters we put into our work. Time to acknowledge that America’s tendency to white-wash has gotten into everything.

And to work against that. Because slowly, finally, America, as a whole is working against the white wash and I don’t want fantasy–my beloved, amazing fantasy–to miss out.

—Project Updates—

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-9.26.15As is almost . . . always the case with my sci-fi stories, I soft quit on “Reset.” What does that mean? Well, I definitely didn’t throw my hands up in frustration. There was no, “I can’t write this!” I just took a break from it (to figure out a snag that I totally figured out) . . . right as I found the perfect setting and tone for my fantasy short, “Rainwater’s Archaic Goods.” And, holy shit, wouldn’t you know it, the moment I started brainstorming details for “Rainwater,” I just forgot about “Reset.” At no point did I groan an exhausted, “I have to put this story on the back burner.” Nope. There was just a recent, “Oh, right! ‘Reset!’ I . . . was supposed to be writing that.”

And now, talking about it, I realize that “Dream Runner” was also sci-fi . . . I’m seeing a pattern here. I will go back to “Reset” at some point, but not while I’m burning to finish/polish/submit a group of strong fantasy pieces.

When it comes to my goals from last time, I wound up spending all of my recent writing time editing “Aixa,” which I’m submitting this weekend. Memory edits have been slow because–full disclosure–I burned out on edits and I had no idea if some of the changes I was making where hurting or helping the novel. So I had to step away, although I’m going right back after I send “Aixa.”

Well, that wraps up this controversial series of posts on racism. And man am I grateful; this one in particular was a study in, “How can I write something that’s guaranteed to piss people off . . . without pissing them off?” Oy.

If you enjoyed this post, I always appreciate a Like or Follow. But, regardless of all that, thank you just for passing by. And, as always, write well.

The Latin Bechdels – Part 1: The CAR Test

It’s been almost two years since I first talked about Earth-Modern race in fantasy on this site. Two whole years and the world has changed a lot. At least, lately, America is coming along. Same sex marriage has been legalized. The confederate flag has finally been thrown into question. And I’ve lost at least two pounds (seriously, I got weighed at the doctor’s office the other day and I’ve lost two whole pounds).

Being a latino though, the bit of news I’m most grateful for is Donald Trump’s racist rant against Mexicans. Not because I’m an impossible idiot who agrees with him–I don’t–but because it’s finally opened the door for casual talk about Latin American and Hispanic culture. People are finally aware that–specifically–Mexicans have a voice and aren’t just a silent work force, and–more broadly–that Latin American culture is a thing that can’t be trivialized or ignored. People are out there, right now, watching videos about the difference between “Latino” and “Hispanic.” Or they’ve at least seen that video of the Mexican construction worker talking smack on Trump. That means there’s an opportunity for people like me to speak up–say things like, “Yes. Yes, latinos are also here in America–hello–and no, we aren’t just drug dealers or gangbangers, like you see on TV.”

And, for me (closet bureaucrat that I am) it’s also an opportunity to create three tests–in the spirit of the Bechdel test–that dictate whether fictional stories are archaically racist against Latinos!

And write a whooole mess of posts about them!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first of a three parter, The Latin Bechdels. I was fully intending to make this one post, but talking about the very first test ran on way, way longer than I intended. So, instead, I’m devoting the next month to discussing my three tests for racism. Two of these tests are applicable to all fiction, but the last one is only for fantasy. They are the Cops and Robbers (CAR) Test; The Latin Lover Test; and the Degrees of Archaic, Guiltlessly Generalizing, Exclusionary Racism (DAGGER) Test specifically for fantasy. That’s right–DAGGER. Because I could and it sounded awesome.

Today, we’re starting with the CAR Test.

The CAR Test

Criteria for Failure: the named Latino or Hispanic characters in your story are either criminals, cops who are reformed criminals, cops who are related to criminals, or civilians . . . who are related to criminals.

Not having a Latino or Hispanic character to begin with is an automatic failure.

I was considering naming this one “the Trump Test,” but I don’t want his stupidity to live on, so instead, we’re going with a disarmingly playful name for a facet of fictional racism that has bothered me since I was young.

