I Think She’d Be Marvelous

So apparently casting for the upcoming Captain Marvel movie is ramping up. I see the usual suspects suggesting the usual suspects for the title role. And I don’t know that anyone I’m hearing named is a bad choice, mind you, but when I sat down to think about what might make a good Captain Marvel, I came up with someone else.

I’m all in on Kerry Washington for the cinematic Captain Marvel.

I’ll stop right here and clarify that no, I’m not talking about making this film about Monica Rambeau. I’d be thrilled to see that character on screen, too, but that would involve a wholesale concept shift. I suspect the MCU gurus chose their Captain Marvel for her kree / alien / cosmic ties as they expand into outer space for their Infinity War mega-event. Trying to change the course of that monster seems so entirely outside the realm of possibility that I’m not sure it would be worth the effort.

So, yeah, I’m doing my back flips and megaphone cheers for Kerry Washington as Carol Danvers.

Since I can already hear the um actuallys starting with their But Carol Danvers is.., I’ll just stop right there and finish that sentence for you.

Carol Danvers is a woman filled with inner strength and determination.

Carol Danvers is a woman willing to fight against overwhelming odds to do what she thinks is right.

Carol Danvers is a woman whose military background suggests she’s used the previous qualities to push her way up the ranks in one of the ultimate Boys’ Clubs around.

Carol Danvers is a woman with a past of mistakes and tragedy, who’s been beaten by fate and circumstance time and again, gaining power, losing power, but who, at the end of the day, has come out triumphant and ready to keep fighting.

Um, yeah, so what I’m seeing here is someone who feels like she has a lot in common with Washington’s Oliva Pope on Scandal. Sure, her fights there aren’t nearly as physically violent as the kind Captain Marvel is likely to entail, but that’s what stunt doubles and special effects are for.

And while Washington herself hasn’t always been the punching character, her recent turn in Django Unchained, and previous roles in the first two Fantastic Four films, certainly suggest she’s not opposed to being part of a film built around things going ‘splody.

Said role in the FF films also happens to mean Washington’s already dealt with anti-diversity nerdrage and came out on top. I’ve no idea if she wants to wade into the morass again, mind you, but if she did, she at least wouldn’t be coming into the whole thing unawares.

So, yeah, if we’re fancasting that MCU flick? I’m on the Kerry Washington for Carol Danvers train. THAT would be some Marvelous casting, if you ask me.

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The Title Applies to Everyone

I couldn’t start this post.

No, really. I’ve deleted at least a dozen versions of it, because all of them seem pedantic, or back-patting, or entitled. That I’m going to get this horribly, insultingly wrong.

This isn’t entirely new. I get semi-regularly stuck on things when they aren’t exactly right. I latch onto something, and whether I want to or not, I can’t push through it or get around it. My mental wheels spin, and I’m screaming inside because there is no earthly reason why this should be so incredibly difficult. What. The Hell. Is wrong with me?

Appropriately enough, I was in one of those places when I finally sat down and started “Broken.” Sy’s initial thoughts, his cavalier declarations that his head is broken, were a hyperbolic bit of channeling.

That’s the thing about mental illness and developmental disorders which I find most … compelling is the wrong word; it casts people living very real challenges as some kind of exoticized zoo exhibit. Terrifying is just as wrong for similar reasons: while I suppose some people may indeed be monsters, I don’t think the people struggling to make it through the day qualify.

So there isn’t a good word for it, which I suppose is also appropriate. Regardless, one of the things at the heart of Sy’s story is the realization that something inside isn’t “normal,” and that, further, knowing this doesn’t necessarily allow him to change that thing inside. If it were that easy, I’m not sure how many of us wouldn’t just flip that magical switch.

Even outside the world of science fiction, there’s a false equivalence drawn between self-awareness and self-actualization. If we know what the problem is, then why the heck can’t we fix it by deciding not to give it audience? In a world where science works what we might think of as miracles, it’s even more tempting to allow for a quick fix.

Of course, the very notion of normal is especially troubling and problematic on the asteroid colonies collectively known as The Rim. There, every single person exists with a twisted genetic code thanks to the inheritable plague that is The Skew. What the hell does normal even mean in that context? But if everyone is telling you it means not who you are, what does that mean for you?

Inside, after all, is us. If you change yourself, do you change your self? What do you give up to be “better,” to be “normal”?

What if the answer is too much?

Woman Problems

It’s been an unfortunate couple days for me as far as the depictions of women in my SFF television consumption. Not all of it surprising, mind. I’m human. I will probably always like problematic things. That doesn’t make it less disappointing.

