BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THE STORY OF THE CRYSTAL SHIP

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It’s been a long time since I did a Princess of The Week; a series where I look beyond Snow White and Beauty, to the Awesome heroines who are just as strong and adventurous as their male counterparts Last time, we looked at a dragonslayer and a woman who used her wits to become the Sultan.

This week- as part of the prompt of the day challenge (inspired by the theme of magic)- we’re going to look at The Crystal Ship, a story where a young girl travels to the ends of the kingdom to rescue her Prince.
Continue reading BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THE STORY OF THE CRYSTAL SHIP

BOOK REVIEW: MEN OF THE OTHERWORLD- by Kelley Armstrong

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BLURB: I don’t remember the first time I changed into a wolf. One night I passed out, and awoke to find my body covered in yellow fur. My brain was beyond reacting. It took this in its stride, as it had everything else in my new life. I got to my feet and went in search of food.

As a curious and independent six-year-old, Clayton didn’t resist the bite – he asked for it. But as a lone child werewolf his life is under constant threat. So when enigmatic Pack member Jeremy Danvers saves him, Clayton is determined to protect his adoptive father, no matter what the cost.

So begins this gripping collection of four tales chronicling the bloody feuds of the American Pack, and the coming of age of Clay Danvers, a very powerful – and very singular – werewolf.

REVIEW: In spite of my gripes with paranormal romance, I love Kelley Armstrong’s writing; she’s funny, descriptive, her action sequences are great and I love her sense of snark. Out of all the different supernaturals that occupy her Women Of The Otherworld series, the werewolves are my favorite creatures. So when I found out this book was all about the werewolves with (almost) no other supernatural creatures, and minimal romance, I was in. Men Of The Other World was everything I’d hoped it’d be. Or at least, the Clay novellas were. The stories surrounding Jeremy’s heritage were a disaster zone, but I’ll get to that.

The two longest, Savage and Ascension,  cover Clay’s upbringing and Jeremy’s rise to Alphadom.

Savage mainly covers Clay’s meeting with Jeremy and his attempts to fit in with the pack, while Ascension covers the pack politics surrounding the power struggle that emerged over who will succeed an aging Dominic as Alpha.

Even though I hated Clay’s relationship with Elena, as a character he was interesting. A man who was turned a wolf as a child ( a sort of modern Mowgli), his story was fascinating and one that begged to be told. And Savage does an excellent job of this.

His meeting with Jeremy is very emotional and shows the patience of the man. Although this story is being told retrospectively from the POV of adult Clay,its still done in a way which employs the thought processes of child Clay. As someone who became a wolf when he was four and left human society until he reached the age of seven, Clay had initially forgotten how to understand human speech and has become a feral, slowly starving in the world.

Even though there’s no dialogue (Clay had forgotten how to speak at this point), and Clay doesn’t understand what’s going on, the emotion is all there. Clay’s mindset is that of well, a cross between a frightened child and scared animal, whose mentality is purely fight or flight, not fully comprehending what’s going on and only coming to Jeremy for food. He sees Jeremy’s attempts to try and dress him as a ‘game’, and it takes a long time to build trust. Armstrong doesn’t rush this, and we have repeated incidents of Clay running away, causing trouble and making Jeremy’s life extremely difficult.

This really demonstrates the compassion of the character, and his patience. Another wonderful thing about this story is that we finally see the werewolves (other than our Italian businessmen) hold down a job. In Women Of The Otherworld, it always felt vague how they were managing to afford this huge property as neither Clay, Elena nor Jeremy’s jobs were shown having much impact on their lives. Here, we see Jeremy having to deal with managing accounts and the inheritance of Stonehaven on his own, and having to deal with translating work to keep the place afloat. This added a lot of authenticity to the book, and it was so wonderful seeing him having to deal with financial issues rather than living in the almost Disney Princess fantasy land where he can just get loads of money selling the odd painting because he’s just that super talented.

It was also great seeing a young Nick growing up with Clay, and their friendship and how his easy going nature clashed with Nick’s loner personality.The power struggle within the pack was fascinating and it was interesting seeing how the different power struggles clashed, although I don’t understand how Malcolm could have ever been a viable contender. Malcolm himself, was just a big, mean ball of macho bile; he doesn’t have a job, is continuously antagonistic to everyone. I honestly didn’t understand why a sensible Alpha like Dominic tolerated him, because he’s such a pantomime villain and a loose cannon. Sure, he’s a great fighter, but he’s nothing that couldn’t be replaced by a good shot gun. What did save him from cartoon villaindoom, however, was his fascination with Clay. I liked how they were both sort of different sides of the same coin, and Malcolm uses his wolf ideology to justify his cruelty, while Clay, allegedly more wolf than human, cannot understand this senseless cruelty.

One thing I did really hate was how quickly Clay went from being behind his peers due to being in the wild so long, to suddenly being extremely gifted and talented and ahead of everyone else. This happened in the space of a year or two. I’m sorry, but this is complete nonsense. There’s no way Clay could have caught up so quickly, and the only reason he does is because he’s meant to be this super special love interest. Clay is impulsive, irrational and lacks judgement and is extremely primal. He has shown absolutely no sign of having a brain for the entire series, there’s no way I buy him as this super special genius.

But all in all, I absolutely loved these novellas and enjoyed them more than a lot of Elena’s books in the main series.

Infusion and Kitsunegari

Now, with a heavy sigh I have to get to the disaster that is Jeremy’s Asian heritage. Oh my, why did she have to do this? You see, in this Jeremy is half kitsune on his mother’s side (which isn’t a spoiler- if a Japanese supernatural turns up in urban fantasy, it’s always a kitsune). So basically, a kitsune comes along, breeds with Malcolm in order to give Jeremy cool Asian mind powers and is killed conveniently when she’s completed her utility. Yeah, that sounds a bit cold but that’s basically all she is- an exotic baby maker that gives her son superpowers.

The problem is that this is the poster boy for badly used mixed race protagonists in urban fantasy, which is excellently deconstructed in this article here. The only reason that she’s Asian is so that Jeremy gets cool exotic powers, and of course after she’s done that, she’s of no further use so she’s done away with. Nothing of her heritage is passed on to Jeremy, she’s never treated as a person, and none of Jeremy’s heritage affects his life or him as a person- you’d think that growing up getting racially abused by his father and being the only mixed race Asian amongst a bunch of white men would have some affect on him. But no, it’s brought up so little in the series this feels like a bizarre ret con. This is even lazier Mixed Race writing than Zoey Redbird was in HoN, who at least acknowledged the existance of her heritage (even if it’s only to justify her super special spirit Pocohontus powers)- and if I’m saying an element is worse than anything in HoN, that’s the most damning criticism I can heap on something.