You’d be surprised by how completely everything fails the CAR Test. Seriously, when it comes to general fiction, you are almost guaranteed two things: 1) you will not get a named Latino character, but 2) if you do get a named Latino character, their arcs will always depend on being, having been, or knowing a criminal. I think the implications are clear here; if you’re Latino, you either are a criminal or know someone who’s a criminal. The inherent racism and slack-jawed assumption in that kind of thinking is obvious, so I won’t delve into it.

Instead, I’ll tell you to just take the CAR Test for a spin (don’t think about that pun–I hate myself for it). Test it out and discover that, in most movies, any Latinos who appear have a depressingly high chance of being gun-toting drug dealers, or cops who are only cops because they grew up with gun-toting drug dealers.

Of course, you can apply CAR to any race, but it’s at its best (worst) when applied to Latino or Hispanic characters. There are stories that pass (I mention two below), but if the stars align and a movie or show even features a named Latino, chances are it’s going to fail the CAR anyway. Like these fantastic examples:

Properties that Fail

The Walking Dead – In season one, Felipe is the leader of the Vatos gang. Yes, they were taking care of elderly people. But, no, the plot twist, “The Hispanic criminals are actually nice! Whoa!” isn’t a plot twist that excites me in any way. Felipe and his thugs are around for a single episode.

Two seasons later, another Latino finally appears, but, of course, he’s Tomas, the most unlikable of the criminals holed up at West Georgia Correctional Facility (or “the prison,” as it’s usually called). By the end of his second episode, Tomas is dead at the hands of our protagonist.

Another season later, the show finally introduces Rosita Espinosa. But, of course, by this point, The Walking Dead has already super–ultra–failed the CAR Test.

Ant-Man – This was pretty depressing for me, but Marvel’s Ant-Man actually goes above and beyond with the CAR Test, failing so spectacularly that it’s actually offensive for all races.

In a predominately white cast, the protagonist is Scott Lang, an altruistic, tech-saavy ex-con. His partners–who are all completely unapologetic and active criminals–are a Hispanic man, an African American man, and a Russian American immigrant, all three of whom act as bizarre race caricatures for comic relief, their intelligence routinely jabbed throughout the film for laughs.

The Hispanic man, Luis, spends most of his screen time talking very quickly and acting masculine in front of the female lead, Hope Pym, in an obvious attempt to get into her pants.

The African American man, Dave, only makes a significant contribution to the story by quickly stealing a car to divert police attention–a contribution he squanders by over-excitedly throwing his hands around in celebration and accidentally honking the gag horn of the team’s disguised truck.

The Russian American immigrant, Kurt, is the tamest of the bunch–a hacker who seems intelligent–but is still portrayed as an idiot whose most notable character trait is arguably his heavy accent.

All three of these characters are, at one point, literally science-talked to sleep. Not as a side note but as one of the movie’s direct jokes; the protagonist displays his powers and all three of his minority side kicks freak out. The following scene has Hope Pym explain that she fed them some drugs and explained the science of the Ant-Man suit to them, which made them fall asleep almost instantly.

Let me just rephrase and restate that joke: after the movie’s only three minorities freak out over a character’s super powers–in a universe where super powers are now common and accepted–a white scientist says to a white super hero, “I gave the minorities some Xanax and talked science at them for a few minutes. The combination of a name brand anxiety drug with smart person talk shut off their stupid, minority brains like a bird cage cover puts a bird to sleep. Even the Russian hacker couldn’t stay awake . . . Comedy!”

. . . Yeah. I think that just about captures all of the weird racism of that joke.

Moving on . . .

Properties that Pass

The Flash At first, I thought Cisco Ramon was really annoying. It’s the villain naming thing; the villains’ rebooted, TV aesthetics really, really clash class with their old-timey, Silver Age names, making each naming really cringey. Cisco decides, “He’s the Pied Piper,” and I think, “Why? Because he has gauntlets that make sound? That’s a pretty big stretch for Pied Piper; he doesn’t even have an instrument. Why not Shockwave or Soundwave or–oh right. It’s because this character was created in 1959.”

But then I realized, “OMFG he actually isn’t an ex-criminal! He’s just a smart Latino! Who does science!” Of course, I’m still waiting for the day when we get more of his backstory and find out about . . . fuck–I don’t know–Ignacio the Dragon, Cisco’s other brother who leads a drug cartel somewhere and gets super powers from . . . I don’t even know who. <sigh> It’s going to happen.

