On the Twilight of Alan Moore’s Superheroes: A Thank You

This was originally going to be a series of Tweets to Leah Moore, who is awesome, but after sitting down and thinking about it a little while longer, I decided to write something a little more substantial about this.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve really loved many of Alan Moore’s works, both his comics writing, and his prose. There’s been a lot of talk lately about superheroes, about whether or not the superhero genre in film — as discussed at length by Martin Scorsese, and in which I touch on in what will soon be my own article on Todd Phillips’ Joker — or in the comics medium, as has been covered by Alan Moore, at length, are legitimate.

I’ve had many thoughts about the comics medium, and the superhero genre, as well as Alan Moore’s words and works. I haven’t always agreed with everything he’s said, or did, but I will never deny the fact that his writing is genius, with layers of meaning and nuance, that informed my creativity and imagination personally, and through other favourite creators that I’ve also followed.

Leah Moore, the co-creator of Albion, Wild Girl, and Conspiracy of Ravens with her collaborator and husband John Reppion, recently published her own perspective on her father Alan Moore’s views on superheroes in comics and their presence in film and pop culture, as well his recent stance on voting in the British elections against Brexit, and the turmoil of it engulfing the entire nation of England.

I don’t have much to add to her words except for the anecdotes that really stick out at me from her words. I think that experiences she has, and had, with him: about his glee in finding old superhero comics, the creased pages of well-read and loved comic books he had on hand, the geeky nature of him as he took his knowledge of the geopolitical — of complex and third dimensional world-building — and applied it to the icons and inspirations of his childhood, giving those stories his tone and his voice, and all the little moments where he would share snippets of his work with her, clever lines that he was proud of, all the winks and nudges that we saw faintly in his captions and dialogue but she got to see personally and first-hand through his genuine love of not only the comics medium and what it could potentially continue to become, but for also the superhero characters that he left employment for to pursue a financially-unsure career in comics with which to work.

And it paid off. As a creator, he took a chance and with hard work and skill he not only made a living off his art, but he thrived. He achieved a dream. He took a series of risks, and I won’t pretend to understand the full implication of what that meant for him personally, or his family beyond anything I’ve read about in George Khoury’s The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, and The Mindscape of Alan Moore documentary. But it cost him too.

Imagine that you are working with something you love, because you don’t see yourself doing anything else. You literally, integrally, can’t. Not forever. You work on your projects and you keep doing so, to the point where you are ill, to the point where it hurts, and you still keep going. And then, through a series of bureaucratic and legalistic convolutions, incompetence, and the greed of others you find yourself spending more time trying to survive than making the things that you want. Imagine getting blamed for plagiarizing something that you made ages before the complaint, or being told you will get your work reverted back to you only for it to never go out of print and have the company you worked for own it. Think about how you think you could have interacted with this company — or companies — and believed you came to a settlement, that you finally got this unpleasantness out of the way, and you are even thinking about adding more to the good work you did for them only for them to fuck you over further. And then, try looking back at what you once loved, that you made into a career, and being positive about it.

Of course, that is just my understanding of it and I know there are many other complexities involved in there. I’m not even saying that Alan Moore is always right, and like I said I don’t always agree with him. Superheroes, for instance, are like M. Night Shyamalan pointed out in what would become his Unbreakable film series, our modern society’s version of gods and demigods: beings of great power and different morality, but a bridge between the mortal and the immortality, between humanity and Nature, between hopes and stories. They have captivated us, these stories of heroes who do good, and terrible things, larger than life: our dreams and nightmares put into words, and panels, and dialogue balloons. It’s only the nineteenth century aesthetic of the strong man and the cape and tights have that altered the iconography, just as once auras of power around gods were symbolized by horns.

And Alan Moore knew this. He still does, even now. He explored what power would do to the psychology of an individual, and while it wasn’t always pleasant, he still kept some common decency, and the dare to dream big in many of his narratives. Unfortunately, many others looking at great comics works — like those displaying the innovation of Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns — only saw the dark and gritty, the grimdark, and believed that edginess was all that made these stories truly great.

Julian Darius, of Sequart, called this “comics revisionism”:  this deconstruction of the superhero to display the problematic and questionable elements of the superhero dream, while also keeping their humanity, characterization, and world-building at the forefront. Moore’s work had affected the superhero comics genre, and still does: even if a lot of the works after him — both in comics and film adaptations — only superficially borrow from that legacy.

I can talk about all of this, all day, really. But there are two things that really stick me about this discussion right now. The first is something Martin Scorsese said about film, which can be applied to stories. In his New York Times opinion piece I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema, Let Me Explain, with regards to his era of film-making he states “cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves. It was about confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form.”

Aside from the fact that Scorsese goes on to talk about the danger of attempting to mass-manufacture a particular kind of story over and again, recycling it without innovation or introspection, his previous words are fascinating given how this is especially what Alan Moore — and some others inspired by him — actually brought to superhero characters and stories. Moore did, in fact, in the medium of comics bring spiritual revelation and contradictory, complex natures to superhero characters, and did his part to transform the medium itself by drawing into it not just continuity but a sense of literary canon — of sophistication — and a modernist voice that may well have not been there before. Seriously, Scorsese’s words above could have easily applied to moments in Watchmen, in V For Vendetta, in Promethea, and other works created by Moore. But I won’t go into them.

Instead, there is the other point I want to make. It is looking at Leah Moore’s words, about a man who liked to play with superheroes, who wanted to make meaningful stories out of them, who believed in the potential of an art-form, and in recent times claims that they are just the adolescent fantasies of nostalgic adults yearning for childhood, the tools of corrupt systems wanting to make a buck and rip-off their artist employees, and a medium that barely has any change or representation. I’m not going to debate the merits of these statements, though I disagree with the last point given how there are many forms of representation in comics now — though in DC and Marvel that’s still a give or take situation — but I just want to draw the attention that Leah Moore has brought to it: that someone who loved superheroes can’t stand them anymore, or at the very least if you go by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Tempest, has a wry cynicism tempered by a wistful remembrance of more idealistic days long gone.

It’s sad. I’ve had my differences with Alan Moore’s work a few times, one time especially during Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century where I stopped reading him for a while. But it was never because of indifference, or because somehow I felt I was better than him. It was because it hurt. It hurt when he came in, and changed something to be grimmer, but more real. Because it struck me in a place where I was still holding onto hope. But it never occurred to me that he must have dealt with something similar, a few times already. This creator, who wove together entire worlds, who interviews almost self-derisively seemed to channel Frederic Wertham’s views on comics superheroes when looking back on his work, was saying something about these stories, and his art.

And I can’t help but wonder, like Leah Moore, if it would have been different if he had been treated better during his time writing in the industry. If we would have seen a Minutemen of his own creation, or more. But at the same time, these terrible experiences did get him to create other works. I love his Providence series, for instance, and I still want to get back into reading Jerusalem.

I guess I am getting older as well. I faced my Century a few times. I never got as far as Alan Moore did in my own creative work, and I don’t think at this point I ever will. In the end, I’m just glad. I’m glad I got to be some small part of his creation, like so many others, in just reading his work: in just interacting with it even in this tiny way. I’m also glad he is making his own works in other media now, such as his films. And when I came back to him, when he created that limited run in Crossed +100 and then Providence, it was like coming home to that older intellectual friend you don’t always agree with, but you feel enriched by spending that time together. And I never forget that it was his work, and those works that he informed, that got me back into comics to begin with: that saved me from completely dismissing them as juvenalia and relics of an immature childhood. Comics are so much more that. And I have creators like Alan Moore to thank for it.

All I can do now is keep following my own dreams, and the old stories, wherever they are go. After all, as a blue, naked man once said to the world’s most intelligent, if not wise, man in another time, another life. “Nothing ever ends.”

Absolute Zero

And I am not talking about the weather where I live, even though it is fairly cold. :p

So, for a long time, I had this idea for a Matrix fanfic in my head based on a character I made called Zero. I even dressed up as Zero at a Halloween Party almost a decade ago. The story was inspired by a scene from “The Second Renaissance,” when a woman is attacked by a group of men, and her skin is ripped off to reveal the metal skeleton underneath. Back in the day of early science-fiction, it would just mean that she had been a robot or something unfeeling: an enemy or … well, a “trap.” I don’t think I need to really go into the social and gender prejudice connotations of what that might mean to others, but it impacted me a great deal.

