I said I was going to make another post in December, but I have to say that this is kind of cutting it close. A lot of people are making New Year recaps on their social media statuses and Blogs and I’m probably going to be no different to this regard.
It’s just … hard to remember everything I accomplished this year. In some ways, 2014 was a short year for me in which a microcosm of things happened. I suspect that I may have been stuck in a time dilation field that stretched out or contracted at a whim. So what I’m going to do is reach into my mind and pull out the things that stand out at me the most.
I got my first story published in print in Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell shared universe. I have also written for GeekPr0n for over a year and got to interview people such as David Hayter, Larry Wilson, and Will Brooker. I also got to write reviews for Volume One of My So-Called Secret Identity, She Makes Comics, and a whole slew of Toronto After Dark films. Anthony Martignetti has quoted me in the endorsement section of his writer’s Blog. I got to attend the Toronto part of Amanda Palmer’s Book Circus and I got to meet her. I also got to meet Kelly Sue DeConnick and begin reading her comics work: of which I love Pretty Deadly.
In addition, I made the acquaintance of Jovanka Vuckovic — whose advice and encourage has helped me a lot in my endeavours — and I think you may be seeing me dealing in some more horror writing fairly soon.
My friend John Chui dragged me out to Fan Expo and I got to see him and my friend Angela O’Hara again midst all the geekery. I also got to travel a bit.
And I met someone awesome who challenges, levels with, and has become special to me. I just want to say that I love you Gaming Pixie and to everyone else who was here along the way.
I won’t say that I’ve accomplished everything that I set out to do and that there won’t be other frustrations and challenges along the way. But there are and there will be. But tonight, right now, I prefer not to focus on those. They will have their time. Instead, I’d like to do three things.
First, I want you to take a look at the Critters Writers Workshop and vote for Poets in Hell on the Anthology page. And if you have more time, please vote for one of the three stories in the Science Fiction and Fantasy short stories section: Chris Morris’ “Words,” Joe Bonadonna’s “We The Furious,” and Janet and Chris Morris’ “Seven Against Hell.” All three of these stories exist in Poets in Hell — the volume of which my writing is a part — and this could help us considerably. Remember, if you do vote, please confirm your vote in your email. And check out Poets in Hell as well if you haven’t. It’s diabolically good.
Secondly, there is Cody Walker’s Everland Kickstarter. Imagine a darker version of Peter Pan and Neverland: where Peter realizes that he is essentially a god and things get, shall we say, twisted. It looks very promising and I highly suggest that you check it out.
And now, finally, I want to wish you — all of you — an excellent 2015. May it truly be a eucatastrophe.
In terms of Doctor Who‘s “Last Christmas” episode, I’ll tell you later — I mean, it’s a long story.
Actually, the episode itself was very good. On the surface, you have The Doctor and Clara at the North Pole with a science team dealing with some creatures attached to people’s faces, and Santa Claus coming to the rescue. Of course, as with any Doctor Who episode of any kind, nothing is ever as it seems: especially if it is completely and utterly insane.
My introduction at the beginning of this recap is not a coincidence. The science team’s response to The Doctor of “It’s a long story” is very reminiscent of the line “I’ll tell you later” in Moffat’s Doctor Who and The Curse of Fatal Death. The dream crabs were interesting creatures, though I’m not sure how they coincidentally found all of those people scattered across space and time: a detail I might have missed or something put aside for the emotional impact of the entire story.
Think of the dream crabs as beings that feed off of your mind and give you pleasant dreams of safety or reality until you grow weaker from an ice cream headache at the right side of your skull as they drill into it and feed off of your existence until you die. They also create a scenario where if you die in this state they placed you in, you will die in reality: or, if you’d like: if you die in the game, then you die in real life.
The rest of the episode was combination of Miracle on 34th Street, Aliens, and some Inception and The Matrix for good measure. Everything is basically a dream. As for Santa Claus … think of it like this: the dream crabs have a collective consciousness that networks all of their victims together in order to feed off of them properly. Santa Claus and his elves are, at least at this time of year, a large portion of humanity’s collective unconsciousness attempting to help these victims resist the feeding and potentially wake up and therefore kill the creatures.
Think of Santa as something of a meme that exists in a considerable number of humans: even those that don’t believe in him. He is an ultimate archetype, and has a great sense of humour to boot. And as The Doctor, Clara and the others wake up from dream to dream there is an excellent festive, almost transcendent moment where they are on Santa’s sleigh after he rescues them from the entities in the final dream and you actually see a rare occurrence: the Twelfth Doctor actually driving dream-Santa’s sleigh and, dare I say it …
Actually looking happy.
It all flowed almost seamlessly together and even the ending where the Twelfth Doctor finds … Clara.
Well, it’s no secret that I am really disappointed with how Clara has been portrayed for this past while. But seeing her old and frail, realizing The Doctor left her for sixty-two years, and pulling apart a Christmas cracker with her much in the way that she did with his elderly Eleventh incarnation on Trenzalore … I actually felt sorry for her. It was artfully done, this parallel between “Last Christmas” and “The Time of The Doctor” and I’d heard rumours of this scene happening but seeing it was actually emotional: especially when Clara flat-out states that there were actually two men in her life that no one could actually match.