Worse still, in Infusion, the reason that the kitsune grandmother uses for choosing to throw her grandaughter at Malcolm is because their race is dying and they need ‘strong blood’. Yeah, POC wanting the ‘strong bloodline’ of white people is a racist trope that’s been around for centuries, and though I’m sure Armstrong didn’t purposefully write it that way because she’s not a white supremicist, it sounds so much like this it’s impossible to ignore. Also, having a Japanese woman throwing herself at a white man in the 40s… when the Americans were throwing Japanese Americans into internment camps? Man, that’s pretty bad.

It appears they do at least acknowledge the racism and the mother does say that she was playing on Jeremy’s Racist attitudes… but because she’s given no character it all feels played straight.

It gets even worse in Kitsunegari, as a gang of Kitsune attempt to seduce Jeremy away from Jaime in mangled English saying ‘I for you.’ So basically:

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Yes, we went there: we went full ‘me love you long time’, and it doesn’t even have the excuse Full Metal Jacket did of being written in the 80s. Or Southpark for being Southpark. These creatures are literal submissive sex objects, and apart from being desperate for Jeremy’s superior white- um, werewolf – semen, they’re given no agency, no will of their own compared with the other supernaturals of Armstrong’s world. They are literal sex objects throwing themselves to be used by the white male protagonists, and that is one of the most pernicious, nastiest racial stereotypes surrounding Asian women. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were more Asian characters, but Women Of The Otherworld is whiter than Donald Trump’s porch after a snowstorm. Hope Adams is the only non white narrator in the series, while Zoe Takano is the only asian character in the series… and she wasn’t exactly very competent in Broken.

I mean, why are the Kitsune dying out when the werewolves are doing just fine? Surely there were plenty of other supernatural creatures nearer home they could breed with? Why travel to a country they were on bad terms with for their supernatural sperm doner. Plus, kitsune and shape shifters in Japanese mythology typically try and breed with nobility, so the Danvers would be of low blood and beneath them.

It’s a shame we had to do this, to walk into so many unfortunate racial tropes for no other reason than to give Jeremy a bit of extra magic- which could have been done another way, as to my knowledge mind powers aren’t amongst the typical kitsune skill set anyway ; it was interesting delving into Malcolm’s twisted psyche, and Jaime was her usual awesome sassy self. Plus, it was nice seeing Jaime and Jeremy interacting as a normal couple, having to make time to see each other, working around each others schedules and responsibilities. Damnit, why did we have go there book? You were so brilliant otherwise!

VERDICT: Ignoring the tropey racial disaster zone that were Infusion and Kitsunegari, Men Of The Otherworld was an excellent collection that did everything a set of short stories about a main series should do: they told a story in their own right, and added a lot of depth to the series main characters.

RATING: 4 wolves out of a pack of 5

And on a final note, the English cover looks so much, and so much better than the alternative version. It’s good to know that at least Women Of The Other World is going equal ops on terrible torso pictures:

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The Way Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them Takes A Few Steps Back With Race

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My main thoughts coming out of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find could be summed up as: meh. I mean, it was okay. The acting was fine, CGI team deserve an award for their creativity, but the characters felt flat and the actual plot of the film was shoved into the background in favor of a series of slap stick routines surrounding the magical creatures. It was long, but not terrible.

Still, there was just one little thing that bugged the hell out of me throughout the movie. The way it treated it’s one and only Black person who could be called a character. Seraphina, the head of MACUSA, was cast as The Big Bad Authority Figure (a Black woman as an oppressor in the 1920s!) Who’s Always Wrong: she shouts down poor trembling plucky White (well Jewish) Porpentina, let’s the main villain get away with shit right under her nose and is kind of a dick.

I looked on the internet, expecting to see a whole load of articles on this, but all I found was a lot of articles on the casting choice, and one review on BlackNerdProblems. The rest of the internet seemed to ignore this, and even praised it on handling themes of bigotry while pretty much ignoring anyone who would realistically be on the receiving end of bigotry.

This is a shame because this is such a missed opportunity. I love the Harry Potter universe, and am generally a fan of JK Rowling as a person. J K Rowling looked like she was making progress with standing up for the casting choice of a Black lady as Hermione in Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, and I’d hoped that all the excitement surrounding that would demonstrate to her how much including some none white people in the wizarding world would mean to people (hell, people get excited about being included as even random names or subtext in the books). But alas, with this movie it looks like she’s making the exact same mistakes as she did in the main series.

THE BLACK BOSS GETS DOWNGRADED TO ‘THE MAN’ SHOUTING DOWN THE POOR WHITE LADY… IN THE 1920S

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Just like with Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Minister Of Magic, Seraphina Picquery follows in the footsteps of a dozen minor Black high court judges, bosses etc who have little impact on the plot. You know, kind of like in those shows where we get the Black Police Chief who presides over the case, but the White people get to all the cool groundwork and have their storylines and lives focused on.

This is quite a tantalising way of deflecting criticism without putting in any actual effort because look! They’re role models! They’ve got power! They’re the boss! Who cares if they haven’t got trifling things like character or plotlines or screentime and their job amounts to them being little more than glorified support cast- empowerment!

But the thing is, Seraphina is actually a step back from Shacklebolt. At least Shacklebolt is supposed to be a good leader. Seraphina is… not. She is more like Cornelius Fudge, only at least he got to be likable for a little while. Seraphina shouts down poor, trembling Ms Goldstein when she’s trying to relay useful information, blames her for not telling her earlier, has our protagonists unfairly executed and is constantly outwitted by our villain.

The only difference between her role and that of a villain is that a villain gets in the way of the protagonists’ schemes because he WANTS to cause trouble; because he is scheming, competent and his objectives clash with theirs. Seraphina is antagonistic because of her incompetence- because she doesn’t listen to important information because the speakers are below her, who is decieved by the villain at every turn and during the final battle, her and all her Wizards were impotent and  had to be saved by Newt- a man who finds himself decieved by the small animals he’s supposed to be an expert on in a regular basis.

What’s worse, is that this is 1920s America and she towers over and oppresses a white (okay, Jewish) woman, belittling her and playing the big cruel antagonist. This just feels like a cruel denial of reality, where not only do we ignore actual prejudice but turn Black people into the villains and the white characters into the oppressed ones we’re meant to sympathise with. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Seraphina wasn’t the only Black person who can be described as an actual character in the film.

The Unlucky Second Choice POC Romance

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The second most relevant POC in the film is Lita Lestrange. Okay, we only see her as a picture, but since the only other contenders are random diplomats with one line and some bit part who was totally going to euthanise the hell out of our protagonists, love interest photo is the closest we got to a second important POC character.

Even before she’s even had a chance to speak a line she’s being put in her place (she was a taker, you need a giver) and positioned as the inferior choice to Porpentina. She is now destined to follow in Chang’s footsteps as the Unlucky Love Interest. At least Cho got Harry’s undivided affections before book 5 before she got derailed in order to lift up Ginny as Harry’s one twu wuv.