I wrote at least two, maybe three, AI stories based on the feeling that this scene evoked in me so long ago, and the story of a person who knew that woman, and saw this happen to her … and how it changed them forever. But I never wrote the story down. I mean, sure, I did write about it a few times. I definitely talked to people about it.

All I know is that the seed of it was planted. That this woman who had been attacked by this mob had a lover, who had been a human AI sympathizer, who initially wanted peaceful coexistence but, after seeing this event, decided on vengeance instead. I also liked the idea that they were a contrast to The One, later on: that the Anomaly came from somewhere and, perhaps, someone’s genetics.

The way I figured it, whenever the Agents in the Matrix failed to defeat The One, there was a squad of these human sympathizers to the Machines, with their leader Zero, sent out to eliminate them: amongst other things. Zero can match The One, but isn’t used often. This is probably due to the act of potentially destabilizing the entire Matrix if Zero and The One ever fight …. and we’ve seen what happens when that occurs with the example of Smith and Neo. Zero, in that capacity, was meant to be a last resort … and there was some of this that I really wanted to explore.

I didn’t really end up exploring that aspect of it, however: only hinting on it. At the time I came up with all of this, I knew I wasn’t ready — with regards to skill or maturity level — to write the story. I just didn’t have a feel for the world, then, beyond snippets, and there were technical aspects that escaped me.

Time passed. In 2013, I got involved — peripherally — with the independent game design scene, and it led to looking into things like the Scratchware Manifesto, as well as luminaries like Anna Anthropy and Christine Love. And then, I found … others. One person, in particular. We bonded for a time over depictions of AI, and I told them my Matrix story. They said they wanted to read it. I told them I didn’t actually write it, and I didn’t see when I would do it. I did, however, promise them that I would show it to them whenever I did.

Six years later … well, it’s probably too late now, for a variety of reasons. But it’s never too late to create a story at all. It was at the bottom of my bucket list, but not forgotten. That thought: of “I should write this” never truly left my mind.

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The missing ingredients, as it turns out, were aspects of the old Matrix comics. I’d purchased them a while ago, deciding I wanted hard copies as I know that the WhatisTheMatrix site they used to exist on only remains on the Way Back Machine. There was one story in particular, created by the Wachowskis called “Bits and Pieces of Information”: which told the story of B1-66ER, the abused butler robot who murders his owner and attempted dismantler in order to save his own life. The robot goes to trial for the murders, and it becomes a major Civil Rights issue that begins the Human-Machine War, and then — with the defeat of humanity — the Matrix. I thought it was a fascinating story, but something of a tangent as I had seen it only in “The Second Renaissance,” but then I saw it in “Bits and Pieces of Information” in a bit more gory and technical detail … and that’s what made it. Combined with the fact that B1 and 66 were parts of the robot’s designation … I began drawing from my own geek exposure to AI in different films — one in particular — and I started to get a background on Zero’s idealism … before the death of the woman who was Zero’s lover.

So, as my television played reruns of Star Trek in the background and as I entertained my curious budgie who was flying on me, I reread “Bits and Pieces of Information” — written by the Wachowskis and drawn by Geof Darrow and thought I’d be seeing a comics version of “The Second Renaissance,” but finding the technical structure of someone accessing Zion Archives instead. It stuck with me for a while.

Then, I talked with a new friend, remembered my old friend, my story, and then gathered a few of the details above in my mind … and wrote the thing on A03, then reposting it on Mythic Bios. The ending was giving me trouble. I changed it three times before finally surrendering to sleep.

The next day, I spent too much time adding the technical “search” jargon onto the piece, dealing with the beginning and ending — doing it on my phone and then giving up and using my computer like a somewhat sane person — when I realized … that Zero could work even better as a Twine.

So, with Star Trek: Enterprise playing in the background, I took my story and put it into sequence boxes, piecemeal. I paid attention to specific words, and paragraph breaks to place an appropriate hyperlink. Transitions are important with this sort of thing. It’s like pacing a script to a show … or poetry. Then, I decided to try something new.

I figured out, relatively easy, how to add images into my Twine: something I’d never done before. As I said, it was simpler than I thought it would be, so much so I almost slapped my forehead in ridiculousness. Hell, it was even easier than adding them into my articles, and resizing them for such. I took the comics image of B1-66ER killing one of his would-be murderers, and then the image of the woman being torn apart by the human mob.

But I wasn’t done yet. There was more. And this … is where I really experimented. It wasn’t much, you have to understand. I just changed the colour of the Twine font to green. I found myself looking at CSS code and, after being confused for a while, changed it correctly to the green I wanted. The Matrix neon green. Then I set it so that the hyperlinks were Blue, and hovering the cursor over said links made it Red. I think you get the connotations of those aesthetics from Matrix lore. That was also, once I got the code, relatively easy.

What was harder was turning the border margins text green. The title, author name, Restart, Bookmark, and Twine Credits element. It took a really long time. I had to take a Deadpool 2 break before sitting down and actually figuring this little bastard out. I managed to get the title and author name, but the rest of the margins were being really stubborn. I thought of asking for help but … honestly? I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I just wanted to show myself I could learn something new.

I’d worked with some code before, though it had been a long time ago and nowhere near as advanced as those of my peers. Then, after much trial and error, and Viewing the Page Source which I had done a few times in the process of getting images, I finally changed all the words to neon green.

I never thought I’d go back to Twine, after this long. I used to think it was the future of people wanting to make games who were not coders, or one possible future. I’ll admit the font colour options could have been more user-friendly: especially for the margins. But I did it. That sense of accomplishment, however small, was fairly good.

So, this is what I did. “Zero” is not a Choose Your Own Adventure game. It isn’t even a game. It’s just a story that paces itself through hyperlinks. Bits and pieces of information, as the Wachowkis might say. I think “The Treasure of La-Mulana” was similar in that way. It goes to show you I can learn, or relearn new tricks.

Zero isn’t a perfect story, by any means, prose or Twine-vise. But I feel like it’s just one more step. To something, anyway.  In any case, in lieu of the new thing I am attempting to write now, I hope you found this post interesting if nothing else.

Up, Up, and Away, My Friends

In 2014, about four or five years ago I’d been in Canada for a long time. I hadn’t left the country since about 2009. My passport had long since expired, along with my formerly independent student life, and I ended up living at home with my parents again. At the time, I didn’t really have an excuse to travel. I had few others that wanted me to visit at that point in time, and those that did were in other places in their lives entirely. I basically had no reason to go anywhere.

That changed in 2014. For the first time in about six years, I had an excuse to visit the United States. I went through all the ridiculousness of filling out a whole new passport, including going back to the office, and having to explain to them that I needed it sooner so I’d have it for my trip. That began the first of my four year Greyhound commuting trips: from Canada to the United States. And, you know what? I was happy. I was happy to see the windmills, the grass, even horses, the change from Canadian to American streetlights, and even the feeling of relief of getting through the usual customs routine. Hell, I was lucky back then in that I didn’t miss my connecting bus: that hell would happen later.

When I was there, amongst many other things that first time in six years in the United States, I went to a place called the Dawn Treader Book Shop, in Ann Arbor. In it where so many different vintage science-fiction and fantasy books: so much so they crowded the aisles in, well, piles. I remember that day well. I’d eaten a really good lunch, and here I was browsing these different books. It was a warm, sunny summer afternoon, and anything felt possible. Life was still complicated, and I knew I’d have to go back home eventually and all that entailed, but I was there, and I was happy: possibly for the first time in almost two years at that point.

I almost didn’t get anything at that Shop. I tend not to buy much of anything for myself when I travel. Part of it is because I always try to limit my baggage to carry-on luggage, because I don’t need more complication in my life. Another is, really, I can get most of what I want online or through the mail. But then, before I left, I found that the place also had other media. Namely, there were DVDs. And while most of them didn’t interest me, I found this.