I even liked the dream scene with Danny and the realization that Danny — whether he was a dream or not — was very real. Poor Danny. I would have really liked to see more with him but I knew he wouldn’t be coming back. And for the first time we see Clara even apologizing to him for the lies. It’s like even she knew that he was just too good for her. No so much The Doctor, as he lied to her too, but there you go.
So … readers and Doctor Who viewers. Did you see the real end coming?
Did you know what I was going to happen to Clara Oswin Oswald?
I know I did. Or at least I wasn’t surprised. The fact of the matter is “Last Christmas” was self-referential, with some funny and terrifying moments, but also pretty clever and relatively put together. But when you look at how it ended, and what was teased — both Clara’s apparent end and the degrees of separation between The Doctor’s and Clara’s faces — and Santa coming back one more time …
Honestly, we’ve seen Moffat’s writing and his responses to the press before.
Just what did you think was going to happen?
Honestly: a teaser towards the episode of an episode and even some tear-jerking manipulation with a “too bad everyone, I am writing what I want at the end and Clara Oswin Oswald stays” at the finale. She even got to look at her face, at one point, in a tiny mirror.
It was some well-played trolling on Moffat’s part.
After we watched the episode, a friend of mine noted the Christmas tangerine on the snowy windowsill in the final scene of “Last Christmas.” He hoped this was all a dream. But here is where I think that tangerine is fascinating. You’ll notice that it is neither Clara nor The Doctor that sees it. It’s the audience. It’s us. Just as the dream crabs facilitated an interactive dream between its victims, between its members of its captive audience, so too — in a generally less grim and cynical way — does Doctor Who exist as a communal dream which we all participate in: some of us as long as sixty-three years. That tangerine — representing hope, the human imagination, the promise of Spring, and a Midwinter Night’s Dream — was well shown: well said.
And that being said, I don’t think I’m having any icy pains on the right side of my skull. I don’t think anyway.
For those of you who don’t follow me on GeekPr0n or know me, surprise: I’m still alive.
This may well be the first and last post I make for this December and before another year takes us. I remember when I used to write so much on here. I used to write a post on Mythic Bios every day, and then every day, and then every two days, one day, and now occasionally. I suppose what I didn’t realize, at the time I started this, was as I began writing more I would have less time to Blog than I once did.
At the very least this has not been the result of a creative block or major depression. I have been busy this past while. I’m not even going to try to catch up on what I’ve been doing since my last post because so many things have happened.
I think what I really wanted to write about this time around was something about writing and life: as I’ve not done in a while. I’ve been working on a long-term project this past while that has taken a lot of time, energy, and concentration on my part. I made good progress on it for a while. I planned to have it finished before seeing my girlfriend for Thanksgiving.
Of course, that didn’t happen.
Instead, after dealing with writing other articles, interviews, and life stuff I had to put it aside and prepare to recharge for a while: but not before going to my first Amanda Palmer Book Circus when she came to Toronto. I still haven’t had the time to read her Art of Asking. That is how busy and preoccupied I have been.
So I came back from a well-deserved hiatus to my assignment only to get stuck. Some writers might tell you that the worst thing in the world, aside from deadlines, is staring at a blank page and having nothing come to you. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is not the worst that can happen.
From my experience, be that as it may, the worst thing that can happen to a writer is looking a half-completed work of theirs and totally having lost their train of thought, while knowing how the story continues in their head, but fighting the details to get it all down. It is downright infuriating and it’s made all the worse when you just want to get it out of your system, and move on with your life.
Sometimes you’ll even begin to develop some performance anxiety and avoid looking at it. It will sit there in the back of your mind, but you are torn between wanting the fucker done, and despairing that you will not do it well enough. Procrastination becomes your writerly alcohol or drugs: that is, if you don’t like alcohol or drugs already.
A little while ago, I finally managed to get my story to where I needed it to go. It’s not perfect but now I feel the excitement again: and the passion and momentum to keep pushing forward. There will be editing and formatting and such to keep in mind, but those are secondary concerns at the moment: as I now feel that this will happen.
I think that what I’m trying to say is that, because a year where some promises and potential breaks didn’t pan out, where I sometimes wonder what I’m doing with my life and if I will get anything out of it, that — right now — I don’t feel like a fucking failure. 🙂 And I’d like to say that’s pretty something.
I’ve also been getting used to going outside again without feeling a whole lot of tension: though it will take some time. I’ve decided that Tuesdays are now my Suspect Video days with alternating Library days as well: to keep my mind fresh with films, books, and comics so that I don’t go completely insane. And who knows, I might even learn how to socialize again and function outdoors without too much anxiety after all this time.
Anyway, I hope that the next time I see you all in Mythic Bios will be when I have finished my work and I get to finally work on something new.
So you find yourself in a laboratory: faced down by creatures that have gotten off of tables with scaly skin and slimy mouths. They’re coming towards you. It’s dark and cold outside in the Arctic; you, a strange older man with a blue box, his Companion, and a scared looking science team with guns are all alone with this approaching unpleasantness when, suddenly …
There is an explosion as the Army of Misfit Toys — heralded by a tangerine, a rank of slinkies, and walking robots come into the grim fray! Then you get to see the majestic sight of a reindeer standing on his hind legs as Santa Claus climbs off his back surrounded by an elf with a rifle and another with an orange balloon animal. There is a music of wonder surrounding all of this as Saint Nicholas takes charge of the situation.