 

I don’t think Rowling’s doing this out of malice- more out of lack of investment of POC characters. But author intent is pretty irrelevant, and what we get is a constant case of POC being the unlucky second choice.

AND THOSE OTHER PEOPLE… IN THE BACKGROUND

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Look at all that diversity… now, if only they actual played some actual role in the plot

Yeah, aside from the Serafina, the other POC characters include a Euthanist/ executioner, some black coded goblin musician, and a bunch of foreign representatives who stand around in the background and look diverse while not actually doing anything . This is no doubt going to be held up as proof of diversity, but having none white people as window dressing who have no impact on the plot does not count as being diverse.

 HISTORICAL ACCURACY AND PORTRAYAL OF POC. 

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Black people were more than just servants on the outskirts of society in the 1920s. Princess Tiana could have been also been aiming to become an African American policewoman, a sports star, or to earn a PhD and it would have been historically accurate for the time period.

Yeah, this always comes up ‘but it’s history- Black people wouldn’t have been around and weren’t able to mix with white people so therefore of course it’s not diverse’. No, Black people weren’t just passive servants living on the outskirts of society. In this period, they were a major part of Urban Life (as many left rural areas to live in bigger cities due to prejudice), they held important jobs such as policemen and women, military officers and aviation pilots. It’ss just that most history books tend to skim over this fact, and society in historical based fiction has been portrayed as entirely white save for slaves and servants so many times that most people believe this myth without question. Which again is not helped by the fact that history books tend to largely ignore this, so when authors do research on the era they’re not likely to easily find  detailed info on the subject- it’s a vicious cycle..

It’s a myth so prevalent that in the first draft of The Princess And The Frog they were going to make Princess Tiana a servant- not out of malice- but because they genuinely didn’t realize that Black people could be other things at that time period.

Am I Accusing JK Rowling Of Being A Racist?

Ah, whenever you bring up this issue you always get accused of trying to attack an author. So, do I think J K Rowling’s racist?

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer: No, and this issue really derails the conversation.  I’m not looking at this as evidence for a trial of whether she’s attained perfect allydom status- that’s not really the point of this analysis.

The point is not author’s intent. The point is what ended up on paper, and J K Rowling is making the same mistakes as she did with the Harry Potter series, and since that series is an important part of growing up and adolescence to so many people (and Dumbledore’s Army is now a symbol against racist ideology), that’s a damn shame. The series hasn’t been completed, and it would be great if POC got to be a part of the Potterverse in a way that they weren’t able to in the main series. J K Rowling seems like a reasonable person, so in bringing up these problems, and asking for better, the point is to make people aware of these tropes and to encourage future writers to learn from the problems and do better in the future.

So, then Forced Diversity?

Well, I think a lot of people complain about this are just so unused to seeing POC on their screens that ANY time they appear it’s so unnatural and MUST be the left wing agenda. But for those whom that isn’t the case. Having a more diverse cast doesn’t make a well written story less well written. I mean, look at OITNB, The Wire, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spartacus, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Steven Universe; the highly acclaimed Ms Marvel Kamala Khan incarnation, Luke Cage, Empire. The diversity added more depth to the work and allowed women, LGBT people, and ethnic minorities to feel more invested. Like it or not, fantasy is escapism that allows us to travel to another world and it matters being able to picture yourself as part of the adventure- that’s why pretty much every hero is a hapless every man rather than someone actually qualified .  Would Hunger Games have suddenly been a less well written book if Gale or Katniss had been an unambiguous POC? No.Not at all.

What does detract from a work, however, is half assed diversity, tokenism and only including one minority character. It’s a problem when they include a character to teach a Very Special Lesson, and don’t bother to give that character a personality or role in the plot. Worse, is when they only include one character, pin the responsibility of representing a whole group on them, and turn them into a flat role model instead of an actual person.

It would not make the series bad if they included interesting, well written characters who happen to be Black. As flawed a character as Cho Change may be, she meant a lot to Asian fans and there was a lot of excitement when it came to seeing her on screen.

Harry Potter means a lot to so many people- hell, even having a random name mentioned in one book means a lot to many people. So using these films- a clean slate to- as a way of allowing POC to feel more a part of the adventure that all of us grew up fantasizing we could be a part of.

 

GIRLS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS: 12 AWESOME TITLES THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD READ

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Superhero movies are taking over our both the big screen and small and after seeing The Avengers, Jessica Jones, the new X-Men franchise and Deadpool to name a few, you kind of want to check out the comics and graphic novels they were based off of.

However, entering the world of comics for the first time can be a weird, convoluted and sexist and bizarre place. Even with the New 52 reboot, some stories still become a convoluted mess with endless tie ins, seeing your favourite heroines from the tv shows turned into badly written fap material (poor Starfire), and we have cases such as Frank Cho throwing a hissy fit because Greg Rucka (an amazing writer) told him to alter his cover design to make it less sexualised. However, the comic book industry has gotten a lot better, and there are a lot of really great comics and graphic novels out there which treat women with respect and are accessible to new readers.

12. OLYMPIANS- by George O’Connor

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If you’re interested in Greek Myth than this is a great start. It’s fun, clever and provides a very faithful and thoughtful look into the original mythology of the Olympians. This is the series that transforms both Hera and Aphrodite into interesting, nuanced characters instead of the two dimensional hateful bitches they’re normally portrayed as. My reviews of his take on Hera, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hades, Demeter and Persephone can be found by following the links.

11. Batwoman Elegy

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Isn’t it ironic that a character created to be Batman’s beard became one of comic’s most prominent lesbians? Yeah, Kathy Kane was a silver age creation when distaff counterparts were all the rage, and Kathy Kane along with Bat-girl – no, not that Batgirl, we’ll get to her later- her whole schtick was that she was obsessively in love with Batman. It is believed in order to disprove rumors that he’s gay with Robin. And FYI, her edition makes things so much gloriously worse- just look how miserable Batman is at the prospect of kissing an actual female!

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I love you Silver Age, you never fail to make me laugh

She eventually got retconned out of existence for being ‘too silly’ (presumably along with alien killer cactuses, Rainbow Batman and Batbaby- yes, Batman got turned into a four year old and attacked people on a rocking horse. That happened). However, she was brought back and reimagined as a proud lesbian for the New 52. In this version, she was kicked out of the army under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and wandered around aimlessly, becoming a party girl to forget her problems. She eventually decided to sort her life out and serve her country by taking up the cowl. Colonel Kane her father supported her in her goal and got her years of specialised training with the best of the best, and turned her into a force to be reckoned with.

Greg Rucka is amazing at writing women, and J.H. William’s artwork is divine. Because the whole point of the New 52 was to reboot the comic cannon and make it accessible to new readers (whether it worked or fell flat on its stupid face is debatable), there’s no long backstory you need to know to understand it. Batwoman was my first ever comic book. The reason it’s not ranked higher is because- well, after the opening, the comic does go to really weird places, including having her fight this banshee creature and being assisted by a B-movie werewolf. It’s story telling often becomes shakey, but Batwoman herself is a great character.