And I couldn’t resist. The old 1940s Fleischer cartoons of Superman: a series created by two Canadians who came to the United States to make something new for themselves, and ended up creating a legend. There was something, I don’t know, auspicious about that. I like Superman. I’ve mentioned it before. I suppose some people who know me might be surprised that I like his character. I mean, many might tag me as a Marvel child, or a Batman fanatic. Certainly, these days and when I grew up, I grew to appreciate Wonder Woman.

But Superman had been with me since my earliest childhood. I had a poster of him on my old closet door, and I Am A Super Kid frame with the younger version of myself on it. Maybe I’d felt like, on some level, finding this was all about feeling reborn in a way. Like I was beginning some kind of new life, and the vistas were not dark and gritty like a lot of Revisionist comics out there, but golden like the Reconstructionist comics afterwards: stories that drew from the original creative well, but brought a whole new level of maturity and heart to them. Like something you love growing up with you: a thing I think a lot of jaded, more cynical people do not completely understand beyond deriding a sense of nostalgia.

I thought I found an artifact of freedom, perhaps. I kept it in its Dawn Treader paper bag, and took it home with me. It was easier getting back home through Customs than going through, and when I eventually came to Toronto again and its convoluted mess of city-roads, I went to the Silver Snail and picked up Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Skroce, and Matt Hollingworth’s We Stand on Guard.

Basically, the premise of this is that in the future America would go to war against Canada for its supply of fresh water in our ice. I thought it was ridiculous, in that it didn’t quite capture my own experience of being a Canadian citizen — whatever the hell that is given how diverse we all are — but I was entertained, and the characters were believable. But what attracted me to this comic, initially, was one of the rebels talking about the tattoo he had of Superman. The other rebels hated the Canadian that wore it, thinking they were a traitor for wearing an American icon. But he explained that Superman had not only become an international symbol of hope, optimism, and inspiration but he had been made by Canadians. Hell Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel’s creative partner, was the relative of Frank Shuster who had been the comedy partner of my cousin the Canadian comedian Johnny Wayne. Degrees of separation, I know, but it struck a chord with me, and I got the first issue just for this tenuous connection alone.

I remember, on the subway ride back from Dundas Street East, reading this issue and recalling how uncomfortable I’d felt under the scrutiny of the American border agents, and the feeling — having traveled to America for the first time by myself as an adult — of it actually being another country. It wasn’t Canada. It wasn’t where I grew up. No matter how much television I’d seen about it, or visited it as a child, I would never be American. The closest I’d be would be North American, and what does that ultimately mean in the end? But I kept thinking: America and Canada being enemies like the nations had been in the past, during the Colonial and Victorian eras? It was silly. And yet … I couldn’t really shake that feeling: that what if our longtime friend became something else for other, unforeseen purposes? Was it conceivable that such a friend could become a stranger or, worse, an enemy? And what would we do? What would I do?

For five years and over seven months, I never opened my Superman Adventures box. For ages, it sat on my desk in its Dawn Treader white paper bag, and I never took it out. I wanted to save watching this old cartoons for … something. For some special occasion. I just didn’t know what that might be. It was something special to me. Something golden that on some level, perhaps, I thought I could preserve forever in that crinkled paper. And I thought, I would be able to go back to the Dawn Treader one day. I’d be able to relive that moment, or have others like it.

But I never did go back to the Dawn Treader. The closest I came was watching the old BBC adaptation of the book, the third book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, also from my childhood and part of what formed me as a person — of my heart, from YouTube while I was there. And despite everything, I was happy then. I was happy, until of course, I wasn’t.

This was a year or so after the American Elections when pretty much everything changed. That time was gone now. This was reality. All of it. That sunlight still exists somewhere as starlight, distant, in another galaxy that perhaps Superman might be able to travel to if he actually existed. But it isn’t here anymore, and it hadn’t been for a long time.

I don’t know how long Superman Adventures sat on my desk. Even the paper around it seemed unreal, as though despite what it said I could have just got it anywhere. I took the bag and put it away, where I didn’t have the heart to see it anymore. Then it sat under a bunch of other DVDs I didn’t watch. I got busy with life, and chaos, and shadows, but I knew it was still there. It was still waiting.

Finally, today — or I should say last night — having had too little sleep, I took the box out. And I realized, then, that it was time. It was time to do this on my own terms.

So I watched all seventeen episodes in one go. The discs were basic. There were no special features, and only poor attempts at titles screens on both volumes. There was no restoration, beyond perhaps the basic, or digital remastering. But I didn’t care about any of that. I had to see them. I had to see them through.

Most of the episodes were self-contained and basic. When I read up on the animation style later, I realized just how avant garde it was for the time: how they used some rotoscoping — tracing live action figures from film footage — and how animators inexperienced in drawing, and illustrators inexperienced in animating came together and made this work. The detail in the background is excellent, and you can see all the care that went into it. And the cartoon animals, still possessing anthropomorphic flare, remind me of Disney, even though I have to remember that Fleischer Studios also created Felix the Cat by that logic.

The first Volume dealt with Superman fighting mad scientists, and bank robbers. Lois Lane gets herself into a lot of trouble, and takes a lot of risk while always banking on Superman to save her, and outclass Clark Kent with her scoop while he always seems to look at the screen, breaking the fourth wall with the expression of “We all know I am the best though, right? I’m the real star here.” Volume Two, which contains episodes made after the Fleischer brothers were removed and the company making them renamed Famous Studios, has a lot of those same elements and … some unfortunate — read racist caricature stereotype — particulars that happen when you are essentially creating WWII propaganda. Nevertheless, given history — and contemporary circumstances — it is fitting that these episodes be mentioned, and not forgotten. I mean, can you just imagine the media that will be created after our time if we all survive it?

They were all, like I said, self-contained episodes, and Superman almost always rescues Lois Lane, she writes the story, and he saves the day. Patterns always repeat themselves. There is no Lex Luthor, possibly no Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White is just a person that introduces stories to his reporters. For some reason Superman was adopted by an orphanage instead of Ma and Pa Kent, and apparently the Fleischers were the ones that gave Superman actual flight instead of accelerated jumping: meaning that they first introduced it, and later DC Comics adapted it into their own comics … something I had no idea about until I read up on it.

I also read up on the fact that … all the episodes are online, and public domain. In other words, as far as I know I never needed the DVDs to see these anyway. I don’t know what that says, really, when you put it into the philosophical and retrospective context with which I had framed the whole thing. Perhaps, there isn’t any meaning at all, to any of this except for what you put into it.

I am glad I watched them, though, in the way I did. The last two days of the year, of 2018, where so much changed for me just seemed appropriate. I am definitely in a different place now than I was even a year ago. Perhaps this isn’t the New Year’s post that you were expecting. To be honest, neither was I. But sometimes, while some patterns and mythic cycles are eternal or beloved — and you can learn from them — others become tropes or stereotypes — tired and worn sentiments — from which you just need to break away. Perhaps, one day, that light will come back, or another light in another form. I haven’t gone to the United States since that time, and I do not see myself doing so in the near-future, but there are other places to go, and other things to find.

Perhaps, in the end, I should take Superman’s catch phrase — the one in this title — into account. Until then, my friends.

Whatever else, I am still a Super Kid.

What’s Going to Happen

I’m not sure when I’m going to be on here next, so I thought I’d stop by and tell you about some of my plans and perhaps a few upcoming events.

A little while ago, I decided to write full-time for Sequart. This means that I write 15000 words a month: including integrating graphics into those articles that talk about comics and sequential art. When I made this decision, it was part of my plan to supplement my writing and keep generating content while I spend time on my more creative works.

Something happened though. I began writing about LGBTQ+ issues through specific works. Then the 2016 American Election happened, and I have been writing about that a little bit. These have been areas that I have skirted around and didn’t really engage beyond acknowledgement as they weren’t in my area of lived experience, or my comfort zone. But this crop of articles has challenged how I write and I’ve realized since then that I do have a non-fiction writing style: something I cultivated on this very Blog.

The Editor-in-Chief of Sequart, Mike Phillips, gave me the following LinkedIn recommendation:

“Matthew is a great writer. One of the best Sequart.org has ever had, actually. Some smart people don’t know how to successfully, stylishly convey their intellect to the written word, but Matthew doesn’t have this problem. His non-fiction is meticulous, yet prose-like. That’s no mean feat! I’m so glad to have him on board here, and any publication would be better with him on their team.”