Daredevil – (I’m sorry. I watch a lot of super hero shows, alright? It’s technically fantasy–what do you expect?) Claire Temple is at least portrayed by a Latina (Rosario Dawson). Granted, I grew up with the disappointment of seeing Latino actors and actresses playing non-stereotypical characters in movies only to learn that they’re portraying other ethnicities, so Claire Temple is a hard call; she might not be Latina at all. Still, she seems to be an intelligent, well-spoken Latin American character who isn’t a criminal or related to criminals.

And, regardless, Elena Cardenas (Judith Delgado) is an adorably accurate depiction of an abuela. Yes, she’s a side character, but she’s still a named Hispanic character with no connection to criminals. It happens so rarely that I’ll take it as a win!

And, with that, I think I’ve said enough about the CAR Test. Did I say too much? Maybe. But has the CAR been brewing in my mind for decades? Really frustrating decades? Absolutely.

Hopefully, you were as horrified by the test. If you were–if you stopped to test some of your favorite movies and found that they failed miserably (even The Avengers! Hooray!)–drop a comment below. I’d love to hear about it–although I’d really, really love to hear it if you found a movie that passes the CAR.

Drop by again in two weeks, when I’ll dish on the Latin Lover Test, which forces us to consider a really overused and incredibly frustrating racial stereotype that people still laugh at to this very day.

— Project Updates —

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-8.12.15-(InPost)Disclaimer: Apologies about the how tiny this Progress Tab is. The next biggest size was obnoxious. If you’re reading this after my next post, click the Tab here for a better look.

I made a new Progress Tab to reflect my weird, unexpected, on-going writing trends. That surge of short stories? That never really calmed down. The result: I’m working on a ton of ideas that I quit on a long time ago (including a few that I didn’t list there because I’m still figuring out how to make actual stories out of them). “Rainwater,” “Reset,” and “Dream Runner” are stories that I’ve already started, however–all halfway done.

Thus the change; I kept making new tabs with progress bars that never moved (the last few months I’ve started “Writing” projects that have always jumped to “Editing” two weeks later), so I’ve streamlined. The only progress indicators that remain are the terrible, ever-present ticks for submissions.

 

— Acknowledgements —

Thanks for the Follows . . .

. . . Siuquxebooks! It’s a blog that posts recommendations for Mystery/Thrillers, so it’s not really my thing, but I appreciate the Follow regardless, of course!

. . . and Jack J. Binding! His post on social media is absolutely fantastic. As a man who tries and fails to find patience for Twitter on a daily basis, absolutely hates Facebook, and also says an unabashed “fuck you” to Pinterest, how could I not love that post?

And thanks for the Likes . . .

. . . Megan Manzano! Her latest post, on YA’s over-dependence on romance, posed some pretty interesting questions about the genre. Full disclosure: I haven’t read a lot of YA, but I always love challenging tropes. And I’m pretty anti-romance (not the genre, but the plot element), so, naturally, bitter fuck that I am, I had to like that post . . . Give it a read!

. . . Siuquxebooks! Thanks again!

. . . Damyanti! Seriously, I could not help linking this post about the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I was once a super secure writer, but now, I can safely say that the submissions process has completely changed my mind about that! So I absolutely have to support any group that supports struggling writers. It is a rough business. If you’re a writer struggling with the craft, check out IWSG. I definitely will.

. . . and James Radcliffe! His latest post takes a look at why he’s getting happier as he gets older, which turns into a listing of the five elements of his life that contribute to his on-going happiness. As someone who absolutely needs an outlet for some bad and inlet for some good, I have to give you a firm thanks, sir; your post gave me a few interesting ideas.

That’s it for this week. If you’ve liked what you read, consider giving me a Like or Follow; it’s fine if you don’t, but I’d appreciate it if you do! As always, you can find me fitfully posting on Twitter as @LSantiagoAuthor.

Either way, thank you for reading. And, as always, write well.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 1: The Worst Possible Start

I’ve been contemplating doing daily posts for a while now; partially because I wondered if I could manage them. But also because I’m getting tired of the article-styled posts. I’ve never been keen on getting very personal here, likely because my personal life totally blows. But there’s a way to write about my life that doesn’t mean wasting breath on things that aren’t worth it, I knew. A way to relate how I feel about writing every day. At one point, I was all, “Maybe I’ll experiment and do like… a week of daily posts?”

