Today the first in The Old Kingdom series, Sabriel, turns 20 years old. There are a few books I can point back to as being so very influential on my life.
The first was Howl's Moving Castle; I wasn't an adventures reader during my younger years. I didn't have a great grasp of spelling or grammar, a trait I'm happy to say I still am unable to escape... wait... happy's not the right word. However it was How'ls Moving Castle that was the first ever chapter book I read, and I couldn't put it down. I don't know if it was the magical world, characters or just how endlessly creative it was but I couldn't put it down. It was the first book that was ever threatened to be confiscated from me, but certainly not the last.
From then on I was a very avid reader, a huge fan of Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynn Jones and Margret Clark''s Web Watchers... which is so incredibly dated in hind site that I have to laugh, although lovingly.
One of the book made a very lasting impression on me without ever having a chance to read it, this was Lireal. I borrowed the book but didn't have a chance to read it before I had to return it, although my father did. When the Librarian asked what I was planning to read next I said Lireal, and was then promptly told that I couldn't. Lireal was apparently too adult for me, and I should never have been able to borrow it in the first place. I'd never been told that I wasn't able to read something before and that set something off inside me.
It was in the high school library that I finally was able to get my hands on Lireal, to this day it is still my favorite book. It's the only book I've ever re-read and re-read and re-read.
There was only one other book that opened up another word for me as well, the first ever tome fantasy that I read. Sword of Shannara, was the first time I'd challenged myself when it came to length.
However this isn't really a great birthday for Sabriel, as I've spent so long talking about how I like it's younger sibling more. While it's considered a trilogy, I see it a bit more like The Hobbit and then LOTR. Sabriel is set around twenty or so year before Lireal and Abhorsen.
So Sabriel, a happy twentieth birthday to you, one of the few books I'll re-read, part of my favorite series of all time and a truly great book.
Hey everyone! So starting this month I'll be doing something new. Serialised creative stories, a chapter a month (hopefully more once I switch to part time for my paying job). Once the story is then finished I'll be bringing them together into a novel. So be ready for the first Chapter of Bed of Thorns; a sci-fi re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. But speaking of fairy tales, lets look at Cinderella.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fan of the Disney Princess genre, there are very few films in that genre that I will skip, even the ones that are Disney knock offs rather than actual Disney. So I went into the new live action Cinderella with decently high expectations, I wasn't expecting anything ground breaking but I also wasn't expecting to leave disappointed.
Rather than just going through the movie we are actually going to do a compare and contrast, with the animated Disney Cinderella and the live action Ever After staring Drew Barrymore with the new Cinderella film. Which is a straight remake of the animated one and yet tries to ape the strides that Ever After took and falls woefully short.
Let's look at the environment first; Cinderella of all of them most looks like it takes place in a fairy tale world. It's bright colours and flawless costumes, it has a world that looks remarkably clean. The Animated movie in contrast is very contained, there aren't any scenes of the outside world from her house until she goes to the ball; and Ever After is a fair dirtier movie. Pledging itself to some degree of historical accuracy... some.
The environments: set up clearly the tone each one is going for, the animated movie which focuses more on how Cinderella is contained to help contrast how special it is when she goes to the ball; the live action which is more interested in setting up a world where magic is possible and characters that are archetypes rather than characters. Ever After however is far more focused on character and making the fairy tale more like a possible event than a parable.
Speaking of characters lets really look into the meat of the issues here, the characters.
The Prince: I'm a little torn if I like the Prince in Ever After or the live action Cinderella more; Ever After's prince was a tad more flawed. Vulnerable to pride and making the mistakes that come with it, so his relationship feels more deserved, the both have flaws they need to get over. The live action prince is torn between love and duty but we don't see much more of him beyond that; however Rob Stark (Richard Madden) does play a whole hearted charming prince who any Game of Thrones fan will be happy to see finally wind up happily ever after.
The animated price is the least developed prince of all the Disney princes; and that is saying something.
The Step-Mother: This is one of the closest races there is; each of the portrayals have their own strengths. The animated step-mother is straight up evil, it's an incredibly menacing performance there is no effort made to try and humanise her. The animated step-mother gets points for simply being the most memorably evil. Ever After and the live action both try to show the step-mother as being evil from hurt caused by their new husbands never giving them love and instead showing Cinderella as his only family. However nether really does anything with it and Cate Blanchett turns evil far too quickly for there to really be any chance of understanding. Anjelica Huston on the otherhand, has over a decade to turn Cinderella into a slave and displays occasional moments where it's suggesting her own pain is causing her to inflict this pain on Cinderella.