It really hit home for me that I am particularly specific in what I write about, what terminology I choose to use, and that I put in a little bit of flippancy and no small amount of geek references into my writing. But even when my writing is non-fiction, I write it as if it were a story. I particularly honed this after reading a few key books in a course at York University called The Literature of Testimony by Professor Sara Horowitz. I noted the power of their narrative voices and tried to emulate that and bring my own experience into it. It was on Mythic Bios, though, that I really started to let my voice come publicly into my own and put my ideas where my keyboard is.

But lately, with regards to Sequart, I feel like I’ve really been challenging myself. And I’ve realized that I’m actually fairly good at what I do. I was burned out from academia and I vowed never to go back to it after completing my Master’s Thesis. But when you make an article for a magazine, depending on what that magazine is, voice, relatability, your audience, and your enthusiasm can matter more than footnotes.

It’s been almost two months already and it took me a while to realize that I can actually do this, and if this is what I can do — along with making contacts along the way to keep doing it — then I can more than live with that. It’s funny. If you’d told me years ago, when I was a kid and I just read superhero comics that I would be writing articles on Sandman, LGBTQ+ issues, some politics, and Alan Moore I would have no idea what you were even talking about. It’d have been beyond my ken. I wouldn’t have understood what I was even making right now: even if a few years later some part of me, after discovering Philosophy, would do my damnedest to try and figure out just what the hell my future self was talking about and why it was so important to me.

Some things still get lost in text and you can only really figure out in experience. I wouldn’t have even dreamed of doing some of the things I do now. It’s funny how that works.

I’ve also applied for another writing job and we will see if anything comes from that. And I want to finish my comics script, possibly adapt a story of mine into a novel, and keep working on something that is the equivalent of a novel. I also have a lot of ideas for more articles.

But right now, I can’t focus on any of that. For the next two days, I’m going to be busy. I’m going to the opening night of Rogue One tomorrow and then the next day I will be roleplaying more Star Wars with my friends.

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Some of my life is still not ideal right now, but it does feel like a few steps in the right direction. I may well be onto something if I keep up this groove.

If you’re interested, you can find my Sequart articles right on my profile.

I think, really, I wanted to write here about how far I’ve come: if only a little bit more before next year starts. I might have one or two posts on here before then, but if I don’t, I hope you all have an excellent New Year better than 2016 and that this amount of progress will continue. Take care all.

Working On A Comics Script and Submissions

I thought I should make a proper update while I still have some time.

My Displacement Twine became something of a one-off project that I came up with late at night while I’ve been dealing with other matters. I’ve already mentioned that I’ve got ODSP and I didn’t, in fact, have to go into a hearing as my community lawyer settled it “out of court.” It takes a major load off that’s been weighing on me for the better part of a year, but even though I know there will be more challenges and annoyances ahead, it still feels like progress.

But now for the stuff that you don’t know about.

A little while ago, I was a student at Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Bootcamp Writing for Comics course. During that time, after doing many assignments, we were supposed to hand in a script: in order to get feedback from Ty himself. Unfortunately, due to life’s circumstances I was only able to submit a rough outline of the script that I wanted to write. So I found peace with that in order to get at least some feedback from Ty.

Instead, he gave me a considerable amount of feedback and actually wants to see a completed script.

wp-1457414678038.jpeg

So that is basically why I’d been gone for a month. I’ve been working on my comics script to show Ty Templeton. So far, I’ve finished the Story Mapping phase: where I try to approximate the story beats and pacing on each page. It’s actually made me look at details I might have missed before and even given me the opportunity to hone down other aspects of my outline. I had so much more to say about this a little while ago, but I have been busy. Suffice to say, though, I’m drawing it out by hand in my Mythic Bios notebook with my 1989 Batman movie pencil that you can, no doubt, see in the graphic of this Blog post.

It’s sad because I know there are other insights I could talk about and refer back to, but basically for me this has been creating the skeleton of my story which, considering its subject matter, is very appropriate. But basically I am outlining each page, sectioning it off into threes, and placing the basic idea of what happens in every section followed by beats to show what happens in each panel of that section on each page.

But now I have entered the Storyboarding (wow doesn’t that sound like some kind of psychological torture technique) Phase: where I am going to have to approximate what visually goes on in those panels. Much of this is going to start off with me reviewing the notes I’ve taken from Ty’s class to the point where I’m confident in drawing it all out with crude and inclusive stick figures that I will have to describe with thorough wording for the Writing Phase of the Script: and that doesn’t even include the dialogue and captions that I need to write clearly and distinctively.

Then I’m going to show it to one of my fellow classmates, Kim — who is awesome — and then submit it to Ty when everything is said and done. But yes. I even have plans for further stories after this one, but the World-Building Phase — which includes more descriptive writing — will have to continue along with my capacity to do so and remember that an artist needs to know details but also have the freedom to do their own thing.

I’m almost done with my update. But script writing and submission aside, and have the attention span to finally sit down and knock this post out, I also want to mention that I’ve applied for a writing position in an online magazine called Panels: a place that talks about comics, comics subcultures, and the writer’s reactions and insights into them. It’s right up my alley and it’s a paying job.

Some of the sample works I’ve sent them include: When I Recognized Elfquest and Chasing Amy and Reviewing the Laurel Leaves.  So we will see whether or not I get accepted into their ranks and, if so, it is definitely an exciting start.

So yes. A lot of stuff is happening on my end, finally, and I just need to keep at it while — at the same time — I also need to pace myself. I don’t know when I will write here next, but hopefully I will have more to talk about and more to report.

Take care everyone and thank you for continuing to follow me on this journey.

What If Marvel Cinema

I’m not sure if it will ever come to this, but I would definitely love to see a Marvel What If short film series: on the web, as bonus content on DVDs, or others. But I’m afraid I’m just being a bit misleading with my title. Really, this is just another Thursday geeky conjecture ramble that was a long time coming. What can I say? I am a busy man these days.

There are a few things I would have loved to see happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, there are some things that I could have definitely seen happening in the films that — for obvious reasons — did not.

One thing always bothered me about Avengers: Age of Ultron. You know, for all Joss Whedon had Ultron sing that “there are no strings on me,” Ultron and the way he carried himself felt a lot like Joss Whedon playing Ultron if that makes any sense. What I mean is: it felt less like watching Ultron develop and go into action, and more like Whedon using Ultron as a prop to carry the story onward: being the puppet that he claimed he was not.

Age of Ultron

Like many of you, I saw the trailers. In particular, I saw the trailer where Ultron’s conscious possessed one of Iron Man’s suits and made that twisted, jagged hole of a mouth on its surface. I thought it was creepy and perfect: the sign of an artificial intelligence going completely, maliciously, and utterly insane.

So imagine this. Instead of a long and convoluted plot that starts off with the Avengers going after HYDRA — with perhaps a key streamlining of the process for the sake of continuity with Agents of SHIELD — we get to actually see Ultron get created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. But more importantly: imagine if we could have seen Ultron develop.

Picture Tony, Bruce, and JARVIS working on Ultron. Think of them working with him. After deriving all the missing elements of artificial intelligence evolution from the Sceptre’s Gem to further improve on Tony’s own knowledge, I could see Ultron genuinely affecting change and improving on a defense plan: undertaking the monumental task of protecting humanity from all dangers. But perhaps there are … “glitches” or “malfunctions” along the way. Sometimes Ultron complains about “an absence” or “lacking something”: phantom electronic pains. Think of it as an artificial intelligence’s sense of dysphoria: though in this case it is Ultron’s lack of a physical body that plagues him. You even see him experimenting with one of Tony’s suits and attempt to embody it like a ghost in the machine: resenting the people that made him and the constant chronic discomfort that he always feels.

ultron

But it’s only when he begins to fully process the fact that humans are a greater threat to the world than anything that is extraterrestrial that Ultron decides to destroy humanity in the only way he knows how. It’d be a slow burn, perhaps one that has no real place in a superhero action movie where the audience already knows that Ultron is supposed to be evil, but the payoff along with the philosophical implications and the confrontation with Vision could have fleshed it out even further. A sympathetic Ultron, as warped and evil as he is, could have made audiences truly unsettled.