And all you can think about, even for Doctor Who, even for a Doctor Who Christmas Special is …
It’s as though Santa Claus is making up for the current Doctor’s grumpy and cynical nature, tinged with a latter bit of bitterness, by just being about everything the Eleventh Doctor was: albeit with a bit of gruffness and the ever-present threat of coal. I’m also pretty sure that tangerine-looking object was a dig at The Doctor who, in another trailer, said he hated Christmas tangerines.
I don’t know what those monsters are: who look like walking corpses with alien parasites attached to their faces. I don’t know why Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer has an alarm system on his nose: and quite possibly a GPS. But I will tell you thing: if those creatures have any self-awareness, and if they share any of that awareness with the expressions on the faces of The Doctor, Clara, and that team, I think it can all be summed up under one word.
Doctor Who: Last Christmas will be coming out this December 25 on Space Channel and as with any Doctor Who episode but especially this, your guess is as good as mine.
I really wanted to like Clara Oswin Oswald. And I suspect that a lot of Doctor Who fans did, while others still do.
Between her introduction in “Asylum of the Daleks” as Oswin the brilliant and somewhat snarky Soufflé Girl and her assertive, plucky, and empathetic incarnation in “The Snowmen” as Clara Oswald — governess by day, bar maid by night — we had the makings of not only a mystery, but a fascinating character in her own right.
Imagine: a person that can simultaneously exist in different areas of space and time. She has no time machine, or special powers, or any other kind of anomaly. What’s more is that, starting with “Asylum” she is a genius in a grim science-fiction story while, in another time of “Snowmen” she is a woman seeking a troubled Doctor seemingly out of no other impulse but sheer curiosity: a force that inspires her to ascend into the clouds to find a blue box in a fairytale.
Then consider the premise that Clara exists in many other timelines and that even if they are all echoes of one person throughout time, they are nevertheless part of an individual’s entire existence. Just imagine what each iteration of Clara has gone through: how many skills, experiences, and lifetimes she gathered. It would stand to reason, after all, that she did something in space and time beyond waiting for The Doctor to show up so that she could be with him: you know, beyond the overall plot arc assigned to her.
Perhaps we might have gotten a character who was a combination of Oswin:
So what did we get instead? We initially got a hapless Mary Sue stalked by the Eleventh Doctor and a mentality divided between skirting around the issue of what a strange conundrum Clara Oswald is, and yet more unconsummated romantic tension between The Doctor and another Companion. Because, you know, we haven’t seen that before. And for all there are even hints that Clara gets greater access knowledge from her time interfaced with the Great Intelligence’s “Spoonhead” network she is mainly a human female extension of The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.
But there was evidence that Clara, and her dynamic with The Doctor was still salvageable. Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith managed to show some chemistry, or at least evidence of a strong emotional bond between these two characters. Perhaps if The Doctor had spent less time trying to unravel her mystery and realized that she was just Clara Oswald, and was more important because of that thought alone, they could have moved on.
Instead we finally discover how Clara can exist in other times and still be human, a realization come to at The Doctor’s personal time-stream when she states, in some of the most poorly thought out words ever:
For me, though I didn’t want to admit it to myself at the time, that was the beginning of the end of my hopes for Clara Oswin Oswald. Unfortunately, it pretty much summed up everything she had been after her previous incarnation’s death in “The Snowmen.” She is just a character that revolved around The Doctor, just a part of him: a woman dependent on a male character’s existence as opposed to also standing up in her own right. And while it is true that Companions are judged by their relation to The Doctor in any season, this was a moment that could have been written a lot better had there been more character-development on Clara’s part.
And never mind the fact that this wasn’t even followed up on: that there wasn’t an episode or a minisode dealing with the fall-out of Clara realizing what happened to her and coming to terms with it, or even addressing the fact that The Doctor had an incarnation she never saw before that point. For that matter, we don’t really even get to see the consequences of what happens when she falls through, scatters in, and survives The Doctor’s time-stream. I mean, you would think there would be some psychological effects of some kind. These are issues that could have been dealt with or at least touched upon at the beginning of “The Day of The Doctor”: to actually show some flow and continuity instead of a jarring situation where the characters seem to have moved on and found themselves in a different situation.
But now I’m digressing into plot as opposed to what I really wanted to see: character-writing. Perhaps, in the end, these two elements are not that far removed from one another.
So between “Day of The Doctor” and “Time of The Doctor” we, again, get little show of continuity save in a “tell, but don’t show” situation. Matt Smith, before his departure, has said that he could have done another year of Doctor Who. And I can’t help but wonder if another year of the Eleventh Doctor with Clara Oswald — in which he wasn’t trying to figure out what she was — and where they both figure who they are — might have made something of a difference in their character dynamic. Or not.
And then we have the regeneration.
After The Doctor’s regeneration into Twelve, Clara can’t seem to get over the fact that he looks like an older man now. Remember: she just went through the Time Lord’s personal time-stream, met previous incarnations of him, saw him actually age on Trenzalore, and actually existed as different people with other experiences. The parallel was right there. Had there been some more organic character development, maybe Clara having always in some way been able to draw on the memories of her other selves — or echoes — or only been able to after “Name of The Doctor,” his transformation might have taken some getting used to, but she could have seen The Doctor she had always really known beyond appearances and mannerisms.
Unfortunately, again, in “Deep Breath” Madame Vastra seemed to all too correctly deduce that Clara pined for her lost young boyfriend.