Spoilers for the season finales of Fear the Walking Dead and The Strain, as well as a pretty late-season reveal in Dark Matter. You’ve been warned.

Regressive sexual politics in the Walking Dead franchise aren’t exactly new to me. Laurie Holden’s Andrea was constantly berated for not sticking around to do what amounted to housework while the men used the guns, for goodness’ sake. But after killing off all but one of the original female characters, oddly enough, the parent franchise seems at least mildly better with women going forward.

It was especially disappointing, then, that prequel / spinoff series Fear the Walking Dead fell right back into the same hole. For a while, I could squint and make it work:

Yes, Madison (Kim Dickens) has more experience directly working with troubled people as a guidance counselor than her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis), but the hyper-macho military commander would never pick a woman to liaise with civilians.1

But the further the show went, the clearer it became that the primary characters who were meant to be learning and growing were the men. And over and over again, the lessons they learn are taught to them by hurting the women they care about.

Travis in particular seems to have a lot of “don’t touch my stuff” motivations. He has to learn that sympathy leads to pain and suffering, by having a young woman shot when he lets a soldier live. It’s that event which finally spurs his rage and fury and beating-people’s-heads-in.

And, of course, when his ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) winds up with a zombie bite, guess who, after being completely incapable of shooting a full-on zombie previously, has to pull the trigger while she’s still fully human to keep her from turning?

As Travis collapses on the beach, the ocean washing over him and his more-competent-in-this-world girlfriend clinging to his side, it comes clear that the women in this show exist in service to the character arcs of the men.

But if Fear wound up a disappointment for backsliding, The Strain has been doubling down on the “don’t touch my stuff” plots.

In the first season, Cory Stoll’s Ephram is subject to round one, where his ex-wife (Natalie Brown) is turned in a bid to manipulate him. This season, antagonist Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) is similarly punished by having his assistant / lover turned after he and she make a bid for more control. And for extra redundancy, Ephram’s current love interest, Nora (Mia Maestro) is also killed — by that vampire ex-wife.

And that’s not even looking in the direction of the nearly-realized tentacle rape of the show’s other female protagonist (Ruta Gedmintas) in a bid to motivate her boyfriend and / or send her running off screen and out of the narrative.

My response to all that is probably best summed up on Twitter:

The only bright side to this is that such overt, tone-deaf writing is easy to spot and easier to dismiss. Slightly more insidious was a recent turn near the end of Dark Matter, a new SyFy series I’ve been binging via Netflix.

By and large, there’s a reasonable spread of capable women on the show. I had a minor kneejerk when I realized how often “away mission” stuff involved the guys while the women stayed on board, but it seemed pretty clear that had more to do with the men being expendable than valuable.

This is especially true of Melissa O’Neil’s Two (The conceit of the show is that the characters are named for the order they woke up from stasis, as they have no memory of life before), who takes instant leadership, facing only token resistance from spoiler Three (Anthony Lemke). She’s just as kick-ass a fighter as “sword guy” Four (Alex Mallari, Jr.), as good a shot as “gun guy” Three, and as capable a pilot as Six (Roger R. Cross, refreshingly getting to play someone who isn’t eternally dour).

Then, late in the season, we discover Two’s abilities come from Macguffin tech: she’s a manufactured human being. To be sure, this lets her be even more kick ass. But it also means two out of three of the very capable women in this crew (the other is Zoie Palmer’s Android) are artificial beings. The men get to kick ass because they kick ass. The women kick ass because they were Built That Way.

On the one hand, so far all the women here are alive. I mean, your female characters can’t accomplish anything if they’re already dead just to motivate your men. On the other, the narrative being (I can’t avoid this pun) constructed here doesn’t exactly lend itself to inherent female capability and agency, either. The metaphorical takeaway from having women be your embodiment of the “I’m more than what I was born as” themes certainly doesn’t help matters.

1. If I’m choosing, I want to spend extra time with Cliff Curtis, too, though my motivations are a bit more prurient. ;)

Evil From the Start

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Once Upon a Time. I don’t always worry if I miss some of it, but I keep coming back because folklore re-working is one of my wonks (Obviously). I’m in a catch-up phase with the show at present, and found myself pleasantly surprised by the recent episode “Sympathy for the De Vil.” Spoilers follow, since I don’t have a way to talk about this without giving away the primary twist in the plot. You’ve been warned.

I tend to think of it as “the Wicked effect,” myself (TV Tropes prefers Cry for the Devil), as it seemed to surge on the heels of that particular Broadway adaptation’s success, but the narrative for just about any villain in Once Upon a Time generally follows the same formula: after introducing us to the latest in the line of Most Evil Person We’ve Ever Faced characters, flashbacks reveal that once, our cold-hearted villain was a loving, caring soul who was ruined by someone else’s evil. Usually, by someone else he or she (usually she) cared for.