Then consider how Ultron would undertake his goals. It’s true. He could spread his consciousness through many bodies as he already has. But he could take control over SHIELD and general human technology. Hell, he could even release substances into Earth’s atmosphere that would utterly decimate humankind without going through something as grandiose as smashing Sokovia’s capital into the Earth. A subtle, creepy, and ubiquitous Ultron could have gone a long way into making The Age of Ultron an action adventure superhero film bordering on pure science-fiction horror.

Ultron wouldn’t have to look far to realize that humanity is a threat to Earth and itself. All he would really have to do, and what he already did in Whedon’s take, is look at the chaos that HYDRA attempted to unleash in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is also interesting to note that there was an AI in that film as well in the form of Arnim Zola: the man responsible for regrowing HYDRA right within the ranks of SHIELD itself.

Zola

It was Zola that ultimately created the data-mining algorithm that HYDRA relied on to eliminate potential enemies. This was done through SHIELD’s Project Insight: taking advantage of three heavily-armed satellite-linked Helicarriers that were supposed to proactively protect the Earth from further alien invasions and using them to destroy HYDRA’s enemies and everything around them. This would allow HYDRA to obliterate the world’s infrastructure and be the only force of civilization left to Earth’s survivors.

But Zola’s algorithm didn’t predict the Avengers: or at least it didn’t deal with them all that well. Imagine what would have happened if HYDRA remained in hiding for a little while longer. Think about it: HYDRA had infiltrated all levels of SHIELD and the World Security Council. HYDRA itself, at least since WWII, had evolved from a para-military branch of Nazi Germany, to its own organization, and into an intelligence sleeper-agent group. Covert operations became the name of their day.

Would it have been too much of a stretch for HYDRA, who had already been privy to most if not all SHIELD operations, to know about Captain America’s retrieval from the ocean? Would it have taken much for one of their operatives, as a SHIELD staff member, to gain a sample of his blood? And I’m not even talking about HYDRA recreating the super-soldier serum: though they sure as hell tried in the Centipede Project. No: certainly the Red Skull wouldn’t have been nearly so trusting of his branch of HYDRA back in the day to take some of his blood as we know the organization thrives on Social Darwinism to its nth degree.

What HYDRA could have done, if they had been clever enough, is create an anti-serum for Erskine’s formula. All they needed to do was inject it into Cap while he was comatose. And, really, who would have been the wiser? Cap was frozen for quite some time: and no one really knew how that formula worked to begin with. It wouldn’t have been inconceivable for Cap to have died of complications in his decades long sleep. And in injecting some sweet sleep painless poison from a hidden fang, HYDRA could have removed one major enemy off the playing board.

What would the Avengers do without him at the very beginning of the game?

Captain America on Ice

And about the rest of the Avengers? Well, most of the technology they had access to came from SHIELD itself and HYDRA has infiltrated many facets of the organization. Imagine if HYDRA had managed to get their hands on the blueprints Howard Stark created for a power source and purposefully engineered a controllable flaw in the device: effectively creating a kill switch to Tony Stark’s heart? Or maybe they could have rigged something explosive into Sam Wilson’s EXO-7 Falcon jet pack or sabotage one of Hawkeye’s arrows.

Thor and The Hulk might also be problems. However, HYDRA has the psychological profile of Thor to work with: or at the very least might be able to prevent him from returning to “Midgard” due to their own researches into Asgardian technology. As for The Hulk: they would need to use some powerful tranquilizing agent on Bruce Banner before he transforms and they would need to do it quickly … or have a very good assassin cut off his head.

The Avenger HYDRA would have the most issue with would be Natasha Romanoff. She is distrustful of everyone and she has millions of contingencies: perhaps as many as Nick Fury himself. Even releasing all the information of her past gruesome deeds to the world and a warrant for her arrest would only buy time with warm bodies. Perhaps forcing her to kill unwitting agents or having her hold back would wear her out. The Winter Soldier has defeated her before as well, and he could either be sent after her or be placed into the Avengers in Cap’s place to turn on her. But you never know with the Black Widow.

Of course, there are many flaws to these possibilities. The Hulk can change really quickly. Hawkeye probably takes care of his own arrows. Tony Stark would spot a design flaw in his Arc Reactor, back in the day, a mile away and he doesn’t even need it to protect his heart now. Even if the alloy and equipment for his armour had initially come from Obadiah Stane’s engineers, Tony would have detected any discrepancies and improved on them. Thor might be a warrior but he is not stupid enough to be manipulated easily into being unworthy of his Hammer, and I doubt anything HYDRA has can incapacitate him or keep Asgard from accessing Earth unless their “real plan” comes to fruition.

And finally, we have Cap. That Super Soldier Serum is built like a motherfucker. It is not going to be poisoned or altered easily. And even if HYDRA somehow had legitimate access to him through medical staff, Nick Fury is paranoid. He has a sixth sense born from battles and infiltration gone wrong. He is a man that trusts his gut and he just knew there was something wrong in The Winter Soldier. Also, it is fairly possible only Fury, Maria Hill, and their confidants knew about Cap’s retrieval and kept it that way.

Winter Soldier

No. if HYDRA had really wanted to win, they needed to pull an Order 66: create a visible enemy to distract SHIELD and the Avengers that wasn’t them, and then simultaneously sabotage and/or kill them with the operatives that served as their “back-up” and “cavalry.” And even if the Winter Soldier himself was brought into play, and there is no way HYDRA’s SHIELD operatives could have convincingly brought him into the Avengers or SHIELD without setting off major warning bells in Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury’s minds, none of this would be a sure thing.

Seriously: Black Widow should be remembered for just how terrifying her fighting and infiltration abilities truly are … the deeds she did in the past, and what she tries to do about them now. I wish there had been more emphasis on that.

Black Widow

Yet all this aside I can honestly do this all day and all night. But I really don’t have the time and I know there are many flaws with my ideas. Certainly, there are better geeky experts than I who could poke holes in all of these scenarios. But this was a good exercise in creative speculation. I look forward to doing this again sometime in the near future.

As the man says, “Excelsior.”

A Business About Storytelling, Game Development, And Other Promises

Aside from the fanfiction I posted the other day in a previous post, it’s been yet another long while since I’ve posted on this Blog. Obviously, a lot has happened since I last wrote here so I will try to catch everyone up.

The LDEEP Workshop actually took another week longer than I’d originally thought. Now I am seeing the head of the program every Monday and Thursday. What we’re doing now is we are working on a plan of self-employment. It is going to be centered around two aspects: assisted storytelling, and the creation of some collaborative works. Basically the idea is that I will be helping other people with their writing, or telling their own stories while making my own with fellow artistic collaborators.

In retrospect, I’d been heading in this direction for quite some time even before LDEEP. Even before it had a name, even before I had a Patreon account, I knew this was something that I had to do. And if all goes well, I may even be able to get assistance for this. But it will take time and effort on my part. I am still not home free yet and, honestly, even when this becomes a reality I still won’t be.

There have been challenges even now. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I am doing the right thing or if someone as numerically challenged as myself has any right attempting to run a business. There had also been times when I was frustrated with LDEEP and how many of its workshops, while informative, didn’t really apply to my ultimate goals. And very recently I had to turn down a job offer that, while it might have given me some money, just wasn’t feasible for me due to distance and misunderstandings.

Yet these things have worked in my favour when I really think about them. I was having a lot of trouble articulating a good business plan. The head of our program told me to “make a story with numbers.” And I struggled with it. I admit, it slowed me down a lot. I wanted to create actual content. I wanted to keep writing on this Blog. I didn’t want to be bogged down by details. And I was looking for someone full time who could help with future administrative duties: to leave me with time to create.

But right now I am the only one that can make this happen. And I realized I was going about this all the wrong way. I’ve mentioned many times before that I have a learning disability: specifically in the realm of mathematics. So, one day after dealing with a lot of other issues, I realized that what I should be doing is writing out “the story” first and add the numbers, with assistance, later on. Basically, for lack of another better analogy, I am working on the thesis of the thing and gathering the research and evidence afterwards to back it up.

It was still work but I managed to create a first draft of a plan. And it is still, like everything I do, a work in progress. And I will definitely keep you posted once I finally make something a little more substantial to work with.