They try a similar thing with Cate Blanchett, however Blanchett is playing it as evilly as the animated movie and every attempt at humanising her comes off as shallow. There is a moment when things really could have been tied together; Blanchett's character says that she married to give a chance to advance her daughters and there is this implication that she resents Cinderella for being this idea women who could marry a prince while her daughters are too inadequate to get advantageous marriages. But no, they don't tie it in with this sub-text of how society places restrictions on women, she destroys any chance of having her character ever be redeemable by saying she is cruel to Cinderella as Cinderella is good an innocent... And that's it. That is her motivation. Blanchett really is far too good for this role.
The animated movie, like most Disney animated movies of the past, is not interested in humanising the step-mother. She is cruel and evil because some people are just cruel and evil. While this villain could have slipped by, they did such a fantastic job animating her; really the animated movie really is just incredibly powerful in it's small moments. Especially with Cinderella, however we'll get to more in a moment.
A poorly humanised villain is simply more frustrating than painting a villain with the broad brush of saying evil because evil. So even though I do love Anjelica Huston and Cate Blanchett it simply has to go to the animated step mother. Brilliantly drawn, classically cruel and controlled giving a fantastic subdued but constantly threatening performance, Eleanor Audley is the best evil step-mother.
The supporting cast: Wow, I spent a lot of time on the step-mother, let's speed through some of the supporting cast. The step sisters are usually just comic relief, although occasionally effort is made to humanise Anastasia/Jacqueline, although usually it is just done by making her more of a push over by her mother and step-sister. It doesn't excuse what she does, just makes the audience feel bad for her as well. We'll give this to Ever After for having the two sisters actually act differently and not being unbearably annoying.
The fairy god mother, it's surprising that this character is usually the least interesting character, they really are only there as living deus ex fairy. A plot device to get Cinderella to the ball. Da Vinichi from Ever After is our stand in fairy god mother and is the most developed... but that isn't saying much. Have to go with the animated one for some bibbidi-boboidi-boo action.
The animals; no one wins on this one. The animals are either way to prominent in the movies, just there to reference the animated movie or not there are all.
Cinderella: Now Cinderella often gets a lot of flack for being a problematic character; she's one of the most passive Disney Princess's. Tying with Sleeping Beauty as the most passive in fact. So a lot of modern interpretations seek to address that; they give her character and chances to prove himself. Ever After is perhaps the clearest example of this, making Cinderella well learned, and keen to escape the situation she's in but without any means to; she suffers through the movie but when she is given a chance to rescue herself she does. Animated Cinderella is a kind and caring person, still totally good hearted despite the abuse she has suffered.
The new Cinderella attempts to marry these two concepts and ends up being the weakest part of the movie and why the movie ends up failing as a whole. The motto of the live action movie is have courage and be kind. This motto is repeated endlessly and is why the prince falls in love with Cinderella before the ball and why she is able to talk to animals and why the fairy god mother shows up for her. Cinderella is never courageous however, she is a doormat. Cinderella is well learned in the new movie, she has skills and intelligence that would allow her to find a life outside of her step mothers control and became a servant when she was old enough to escape, and is shown to have friends who could assist her living outside of the house. In fact she does try to escape, but decides it is cowardly to run away from the abusive situation she is in.
It was cowardly for her to run, because she says no doubt many people have it worse than she does.
... ... ... oh movie... no.
Contrast this with the animated movie, again in this Cinderella never escapes, however we are given no evidence to suggest that she could. Cinderella has lived like this since she was a child, we don't know that she has ever been outside the house. She also doesn't take the abuse in the same way; again I have to praise the animators who managed to give a lot of quiet dignity. Cinderella carries her head high at all times, its a small little sign that she isn't broken; it isn't until her dress is ripped that she finally breaks down. The dress tearing scene is chaotic and emotional; I've heard some refer to it the closest Disney has ever gotten to depicting a rape scene. And it was, until Maleficent and the scene where she wakes to find her wings removed. In contrast the live action scene has a sleeve ripped, that's it. Just one small rip; the scenes just can't compare in emotional weight. Movies have a simple language, which is 'show don't tell'. The animated movie never needs someone to exclaim the moral as 'have courage and be kind', Cinderella shows it through her actions alone and is rewarded for it.