And then I learned about NaNoWriMo. And, instantly, all of the puzzle pieces fell into place; I could not deny the challenge to be more diligent and the chance to do daily posts and the excuse to go write in new places every day.

So that’s what you’ll be getting for the next 30 days. Every day I will go somewhere, write there, update my NaNoWriMo page, and post about it all here. I know that this is extremely sudden, but I promise the Progress Sidebar will be back in December; I just couldn’t pass up this challenge.

Now that you’re up to speed, let’s get started.

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.1.14

Where I Wrote: Home (unplanned–see below)

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Pretty Good

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Horrible

The Experience: There are just those days. Days when you’re exhausted because you stood up late last night organizing your old comics for sale. Days when, despite being tired, you still awkwardly haul those comics out in the pouring rain and onto the New York subway. Someone eyes your weird, duplo comic book brief case and asks, “Selling some old comics?” and you smile and answer, “Yes,” because the day still isn’t that horrible.

Not until you get to the place where you’re supposed to sell them and find that Open Buying Day is not, in fact, a full day. And you know immediately that it’s your fault that you’re going to have to haul your awkward collection of comics back home in the pouring rain because you didn’t check the hours for Open Buying Day. You absolutely know you should’ve. You maybe even thought to check before leaving but didn’t.

It does not help that, as you leave, the people behind the counter let you know that, “Man. You missed it by like… ten minutes.” That’s the point at which your brain goes into “Thanks” mode. Maybe, “Really? Thanks, asshole,” mode is a better way to put it. You’re angry at yourself and now just determined to at least A) Not let that make you a jerk to anyone else and B) Not let the day get more screwed up. Because you expect the irony now–a bad day just can’t end well. Bad days generally follow the layout of a story with an Exposition, Rising Action, and a Conclusion. So you just wait for that Conclusion. Will a train hit this stupid pile of comics, somehow? Sounds really goofy, but hey, maybe; I mean, if I believe, I can achieve new levels of failure, right? Will the duplo lock on my duplo comic book brief case shatter because it’s not meant to stand up to 30 pounds of Silver Age pressure? That totally sounds like the one.

But then you get home without the hammer dropping. You carry your duplo case in your arms to make sure it doesn’t explode. You sit down with plenty of time to regroup and not let the Conclusion be failing on your first day of NaNoWriMo (because you just know that the day wants that to be your felling blow). If only to prove the world wrong, you sit down and get to work, find that 1,667 words is way, way more than you usually write and buckle in anyway.

And then you meet your goal. And you realize that, again, clearly now, it really was your fault you missed Open Buying Day. Because what we do with our time is always up to us–we pick and choose our victories and our failures by not being careful and not prioritizing.

I wonder how many days I didn’t prioritize my writing.

Cliché Showcase – Cartoon Villains

If you know anything about me, it’s that I hate clichés. I always have; my personal slogan since the beginning of time has been “No old wizards, no dragons.”

But, that said… if there’s one thing that’s absolutely also true about me… it’s that I love certain clichés.

Because certain clichés, like certain formulas (the three act model for fiction) work when they’re used properly. In fact, in a lot of high Spirit, feel stories, you have to slather on particular elements to make the Happy Fun Time Jamboree cogs function properly. I suppose you could call those accepted elements Foundation Clichés; things as obvious as the sports team winning the big game with an impossible goal–all in slow motion–a moment that’s a prerequisite for the feel good sports movie. They’re clichés that make a formula work. I definitely do not love all of them–actually, I may love exactly one of them while just acknowledging that the others make sense and work well.

But, whether I like them or hate them, Cliché Showcase is all about throwing a spotlight on all clichés–calling glaring attention to them. Very, very likely to dish on how much I hate them.

But for right now, with this very first entry in the series… let’s start off with the love. Because the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron just came out and it fits too well with one of the Showcases I had planned. So let’s both tune out for a moment and enjoy my very favorite Foundation Cliché!

The Cartoon Villain

By my definition, the Cartoon Villain is a villain who is unrealistically evil. They might be pushovers or they might be legitimately dangerous, but either way, it never makes sense how evil a Cartoon Villain is.

In appearance, they range anywhere from a massive, killer robot–that’s actually all black with (seriously?) red lights all over his body–to an Aryan superhuman who somehow looks less evil when he’s wearing black shades with his black trench coat (because there are crazy, comically insane red eyes under those glasses).