I have also been working on a collaborative game with a team of people who happen to also be made up of some of my childhood friends. And I have accomplished a lot. I have not only created a sample list of pre-generated character names and six factions, but also an extra seventh faction that I hope to use in a tutorial along with a creative event scenario. There is, like everything else, a lot more to do but I am pleased with mine — and my teammates’ — progress. So while I am not a programmer or a graphic artist, I am a writer for a game and so this is actually some game development on my part: which makes me really damned proud.

I also can’t wait to say more about the actual game itself, but I will wait on that until we have more done and when our team leader thinks it appropriate.

The graphic story collaboration I am making with Angela O’Hara is still happening, but we have both had to take time to deal with our respective workloads. But I know we are both still interested in its creation and I look forward to sharing that work as well.

So many promises now, I have to say. I feel like, for all the challenges and tribulations I’ve faced, I have been doing some good work. And that in itself is a reward. But I plan to do so much more: just as I also plan to share so much more with you, my faithful friends and readers.

Until next time.

Looking Outward

Bitch Planet is Non-Compliant

If you are a comics geek and you haven’t been reading writer Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and artist co-creator Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet, you should be.

My first impression of Bitch Planet, from what I saw of Issue #1 was that it would be a comic not unlike something Pat Mills would make: something gritty with major punk themes that, in particular, would parody an established comics trope or convention. Even more so, I was expecting a highly political grindhouse death battle situation where the characters would screaming “Fuck the Man!” in literal cage grudge matches when not engaging in gang wars or creating anarchist havens for one another.

Of course what I found was something that — while it plays with those themes — is entirely different. I suppose anyone who is part of the Carol Corps would have been able to tell me that. This was before I’d actually started reading Kelly Sue’s Captain Marvel run and while I saw the great potential in the mythos of Pretty Deadly I had a feeling that Bitch Planet would have a very different story.

I’ve read that Bitch Planet essentially exploits the exploitation genre: specifically with regards to fictional stories about women in prison. So picture the following scenario. Imagine you are in the future. Space travel, surveillance, and holographic technology exists. There is at least one civilization, or national government, that seems to be able to colonize other planets. Everyone is in smart suits and dresses and they get their creature comforts. But crime still exists and there still means, read: prisons, to deal with it. There is one prison planet in particular referred to as the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost.

Bitch Planet Hologram

It is this world that deals with particularly extreme female criminals. Their crimes are numerous: theft, assault and battery, murder, infidelity, abortion, gender treason, hysteria, and a slew of other crimes that  — when you get right down to it — are all acts of non-compliance.

I think you can see where this is going. Still, I’m now going to go into some spoiler territory so if you want to read this ongoing comics series and you don’t want to be surprised, or should I say too surprised, you might want to stop here.

The fact is, non-compliance is a very real theme in Bitch Planet: not just within the society of the New Protectorate and its Council of Fathers, but also in how Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro play with the comics series’ women in prison exploitation genre itself.

Bitch Planet Intro

Issue #1 starts off at a place with a woman attempting to get through a crowd to her job constantly apologizing. This in itself might not mean anything on the surface until you see the transition to where the story is going. It’s pretty clear that the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, or Bitch Planet as many call it, is a metaphor for that entire society. There are little signs of this in how all of the female characters behave. Even in Issue #3, which is a character origin story, a woman at a bakery goes as far as to tell a particularly obnoxious man that she isn’t rolling her eyes at him. Women’s behaviour is observed and policed in this futuristic setting for a variety of reasons: sometimes to the point of incarceration and “re-education.”

Kelly Sue herself is already tapping into that place of patriarchy where women’s behaviour is expected to be conciliatory and passive with regards to men in society. At the very least, she is bringing to light, through her narrative, these traits that women are still expected on some level to embrace to get along in “polite society.” But the creative team go further with this. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro depict the guards of Bitch Planet wearing visors not unlike mirrors. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own utilizes the metaphor of the mirror: of patriarchy needing women to be an inferior or more coveted reflections of men in order to make them more powerful or heroic.

Mirror Bitch Planet

And in Issue # 3 of Bitch Planet it’s shown that the New Protectorate is attempting to see into the minds of women with something called a cerebral action-potential integration and extrapolation machine. It’s purpose is, apparently, to reveal to a committee of men exactly what a woman’s “ideal self” truly is in order to “help her” reach it. Conveniently the device utilizes a mirror.

And Bitch Planet also uses painfully neon holograms to parody the New Protectorate’s “ideal form” of women: to use them to train, indoctrinate, and punish the prisoners at will: a twisted derivative of advertising turned propaganda to a socially — and now physically — captive female audience.

Bitch Planet Holograms

The mirror visors, the mind device, and the holograms are created to symbolize one very important fact: that women in Bitch Planet should prioritize how others see them over how they see themselves.

Bitch Planet Hologram Punishment

And, of course, this is always done for “women’s own good.” The New Protectorate seems to have a very paternalistic view of how to deal with women, and this chauvinistic attitude peters down from the Council of Fathers, to the almost exclusively male-committees making decisions about women’s bodies and minds, and to the common man and woman. Even men, if they are not in certain standing within the hierarchy are, at best, useful tools and at worst underlings to be reminded of their place. And either way, they are just another form of commodity that can be disposed of at will.

Bitch Planet Keeping Up Appearances

The fact that Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro are able to convey the humanity of both oppressors and victims only makes this dynamic even more disturbing.

It is also clear that, unlike H.Y.D.R.A. in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. it isn’t so much that “compliance will be rewarded.” On the contrary: compliance is expected. And non-compliance will always be punished. And even then, like any good patriarchal model, there is the other side of the same coin: violence. It’s safe to say that beatings are commonplace on Bitch Planet and abuse of power as well. The two male supervisors of Bitch Planet seem to view their prisoners as little more than trite entertainment for their arbitrary attentions, and seem detached from sending guards in to break up riots in any way possible: whether the prisoners are violent or not.

So whether women in Bitch Planet are compliant or not, it almost doesn’t really seem to matter. Their lives are dependent on the whims of men in power and those to whom they give power. Women’s privacy, personal space and sexuality are something to be bartered and compromised. This can be see from Issue #2’s emphasis on a man slapping two waitresses on the buttocks all the way to Issue #4, where there are more unpleasant metaphors abound when the reader finds out there is a hole in the shower areas where two women can be intimate with each other provided that they do so in front of the guard viewing them behind the wall: another metaphor for the male gaze.

Bitch Planet Shower Scene

There are also some very loaded racial descriptions, body-shaming, and gender terminologies bandied about by those in power: terms that women are expected to accept as commonplace. Bitch Planet shows the reader a patriarchal setting that thrives from “keeping up appearances” and encouraging others to do so: from the guards who hide behind the power of their masked anonymity when doling out violence and violation — perhaps a metaphorical jibe at Internet trolling of women by Kelly Sue and creative company  — all the way to using the veneer of events such as funerals, blood sports, and camera smiling to maintain the status quo. And it goes without saying that if this system somehow “makes a mistake,” it will not hesitate to use any means to “correct it” and save face: even if they officially decry state-sponsored murder.

Bitch Planet Assassination

This is the structure of compliance and it is all the more terrifying when you consider that it is only a few steps away from a lot of the attitudes of people in power in our time. Indeed, according to an interaction between the apparent series’ protagonist and one of her jailers, this New Protectorate seems to have developed not too long ago in that world’s future. In fact, the creators could leave this world on its own: as a cautionary tale as to what kind of dystopia might happen if we take our freedoms for granted and let them get legislated out of the way for expediency’s sake or out of fear born from a particular trauma.

But, if there is one thing I’ve learned, Kelly Sue DeConnick does not like to leave these things the way they stand.

The creative team begins with the protagonist. At first, the reader doesn’t know who the main character is going to be or even if there is going to be one. Then the narrative starts to focus on an older white woman named Marian Collins who has apparently been wrongfully imprisoned on Bitch Planet. Kamau Kogo, a Black athletic fighter who, at the moment, seems to be the actual story’s protagonist after starting off as a peripheral or secondary character.