10. Batgirl and Robin Year One

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Barbara Gordon is the iconic Batgirl and yet it’s quite difficult to find any comics centring around her pre- New 52 reboot. Here is a chance to read a modernization of the character’s routes before it all got messed up with The Killing Joke. In this, Barbara Gordon is a young woman living in a sexist time who wants to join the police force but is barred due to discrimination thanks to her gender and height. Defying everyone’s expectations of her, she takes up the cowl. Even Batman and Robin underestimate her at first, but she proves herself a valuable asset and her training begins.

Because the whole point of this is an origin story, there’s no need to have any prior knowledge of the Batman universe to understand that. Plus, it also stars a young Dick Grayson, and we all know that he’s always very popular with the ladies.

9. V for Vendetta

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No doubt you’ve seen the movie and know how strong Evey is. Well, the graphic novel is just as good as the film, if not better, and is thought provoking and worth checking out. Alan Moore has a very- spotty- record with female writing, what with humiliating and putting Babsy in a wheelchair and having his female characters constantly threatened with sexual assault (not to mention often pairing them with much older men), and both are true here, but here Evey goes through one of the most compelling character arcs in all of comic books, changing from a frightened victim to revolutionary who carries on what V began.

8. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

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This is definitely one for younger audiences, but it’s fun and there’s definately something for older audiences. Lunella is very rare in that she’s a POC heading her own comic book, and she’s a black girl genius. Moreover, she’s a great character and her struggle with being gifted and the iscolation it brings is really engaging. For more of a discussion of it, I’ve reviewed the first issue here.

7. Lumberjanes

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I heard a lot about Lumberjanes- that it has the great art from the artist who wrote for Adventure Time. Because of the title and the fact it was essentially about a group of girl scouts, I was skeptical. Whenever we read about stories trying to change the way women are portrayed, they inevitably seem to be slice of slice focusing on smaller issues about firendship, coming of age, when sod it- I just want heroines beating the crap out of people and saving the world!

But in spite of that, I was pleasantly surprised. This is that this is a good old school fantasy adventure. It’s fast paced, with a mystery to solve and a whole array of magical creatures they have to defeat. It’s a bit sweet and for a younger audience, sure, but it’s still incredibly fun.

6. SAGA- Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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This is definately one of the most engaging series I’ve ever read and actually had me screaming ‘NOO!!’ Every time a chapter ended and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it hadn’t. This award winning series is a Romeo and Juliet in space about a couple from two sides of a conflict who have a baby and are on the run from both sides. It’s from the man who wrote Y: The Last Man, and has a plethora of well written females.  Not only that, but it’s bad shit insane and manages to switch between being dark and funny

Even though it’s about a horned man, a winged lady and involves humanoid robots with tv heads which breed like normal humans, it also has one of the most realistic romances I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t start with the meet cute, but after they’ve had a kid, and they bicker and compromise like real couples.

Again, there’s a lot of diversity in terms of race, with the female lead and Gwendolyn both being women of colour.

 

5.Batgirl- Silent Knight (Cass Cain run)

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The erasure of Cassy Cain’s run as Bat Girl is one of the casualties of the New 52 reboot, but her series is pretty cool. Not only is she a young Asian superheroine who’s non sexualised, but she’s a complete badass who’s proficient in martial arts and an unstoppable fighting machine.

She was raised to be a warrior, but never taught to be a woman. In place of language she got taught to read ‘body language’- people’s movements in combat, and as such can’t speak. Jurie’s out whether this is the coolest or the dumbest idea ever.

4. MONSTRESS- MARJORIE LIU

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3.Rat Queens

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This is one of the most enjoyable series I’ve come across. I’ve reviewed it here, but essentially it involves a group of cool female friends who’s friendship feels authentic . I love the snarky humour and it’s utterly bombastic, plus the fight sequences are AMAZING.

Not only that, put it has a pretty diverse range of characters, with a lesbian in the main cast, multiple people of colour and one of the rare trans women action leads whom is looking likely to become more prominent. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to read out a badass transgender Orc woman who can annihilate everything in her path.

2. The Batgirl Of Burnside

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I could have put Gail Simone’s run here- and that is definately worth reading- but it was diminished by production issues, its continuous insistence of bringing the Joker in for angst but never allowing Barbara to defeat him, and tie ins to the Death In The Family event which made this series incoherent.

The Batgirl Of Burnside, however, is a great series that is everything New 52 should have been: it really gives her an identity that’s far more than ‘Batman/ Robin’s distaff knock off’, a distinctive world, a great cast of characters and its great solid fun.

The art is gorgeous, and Barbara’s a non sexualised, highly realistic young woman who lives a normal daily life which involves worrying about her Grad project, going on dates, using social media and hanging out with friends. Also, this series has the first trans same sex wedding in comics, which is a nice bonus.

With ‘Batgirl and The Birds Of Prey’ becoming a series, maybe Batgirl will become a spin off more akin to Angel, Xena and The Bionic Woman, a force in her own right and more than just Batman’s distaff. For a more detailed review, please click here.

1.Ms Marvel

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Carol Danvers (the original Ms Marvel, who’s now become Captain Marvel) is another great choice, but I had to go with the Kamala Khan version. I was torn between putting her and Batgirl at number one, but as much as I love Babsy, she is still a distaff counterpart, and I think Kamala might be a slightly better character- I like her doofiness, how much of a geek she is and how she struggles with her relationships with her parents.

Everything about this is great. I love how Kamala started off as a geek idolising the Avengers. The way her Muslim heritage is brought into it is done in a very nuanced, fun and interesting way- showing that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and it deals with Kamala’s frustrations with the restrictions placed on her compared with her peers.

ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT/ HONORABLE MENTIONS

Spider Gwen is an alternate version of Spiderman where Gwen was bitten instead of Peter Parker- which involves our heroine . Greg Rucka is always great at writing women, and his run on Wonder Woman Rebirth should be promising. Nightwing is a male lead series which has a female audience in mind, as he is a strong, smart more vulnerable young man who is striking out on his own after being in Batman’s shadow, and is the hottest guy in comics; Deadpool isn’t great on women, but his series is every bit as hilarious as the movie and no Marvel knowledge is required. Plus, he became a pirate once for the hell of it- and yes, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds. Persepolis and Bitch Planet are known to be great as well, and as they are their own self contained stories, no prior knowledge is needed (although in the case of Bitch Planet, I personally prefer my feminism more incidental to the story, and build into the world and character writing, rather than being the whole point of the story). Plus, Riri Williams, a genius black girl with become Ironheart in the new Iron man series.