These are villains with little back story and just enough motivation to be vaguely understandable, but never so much motivation that you disagree when a protagonist inevitably calls them insane. They have these vague motivations, mind you, for plans that always center on destroying or taking over the entire world or universe. Or tri-state area.

Why I Love Them

They’re a Pantheon: A pantheon of ridiculousness, sure, but still a pantheon. One that is completely upheld, strictly, by the standards of their peers; you either create a new member who can stand beside the likes of Skeletor and the Joker or, congratulations, your comic, cartoon, or action story kind of sucks. Because, as a Foundation Cliché, the Cartoon Villain is insanely important to a lot of story formulas (for example, Saturday morning cartoons would be absolutely nothing without them and comic book movies suffer significantly when they’re not on par [you could’ve replaced Malekith with a piece of cardboard with “Malekith” scrawled on it and The Dark World would’ve been the same movie]).

Their Design Demands that You Throw Caution Out the Window: Because, in order to create a Cartoon Villain who’s awesome, you need to go for every possible extreme; making something tasteful is not an option. These are the most over-dramatic looking characters you will ever see and ones that follow almost no rules other than, “Should look eviler–don’t look evil enough.” Skeletor just has a skull for a head. A yellow skull on his muscular, blue body. Why?… Why? I’ll tell you why–check the one rule. What’s it say? “Should look eviler–don’t look evil enough.” Okay. Add a purple hood for good measure. We’re done here.

Their Enduring Simplicity: And maybe that’s what I really love about them–their bold-faced simplicity. You know Red Skull is evil when you look at him and see that his face is a red skull. But even if you didn’t know, Red Skull would be the very first person to tell you he’s evil because Cartoon Villains also usually don’t lie–because lying is a lesser evil, totally beneath them because they don’t care about petty things like saving face. In fact, in some strange way, when you consider how easily they open up about their plans, Cartoon Villains are almost… the most honest characters you will ever come across.

They’re Just So… Likeable: All of these details–the simple, understandable motivations; their strange honesty; and / or their insane, dramatic design–make for absolutely likeable people that you can relate to (except for the whole being crazy thing). Or, at least, they make for character quirks that you love watching and listening to.

For example, there’s the strange way that, in Captain America: The First Avenger, Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is a fantastic supervisor who deals out positive reinforcement left and right(unless you really, really screw up [at which point he kills you]). Of course, an odd, really backwards incentive to liking Red Skull more is that he also thinks Hitler sucks. And sure, it’s because the Nazis aren’t evil enough for him anymore, but lines like, “Arrogance may not be a uniquely American trait, but I must say, you do it better than anyone,” makes it clear that his hatred isn’t based on… racial or national bigotry? That Red Skull. He’s… kind of an alright guy?

And, continuing on the Marvel front, the trailer for Age of Ultron very concisely makes you understand Ultron’s motivations; he’s throwing off what I can only assume is Tony Stark’s control, making his motivation… freedom? Retaliation for indentured servitude? “There are… no strings on me.” Why do I immediately want Ultron to win?

And, of course, on the shallower side of things, you want Skeletor or Albert Wesker around because they will just always–always–say the most amazing things in the best ways.

Ultimately, maybe I just want to write one of these villains so badly that I had to vent in this post. Maybe they are not the best clichés out there–maybe this love is all my own.