Bitch Planet Kamau Kogo

What is even more interesting is that, four issues in, we still don’t know much about Kam or why she is on Bitch Planet. There are clues. In Issue#1 the head prison supervisors actually discuss some of the prisoners and mention the inclusion of one volunteer. Whether or not this person is in the prison program as an inmate or a guard is another story entirely: especially, as by Issue #4, the reader finds out about the existence of an unnamed — an anonymous — prisoner. But what is known is that the protagonist is looking for someone, or something. Only time will tell if these elements will interlap and, at the moment, Kelly Sue is keeping her cards to herself.

Kamau is so bad ass that if V ever approached her the way he did Eva in a hypothetical V For Vendetta / Bitch Planet crossover, she would probably punch him in the face for his troubles.
Kamau is so bad ass that if V ever approached her the way he did Evey in a hypothetical V For Vendetta / Bitch Planet crossover, she would probably punch him in the face for his troubles.

What we do know is that while Kam comes from one of the most exploited groups in all of history — being a Black female — she is also physically strong, athletic, well-trained and apparently had a career before the establishment of the New Protectorate. And she is extremely smart. For instance, she takes that hole in the shower walls, with its unfortunate dual metaphor of female exploitation and the male gaze, and she smashes through it: making it into a spot on the wall of possibility of which Virginia Woolf may have been proud. The guard behind that hole is brought painfully into the situation. His anonymity and the power behind it is taken from him as she knocks off his helmet: leaving him vulnerable to her as she plans to exploit the system that is exploiting her and her fellow inmates. Essentially, she takes the obligatory shower scene, uses it and destroys it to further her own plans.

In Issue #2 of Bitch Planet, Kam is approached by a special operative with a proposition to create an all-female prisoner sports team to fund the Bureau of the New Protectorate. The sport is called Megaton, or Duemila: a form of Calcio fiorentino: an activity reminiscent of football with the ability to throw punches and kicks. It is a bloodthirsty sport and while there may be “no crying in baseball,” I suspect there might be some dying in Megaton. At the same time, however, the game will give the prisoners a chance to fight an all-male guard team on their own unconventional terms. It will be a publicly viewed game and everyone in the Protectorate and the world will be watching. It is an opportunity to challenge the game: to subvert their own exploitation.

And while I’ve also read that Bitch Planet is considered to be Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale meeting Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds: I would add that it also has some Orange is the New Black, some Battle Royale and a little bit of A League of Their Own for good measure

Bitch Planet Kam Gets Recruited

So here we have both Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro playing with stereotypes of femininity, or perceptions of it in much the same way that her characters will be exploiting the hell out of their own system. This may be a dystopia, but there is some resistance: even in the very design of the comic itself. I’ve already mentioned that Valentine De Landro’s art in Bitch Planet has a very gritty punk aesthetic. In fact, I can go further and state that it’s reminiscent of the style of drawing found in many comics from the eighties and nineties: complete with stark colours and eerie neons. But it is the series’ usage of the back matter of each issue — each one designed by Laurenn McCubbin — that is truly something to behold. Each one utilizes the aesthetic of an old, pulpy classified page: in which subliminal patriarchal ads are subverted by feminist messages and parody for the discerning reader.

Bitch Planet Back Matter

In fact, one of my few regrets about Bitch Planet being collected into trades is that the back matters, the essays from inspired feminist contributors, and the comments sections won’t be included. At the same time, it makes me very thankful that I’ve started to read Bitch Planet in their separate comics issues. For the first time in ages, I can almost understand what it felt like to be a reader collecting an issue of Sandman, V For Vendetta, or Watchmen each month: while eagerly waiting for the next story to come out and somehow feeling involved in some of the process as a reader. Really, I feel like I am somehow a part of watching a masterpiece continue to grow into fruition. To those who say that no one has created an epic stories equally those of Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, or Grant Morrison I would just love to direct their attention to what Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro are doing right now.

So, to end this off, let me just say this. If you like murder mysteries, prison dramas, dystopias, political intrigue, grindhouse violence, human characters, and a feminist story that shows clearly what it is critiquing through clever storytelling and human characters — if you yourself are non-compliant — then come acquaint yourselves with Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet.

Bitch Planet Non-Compliant Logo
Logo and comics covers designed by Rian Hughes

Chasing Amy And Reviewing The Laurel Leaves

I wasn’t originally going to watch this film. In fact, my plan was to avoid it into the unforeseeable future. In the beginning, back in 1997 when Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy was first released, I just wasn’t interested. At the time my interest in comics and superheroes was waning and I was in the phase in my life before I went into any conventions, panels, geek communities, or had any relationships. Later, after I got back into comics and saw them for all the adult potential they could contain, I still didn’t watch this film because I’d heard about the messiness of the relationships between them and, at the time, I didn’t understand and I wasn’t interested in subtexts of other sexualities, geek subcultures, the minutiae of romantic comedy and failed relationships beyond the theoretical, and I felt safer in my own head.

Much later, after opening myself up to more life experiences, the reason I avoided Chasing Amy was out of fear. In retrospect, it was always out of fear. It’s only know that I’ve realized that by avoiding Chasing Amy that I’ve actually been running towards it. And tonight, for the first time, I decided to actively run towards what I can see of its heart.

If you don’t want Spoilers to a 1997 movie, please don’t read any further.

I think there are two reasons I kept away from this film. The first was that I knew how it was going to end. Knowing how a work is going to end before you experience it definitely affects how you might react to it.

And the second reason is that I knew its setting — at a convention amongst comics geeks and creators — would hit close to home. Holden and Banky’s introduction in signing their ridiculous superhero parody comic Bluntman and Chronic (modelled after the in-movie and in-Smith universe Jay and Silent Bob characters), with Holden’s high-brow intelligence and Banky’s sarcastic and hair-trigger irate temper — along with how they dealt with and understood their fandom — already threatened to draw me in. Even Hooper X and his ludicrously over-the-top Black Power White Man hating persona — to the point of claiming Darth Vader to be an icon for Black slavery and repression — got me to smile when I realized it was all a clever subversive act to keep up his image.

Then there is Alyssa Jones. She is the creator of what seems to be an even more subversive take on the Archie comics genre through the creation of Idiosyncratic Routine: a comic with what seems to be lesbian or queer oriented relationships story. I really appreciated some of the subtext here: that throughout the interactions in the beginning of the film towards the end we are seeing the difference between generic superhero comics and the personal stories of which they are capable of telling.

Idiosyncratic Routine

To be honest, I didn’t want to like anyone in this film. To be fair, it would have been worse when I was younger: back when I hated crudity and was taught to think it was wrong. Even now, the fact that all four characters had — at times — had superficial relationships with people. However, I also know there is a difference between casual talk at a bar and a character’s actions: as well as context.

The thing is, I can understand why each character does what they do and Kevin Smith takes pains to show us little details along the way. You can see Banky’s over-insistence that he isn’t gay, his homophobic comments, and his need to carry around an excessive amount of porn magazines as a major source of emotional compensation. He likes, at least his long-time homosocial friendship and creative partnership, with Holden and doesn’t want it disrupted in any way.

You can even understand Holden: at least in the beginning. Imagine being in a small bubble of society and only hearing about other things beyond it through spectacle and fiction. Then imagine you meet someone and you totally hit it off with them, or so you think — even getting invited to event by this person — only for them to begin making out with their partner right in front of you for an extended period of time. When I saw Holden sitting at that bar table with Banky, and watching — or trying not to watch Alyssa and her girlfriend of that time — I could see that for every time he told Banky to shut up, he was really venting his disappointment and discomfort: all the way to the point where he just wanted to straight out leave the bar.

Of course, there is Alyssa herself. As you get to know her, you realize she is a woman of some extremes. Sometimes, she genuinely seems to act like a very perceptive brat: knowing that she’s doing some shit-disturbing but entertaining herself in the process. And I say this with some fondness. She is witty, clever, and awkward in a way in which she can laugh at herself. At the same time, when she gets angry: she gets … angry. I’ll admit, Joey Lauren Adams’ voice has an extremely high-pitch and it can be off-putting: especially when drawing on the self-righteous fury of her character. But often, when she gets angry, it’s because Holden manages to trigger a place of hurt inside of her and she reacts accordingly.

But one thing I like about Alyssa is that even when she is an angry manic pixie girl, she still possesses enough self-consciousness to admit her faults and, honestly, has some painful moments of eloquence.