Moffat might have you believe that this was never intended, and Peter Capaldi himself wanted to portray a character that wasn’t involved romantically with his Companion. But the groundwork had already been laid out. Between Clara’s previous “milady doth protest too much” claims that he wasn’t her boyfriend and The Doctor’s proclamations of “Clara, my Clara!” that romantic bond already existed. It was there: or at least portrayed as such by the actors. So this subtext was either retconned away, the Eleventh Doctor always thought of her as something of a fascinating object, or the Twelfth Doctor’s feelings had changed and this — again — wasn’t really explored.
In addition, I think the show writers began to realize that once they revealed the true nature of Clara’s existence and pretty much eliminated that mystique, they now had to do some actual character development beyond its suspension in the 50th Anniversary and Christmas Specials.
All right. So the dynamic changes. Moffat and his crew decide, at this point, to give Clara more of a life outside of The Doctor. They began it when they gave her a job as a schoolteacher in “Day of The Doctor”: which is a natural extension of her work with children as a nanny. And she even gets a love interest in the form of Danny Pink. None of these things negate her relationship with The Doctor either. She has her time-travelling interest in The Doctor and her romantic arrangement with Danny while also having her own career where she actually learns how to take responsibility for her own actions, and realize that her students depend on her.
But of course, because of all this, Clara suddenly develops a potent case of shallowness and insensitivity. When she isn’t taking pot-shots at Danny’s military past, or constantly brushing him off to go sailing into the stars, she never even bothered to tell The Doctor about Danny, or wondered if this might actually change something in their dynamic. She becomes abrasive and rude when she’s not being outright entitled or completely self-righteous about Danny calling her on her behaviour, or The Doctor not acting the way she wants him to act.
Because, you know, apparently it would taken too much time and effort to show Clara struggling between these relationships, thinking about others, and actually having some honesty occur: where she, Danny, and The Doctor actually talk about what is going on. Moffat could have worked with this tension and conflict. Remember “Kill the Moon” where Clara delivered what was probably hoped to be an epic verbal beat down on The Doctor’s behaviour complete with the threat of actual physical harm?
Remember how before that, when The Doctor left her to decide what happened to the creature in the moon and it just seemed as though, after all of Clara and the other characters’ arguing with him, that he just got fed up with it all?
They could have talked about that because, from what I saw, that conflict was partially due to the fact that Danny Pink was brought into their relationship without Clara really talking about it with The Doctor, or asking him how he felt about that. Instead, The Doctor is portrayed as genuinely not understanding why Clara is so upset: and not being affected by this one way or another. It just feels disingenuous: because there is what Moffat and his team want to happen, and then there are the places where the character dynamic wants to go, or at least adapt itself into going.
And that would have happened if we saw Clara and Danny actually befriending each other and get to know one another. I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be conflict, but a sense of chemistry instead of that forced feeling of Danny being added onto Clara so that we, the audience, would know that she is “over” The Doctor.
Then we have Clara’s lies and hypocrisy. She lies to Danny about who The Doctor is, then she lies to The Doctor about Danny supposedly being all right with their travelling after she tells Danny that they are done. And even though The Doctor is “a part of the Earth” and Clara seems to think she has the power to tell him to leave it, when he quotes her words right back at her “In The Forest of The Night,” apparently this doesn’t take away from the fact that she still thinks he should leave to save himself: because those words only seem to work when Clara wants them to do so.
But, for me, I think the death-knell came with “Dark Water.” You know the sequence: where, instead of asking for The Doctor’s help, she decides to betray him and force him to help her by threatening his age-old home to get a man back, whom apparently she is love with and “is the only person she will ever love” …
Steven Moffat has stated that, in this iteration of The Doctor’s and Clara’s relationship — as journeying with a time-traveller, that there should be actual consequences in doing so. Yet what consequences did Clara suffer as a result of her actions: especially in “Dark Water?” The Doctor kicked people out of his TARDIS for less than what she did in that episode. And barring that: The Doctor is Clara’s friend. She was there in all parts of his life. In fact, the only episode that I truly respected her in this iteration was “Listen” where she was there at both Danny and The Doctor’s very beginnings and provided them insight, inspiration, and strength while, in turn, she gained a whole other understanding of them. You know: character-development … or so it seemed at the time.
So why, realistically speaking, could Clara fall in love with a man she clearly doesn’t respect and then suddenly betray her best friend and threaten everything that made him who he is?
And even here, there was promise. We saw that Clara was part of Missy’s plan: that Missy had brought her and The Doctor together from the very beginning. Hell, we even saw that nice snippet from “Death in Heaven” where Clara tells a a Cyberman that “Clara Oswald doesn’t exist.”
But nothing happened with that, aside from it going to an extremely obnoxious and derpy place that doesn’t even convince a basic Cyberman.
It’s just like Moffat teasing that Orson Pink, the time traveller in “Listen” was just from a branch of the Pink family and not necessarily Danny and Clara’s descendant. Both have tension built up and both end with equally disappointing conclusions.
All of this is just downright frustrating to watch and I have to admit that while I was losing patience with Clara after “Kill the Moon” I lost all respect for the character after “Dark Water”: and the fact that she seemed to have learned nothing from her actions and that even after that she continued to bully The Doctor into other decisions.