But, way more likely: you already have a favorite Cartoon Villain in mind, because you’ve had a favorite for years and years.

~~~

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first, very positive entry in my Cliché Showcase series. If you do have a favorite Cartoon Villain in mind, I’d love it if you dropped a comment below–I know I missed so many great villains here. It was in a serious effort to not go on forever.

Thanks for reading! And, as always, write well.

The Weird, Casual Sexism of Nerddom – Part 2: The Free Female Protagonist

So, here we are; the final part of my series about sexism in nerddom. We’re going to wrap up with a look at nerd narrative. I feel like nerd culture is at a point where it’s floundering for a firm grasp on portraying women. People are trying, but they’re also still ascribing to old standards and clinging to old stereotypes, making progress really slow and making what I think of as the “Free Female Protagonist” ridiculously rare. Defining that Free Female Protagonist, as I see her, is what I’m going to try to do here. Fair warning: I’m going to do it in a round-about way, mimicking how I came to the idea. More fair warning: in order to do this, I am also going to sound like a petty bastard quite a bit… Let’s get started!

The Not-So-Obvious, Narrative Kind of Sexism

I hate River Song.

I understand it’s a point of contention for Whovians, and I’d also like to point out immediately that I have enjoyed a lot of Steven Moffat’s work and respect him a lot as a writer. However, I’ve never liked River Song. And, initially, it was because of massively ham-fisted character bias; Moffat clearly loved her so much that he wrote a scene in which she made a Dalek beg for mercy. Maybe character bias is just my pet peeve (it is one of my Fiction Sins), but that’s not the only reason I disliked River.

And I didn’t realize it until I was at a friend’s place a few years back, watching an episode with her. Very likely, it was one that cold started with a long, panning body shot of her set to sexy music.

Now, unfortunately, I’m horrible at talking and I was a total idiot a few years ago. So, instead of trying to figure out why that intro was weird to me, I blurted out, “She’s not that attractive,” literally the first observation in a series that would ultimately lead to a non-offensive point.

My friend, very naturally, got offended for Alex Kingston. I tried to explain that she isn’t ugly—clearly she isn’t—but that it was weird that they were doing a long shot of her from toe to head with sultry saxophone. Not because Alex Kingston isn’t sultry sax worthy, but because…

… was that even the appeal of River Song???

At that point, what I understood about River came from “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead.” And what I took from those episodes was, “She’s extremely witty.” “She takes charge in difficult situations, which is awesome.” “She knows the Doctor really well and is also a time traveler—very intriguing.”

Essentially, what I took from those episodes is that she was a character… who had a lot of appeal that wasn’t centered around her being a sex object. And, of course, River could be sexy as well—River could be whatever she wanted to be. But River wasn’t calling the shots and neither was Alex Kingston (as far as I know). As far as I know, Steven Moffat was calling the shots. And the shots he decided to call that day were, “She’s a sex object.” An extremely stereotypical sex object.

And that’s when I started to hate River Song. This must sound incredibly nitpicky (“River can be all of those things I just listed, but what the hell!? Why was she then???”). But, in my eyes, this is that it was the start of River Song not being an actual character. This was the start of her being what I think of as a Catch All—a non-character who does everything that’s right and great and awesome by the sheer will of the writer… possibly because the writer doesn’t know how to make said character a person. This kind of character is everywhere (the perfect badass, cart-wheeling with guns blazing in both hands right before defusing the bomb with “00:01” left on the counter) and side-stepping a rant about how much I hate Catch Alls, I’ll get to the point; River isn’t that bad, but she was still suddenly thin and obvious.”I bet River knows how to hack / program / work this thing no one else understands.” “I bet that—unless it’s time for the Doctor to figure things out—River will.” “I bet River can kill a Dalek with no fear.” And, for me, that all started with her, on top of everything else, also having to be a femme fatale, one of the many stereotypes I hate.

But I didn’t convey this well at all to my friend years ago and kept quiet about it for the time it took to casually figure it out.

But then, this graphic happened:
is-doctor-who-sexist-01-2
I know. It’s not finite evidence that I was right about her being a Catch All—this graphic highlights a completely different set of flaws with the majority of Moffat’s run. But those flaws came as absolutely no surprise to me; this graphic, linked to me years later, only pointed out other reasons I didn’t like River without realizing. All she cared about was the Doctor, much like Amy; for a supposedly strong, independent female character, most of her screen time was spent fawning over him. And she did this despite their love not being well conveyed at all; she loves the Doctor not for a concrete experience that we’re shown (as we actually are with Amy)—she loves the Doctor because we’re told she loves the Doctor and that he loves her. And all of this resonated with my notion of her as a non-character—a plot device with dialogue.

But it took forever for me to see it because she’s one of countless female non-characters who exist throughout all of fiction. I’m talking about nerdy things and fantasy because it’s what I do, but the fact remains that there are go-to, male-centric ideas about / approaches to female characters that persist—and result in strange, subtly off characters like River. Women will cling to men in a story and never interact with other women. Often there aren’t many named women in a story, and if there are, they will, like River Song and Amy Pond, be fixated with a single male character. The Bechdel test highlights these standards very, very clearly. If you don’t know about it, you should check it out and you should absolutely take the test for all of your writing (even beyond sexism, it’s just an awesome reviewing tool for your work [and if I didn’t care about drawing attention away from sexism, I’d try to make similar tools to foster realism and diversity in narrative]). Subjecting some of your favorite stories to the test will also be eye-opening.