SUCH A STEREOTYPE! HOW TO WRITE MINORITIES WELL AND CAN STEREOTYPICAL CHARACTERS EVER BE WRITTEN WELL

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”Oh, so just because she’s a woman she must be into shoes!”Of course the Chinese guy knows martial arts- and for Gods sake Samurai swords are Japanese!’ You’ve all heard people rage against a character on the internet.

For the millionth time, we get another fashion obsessed GBF who talks about sex, never has any, and gets to be the butt of hilarious gay jokes; another lesbian who either dies because she’s expendable and can’t be used as a sassy accessory like the gay men; secretaries and women relegated to support roles and black women who are either entertaining and sassy or high court judges who never get any real characterization or role in the plot. Asian martial artists. Latina maids. The super crip. Russian spies.

But the question is, is writing a stereotypical character always a bad thing? Because, here’s the thing- most stereotypes aren’t randomly pulled from the ether. A hell of a lot of women AREN’T able to become high powered lawyers or mechanics (the same way most white men aren’t) , and they ARE nurses and secretaries. While we rail against the effeminate gay male stereotype (the Kurt Hummels, the Hollywood Montroses), they do exist- although they are definately a minority amongst gay men and with each passing year that breed of gay men are becoming rarer and rarer. A lot of black people DO like Hip Hop and R n Band listen to Bob Marley.

And railing too hard against the stereotype can be a problem, because we can reach the other extreme; we can reach the idea that a female character can’t be strong unless she’s angry, unemotional and hates fashion and girly things (but she still has to be young and hot- a woman is still worth as much as her attractiveness to men); butch lesbians are terrible, a black woman can’t be a worthwhile character unless she’s a lawyer, an honour student, a doctor or a good role ( a standard which isn’t applied to white characters, who can be everymen)   . And I think we can all see why deeming these real life people as inferior is a problem.

1) DON’T! Do you REALLY need to write a stereotype?

In spite of the premise of this article, my first piece of advice would be not to write a character filling that stereotype. First off, that character type is pretty much catered for. We’ve seen enough gay hairdressers, Asian martial artists, promiscuous bisexuals, Latino/a sex machines, so you really don’t need to fill that void. However, the asian basketball fans (an old roommate of mine), black scientists, lesbian who actually survives and isn’t obsessed with babies categories are extremely underrepresented.

Second off, writing a minority group which you are not a part of (or the opposite gender) is extremely challenging at the best of times; but writing about one whose experience is completely alien to you, and of whom every single portrayal is steeped in stereotypes and misunderstanding that you don’t know which ones are true, and which ones are false caricatures? That’s a tricky, tricky task- and one that even writers with the best of intentions get wrong.

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Barrett bless him. You can’t help but love him, but by God whoever wrote him has never met a black person

Write a character you can relate to. For instance, a lot of people are terrified of not giving a woman enough feminine characteristics in fear of being criticized for writing a ‘man with boobs.’ Trust me, as a woman I’d rather watch a strong active heroine who is  ‘a man with boobs’ than a woman who’s defined by being someone’s love interest/ mother or given a forced girly hobby because ‘chicks dig that, amirite?’

As for the stereotypical ones? I’d say leave writing them to the butch lesbians, girly girls, flamboyant gay men to write (or at least, the people who know a lot about that community).They’re the ones who can write them with the nuance they deserve, because they understand that stereotype. For example Ryan Murphy from Glee managed to turn Kurt Hummel into a great and complex character… even though I think he dropped the ball a little in The New Normal. Ai Yazawa wrote NANA, who’s main character is an air headed, boy crazy girly girl who’s impulsive, makes terrible life choices…yet it was framed in such a way that she was used to show the challenges of a young woman in Japan.

2) CHALLENGE your internalised prejudices. And RESEARCH

Look, in spite of what people tell you, no, just because you have gay/ black/ trans friends does NOT mean you don’t have a touch of homophobia, racism, sexist etc. It’s a ludicrous argument and by that stroke, Bluebeard could argue ‘I’m not a mysogynist: all my wives are women… well, were- before I killed them! Now they’re dead- but they were alive!’

Just because you agree with interaccial marriage and don’t attend KKK rallies doesn’t mean you’re not prejudiced; you’ve just cleared the world’s lowest bar, and there’s plenty of prejudiced behavior in between being Jesus and committing a hate crime. And, when you start writing, often those prejudices that you don’t normally betray in every day life become magnified

You can counteract this by RESEARCH. Believe it or not POC, LGBT people are REALLY keen on telling you want, and writing about their experiences. Read stories from their POV, about what it was like being a say, latina maid, or an effeminate gay man who grew up having an interest in clothes and make up since he was a young boy.

2) Avoid language that’s locked, loaded and coded

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This is a big problem and primarily applies to effeminate gay men. I’ve read of gay men described constantly as ‘sashaying’, ‘mincing’ ; take for example, Lord Akeldama from The Parosel Protectorate, the Patron Saint of terrible cliched gay writing:

He minced into the room, teetering about on three-inch heels with ruby and gold buckles. “My darling, darling Alexia.”

Oh God. How does one even mince into the room? Is he waving around his limp wrists and voguing to an invisible camera.

You see, when you start using these buzz words, you are not writing a fully fleshed person based on reality. You are drawing on cultural stereotypes as a short cut to portray a certain idea of  that type of person. It also singles out their ‘otherness’; why can’t an effeminate gay man just ‘walk’ or ‘stroll’ into a room like every other character? Why does he need a special gay walk because he’s different?  Please, don’t use coded language and let

3) Do NOT make their otherness their sole personality trait. And do NOT bring it up constantly

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Fangs for the fantasy wrote an excellent example on the Lesbian Shark. Sometimes writers are so enamored/ obsessed with the characters otherness that they think its interesting in and of its self that they have to bring it up constantly. If your whole character can be summed up as ‘gay’ or ‘female’ or ‘sassy black friend’ then you have a problem (and no, the fact they have a couple of token interests you cling to like Shakespearean plays does NOT stop them from falling into this trope).

The worst example is Sir Loras in the TVs version of GoT. Oh God.Every time he’s mentioned, it’s always to bring up a HILARIOUS gay joke, or about his gayness, or to show him persecuted because he’s gay and so he HAS to be persecuted or forced into an arranged marriage (not in the book) or some other stereotype relating that, or to show him banging a guy to please viewers. This isn’t inclusion, this is a hollow shell.

4) Do NOT make their otherness their sole ark

This is not inherently a bad thing, because marginalization really, really does have a massive impact on people’s daily lives. Especially in historical times, when women were property, black people were second class citizens or slaves, gay people could be murdered for who they love (which still hasn’t changed), being disabled made you less than, and being trans was an impossibility. These issues should be dealt with and it would

But it gets frustrating when everyone else gets to deal with a multitude of interesting ‘neutral’ issues, like saving the world, or dealing with PTSD, or their commitment issues, what it means to be strong, a hero etc while minorities get to deal with minority problems. The first woman pilot/ mechanic etc. Racism at work. The coming out story. We are more than just our race/ gender/ sexuality etc, and we deal with other problems too.