Clara and her character dynamic has become more convoluted than any “Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly stuff” and I can sympathize with just why some Classic Doctor Who fans cannot stand the romance written into the program. In fact, I think it’s no coincidence that Steven Moffat, the very writer that created the “Timey wimey” idea of time-travel to explain away all temporal inconsistencies, would apply this same philosophy to character creation and relationships in his own run.
But, ironically, with time and patience we could have seen a very different Clara Oswald. As I said before, the ingredients were all there. The Doctor could have met her in more timelines. He might have tracked her down to 2013 where she was in a mental institution after being overwhelmed by all of her other memories. Perhaps he takes her out of there and, together, they explore how she can integrate those memories and just how this was all possible. Maybe The Doctor could have actually been Clara’s boyfriend because heaven forfend that he have a different relationship with a new Companion. Imagine how the rest of those events could have played out: with River Song wanting her husband to actually be happy and live on, and the impact of Clara saving The Doctor — again — by using her own sense of agency to jump into his time-stream without those very unfortunate words.
Or maybe Missy created Clara. I mean: just how did Missy know about Clara to begin with? Perhaps Victorian Clara died and Missy took her essence in the Nethersphere and used her hypnotic powers, which are canon, to re-engineer her into a new personality that would be The Doctor’s worst enemy. After all, Missy seemed to like violating the human dead for her ends. I mean, imagine The Doctor travels with Clara for all that time and even thinks he’s figured out how she existed in other times, only for her to betray him and claim that she had been Missy’s agent the entire time? It might have explained why the TARDIS was so dead set against her being there.
And just think of one sequence, modelled after the minisode “Clara and The TARDIS” where the TARDIS forces Clara to see all the echoes of herself: her past selves at different emotional points, her molten undead selves from “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” and even her iterations in other timelines to seemingly hurt her and protect her Doctor, but also to snap her out of that malignant, treacherous self and get her to accept those parts of herself, and take control of her own life.
Perhaps Clara dies to save The Doctor and every time he goes to another timeline or world he has to be reminded of the fact that he will never see her again. But if you don’t want to go all potentially Women in Refrigerators on this, maybe she just leaves after finishing her own A Game of You: discovering her own sense of identity separate from The Doctor and both her and him realizing that he is not the person she fell in love with any more and she has to move on.
At the very least, when she betrayed the Twelfth Doctor he should have helped her get Danny back while telling her that there was a price for her actions: namely, never being allowed to travel with him again.
When I first started thinking about all this, I thought that Clara Oswald shouldn’t have been the Twelfth Doctor’s Companion. If anything, she felt like more a part of Eleven’s life and could have fit into that dynamic a lot more efficiently. But after a conversation with a friend of mine, I saw that she was just a reflection of both incarnations of The Doctor. Eleven’s Clara represented all of his wonder and his need for her. Twelve’s Clara is all the former in addition to his angst, conflict, and uncertainty magnified a thousand-fold: the ephemeral breath on Virginia Woolf’s mirror instead of the refracted crystal of herself that she could have been.
I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that Clara Oswald’s main problem is the fact that she just isn’t written well. There were so many storytelling and character-driven possibilities that just weren’t even explored. The attempts to develop her character have been awkward and jarring to say the least and just thinking about some of her more lucid moments and what could have been just makes the experience all the more painful.
I will admit: when I heard that “Last Christmas” might be Clara’s last show, I felt a tremendous sense of relief: even as I feel some dread that due to rumours about Jenna Coleman wanting to return, she will be back. Despite some particularly touching moments, the character of Clara has gone from being a sonic screwdriver supplement to an attempt at a haphazard marionette portrayal of an actual human being.
It’s just sad. Clara started off with a lot of potential but it became clear that no one really knew what to do with her. Clara Oswin Oswald deserved much better than what she got, and I hope that Steven Moffat gives her at least the dignity of “Last Christmas” being her final adventure and letting us, and The Doctor, remember what could have been and finally move on.
She Makes Comics is a documentary directed by Marisa Stotter, and produced by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect! Films. It is also executive produced by Sequart’s Julian Darius and Mike Phillips and comics librarian Karen Green of Columbia University.
It’s hard to review a documentary. I think it’s even more difficult review a documentary that you like. In the interests of full disclosure, I backed the She Makes Comics Kickstarter. I even wrote about it twice here on GEEKPR0N and promoted it before I knew what film I was going to see. I was utterly fascinated with the concept of a documentary that focuses on not only the past, but the present history of women in comics: as creators, publishers, and fans.
Unlike other documentaries I’ve seen, the interviewers aren’t present. There is no presence of a single interlocutor or a primary voice. In fact, there are several voices that create the narrative of She Makes Comics: both in terms of the film’s structure and the history of women in comics. What I found fascinating was how each figure interviewed not only seemed to bring a particular topic or issue, but they interlapped with each other, and sometimes talked about one another in each cut, and even attempted to give a voice to the women in the comics industry who had long since passed. While the first and middle part of the film focused particularly on creators and historians and women who are, and were, in the industry, this gradually gives way to a multitude of newer and more contemporary presences in comics.
Also She Makes Comics was edited extremely well. Sequences with interviewed figured were accompanied by cuts of these creators interacting with their fans, of cosplayers at conventions, of segments of historical filming and popular cultural scenes, and even dramatic re-enactments. I do feel that the section about a woman feeling uncomfortable in a comics store, while definitely a valid experience, was overwrought and could have been portrayed much more realistically: though the discussion about it made up for that somewhat jarring, almost kitsch portrayal.