But all I’ve done so far is tell you what the Free Female Protagonist isn’t. And, I’m sorry, but I want to reinforce that more to make my point clear. So one more stop into the world of comics to talk about the idea that …

Women in Comics Are Strong Because They’re Like Men

It started with Captain Marvel.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Carol Danvers taking the mantel of Captain Marvel; arguably (to the very casual comic reader’s eye), she is more popular than Mar-Vell by far. I’m sure that an avid reader already has a list of reasons why I’m wrong, but I’ve seen a ton of Carol Danvers everywhere and almost no Mar-Vell in my time with comics. Besides, “captain” is a title and there’s no reason a woman can’t be a captain. So I was all for it. I’ve always loved Carol Danvers. Again, I’m not an avid comic reader, but she’s always been one of my favorite Avengers.

And then “Thor” happened.

Now… I am not upset at all that the new Thor is a woman—I think that’s awesome actually.

But I do think that it’s weird that the new Thor’s name… is Thor. Because “Thor” isn’t a title. If she was the new Captain America—cool. That makes sense. But “Thor”… is Thor’s name… Why do I not know the name of new Thor?

And, immediately, I know that this also sounds super nitpicky, because this is a step better than “She-Hulk” and “Ms. Marvel.” And maybe she does have a name. And maybe (hopefully) her name will be plastered on the cover of her new series and not… Thor’s name. But I can’t help assuming that won’t happen. From a business standpoint, I’m sure there’s a depressing, sexist branding conflict there; “But people won’t read a comic about girl Thor unless she’s heavily related to Thor!” At best, I’m assuming she’ll just take over in Journey into Mystery, which doesn’t make things much better.

And that’s the entire problem I’m getting at: the “new Thor” is still not where we need to be because she’s so heavily tied to Thor. Maybe that sounds odd, but my point that there is still, and always has been, another way to write a female mainstream superhero.

Make a mainstream, female super hero who is completely independent of a male super hero.

I will not make the argument that this undoes the progress that Carol Danvers makes as Captain Marvel—to me, that still works and is awesome. However, it seems like Marvel is searching for their Wonder Woman (the closest to an exception that I can think of)… and missing the fact that Wonder Woman is named Wonder Woman and not “new Superman.”

But I think that this is part of a strange suite of choices that comic writers seem to make every time they try to establish a strong female lead. Does she have a male super hero’s name (Thor)? Is she being related to a male super hero in any way (She-Hulk, Batwoman)? Is she scantily clad? I’m absolutely sure there are exceptions and I’m not sure that all of those choices are consistent.

But I’m also absolutely sure that, outside of (possibly) Wonder Woman, there is no completely independent, non-male reliant, big name, super hero comic female lead who is not doing time as a sex object. I don’t want to undermine the progress that has been made, but it’s time for the jump; it’s time to try to make a new, actually independent female super hero. Not new Thor. Not Star Duchess (it sounded funnier than Star Lady).

In short, it’s time for people to just try writing…

The Free Female Protagonist

What she isn’t:

  1. A non-character who does everything right.
  2. A scantily clad sex object (unless she’s honestly a character who wants to be sexy—she should be able to choose, after all).
  3. Attached to a male character who is established as stronger.
  4. Named after a male character.
  5. Obsessed with a male character.

What she is:

A woman. A woman written by a comfortable, brave writer.

Let’s have Madame Galaxy—a lame name off the top of my head. Let’s have a super hero with no ties to anyone and her own origin. Let’s not start her first issue by having her shouting about how she’s just as strong as a male super hero because that would immediately be awkward floundering; let’s just have her be a woman and awesome and let that be enough. Let’s embrace her relationship issues instead of glossing over them because she’s a human who will undoubtedly have relationship issues (especially if she’s straight because comic writers and artists clearly aren’t afraid to show women waking up next to / making out with other women—that’s very obvious at this point). And let’s flirt with the idea of maybe—maybe somewhere down the line having Madame Galaxy heading her own team of other super heroes with absolutely no male supervisors or Super- / Bat-peers to help her.

That is all I want. And it doesn’t seem like it’s happening enough. Thus, this article.

I want to see just Wonder Woman leading the Justice League. I cannot tell you why—I just think it would be awesome.

I want to see more characters like Korra from the Legend of Korra, who stands firm as one of my favorite protagonists of all time at this point.

And, whether my kids are boys or girls, I want them to have a collection of obvious female role models to look up to in nerd culture—without having to seek them out. And without having to lose them the way I lost Samus.

That is never going to happen if we don’t start writing those characters ourselves. So, to you, reading this, fight those standards if you’ve found that you don’t. Start with the Bechdel test. Don’t settle for being typical and comfortable; write women who are not damsels. Not femme fatales. Not bewbs in armorkinis. And don’t avoid writing them because damsels, femme fatales, and women who like armorkinis can’t or don’t exist or shouldn’t have their stories told for some reason. Try to avoid writing them because women are always more beautifully complicated and real than need, sex, and metal tits.