It is really just hollow in the live action Cinderella movie; Cinderella claims to be endlessly kind and the film ends with her forgiving her family for the abuse. Yep; she forgives her abusers. Not gains some understanding about their motives, or any appreciation for the difficulties the Step Mother might face as a single mother in this time period. Nope, forgiven without question... they still get banished from the kingdom along with the duke who dared to stop the King marrying a peasant girl to protect the Kingdom. So, justice is served?
The live action movie really doesn't bring anything new to the table, although some great character work is done with the Prince and the King, it just adds nothing to the 'canon' of Cinderella. It is inferior to the animated movie it tries to improve upon. Meanwhile I love the hell out of Ever After and the animated Cinderella film; both are different however and each do succeed in what they are attempting.
I'll be updating again on the 20th as I turn the other passive fairy tale princess Sleeping Beauty into a sci-fi heroine.
For those unaware the quote above is from the new Wachowski siblings film Jupiter Ascending and I have a few problems with it.
Firstly I should make clear I was really looking forward to this film when I first heard of it, I like Channing Tatum, I like Mila Kunis and I like Sean Bean but I really like big epic space opera's from talent who can create something as revolutionary as the Matrix was. After the first trailer came out I was pumped for how new everything looked, although I thought the plot sounded a little lack luster but I will still ready to see what they did with it.
And then the second trailer came out. Mila Kunis who appears to be unknowing space queen of Earth quips that they wont believe what she does for a living as it shows she appears to be some sort of maid/cleaning laid cleaning a toilet. This isn't really the problem, poor person didn't know they were actually the most special snowflake stories can be good, they can be done well. Harry Potter is the prime example. But the line Sean Bean says after this annoys me for two reasons, 'It's not what you do, it's what you are.' And no, I'm sorry, but no. I understand they are saying that she isn't defined by her job but a characters actions are what is important to the plot and the more I see the more I realise that she doesn't take any action. At no point in the trailers does she do anything.
On top of that I have no idea who she is, that one little quip is the closest thing we get to any character from her. I can make a reasonable guess as to Channing's character as well as Sean's but other than the fact she seems to have such a problem with gravity I've started calling it Jupiter Descending.
I am still keen to see the film, huge visuals are a guarantee while the Wachowski siblings are often able to raise questions that give a film depth. However thinking back over the Matrix I remember that character, was never their strong suit. A fact made worse to me that the title character, the main female character appears to be a human macguffin or sexy lamp.
But hey, it seems to pass the Bechdel test, so those who consider the test the value of an actual individual movie rather than as a way of examining the entire industry (which is meant to be)... yay.
P.S. Is it just me or does that poster look really similar to the posters from Oz the Great and Powerful... just me? Fine.
Hey everyone, welcome to a new section. Just a thought posts will be my own personal opinion about trends and idea's rather than my critiques and opinions about particular works. I encourage everyone to challenge me on these thoughts and if you have any suggestions for academic research on them, please comment. I'd love to read it.
Hero's weakness and gender, what exactly do I mean?
While working on some of my own novels and reading a few others I noticed a number of trends about what weakness audiences will and won't accept from their hero's, and that these fell along gender lines. Male hero's are allowed to have certain weakness, and female's their own, often regardless of the character of those individuals regardless of gender.
Males are allowed to be sexually tempted by the villains, give into anger, and pride. Females are allowed to be afraid, be too weak to handle things on their own, and to be hampered by love.
When they are laid out like that... it's more than a little troubling the implied gender expectations that are suggested by this. Males are allowed no emotions but anger and controlled by their penis. While women are weak timid bound by their emotions.
It is so ingrained in the population that when a gender defies the typical weaknesses or characteristics they are called 'coded' in the opposite gender.
In the Hunger Games, Katniss is often talked about as being 'coded' male, exhibiting male traits while Peets is 'coded' feminine.
Coding refers to how to audience interprets the traits, it's usually more clear when referring to sexuality as homosexuality for a long time wasn't allowed to be displayed at all and therefore a number of tricks and troops were created to bring across the idea of homosexuality.
So if you were to have a male who exhibited the feminine 'weakness' of fear, what would you expect? One of 2 things happen, either they are a physically imposing man who shouldn't be scared and pretends not to be till the perfect comedic moment. Or they are physically weak and the fear is genuine and always there for them to overcome. So they are either physically more feminine or the fact that they aren't fitting into their 'male' role is played for laughs.