There were different section in this documentary, though the segues to each were so smooth and organic that it takes more than one viewing to identify where the topic begins to shift. Roughly speaking, She Makes Comics starts with the history of women on comics, the formation of Comic Cons and women trying to find a place in them, a powerful section on X-Men and its inspiration on female creators and fans, women in comics publishing positions, difficulties dealing with the insular chauvinism and misogynist mentality of “all-boys clubs” shops, the advent of groups supporting women in comics, some insights into the creative processes of the female artists that make comics, the treatment of female characters in comics in relation to their male counterparts, the importance of discussion of sexism and an emphasis on diversity in the comics medium, the importance of Internet communities, the acceptance of the graphic novel in mainstream culture but women still not being taken seriously in that field, the cultural difficulties of women pitching comics ideas in the industry, the creation of female comics spaces, a section focusing on harassment, and a final segment ending off with a focus on female-led or created comics and geekdom.
As you can see, this covers a lot of territory though by no means is it exhaustive: and these places definitely interlap. There were many things of note, but here are some of the few that stood out for me. The earlier history portion of the film particularly focuses on Jackie Ormes: the first female African-American cartoonist who will actually be getting her own mini-documentary by the creators of She Makes Comics due to them meeting their Kickstarter goals.
There was mention of the fact that there were more women creating comics when men went off to war and how female readership began to decrease after the Comics Code was enforced and superhero comics were supported over other genres. It was interesting to learn about the Marvel and EC comics artist Marie Severin in addition to Ormes, though I would have liked a little more information on Miss Fury creator Tarpe Mills.
The discussion of Comic Cons and cosplay is really timely, however, based on the recent flak the latter has been getting from some industry artist. Wendy Pini hits home the fact that, as a cosplaying pioneer — specifically of Red Sonja — she managed to create the persona for herself necessary to make her art, get into the industry, and essentially become completely independent with Elfquest.
She is an interesting parallel to Gail Simone who got into comics through her critical work in Women in Refrigerators: analysing how dead or traumatized female characters were used to advance male plots and eventually making nuanced female heroes herself. Both creators got into the industry in different ways through geek culture and their insights and I just thought it was truly awesome to have that reminder that fandom and criticism can lead to creation.
Some male figures in comics were also interviewed such as Chris Claremont, Paul Levitz, and Richard Pini: but the focus was on them in relation to their female influences, employees, and creative partners. Certainly, Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson, both editors of Claremont’s X-Men run, influenced his work considerably: a series many of us have related to as marginalized geeks and nerds in our time. And Nocenti’s anecdote about initially thinking she was tapped to help write porn was rather hilarious. Karen Berger was also interviewed and her comment about liking “psychological stories and weird shit” as inspiration for what she helped to promote and publish in her Vertigo imprint made me smile as well.
Even though queer creators in comics were mentioned in the same place as online spaces, I feel there wasn’t as much focus on them. In addition, there were a few creators I was hoping to see such as Alison Bechdel and Aline Kominsky-Crumb that didn’t make it into the film: though the former was mentioned. Carla Speed-McNeil and Hope Larson made brief appearances, which was nice to see.
But there were two things She Makes Comics truly did for me. The first is that it introduced me to all-female fan groups like the Carol Corps, organizations that support women reading and making comics such as the Friends of Lulu, and even spaces like the Brave New World Comics Geek Boutique that challenge the very form of what a comics store is. And I want to read Marjorie Liu, G. Willow Wilson, Gail Simone, and Kelly Sue DeConnick. They are not talked enough nearly enough in mainstream comics geekdom, even now, and while I was curious about them before, I’m definitely inspired to look at Birds of Prey, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Pretty Deadly, and others now.
I feel as though, even and especially if, you are a comics aficionado you will learn a lot from She Makes Comics. And if you are completely new, this is even better for you: for while it doesn’t give you everything, it is an excellent starting point into some works with different perspectives and interesting stories. I would definitely like to think that She Makes Comics hits home the fact that not only have women contributed to comics and geekdom, but they still do and they will.
Wendy Pini at one point shared an anecdote about a young woman who, despite her skill, didn’t have the confidence to acknowledge her art work as good: and even had difficulty presenting it to her without urging. Janelle Asselin, former editor at DC, mentions that she had very few women give her pitches. I hope that this documentary — and other works and groups and people of similar spirit — help to change this climate and culture, and make something as multifaceted as the film I had the privilege to finally see.
There were hints of it when The Doctor regenerated at “The End of Time.” Neil Gaiman’s episode “The Doctor’s Wife” pretty much stated that Time Lords can change sex from regeneration. And then, of course, we have our friend Missy — or The Mistress — to consider from this past year’s Doctor Who. And according to Steven Moffat, the man who also wrote the two-episode comedy special Doctor Who and The Curse of Fatal Death — the role of The Doctor will eventually be played by a woman. According to Moffat, they have been laying down the groundwork to do this for some time, but it is a question of finding the right personality before they can make this an eventuality.
Doctor Who, particularly in the era of Russell T. Davies, has been pushing the envelope of just what future, and present, life can be: and how far it can be accepted as a given. There is, and there will be, resistance on the part of some fans. I mean, The Doctor has been consistently male for at least thirteen incarnations now — from 1963 all the way to the present — and even for those who are not outright dismissive or hateful towards the idea, it would take some getting used to.