~~~

Well, that was a monster of a post. You can totally look forward to me kicking back for a short while. I will keep focusing on writing, but my next post is going to be an status update on my projects, centering around that totally full Progress Bar you might have noticed at the top of my page. I’ll talk about that and what comes next in the middle of the month! Until then, thank you for the read.

And, as always, write well.

Deep Thoughts: Two-Face

Disclaimers: First of alland this is super importantthis is not my weekly post (which I generally save for the weekend). I’ll go on a rant when the mood takes me, and if it’s funny enough, I’ll post it here; but it will never count as my actual post for the week. Second, as where I kind of hope readers get something from my weekly posts, I don’t expector even wantanyone to take anything that pops up in Deep Thoughts seriously. You probably don’t know me, but if you did, you’d know immediately that something I wrote titled Deep Thoughts is absolutely not meant to be taken seriously. Finally, let me be clear; yes, this is a post about Two-Face, the Batman villain. Why? Because, I enjoy comics. And also, because seriously.

So, Batman has the best rogues gallery there is. I think that’s pretty safe to say. They’re all pretty great, and somehow, a new villain is added periodically and those additions are… also really great (I’m thinking of Professor Pyg). It seems like no one else’s rogues gallery does that. But anyway, the point is, they’re all great.

Source: http://www.comics.org/issue/102160/cover/4/
Except for one!

Now, I don’t want to say that Two-Face isn’t charming. Like all of Batman’s best rogues, he has an awesome name, a great origin, a really charming and badass shtick with the coin…

But at the same time… Two-Face is a guy. He’s just an angry, crazy guy. What is the major thing that separates Two-Face from an angry mobster? That mobster maybe doesn’t like the number 2 as much. What separates him from, say, the Joker, who is also a crazy guy? Well, Two-Face may ransom something for an extra one million dollars.

But also the Joker definitely doesn’t create a new Gotham landmark every time he pulls a heist. Seriously, how many  Janus Theater’s and Twin Casino’s are there in Gotham at this point? How many banks on 2nd Ave.? And for that matter, seriously, how many banks on 2nd Ave. and 2nd St.?

And realistically… that mobster, who’s been working in the mob for a good long while? Probably a better shot than Harvey Dent, former District Attorney who just now went crazy and picked up a gun.

So really, Two-Face walks into the room, and I can’t help thinking, “Well, shit could be worse. Killer Croc could’ve just walked in. I mean, that motherfucker’ll eat you. He’ll eat you without flipping a single fucking coin.”

Like, I understand that there’s supposed to be tension and total unpredictability with Two-Face and I appreciate that. I know that he’s supposed to be cerebral and an interesting example of the good and evil in all of us. But… Ventriloquist / Scarface does that better? Legitimately, once Harvey turns into Two-Face, he kind of just… stops being Harvey. But Scarface is literally always Scarface and Ventriloquist. I don’t want to get too deep here, so I’ll just say that I find Ventriloquist a lot more compelling even though he’s not popular. Also, I like to imagine Arnold Wesker (Ventriloquist) is actually Albert Wesker’s brother. Or dad. Neither makes any sense at all for so many reasons, but in my mind, that’s cannon.

Anyway, like I said, I do like Two-Face and I love the coin toss. But… Okay. The coin toss. Imagine that Two-Face and his thugs have you hostage and one of his goons looks at you and asks, “What do we do with this one?”

Two-Face takes out his coin.

You say, “What? You’re just deciding to flip that thing? Aren’t you supposed to flip it to make all your decisions?”

Two-Face stares at you for a moment. Then he looks down at the coin.

And then the paradox makes his head explode.