The one thing that’s even worse is when their minority

A great example is Tyrion. Tyrion is a dwarf and constantly has to deal with a barrage of prejudice from his father and everyone around him. But that’s only part of his story: first and foremost he’s a pragmatic, cunning, witty noble with a penchant for wine and women, who is scheming enough to be a politician in Westeros, but lacks the cruelty of other characters. We see him leading battles, dealing with his tyrannous nephew, get arrested for murder and end up on the run. This is how you write a minority character and treat their prejudice.

A bad ex

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5) Do not reduce them to a side kick, supporting role

The sassy black best friend, the GBF, the magical cripple. Too often, if a writer wants to include a minority, they make them a sidekick or a best friend. The main problem is their whole purpose to the plot and their character is defined by their relationship to the protagonist. Inevitably, they will end up becoming a useful servant to the protagonist.

Give them an actual role- give them their own plotline, or even – gasp- make them the protagonist!

5) Please do not make the sole/ most prominent female the love interest

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More Elsa please

This one is the mother of all terrible female tropes. Too often women’s existence is defined by her attractiveness to men and as being a wife or mother, so we see this constantly reflected in the media. It doesn’t matter what she’s achieved, her kind personality, whether she’s funny, made mistakes or throws one hell of a party- all that matters about her is who she’s married to. It’s frustrating because even if she is a great character, she will always be seen as ‘X’s’ girlfriend and will be in his shadow as the less prominent/ successful half of the couple.

Even when love interests start out interesting, because the story isn’t about them but their boyfriend, too often she will end up getting sidelined and get stuck in the kitchen. Look at Mira from Spartacus, who for all her talk of independence got bumped off as soon as she was no longer Spartacus’ love interest and therefore there was no point to her; or Fiona from Shrek, who was left behind in the castle in 2 and 3, and only got to do stuff in 4 because the alternate timeline meant she was no longer with Shrek and therefore they could reset their meetcute.

There are exceptions like Katara, who’s very much not primarily viewed as Aang’s love interest and has achieved a lot in her own right, but she is very much the exception to the rule and even she still got imperiled multiple times to motivate Aang (though she was kickass the majority of the time).

Hell, the reason Elsa was so revolutionary was because, for once, we had a female not defined by her romatic relationships.

I honestly would say that if she’s the girlfriend of a more prominent male character, she hardly counts as inclusion. Please, include females who aren’t love/ sex interests.

 

 

What advice do you have for writing minorities? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

REVIEW: THE BEAUTY VOL.1- by Jeremy Haun

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I decided to take a chance on The Beauty and bought it based entirely on the cover, the basic concept and all the positive reviews that it was receiving. I mean- it was about an STI that you want to catch- one that makes you extremely beautiful, so it sounded like it could have been an interesting look at the media’s unhealthy obsession with beauty. And after reading it? Honestly- I don’t get understand the positive reviews. I honestly don’t understand what it is that people see in this, because this lacks any nuance and the plot relies on all government law enforcement agencies acting unprofessionally and everyone being utter morons.

Why are people so drawn in? Well, I think part of it is because people are enamoured with the concept and because the cover art  is consistently amazing:

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It’s beautiful and horrifying, gothic and artistic- and not just this one; all the different covers and alternate covers for this book look bloody amazing. I mean, look at them:

The covers are fantastic and suggest a beautiful high art concept.The cover tells you this series’ whole premise. A ‘what if’- what if there was a sexually transmitted disease that everyone wanted, that made you beautiful. It raised so many what ifs- like there could have been discrimination against those who don’t contract, or an epidemic of people cheating on their non contracted partners… and then this happened.

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It apparently makes your HEAD LITERALLY EXPLODE! Did this disease enter the human population  when someone fucked a nucleur warhead? How could an STI possibly do that?

Yeah, fuck nuanced complexity. The obvious head exploding side effect takes away the potential for a more slow burn, complex exploration of society’s obsession with youth and beauty. It could still happen in later volumes-perhaps showing people refusing the cure because the thought of living without beauty is so unbearable that they’d rather live a short life than be anything less than physically perfect-but the campiness and the lack of subtlety of this volume do not bid well for the future.

This first issue doesn’t really explore the themes of beauty in much depth, but instead turns into an action thriller with two police detectives going up against a massive conspiracy.

And heavens, the action is silly. The characters act unprofessional- this was less like a police agency and more two maverick detectives running around doing what they felt like with no input from any superiors- and the conspiracy to keep the negative side effects of The Beauty hidden felt contrived. I’m sorry, but IF SOMEONE’S HEAD EXPLODES AFTER COUGHING ON NATIONAL TV, AND PEOPLE ARE SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTING IN PUBLIC then you can’t keep that shit covered up! Especially since this is set in America and anything that encourages people to have pre marital sex would have a massage back lash from powerful members of the religious right (many of whom are wealthy and are in positions of power), so there would be hundreds of wealthy organisations looking to play up a negative angle of the beauty.

Furthermore, when one of your agents in charge of investigating the Beauty after the event is clearly trying to say something about the Beauty and THEN IS SUSPICIOUSLY DRAGGED OFF BY OTHER AGENTS TRYING TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT IN THE MOST EYE BROW RAISING WAY POSSIBLE, THEN THE CONSPIRACY IS OVER! Seriously, they were so blatantly covering it up… the fact that no one catches on defies suspension of disbelief more than the alien cactuses did from the Silver Age Batman comics. I mean, there are people who theorize 9/11 is an inside job based on the emergency service response time, and yet someone’s head explodes on tv, the FBI acts really suspiciously and they have a punch up in the corner and no one suspects a thing? Seriously?

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It reached Batman villain levels of insanity when we had a guy in a mask ripped straight out of The Book Of Life shooting a major celebrity and going after two FBI agents in broad daylight. Why would you hire a crazed serial killer to cover up a conspiracy? Why not an SAS trained soldier who is proffessional, and can stick to the mission and carry it out in a reasoned and dispassionate way?

Also, is there any chain of command- any accountability? Task Force? Because the whole story revolved around two government agents running around blindly.

It may explore some themes later, and there are a few with potential to be explored in later volumes. The religious right’s objection that was briefly shown is a realistic consequence to The Beauty… afterall, they hate any kind of sexuality that isn’t very tightly regulated, and marital sex is the enemy of the highly puritanical religious reiche in America. However, since the glimpse we did get was of Westborough style fanatics with a ‘God Hates Beauty’ sign, the chances of this being done without delving into full Mr Burns level cartoon villainy is very slim. Yeah, it’s easy to mock the Westborough, but there’d be a lot of more mainstream Right Wing churches up in arms against this who are less obviously hateful and crazy, so the only objectors shouldn’t just be those who’ve gone off the deep end.