How deep this coding runs is problematic to discuss as there doesn't appear to be a clear solution, and it can easily be argued that the discussion in itself is causing the problems.
If Katniss having male traits is a problem because it says that females have to adopt male traits in order to be taken seriously as an action lead, than couldn't it be said it is unfair to judge her as a representation and not just as a character. After all there are people who biologically are female but whose personality is "male". However Katniss isn't a person, she is a character and thus the way she is presented to the audience is reflective of society.
Katniss isn't the problem though, we need Katnisss in films/books/games and all types of media. But we also need more than her. We need hero's who are taken seriously representing all kinds of people.
We are a long way away as a society from not thinking in terms of gender coding at both a conscious and subconscious level. Thus in the meantime...
We need more Buffys, more Shaggys, and more Frodos. Characters that mix and blend gender expectations within them.
We need our Arwens, our Peetas and our Mrs Brisby. Characters who coded female.
We also need our Batmen, our Wolverines and our Katnisss. Characters who are coded male with their strengths and weaknesses regardless of their biological gender.
As we slowly work to see more variation in our characters we need to keep the discussion going, we need to make sure that those who are coded female don't just play the role of support to those coded male. I see this as the real danger, that the display of any feminine traits means a character is automatically relegated to sidekick, comedic relief or love interest.
Whilst formally resigned to it's own section at the back of the book store I have been noticing an unyielding prevalence of romance novels in the best seller sections of late. The most inescapable being 50 Shades of Grey. This has been confusing me and the more I thought about it the more it has been making sense as well as infuriating me; I decided I needed to sort out why.
Firstly I believe the reason for the sudden influx of romance novels of late can be traced down to one source. Twilight... Why do I keep finding reasons for getting annoyed at this book. Twilight had revitalized and revamped romance and, whilst not creating, popularizing the 'paranormal romance' genre. Walking in Dymocks the last few days I saw; to my despair, that the paranormal romance section had ballooned to the size of the now joined Fantasy/Sci-fi genre. I don't believe this will be a permanent change; just like all trends it shall ebb and flow into a new one but the fact that paranormal romance is even separate from romance whilst fantasy is now lumped together with Sci-fi is somewhat baffling to me. This is for a very simple; and yet very complex, reason. The internal conflict is dramatically limited in paranormal romance, and yet comes from an almost universal source. And this is 'temptation'.
Before I dive into an analysis of temptation in literature I should first mention my utter distaste for using the word 'universal'. I'm saving my analysis of motivations and internal conflicts in works for a later date as it is truly to large to cover here.
Temptation is something that can be understood simply; a short term benefit for a long term risk. In romance this comes down simply to the more attractive but unstable partner vs the stable yet dull partner/life. Novels using temptation are a way for us to experience the riskier option without the consequences affecting us in real life. So far so good. I don't personally have a problem with romance novels although due to the ease of writing a 'temptation' plot I find a lot of the genre to be... simple at best and laughable at worst. However it still does allow some more conflicts and is not completely limiting.
Paranormal romance however takes this to the furthest level. Not only does it have to rely on temptation we are always aware of what we will be getting and what we will be giving up as a consequence. I cannot, at all, take the paranormal romance genre seriously. I don't mean to offend anyone who does; nor am I saying that any book writing in the genre is automatically worthless. My personal distaste for it comes from a very strong belief that the inherent promise of paranormal romance's temptation is a lie. You will be transformed into an ageless, unchanging frozen moment in time. Just because you biologically do not change does not mean that you are not changing. I'm willing to accept that it is perhaps more difficult for the world to inflict change upon you as you are no longer human but you are not in complete control of events. Things will still happen around you and they will have an affect on you. The point is you are not always going to be the same person as you are when you are 'changed/transformed/having given into the temptation' nor is your partner.
People changing is the inherent risk in romance, both in novels and in life. The chance that this person will not be the same person, five, ten fifty years down the road of being together is not even really a chance... it's a given. Real romances and the best love stories are the ones that cause you to believe that even when the couple change they will love the new partner as much as they loved the one they used to be and not just because of what they used to be. To me; this fact makes the temptation element in paranormal romances simply not worth it. Should the you drift apart in a romance novel you can find something new and meaningful in your world or with other connections such as friends or family. In paranormal romance you are completely isolated; not just from your previous life but from the world. Interview with a Vampire did a fantastic job of displaying and showing this isolation. This forces you to be completely dependent upon the other person for companionship and turns your secluded lovers nest into a personal prison you cannot escape as there is a world outside that you have no bearing on, no real understanding of and no way to enter.