But, at the same time, would it really?
The Doctor has changed a lot throughout the years. He is the Lego-equivalent of a protagonist: even though you can rearrange him into different shapes, sizes, and patterns the building blocks of him as a character — his core — will always be the same. This allows the people working with him to tell new stories about his character while always making it clear that he is The Doctor. And myths change over time: they adapt according to the times and even the culture of the audience.
There are some interesting implications, of course. There is the matter of LGBTQIA representation to consider with regards to sexuality and gender. For the most part, The Doctor has been portrayed as asexual and while it’s tempting to mention that in latter years he has become a lot more romantic and has displayed feelings and more physical expressions of love towards his Companions and other characters, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive ideas. Certainly asexuality does not exclude the possibility of platonic love — which seems to be a default setting of The Doctor’s character — and it also doesn’t outright dismiss the notion of romantic or even physical love.
So what if The Doctor has relationships with male or female Companions, or other characters? Does it really matter what body The Doctor has at the time? Certainly this wouldn’t affect The Doctor’s brilliance or core personality. In fact, this would make some good stories in and of themselves. I mean think about it: The Doctor changes into a woman for the first time in her life. Does it take some getting used to? Do her relationships change? Does this create discomfort in her Companions, or another level of relatability?
And this isn’t even going into gender. While Missy prefers to be called The Mistress or a Time Lady, would The Doctor want to be considered female? Would she insist on male pronouns: as gender does not necessarily equal sex? I’m thinking that she would adopt female pronouns as Steven Moffat and others probably wouldn’t delve too much into this nuanced issue for mainstream television. Personally, I could have seen Missy insisting on being called The Master and it would have definitely fit her core character to do so.
I think the idea I’ve been thinking about the most since the possibility of sex-changing in regeneration actually came about is whether or not The Doctor would be a good representation of a transgender — or gender-fluid — character. On one hand, I can see some transgender and queer fans completely supporting this idea and perhaps relating to this character more: expanding on the idea of a complex LGBTQIA universe that Davies himself brought to television.
But then there is the opposite side of the coin. Some fans have accused the creation of characters such as the female Thor, and the Black Captain America of being gimmickry: as something of a fascinating “What If?” oddity that will be retconned out or marginalized again once the status quo of those franchises are restored. Certainly, there is something to be said about making a story about an entirely original female character instead of temporarily gender-bending an established one. One concern I have in seeing a female Doctor is that she will, inevitably, regenerate again and that this last regeneration will either have less time on screen, or become something of a one-off.
I think that this can be done under a fine hand and certain degree of sensitivity, but whether or not Steven Moffat and his writers are up to the task is a whole other story entirely: though the fact that Doctor Who has hired Catherine Tregenna, its first female writer in about six years, might hopefully be a step in the right direction.
Personally, I want to see a female Doctor. I want to see what she would be like and to watch her dance toe-to-toe with the messed up intrinsically Lovecraftian madness of the Whoniverse. I want to see her laugh and cry, be silly, fierce, and terrifying, a fiery angel and a goofy clown, and loving hard, while pulling her sonic screwdriver on some Daleks. It could be another adventure for The Doctor: a new aspect of the character’s life that we can see unlocked in both external and self-exploration.
In the end, I want to see The Doctor give her Companions The Talk. You know the one. Whereas humans get the Birds and the Bees talk, Time Lords get The Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly Talk. I’d like to see her explain that just as she understands, or doesn’t understand, or intuits time so too does she understand, not understand, or intuit her own sense of sex and gender. So too does she understand, not understand, and intuit herself.
But really, I just want to see The Doctor’s happiness as she gets her ultimate wish: when, at long last, she finally gets to be ginger.
Writer and director Nick Szostakiwskyj plays the long game in his horror film Black Mountain Side.
It begins, and ends, in the northern most part of the Taiga Cordillera: a place situated on the border between the Yukon and the North West Territories. Only a few hundred people live in the area, its summers are short and cool, and its winters are quite long. In the film itself, there is a lot of wilderness, the considerable presence of forests, mountains, and silence. Certainly the trope of Canada being a large and wide open icy terrain is not lost in this film.
Black Mountain Side‘s story focuses on a team of archaeologists at a site in the Cordillera. The snow and wide expanse of their surroundings always seems to threaten swallowing them up along with their small outpost. Nature is not their friend. It is a patient Other: an enemy that slowly whittles away any warmth, or light that they can get. Even so, there are marks of human inhabitation that even the territory can’t completely erase.
This is the puzzle that Szostakiwskyj initially poses: how can an ancient and long established structure with what seem to be very southern Mesoamerican symbols exist buried in the earth and snow of the far north? How can architecture dating from the Ice Age even exist? These are academic questions that become tinged with anxiety, paranoia, then outright fear, and blood.
This structure, which the team never succeeds in unearthing completely, is far from home if it is Mesoamerican. Even the local workers that the team utilize seem to be the aboriginal Dogrib: from the Dene First Nations. Yet this is only a supposition, however, as one of the archaeologists points out that these workers, employed from an arrangement with their band council, speak the language of Dogrib. Certainly, it may be this people, or their ancestors, that created the marker stones around that area to keep it in memory: though the fact that it may indicate a hunting ground for deer speaks volumes later on in the film.