However, I do like the fact that the self hated closeted religious conservative has become such a cliche, that whenever we see a religious right wing fanatic we automatically assume that he must secretly be craving the dick in his life .

Another idea this graphic novel had going for it was the motive the enemy organisation had for their actions (I don’t want to spoil it here but it was a really convincing motivation and well thought up)- but the antagonists have gone sub Bond villain mustache twirling  level evil and, with their employment of crazy masked serial killer,  I have doubts of this being handled in any kind of sensible way.

However, with all the negatives, there are some things I liked. I think it treated the women in this novel equally to the men, and I like the relationship between the two cops. They had a good dynamic, were equals, and Vaughn (our heroine) was supportive of our male lead’s marriage. I hope they stay friends- because this is such a good and equal friendship- though I suspect that it might turn romantic at some point because his bond with her is so much stronger than his bond with his wife.

I also like how this novel seamlessly includes LGBT people in the novel as characters who are unstereotyped and fully integrated into the plot with no fanfare, although i did see a happy scene between a gay couple and thought ‘oh shit, we’re heading for gaydeath aren’t we?’

SPOILER FOR THE LESS CYNICAL I was right. This was annoying, especially since our leading heteros make it out okay, but at least with all the death in the novel it didn’t feel egrerious and I’m glad LGBT people were at least acknowledged and treated as human like everyone else.

THE ARTWORK

Honestly, for the artwork was decent and yet disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well drawn, the colouring’s good, it has a great use of shadows and the character models are fine, but it was always more realistic and restrained which was a bit disappointing. I personally believe the cover art should represent the artwork of the story inside, and I was hoping for more beautiful artistic images like the cover promised; maybe with a less realistic and more dreamlike style, the siliness of events wouldn’t have seemed so jarring. Or it could have at least distracted me from the weaknesses of the plot like how J H. William’s artwork on the Batwoman comics kept me enjoying the series even when it became silly and incoherant.

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It’s more realistic artwork jars with the more insane elements of the plot, and its world and writing doesn’t have enough character to make it compelling. Also, I found the faces to not be particularly expressive- which is fine for those with The Beauty, as I guess they were meant to look artificial and like they had been botoxed the hell out of, but even the non Beauties don’t look very expressive. I mean, judge for yourself from the panels’s I’ve showed you, but I just don’t get a sense of character jumping out at me like I did when I was reading say, Saga or Ms Marvel- which I think is due to its more realistic style. I’ve hopefully shown enough of the artwork to give a general flavor (and if you think I’m full of crap, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments), but it just isn’t what I was expecting from the cover.

VERDICT: This is a fast paced thriller, and while it wasn’t memorable, for all its flaws it isn’t dull either. However, the action was so implausible and the villains so ridiculous and moustache twirlingly evil that it did destroy any suspension of disbelief I had.  It is a first volume and it could get better when it explores its central concept (the depths people will sink to for beauty), but so far this series does not display the depth and nuance necessary to do its central concept justice and I just don’t understand where all the positive hype is coming from.

RATING :

2 gorgeous covers out of five:

The Mermaid’s Snare

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My legs were aching. My heart worked harder than it had ever done before, but it didn’t matter. I had her- the mermaid curled against my chest.

“Get back here!” cried Father John, “She’s not human! Such a union will be cursed!”

“We’re in love! That’s all that matters.”

I dove into the ocean- opened my eyes…saw my shimmering tale. My heart soared. We could be together.

Miriana was smiling. I looked at her pretty face, at her naked breasts- I pulled her against me…kissed her neck, her chest, slid my hands down her…down her… I paused

“Umm… honey.” I said , “How do we…”

“Oh silly.” She said. “Not like that!”

“Wait…. What?”

“We mate by linking fins.”

“Are you kidding me!?”

“What’s the problem.” she said, “It’s just breeding.I mean, it’s not like it’s fun.”

My blood turned cold- and not just because I’d turned myself into a reptile.

“Andrew,” said Miriana, “Why are ?”

My body was shaking. My scream echoed through the whole ocean.

“Curse you Father John!”

REVIEW: ARES, BRINGER OF WAR (OLYMPIANS 7) – by George O’Connor

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This is what this entire series has been building up to: The Trojan War, and oh my God, is it completely and utterly glorious.

It begins with a battle; chaos in the battlefield; when strategy fails and it turns into a chaotic bloodshed. That’s when Ares appears. And this is introduced by an epic 300 style battle with an epic narration about war happening as we watch Ares kick the crap out of people. I mean, check out this panel and try and tell me that it’s not made of awesome:

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The whole novel is full of excellent fight scenes that really brings excitement back to The Iliad. We have the battle between the King of Sparta Menelaus against Prince Paris, Athena teaming up with Diomedes to wreak havoc on the battlefield, and of course that fateful, heart breaking battle between a grieving Achilles and Prince Hektor. The battles are exciting, not least because its not just a clash of swords, but a clash of characters- each with their own skills and agenda.

Though this novel is called Ares, he is not really the protagonist. This is very much an ensemble piece, and If anything, the story is about Athena, with Zeus playing the role of quiet chessmaster, observing silently from afar as the Gods fight, always in control. But even so, Ares isn’t forgotten and plays a very important symbolic role- being the foil to the manipulations of the seemingly more civilised Olympians.

One of the greatest strengths of O’Connor is that he is really far stronger at bringing a new perspective to the Greek Gods that were despised in the original myths. Athena and Apollo were two of the most beloved deities, and yet are far more cold and less sympathetic in this series, while the reviled shrew Hera, ditzy Aphrodite and the hated God of War Ares (the essential personification of masculine cruelty) are given a brilliantly complex portrayal. He is reviled by his own father Zeus in favour of Athena, and admits that while she is the Goddess of strategy, he is the God of bloodshed and violence is all he can bring. As a result, all he has is strength and he is constantly outwitted by Athena. And yet he has a sort of stoic nobility about him.

Even though he is the personification of violence, he knows what he is and there’s no deception about him. He never starts the battle- but he’s summoned as a result of all the other characters and their epic scheming. That’s pretty complex and is done in such a subtle way.

War of the Gods:

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I can’t talk about this graphic novel without its central draw, the war of the Gods. Oh my God, was it amazing. In all the previous books, we’ve been introduced to most of the main players- Athena, Apollo, Poseidon, Hera- and seen their strengths, know their backstory, grown to love O’Connor’s incarnation of them. Now we get to see them fight.

It is everything I wanted, and oh my God, was the confrontation between Hera and Artemis perfection… All this culminating in Hector vs Achilles, in which the tone changes… the war is no longer heroic, but sad and the weight of the bloodshed falls upon them.