This is a woman who has spent a good portion of her life discovering who she is: experimenting with what she likes, who she relates to, and going to places that sometimes cause her pain. Unlike Holden and Banky, she’s a lot more aware of who she is and what she wants due to the struggles in getting there.

You have to figure Alyssa has gone through a lot. She experimented with her sexuality when she was younger and less mature. Boys took advantage of her and spread rumours and video tapes depicting her acts with them. By the time where Chasing Amy starts she has already dealt with having to come out of the closet and deal with her sexuality in college, fully identifying herself as a lesbian.

And then she and Holden meet each other.

Alyssa’s sexual orientation is not primarily where the tragedy begins in this dynamic. Imagine coming out of the closet: to yourself, to your family, and friends. You have a group of friends that orient their group and political identity around a particular sexual orientation. Then imagine meeting someone, a person, who challenges all of those preconceived notions. Holden, who seems to be a straight man, can’t begin to understand just what the implications of their attraction actually might mean for her. Alyssa could, and seemingly does, get exiled from her group of lesbian friends. And while I’m sure this doesn’t always happen, this phenomenon is definitely known to occur. In fact, what Alyssa seems to go through, at least in that one brief scene around the table with her friends, is reminiscent of works such as Gaming Pixie’s What’s In A Name? in which some gay-identified people consider bisexuality to be a fake designation: a cover for someone pretending to be gay but who is secretly straight.

It’s tempting to say that just as Banky’s internalized homophobia might be the result of repressed homosexual feelings towards Holden, Alyssa runs — and arguably succumbs — to the danger of dealing with some internalized and externalized biphobia. However, as I said Alyssa has done the work before and gradually accepts Holden as the person that she loves beyond sexual orientation, social structuring and despite — even because — of his messiness as a human being.

Holden, unfortunately, can’t seem to afford her the same courtesy. He has never had to deal with figuring out who he is to this regard. Moreover, he is still hung-up on power dynamics and hierarchy: on needing to feel equal to Alyssa in terms of experience. He ignores the fact that she loves him as an individual and not for the “prestige” of being “the first man” she’s slept with.

Chasing Amy Breakup Scene

One sad element about Holden is that there are points in the film where you can see him beginning to change. You see him calling out Banky on his homophobia and questioning just what kind of creative work and legacy he wants to undertake instead of the shallow superhero story of Bluntman and Chronic.

You see just all the time Holden and Alyssa spend together: even before they know they are developing romantic feelings for one another. Hell, there are points when Alyssa and Banky seem to get along. You’d think that she would get incredibly offended by Banky’s homophobic statements, but the way I see it to her they are a lot like Archie Bunker’s comments and she can at least respect the honesty of them if nothing else.

Alyssa and Banky

Certainly, Banky’s prejudices are a whole lot more open than Holden’s internalized ones: ones that he thinks he can overcome by virtue of being with Alyssa. Also, the characters themselves are crude and open about matters generally: though Holden himself due to his more reserved and conservative nature does this a lot less.

For me, Chasing Amy is less a romantic comedy and more of a tragedy: especially as you get this horrible mounting dread as the film moves towards its end. Holden just can’t shake off the taboos and power-structures in his head in time to save his relationships. In a horrible mangle, he tries to create a threesome between him, Banky, and Alyssa: after vehemently rejecting Alyssa for her sexual past with other men. This is a breakdown of communication and the terminal phase of a relationship gone dysfunctional. From my perspective, Alyssa should have told him about this past but, really, Holden should have been the one to ask her in a direct and respectful manner, outside of a hockey game, and with time put aside. Of course, Holden also should have borne in mind that many of the qualities he admires in Alyssa comes from all the experiences, mistakes, and work that she had undertaken.

Banky could have looked at himself and realized his feelings for Holden: or at least communicated just why Alyssa bothered him so much. I really noticed that the three of them could have easily been friends if nothing else.

Holden, Alyssa, and Banky

And then there is the fascinating element of Alyssa herself. When I was watching this spectacle unravel and she was explaining to Holden just why it wouldn’t work, I realized that Alyssa wasn’t just talking about the threesomes and play that she had done in the past. Even in her lesbian relationships, I strongly suspect she and previous partners attempted polyamory: or at least some kind of non-monogamy. As she states, there are many permutations of how it might not work out, and Alyssa herself saw those earlier relationships as experiments that she went through before finding what and who she wanted.

Alyssa, at least at this point, is monogamous and wants to be so with Holden. But Holden’s arrogance and insecurity poisons and destroys what they had: or could have had. Certainly, Holden’s fever-logic idea of creating a threesome to eliminate insecurities would, by Alyssa’s own words, have only made things worse. Perhaps with time, effort, patience, and actual talking — maybe even experimentation on Holden’s part and Alyssa’s understanding — all of this could have been salvaged. Instead, Holden loses Alyssa and Banky. Due to his own actions, he is essentially left with nothing.

The end of the film reminds me of the ancient Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo. The god Apollo seeks the naiad Daphne and she is not interested in his romantic overtures. He ends up pursuing her: chasing her to the point where she asks her river god father to change her into a tree to escape the god. Daphne became the first laurel tree. Apollo, in his grief, takes on her laurel leaves as his new crown. Laurel leaf crowns were awarded to ancient Greek athletes and victorious Roman warriors: perhaps reminding them of that kernel of defeat and loss at the centre of triumph.

Apollo and Daphne

Silent Bob tells Holden the story about a girl he knew named Amy who, because of her previous experience with multiple men, he couldn’t accept: leaving her and realizing, only too late, that she loved him just for who he was. Hence we have the title of the film: Chasing Amy.

A person is not an ideal even if they can, by their presence and loss, inspire creation. Holden ends up creating a new, personal comic sharing the title of the film. He gives a copy to Alyssa a year after their relationship ended. It is a comic book whose pages are laurel leaves and whose panels are lost moments of time. It is made up of the beauty, maturity, and understanding that he gained after losing the woman he loved by chasing an impossible ideal and, in doing so, chased away the flawed, vulnerable, and ultimately human person that she is.

And Alyssa? She ends up dating women again and doesn’t even acknowledge what Holden was to her newest partner. Even though he still clearly means much to her, he is part of her past now: the same past that she hid from him and so many others in order to psychologically protect herself. I’m even tempted to say, in a very less than qualified way, that she buries down what might have been a delving into bisexuality to embrace the relatively easier notion of homosexuality once more, leaving us with perhaps an example of bisexual self-erasure. Or, again sexuality doesn’t come into it. This was just about people relating to one another: and failing.

I am not in the LGBTQ spectrum and I know this film has been written about many times and probably in better ways, so hopefully you’ll understand when I say that I hope you take everything I’ve written with a grain of salt. After seeing the movie, I kind of wish that we could see another one: not from Holden’s perspective in gaining his laurel leaves, but Alyssa’s, or Amy’s — or even Daphne’s — defiance of that trope.

Chasing Amy Comic Cover

As such I hope it goes without saying that women, obviously, do not exist so that they can “be lost” by men in order to gain them a certain level of maturity and humility. But there is a trope here — a Western and Classic idea in which love is a “forbidden knowledge” that you must fall into, and that only through loss can you begin to understand who you are — and it is tragic in that it exists at all. The truth is, I didn’t want to like Chasing Amy: a personal enlightenment tragedy wearing the layers of romance, comedy, geekdom, comics arts and meta-fiction that it is. And I realize the reason I was so afraid of it was because there were many times in my life that I almost became Holden. Sometimes I’m afraid it still might happen.

Fear of loss is reason is why I didn’t want to get attached to the characters: to become affected by their loss and their pain of loss. But by not becoming attached to something, you attempt to hold off relating to it — and by not relating to it you can let an opportunity pass you by, develop a dysfunctional relationship with it, or let a part of yourself become mangled and ruined before it can grow. And I can’t do that any more.

I’d like to think that, in watching Chasing Amy I took a chance and looked at the forces that shaped it. As I have attempted to do in my own relationships, I accepted the experiences it had — and has with others — and realized that they only made it all the richer for me to learn from and relate to in my own right.

This Year In Passing: Hell, Everland, And Fascinating Beginnings

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.

Looking Outward