Essentially I find paranormal romance as a genre to be incredibly limited as the core driving force appears to be so cemented in the idea of temptation in a form we have seen hundreds if not thousands of times before in basically every media there is. Why then, can I understand how Twilight has caused such a insurgence of the genre and appears to have given it more of a legitimacy to readers (except of course those who hate Twilight).
It's because the more I thought about it, the more I realized how incredibly innovative Twilight is for the genre... and yes, I do mean that sincerely. I was thinking over how I have defined temptation and how the paranormal romance genre uses it and I came to the startling revelation of Twilight's reversal of it. It is still very much focused around temptation; but it's not really the main character Bella who is being tempted; I don't think she is even being motivated by romance. Should Edward not have been in the story and Bella simply come across the other Cullens I think she still would have made the decision to become a vampire. The transformation simply does not hold the weight it does in other books; it is clearly established that you can be a vampire without completely loosing your humanity as you do not have to take human life to survive. You are not isolated as the vampires often form clans or in the case of the Cullens a 'family', as well as there being a structure to the vampire world that creates it's own sense of being an existence despite whatever the humans may be up to. It is even shown how the vampires are able to live, partially mind you, in the human world before moving on to another area.
If Bella is not being tempted than who is? Well, Edward is. And we; through projection onto Bella, are turned into the tempters ourselves. Other works have of course included the supernatural being falling for the mortal being, an example very close to the form of Twilight is the Nic Cage movie City of Angels. Yet then, we have the supernatural changing for the mortal. In Twilight the mortal is still the one who changes but the temptation is the supernatural; who has to chose if they corrupt the mortal to gain them for 'eternity' but force the one they love to give up their life for it. Now, disclaimer time. I am simply looking at the plot elements of Twilight, and based on what I'm saying you would think I recommend Twilight as it truly does bring an interesting new dynamic to a genre deeply routed in the traditional and cliched till it has become mundane. I am not. I do think there are some interesting ideas in Twilight that can be discussed and used to shape other ideas but any novelty with the plot is completely undermined by the terrible characterization. By having Edward being so controlling; no doubt a consequence of Stephen Myer being under the misconception that Heathcliff is a 'romantic' character. And Bella being so needy and co-dependent, we are left with a temptation that holds no weight. Edward's claims of not wanting to ruin her life come off as hallow when he controls her so much and she so willing lets him.
Paranormal Romance appears to be fading more into the background. With the last Twilight movie coming out soon I believe there may be a last small resurgence of it copy cat books however even fans are starting to become sick of it. No matter how much you enjoy a style, flooding the market with copy-cats works shall always make it become tiresome. Now being replaced by Twilight fanfiction... sigh. For better or worse it appears as though Romance shall now have it's time hogging the best-seller list; whilst I personally feel it's for worst it shall pass. All genres will time and time again return to the spot light after a sudden popular title inspires it's army of clones and I shall personally sit by and bide my time till Fantasy comes round again.
I was musing on some of my favorite comic characters and I realised how few of them had been made mainstream. Yes they may be well known among comic fans but blank stares from people who only know the characters through movies, television, and through word of mouth. The clear stand out A-listers of the main characters use to be only, in my experience at least, Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, X-Men, Hulk, and Spiderman. These days that has increased to include far more Marvel characters as their movie franchise has exploded over the last ten years now including The Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, and of course the latest Captain America. Whilst there are many characters in that list that I love and a few who I read with regular continuity such as Batman the majority that I get excited about really are less known. And many of them really could have movies or television shows made about them, explaining the reasons for each.
Booster Gold - The D.C. Universe
This character has made an appearance on television as a one-shot character in season ten of Smallville. But I don't like that series so I'm going to ignore it. Booster Gold tells the story of a man from the 25th Century, who at the height of his success as a College Footballer throws a game in order to get some money for his family. Due to this being discovered no team will sign him and he is forced from the limelight to get whichever job he can, and thus become a night janitor at a Museum. There he steals a super suit and a time travel belt and uses his robot Skeet's knowledge of the past to become a popular hero. Originally seen with advertisements covering his costume he is an ambitious and often superficial hero who craves attention. Throughout a number of story arcs he turns into a true hero who only wants what is best for the world but is hampered by his reputation as being a false hero. He has played major roles in DC cross over events such as 52 - which if you haven't read... you should. As well as playing the other major role in Flashpoint alongside The Flash.