The only downside:

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The one theme that bugged me is that it often contrasts Ares and Athena by the fact that he has children but she doesn’t, and therefore she’s far colder. It makes sense that Aphrodite criticises her for this (because that’s one Goddess not under her control), but this seems to be Ares’ and the novel’s assessment of her too and I’m not sure I think this is valid. It overlooks the reason why she had to be a virgin. The reason why Athena is a virgin is because the relationship between and husband and wife in ancient Greek society (especially Athenian) was so hierarchical, so unequal and riddled in misogyny that remaining a virgin was the only way she could be her own person, powerful in her own right and not lorded over by her husband.

Making her asexual and divorced from femininity was the only way the Greeks could relate to her, such an important Goddess because of their hatred of women. Afterall, Hera was the Goddess of marriage and the personification of the most typical way of life for women; she was Queen of the Gods and wife of Zeus and yet she was reviled in the Aenead, The Illiad and The Odyssey; Aphrodite was the personification of the feminine allure and was likewise portrayed as silly, weak and a cause of disorder. Divorcing herself from femininity was the only way she could be ‘the exceptional woman’ and a Goddess wielding so much power and agency, and this is something that really should have been acknowledged if we went down.

But still, this such an astonishingly minor quibble and believe me, it amounts to nothing doesn’t do anything to detract from how perfect and amazing this graphic novel is. Also, ‘not now Hermes, I’m gloating’ is one of my favourite lines in anything.

Verdict: This graphic novel is perfect in every way and every man, woman and child needs to read it now! I’d recommend reading its prequel Aphrodite: Goddess of Love first (which covers the judgement of Paris), for maximum impact.

Rating: 5 almighty smackdowns / 5

Daily Prompt: Scorched- BEYOND THE APOCALYPSE

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via Daily Prompt: Scorched

BEYOND THE APOCALYPSE

2062- and we were running for our lives. Running from the men in anti radiation suits. We turned the corner- but there were more men out to kill us. They weren’t government or enforcers. They were ordinary men from our rival tribe; they were worse than enforcers. For them this was personal.

“You can’t do this!” screamed my sister.

“Like hell we can’t, you little vermin!” cried a woman.

“We didn’t do anything!” screamed my sister.

“You’re taking our food!” screamed man, “It’s thanks to people like you, that our supplies are dwindling! It’s your fault this happened in the first place!”

He handed us to the men in radiation suits. My sister screamed as they dragged us away. Towards the entrance. Towards the end. My heart pounded in my chest. This was more like a dream. I heard the door slam. I felt earth beneath my feet for the first time. Exposed on the surface. We were going to die. We were really going to die.

My sister banged on the door for what seemed like an hour. No one listened; of course they didn’t. If I learned one thing from the underground Haven, it’s that people never listen. Eventually my sister learned that too. Her screams grew silent. She fell to her knees and was silent for a long time. Then she began to speak again.

“There’s no way out.” she said.

My answer was silence. I looked up at the sky, at the grey snowflakes falling on my cheek. My sister looked up too, lost in thought.

“Hey sis, can you tell me about the sky again?” she said, “Before the great war.”

I smiled, sad. I looked into the big black sky; at the endless wasteland of fallen buildings, burnt to the ground and covered in grey snow.

“I’ve never seen it before. “

“Tell me anyway.” she said, “I…I need something…something to stop me thinking about this…”

I sighed and looked to the sky, at the grey flakes falling down.

“Grandma always said back then, snow used to be different than it is now. Before the surface was scorched.” I said, “It didn’t fall apart when you touched it- not like this.” I said, holding another ashy flake in my palm as it disintergrated, “It was cool and wet. It used to cover all the earth, all the trees with beautiful white sheets. And people used to build snow men. Or make little balls and throw it at each other.”

We stare out, into the ashen wasteland.

“There wasn’t the war back then.” I said, my voice small, “There was… but not like this. Not like the one that did this- not like the purges.”

“Sis…” my sister’s voice choked. “How long… do you think we have… before the radiation kills us?”

“I don’t know, four hours maybe?”

We were both silent. We looked back at the cave lead door of the underground city we came from.

“Four hours.” she choked, “…I don’t want to die.”

“I know you don’t.”

“I’m scared.”

“I know you are.”

I didn’t know what to tell her. In a few hours, we’d be nothing. We’d be dead. All I could do was hold her hand.

“The sky,” she spoke softly “It’s beautiful. Funny, all that time underground… I never thought I’d see it.”

I looked up at the endless void, filled with beautiful stars. I’d never seen a star before, but I’d assumed it was like one of our strobe lights. I never knew its life could be so…pure.

” Do you think it’s true- what they say?” she said, “That… maybe there is a paradise-somewhere here?”

The lost land sealed by the stone door. The story every child in the underground city knew by heart.

“Maybe.” i lied

“Hey, sis. I don’t want to die doing nothing.Do you think… maybe if we look, we might find it before the radiation kills us?”

“I think we should try.” I said.

We walked together, into the scorched wasteland, looking at the remains of humanity. At the piles of rubble that was once our greatest achievements that meant nothing now. In search of what man had been searching for since the dawn of time. Paradise. A place better than this one.

Hey, thanks for reading. This was done in response to the daily prompt challenge which is here: Scorched . Follow the link to find out about taking part.

If you’re interested in another piece of flash fiction set in this world, please click here for more on their paradise.

The Secret of The Sailor and The Kraken

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Everyone knew the story of  my grandad. 50 years ago, a Kraken had terrorized our town. Killed a lot of people, including my Uncle. That’s when Grandpa snapped; with only a hunting knife, he went out and killed the monster and became a hero.

But one of the strange things about him was that he always walked along the sea front alone, late at night.

I followed him one night. I watched as he stood by the ocean. Moonlight glittered on a shiny black tentacle.

He didn’t even look up, “I knew you’d find me, lad. I’d like you to meet Ella. The Kraken’s daughter.”

“But… why?”

The old man gave a heavy sigh.

“Ella here’s a herbivore.” He said slowly, “Tried to feed her some tuna but she wouldn’t even touch it.”

“Then…”

He put his hands deep in his pockets.

“I found out…” he said, “many years ago, my son was seeing another man. Your mother said some men found out and didn’t like it. Were gonna blackmail him. Don’t know who.Apparently the thought of me knowing was worse than death to him.”

He kicked a rock.

“I’ll never know what happened- if it was someone else who killed him, or he did it himself.” his voice choked “All I know is that people still go missing, my son’s gone, and killing that Kraken didn’t do a damned thing.”

He gave me a long, tired look.

“If you only remember one thing I’ve told you, remember this.” he said, “It’s easier to kill a monster than look in the damned mirror.”

Grandpa walked away into the night,not looking back.

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This is my 280 word submission for the flash fiction challenge, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. Each week we submit a story of approximately 100-175 words based on a photo which we use to center our short stories on. It’s really beyond the word length and is probably ineligible, but I had a good story and decided to share it here anyway. Hopefully it’ll be a good read anyway. For more information, click HERE.