Regina’s evil is from the horror which was her mother, Cora, enacted on the love of her life. Cora’s evil is originally from having her love exploited by a callous, lying lover. Rumpelstiltskin’s father abandoned him and his wife left him. Captain Hook lost his love to Rumpel’s magic. And so it goes.

Given that one of the show’s primary themes is redemption, it’s not a surprising trend. And the recent trio of new villains seem to be following the pattern. Maleficent, we find, has suffered the loss of a child. Ursula, too, found her villainy in the face of betrayal.

The episode focusing on Cruella De Vil started by holding to form. A stern mother and her not-remotely-lovable Dalmatians harrow a poor little Cruella, then Mommy locks her away in the attic. See? Of course she’d have hard feelings about spotted dogs. She was horribly treated by them as a child!

An older Cruella finds a means of escaping from her prison, though, and of gaining new powers (because on OUAT, every villain has magic) thanks to a brave suitor after telling him about how her mother killed all three of her previous husbands (Cruella’s previous fathers). Cruella hurries off, telling her suitor they’ll meet soon and run away together.

Bad Mommy shows up, and I may have yawned, because we’ve seen this before. Repeatedly. If redemption is a central theme of OUAT, another puzzlingly seems to be “family does really messed up stuff in the name of taking care of you.”

And then they went and surprised me. Because, you see, despite all the same trappings every other of these little flashbacks has had, despite a title telling me about the sympathy I’d feel, it turns out Cruella lived up to her name without any external influences.

Yup. Cruella killed her own father. Then did it to her mother’s next two husbands. It wasn’t even revenge, really. Cruella, it seems, was just plain old evil. She killed because she liked it. So far as I can tell, Cruella is your standard issue psychopath.

Which, given the normal direction of the show, was oddly refreshing. That, finally, UOAT for a brief moment offered up the idea that some people really are just plain evil.

And I got excited, because what would all these “you can be good if you really want to be” heroes do in the face of someone who would never, ever make that choice? Who wasn’t corrupted by a nasty history, couldn’t be restored to the love and light from which he or she originally sprang. Who was fully, unarguably, irredeemably evil? Oh, this could be really delicious.

Mind you, it seems the writers didn’t think there was quite so much potential in that particular moral quandry. I suspect the real reason for Cruella’s “born evil” origin was due to what happens in the “present” of the episode immediately afterward. Cruella’s thrown off a cliff, and while we’re shocked and all, we did just find out she’s evil to the core.

And just when I started to love her. Hopefully this heartache doesn’t send me on the path to villainy.

Can You Fanart Yourself?

I’m not always inclined to take a crack at my own characters, largely because I hate disappointing myself by coming up with a visual which doesn’t remotely match the character in my head.

That said, I’m pretty happy with how Acaja (From “At Her Fingertips,” up in the current issue of Betwixt magazine) turned out, so I figured I’d share:

I will admit that the coin she’s flipping wound up there because what I couldn’t manage to draw to my own satisfaction was the sidestep unit which is so essential to Acaja’s plans. I’m still generally under-impressed with how I render tech.

Instead, she’s got anachronistic physical currency. We’ll say she found it in the scrapyard.

Sometimes You Just Need a Steampunk Scotsman

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Another RPG character. Had fun playing with a lot of elements just for the heck of it. There isn’t actually a Scotland for him to be from in the setting, but honestly, there aren’t nearly enough RPG characters running around in kilts. Then, because he’s a tinkerer type, and also slightly mad, I wanted to do something mildly steampunk / clockwork inspired, but which wasn’t really polished or symmetrical at all. He cobbled together the armor from a lot of random randomness.

Because Turkey Vulture

Will I be getting back to sketchy Wednesdays? No promises. But I built a character for a play by post RPG game t’other day, and he amused me, so I sketched him.

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He’s a half-orc, who in-game are a mistrusted race because one of their parents looked monstery and everyone knows looking like and being a monster are the same thing because Pretty Is Never Evil.

In any case, I found myself into the idea of someone from that kind of background who spent a lot of time trying to rehabilitate the images of other not traditionally pretty creatures.

So, when my ranger-y character went looking for his traditional animal companion, he picked a turkey vulture, because everyone swoons over the hawks and the wolves, and I enjoyed Ladyhawke, too, but carrion eaters get no love, but they are all gonna be thanking their lucky stars when the zombies show up because birdie will be all: Who ordered delivery?