The Birds of Prey - The D.C. Universe
Now this did in fact have it's own T.V. show... and despite good ratings was cancelled and only produced 13 episodes so I can't really call it well known. I hadn't even heard of it 'til I was researching this post. Seeming like a direct response to claims that comics can be overly male-centric The Birds of Prey features an all female main cast. I'd already mentioned a little about the 'brains' of the operation The Oracle in my first blog post about the DC Reboot. To recap quickly, originally Batgirl (Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Constable Jim Gordon) was paralyzed after being shot by the Joker and took up the mantle of the Oracle - the information source for the Justice League. She then contacts Black Canary, a hero who has herself been going through an unfortunate period involving losing her powers due to a miscarriage as well as financial difficulties. Other strong, and often recognisable, female characters are introduced such as Hunteress, Lady Shiva, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Lady Blackhawk. Originally written by Chuck Dixon the series reached its prominence under the penmanship of Gail Simon a popular writer, especially with myself, who will be writing Batgirl after the reboot in September.
Deadpool - The Marvel Universe
Deadpool first came to my attention in the X-Men Wolverine Origins, played by Ryan Reynolds, and I found him to be a very enjoyable character. Since then I have been slowly working through the comic history of Deadpool and I realised how watered-down and disappointing the movie's representation of Deadpool was. Originally a rip-off of Deathstroke 'Slade Wilson' from D.C., to the point where Deadpool was given the name Wade Wilson. However while Deathstroke is played completely serious, Deadpool turned into a parody of the hardened mercenary and it was the humor that really set this series apart form others. Deadpool frequently breaks the fourth wall and has two separate internal monologue boxes that frequently converse with each other. I am thrilled to write, and yet at the same time incredibly worried, about the news that there is to be a Deadpool Movie. At time of writing it is still only in scripting stage and thus wouldn't be coming out 'til 2014. I do like that they have the boys from Zombieland writing it although they have given its direction to Tim Miller, who so far only has two shorts and a documentary to his name. Considering how different a Deadpool movie would need to be from a normal movie set up, the lack of experience for Tim Miller may in fact be a good thing. Although that could just be hoping in vain that they don't completely mess up one of my favorite characters anymore than Wolverine did.
Considering the amount of time I've devoted to the titans of the comic industry Marvel and D.C. Although it's not as though I've made some painfully obvious favouritism towards one of the two, *cough* *cough* *DC* *cough*. But I thought I should give some attention to comics from the little, rather strange, brother of the comic heavy hitters Dark Horse. Known for comics such as Buffy, Star Wars and Angel. This is also on the heels of some of my feminist rants for Tarot Witch of the Black Rose, I can talk about a comic that uses female sexuality well. Empowered. It has the main female lead being tied and gaged as Tarot but does it in a way that doesn't make me want to hunt down the author and drop him in a room of blood thirsty feminists dressed in a shirt that reads 'If your here, whose cooking me dinner?' The reason for this is that the author Adam Warren has a distinctly tongue in cheek style of writing that only leaves me to wonder how many jokes he would have made about the phrase 'tounge in cheek'. The fact that the main character is continuously tied and gaged is a joke amongst her other superheros.
Elissa is the main character, and inspired by the death of her dad when she was a child she has become a super hero, through means unknown she has ascertained a super suit that allows her super strength as well as a few other powers. The skin tight suit however looses power if it is damaged in any way and while it can stand up to showers of bullets but can rip easily and often does. As such she is often rendered powerless and captured by, well, everybody. Unlike Tarot, please forgive me but this comparison will pop up a lot, she is not a self confident character, she is plagued by body images and insecurities. Elissa, nicknamed Empowered, or Emp for short, does not want to be wearing only the skin tight suit but cannot wear anything under or over it as that then negates the power of the suit or gives her visible pantie lines. Despite often being captured and humiliated, both by the villains, and her fellow superheros. Including the more goth looking Sistah Spooky, we find out this is because of her own past insecurities. Emp is always willing to stand up and fight again. She is someone who has a power that is very unreliable yet will still try to be the best hero she can be. Granted there is a point where you really must ask whether she is planning on changing career paths at some point. But she has had moment where it appears as though she may grow into the roll, as well as being seen actively training and trying to improve. This is another thing that sets her apart from Tarot who despite being continuously tied, gagged and milked (no, really) she never seems to learn anything new or even feel as though she has to do better. Emp is a student of the superhero. She has room to grow and the desire to do so.