In fact, the ground is a space that screams isolation so loudly that there is almost absolute quiet. As the site’s communications with other outposts ceases, as sickness spreads, and tensions crystallize into infighting and fracture into a voice that isn’t there and murder there is no soundtrack. Black Mountain Side, for a film that coincidentally shares a title with an instrumental piece, has no music. Instead, it is a movie that eats chronology, the days and months that the archaeological team degenerates from playing cards together into fear and horror, and the sounds of their deaths and the ending of their selves.
There have been a few other reviews on this film. Some compare it to John Carpenter’s The Thing or even H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness. I would even say that the film is mildly reminiscent of a 2010 movie called The Corridor: where a group of friends go up to a cabin and become exposed to some force that changes them and drives them murderously insane. Certainly, the scenes in Black Mountain Side with one of the archaeologists have something squirming in his skin, the revelation of a structure that may have existed before human civilization, and even the team doctor’s diagnosis that some of the crew has been infected with a cephalopod-like organism definitely leans towards Carpenter and Lovecraft before him.
In fact, the gruesome apparition of the deer god that the latter survivors of the team keep seeing and hearing — what with his comments on the cosmos and actually looking at reality — definitely harken back to a kind of Lovecraftian cosmicism: in which the universe is inherently meaningless and filled only with malignant and indifferent entities of considerable power in which human beings are but small insects by comparison.
But it’s also possible that Black Mountain Side is another kind of story: and it is in what it doesn’t say, or say entirely, that might determine just what kind of horror film this really is. For example, the viewer never really knows if anything the archaeological crew is seeing is actually empirically true. Perhaps the structure they are excavating released an ancient disease. Maybe it is a larger and more complex version of the stone markers warning others in the area of malevolent spirits or forces. The structure might even be a tomb containing a vast evil. Or maybe there are technological problems and the crew are truly mass-hallucinating from a possible lack of sustenance and extreme isolation.
Yet there are other elements at play here that is hard to put a finger on. It’s notable that everyone in the archaeological team is male. It kind of makes me, as a viewer, wonder just why that is the case. Certainly older films and stories often had an all-male cast (such as At The Mountains Of Madness), though sometimes this works against the characters in this movie: as they are a little harder to relate to beyond basic empathy and it’s easy to lose track of who they are. It’s also notable that there is only one non-Caucasian member of the crew as well — a Black man — who ends up going on a shooting spree towards the end of the film (though, granted, two other team members go berserk long before he does). As paranoia takes him, he doesn’t trust the leader of the group and says he has seen his “sociopathic kind” before. This could be seen as him distrusting a certain personality-type under duress, but it is worth further thought. And this isn’t even mentioning the fact that the team makes a point of stating that their aboriginal workers are “superstitious” and immediately come to the conclusion that they ran away from the site due to those beliefs.
There is something really compelling about looking at what happens to the protagonists of Black Mountain Side as a distorted view of their own innate, or unconscious, cultural assumptions: from a possible post-colonial perspective. Certainly, it’s no new idea that the niceties of social morality and behaviour fall away from isolation and a real fear of starvation, a lack of shelter and safety, and imminent sickness to reveal the unspoken human ugliness underneath. And this is where the blatantly Lovecraftian branches out into something deeper in the darkness of the human psyche.
It’s the figure of the deer god that really gets me. When I first saw it, I had to know if there was some kind of basis for it in aboriginal, or First Nations, mythology. I looked into any Dogrib and Dene stories on hand but there was nothing on a deer god. However, deer do have some mythological significances that span beyond North America. For instance, some deer are seen as guardians of the earth while others represent learning and wisdom. Certainly with regards to a Native American connotation, the way that the film’s protagonists encounter the deer god –with its voice sounding like a Nazgul or Sauron himself — is reminiscent of a waking vision or spirit quest gone horribly wrong.
The deer god seems to offer wisdom, but only encourages maiming and murder: senseless trauma without enlightenment. It derides its victims’ expectations of it offering them knowledge or understanding. It seems to hint upon the fact that it is older than humankind and everywhere. It challenges and ruthlessly takes apart what they think they know about other cultures, their empirical subject matter and, indeed, their own perceptions of the world. It’s a subversion of what others might think a spirit animal or totem should be, or indeed the idea of some Great Spirit that is inherently benevolent. If anything, the deer god seems to be a human understanding of the land and how it is killing the protagonists. This deer hunts humans.
And even then, the film follows the tradition of not completely revealing or explaining the nature of the monster in that it is ambiguous as to whether or not this entity really exists, if it’s being hallucinated, or if — indeed — it is the real horror of this situation. Certainly, you could argue that the real terror is Black Mountain Side‘s possible critique of Western cultural values, concepts of race, science, and even a sense of reality.
In any case, when the last survivor gets caught by a 1930s bear-trap while fleeing for help, the atmosphere comes full circle. The environment, which is slowly eroding away their senses of self, wins as the last man realizes he’s trapped and lies in the snow, in silence, giving into oblivion. The lack of music, when the credits start rolling, is poignant. At the beginning of this review, I said that this film was a long game, but perhaps it is more of a slow burn or the slow encroachment of frost bite: of a terror and pain that ultimately turns into numbness and falls off into the darkness. Sometimes that is a limb, or piece of one’s sanity, or even one’s own soul. Snow covers all traces of human traps and tracks.
And in Black Mountain Side, only the silence is left to claim anything.