Elissa has a strong support network, although not a first, her boyfriend and friend are introduced and play off each other like a real world relationship. Ignoring the super powers and super villains. When I look at the boyfriend I again feel myself wanting to make the Tarot comparison, John, the apparent gender swap of the Tarot books is weaker than Tarot and often finds himself in perilous situations. He however is rarely rescued by Tarot. Which is one of the entire points about the gender swap, if you are having a male in the traditional damsel in distress role than he needs to be saved by the female protagonist. But John is not, he is either saved by himself or random other characters, and more often than not is saving Tarot because Jim Balent, the author, has a fascination with trying to be the knight in shinning armour to big busted witches in bikinis' who keep shouting about how they can protect themselves but never can. Thugboy, Elissa's boyfriend, is shown to be able to protect himself. And when he gives emotional support to Elissa it is believable. The relationship between the two of them seems to be the right mix of respect for her skills and a manly desire to protect her.
The drawing is very reminiscent of Manga, not a problem for me as I was reading Manga long before I started reading comics. For fans of a more Western drawing style though shouldn't just dismiss it. A common criticism of Manga is that it over simplifies facial structures and uses a more, shall we say, cartoonish. Empowered is beautifully drawn, if you are not a fan of Manga you may have some difficulty getting into the art style but I would recommend that you do at lease give it a try.
All this may make you think Empowered is without its flaws and is some kind of feminist polemic. It is not. It is still an excuse to draw women in revealing clothes or nothing at all as well as playing to the bondage crowd. It is saved by the fact that it doesn't pretend to be anything other than this, as well as a healthy mix of humor. Some of the jokes can get a little repetitive, but that may be because I attempted to read more than one volume in a single sitting. I'm still on volume 2 and if my opinion changes I shall inform you but for the moment Empowered is an enjoyable mix of adult humour, beautiful art, a real self-awareness and just a lot of fun.
Whilst making a comment about Batman's and other hero's refusal to use lethal force it got me thinking about those who do. Granted they are usually called 'anti-heros', which I like to define as people who work towards a heroic end with un-heroic means. This is a look at them, as well as some of the other kinds of anti-hero's in comics
It is strange that I would have an issue with hero's refusing to take life as I personally am strongly against the death penalty. I believe the difference is that these are not real lives, and yes they may be real lives to the hero's who take them but I often find the refusal to take life stems almost more from a simple desire to have the most popular villains return rather than the morals of the hero. And as such it often rings false and simply annoying to the cynic in me. A hero should have a good personal reason for the decision not to take life, here I use Batman as a positive example, his parents murder at gunpoint and as such he refuses to use guns or lethal force. Superman's upbringing in Smallville taught him a strong moral core.
Does this make the hero's who will kill less honourable. Looking again at Batman, and Batman from Flashpoint we have two opposites. Bruce and then Thomas Wayne. Here we have a Batman who clearly will not kill and one who has and will again. Thomas Wayne seems even more brooding then his son, this is understand as loosing your parents at a young age can be traumatic, but it is a death that as an adult you learn probably would have happened anyway. A parent is not expected to outlive their children. Does his unhappiness stem simply from his loss or the emptiness that revenge has left him with. A general distinction between the two would be the word 'revenge' compared to 'justice'. The key difference being in the morals that motivate the actions, Thomas Wayne appears to act from a desire to punish those who killed is son and wife (granted I have only read the first of three issues) while Bruce seems more motivated to make sure no one goes through the pain that he went through. The lack of Robin in Batman Flashpoint I think is the real evidence of this. Say what you want about the boy wonder but he really was meant to represent the 'heart' of you were of Batman, the evidence of his real motivation being not revenge but justice and the benefit of society.
Thomas Wayne is a fairly typical example of an anti-hero, but he's not the best example because he is going to be compared to Batman, one of the best comic super hero's. A different good example is the hero Frankenstein from the mini series Flashpoint- Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown. I've already written a lot about him in my views on the D.C. reboot, but suffice to say he is a hero who does kill. In fact he kills Hitler. Which is awesome. I would say that this is because while Frankenstein is strong, and in many respects immortal he doesn't have the power of someone like say Superman, who generally has the ability to stop criminals without using lethal force. Hero's who have less power find themselves in need of taking every opportunity to end a fight, even if it may mean the death of the villain.
Hero's who have a large popular following can get away with killing it seems, Wolverine's attitudes make him a excellent example of an anti-hero. At least in his origins, people often complain that there is too much continuity to follow to jump on to new comics. That said, it is mostly just continuity in terms of relationships and previous enemies that changes, personalities rarely do. I've only just started to read X-men comics and yet the personalities are exactly what I expected based on my knowledge of the movies, and animated series. The amount of time that Wolverine has spent with the X-men, his relationships with the female members and mentoring roles to others should have helped to turn him more into a leader rather than the 'lone wolf' personality that is so iconic to him. This is not really a complaint so much as an observation. There does not seem to be a member of the X-men team to compare Wolverine too as I do not believe there is a member who has not at one point or another used lethal force. Those more acquainted with the Marvel universe please feel free to correct me. So in this case to ascertain the value of the anti-hero compared to the hero we look to a different Marvel hero, Captain America. Captain America is a hero very similar to Superman in many respects, it is his more limited power that I think makes him more accessible to people.
Is Wolverine more popular than Captain America, at least in the main stream non-comic crowd, as possibly even in the comic readers themselves, because of his attitude. He is just more enjoyable to read, he treats people in authority the way we want to respond to the authority figures in our life.
A different kind of anti-hero, at least in the style of comic would be V from V for Vendetta, who has the increadible Hugo Weaving's voice.
Where does the line stand between hero, anti-hero and villain. Well our final two examples are easily considered in the villain line and yet have some thing special about them. First off we have Selina Kyle, Catwoman. Catwoman is considered a 'harmless' villain, I in no way intend to minimise her abilities as an ass-kicker, I mean that her crimes tend not to hurt people. She only really steals from the wealthy because they are the only people to have the jewelery and gems she is interested in and doesn't kill. She will even help the hero's stop worse villains as long as it doesn't inconvenience herself too much. This kind of villain allows for an interesting relationship with the hero, especially in the case of gender opposites such as Batman and Catwoman. This is probably one of my favorite kinds of anti-hero, while most breeds of anti-hero are brooding hero's these ones are fun and enjoyable cheeky characters who play off more serious hero's.
The final example is one who has funny crossed the line into villain, and in my humble opinion is a villain with one of the best back stories and motivations. Magneto will kill, he has in the past and will kill again. Unlike some villains such as the Joker who kill for pleasure or say Dr. Doom who does for power Magneto believes in his cause. He believes that humans and mutants cannot coexist and that Mutants are the next form of evolution. Magneto doesn't believe this without cause, he has seen mankind at their worst over and over again. What is especially interesting about this villain is that he has actually been a hero in the past. There was a run of X-men that had Charles Xavier killed and Magneto decided to follow his friends lead, and despite his own personal views he lives to a higher standard of morals and from what I've heard from my friends this was a fantastic run. Magneto was really good as a hero, and ignoring the horrible way in which that was ended it is because of his real motivations, and capacity for good that I consider Magneto in the realms of the anti-hero as well as the villain.
This all ended up becoming more of a tangent then the planned study of the idea of anti-hero's it was meant to be. So I'll now try to compose the thoughts into the main points.
1. Anti-hero's do things that are morally wrong. Frankly wolverine only really just makes it into the anti-hero, hero's with attitude problems really should be their own sub set of hero.
2. They generally need a tragic past to explain their actions, it for this reason that Batman is often called a anti-hero, but I don't frankly think his occasional bad cop action of scaring people, he never kills and his actions are only really bad when compared to boy scouts such as Superman and Captain America.
The most important question I asked is an anti-hero less heroic then a hero. First as a hero. If we take the idea that hero's of comics are real then who would we want to be protecting us. The boy scout perfect hero's who will take the time to save a cat from a tree whilst protecting the world from Darkseid. As a role model however, as a fictional character for us to follow, the anti-hero is easier for us to identify with and can make for a stronger read. They are easier for us to identify with and their problems and also more with their decisions, after all even though I am against the death penalty if I had come up against the Joker that many times I can't say that I wouldn't have gently knocked him off a tall ledge by now.
As such I am unwilling to throw away the more archetypal hero's such as Superman, or Captain Marvel. It can be argued that it is harder to write a compelling story about them as their powers do raise them far above humanity, as do their moral cores. Both anti-hero's and hero's have their important place in fiction. They work against each other as contrasts. And I don't believe that one is better than the other.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.