Back when it premiered in 2014, I settled down excitedly to watch Starz Network’s early-1700s pirate drama Black Sails. I had a notion going in that it was being marketed as Starz’s answer to HBO’s Game of Thrones, and would be trying hard to fold in a comparable amount of sex, depravity, and violence. I wasn’t wrong, but the first episode of Black Sails introduced a lesbian relationship that felt so painfully tailored to the male gaze that I actually lost interest and stopped watching, certain that the rest of the show would be cringeworthy. I only gave the show another shot as of a few months ago, when my partner kept asking if we could watch it together. Had it not been for them, I would have done the same thing over again, because the lesbian scenes were as bad as I had remembered. But we slogged through episode one, and as the show went on, I was surprised to find that things turned around in the best possible way.
Spoilers for the entirety of Black Sails below.
I still feel like I’m hearing the Game of Thrones theme in my head (via vignette1)
Back in 2015, the internet got itself into a bit of a tizzy over the news that an important Star Wars novel called Aftermath had been released, and that one of the main characters was gay. Since I have an ear tilted eternally to both queer news and Star Wars news, I was immediately intrigued, but also completely prepared for the barrage of vitriol the Star Wars fandom started spewing as soon as the book was published. Most of the criticism didn’t lead in with homophobia, and some didn’t mention the gay characters at all, but it felt like a very peculiar coincidence that after decades of shrugging off plenty of resoundingly mediocre Star Wars books with a “meh”, the fandom chose this one in particular to shred to pieces for its (allegedly) atrocious writing style, boring characters, and sloppy story. I read several Star Wars books as a child and have recently started poking around in the EU again, so I decided to find out for myself if Aftermath genuinely deserved the gruesome skewering it got online.
After the roaring success of Netflix’s manyMarvelshows, Hulu has finally thrown their lot in with the comic book crowd and ordered a Runaways live-action series. The Runaways are a team of kids and teenagers who joined up to strike out on their own after they all found out that their parents were supervillains. They didn’t exactly set out to be a superhero team, but because so many of them inherited superpowers or impressive technology from their evil parents, trouble kind of finds them. They are definitely amongst Marvel’s most underrated and under-utilized teams, so it’s great that they’re getting an opportunity to shine in a new series. Personally, if we were going to have a Marvel teen superheroes series I was gunning for my little babes the Young Avengers, but hey, it’s not like I’m bitter or anything. The Runaways and the Young Avengers did have a lackluster team-up once, so I can dream.
There are a lot of important aspects of the Runaways that make them unique, so I have a lot of expectations about this Hulu series. The comics set a high bar for diversity back in 2003, so I have a couple of points that I consider perfectly attainable and also very important for the show to be progressive, inclusive, and true to the comics.
We live in tumultuous and uncertain times, and for many of the most vulnerable people in the United States, especially minorities, fear has been ramping up in their everyday lives. Comparisons between the newly elected President Trump and Adolf Hitler abound, and not without reason. Just before Trump’s inauguration, the second season of the Amazon original series The Man in the High Castle premiered. While the alternate history series had been fascinating and compelling ever since its premiere last January, in light of recent events, its poignancy has been downright spooky. It presents a picture of what life in the United States in the sixties might have looked like if the Axis powers had won the Second World War and divided up the U.S. between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. The series is based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, and follows Juliana Crain as she and the people close to her become caught up in resistance activities orchestrated by an unseen, eponymous mastermind. Besides being exceptionally well-written, one point that separates this from other alternate World War II histories (and there are an abundance) is that in The Man in the High Castle, a few characters have ways of glimpsing alternate paths of history and incomplete pictures of possible futures, which they desperately try to piece together to understand how to change the dystopian world they live in.
Having seen two out of the three abysmally bad Fantastic Four movies already, I figured that by now I was probably jaded enough to tackle the original 1994 version without risking my sanity. After all, the 2015 version was absolute rock bottom: so bad that it derailed before looping back around to “hilariously bad” and ended up in a fiery heap somewhere between terrifying and boring. Much to my relief, while the 1994 version is indisputably terrible, it’s the sort of terrible you can watch in relative comfort and have a giggle at. Some charming aspects are that it’s mercifully short, comically overblown, and features (genuinely) the best movie version of Dr. Doom we have. Some terrible aspects are that it feels like a high school kid did the final editing, it treats women like garbage, and while it’s technically fairly accurate to the comics, it chose specifically the worst faults of the comics to stay faithful to.
As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve been doing quite a bitof LARPing lately with several different organizations, and my curiosity was piqued when I heard about a brand new, supernatural, alternate-history, Wild West-themed LARP in Pennsylvania called Dead Legends. I have a few friends from Knight Realms who recommended it, and my partner Andy was interested in giving it a go, so last weekend I plopped my bowler hat on, gathered up some relics of my steampunk phase, and drove up to Lancaster to see what it was all about. Unfortunately, the reality fell short of its glowing reviews. While the game mechanics, theme, and atmosphere are well thought out and pretty ambitious, the game itself was quite disorganized and definitely suffered because of the staff’s inexperience. There were certainly many elements that worked, and the game could be genuinely great if properly managed, but overall, the player experience really needs to be shored up quite a bit to put Dead Legends on par with other LARP games I’ve experienced.
It’s a strange and wonderful thing to be diving back into the world of Harry Potter, a franchise that so many people around my age literally grew up with. There was certainly a lot of pressure on the new film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to transport us back to a world we all knew and loved, and I’m happy to say that while it certainly differed a lot from the series of films starring Harry and the gang, it was generally delightful. It made a lot of good storytelling choices, introduced a lot of great characters, and really invoked a sense of wonder, which is what every Harry Potter story ought to do. There were a few small hiccups in execution: specifically, some elements of the magical world seemed incongruous with the rest of the stories. Even with that considered, however, nothing significantly detracted from the overall experience, and I came out of the theater excited to learn more about Newt, Tina, and the American wizarding community.
On my latest pre-Halloween adventure through the realm of nostalgia, I decided to revisit a movie that—for some reason—absolutely terrified me as a kid: 1994’s The Pagemaster. To say that any movie terrified me is really something, considering that I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at age five and Jurassic Park was my favorite movie at age six, but evidently watching a tiny, animated Macaulay Culkin scamper through an uncanny valley of living books was on another level of disturbing.
This uniquely 90s nugget of media is about a boy named Richard who is terrified of absolutely everything until he has to go on an adventure to escape from a library that has somehow been turned into a fantasy realm full of monsters and dragons and pirates and such. Helping him along the way are three anthropomorphized living books with creepy faces and weird little arms and legs. Are you not shaking in your boots yet? Come on.
I’m screaming inside but trying to be cool about it.
There is a point early on in any promising relationship when your significant other gives you a gift that lets you know they really get you. In the case of my current relationship, that gift was the Volume 1 trade paperback of a comic series called Manifest Destiny. I’m a sucker for anything that falls under the weirdly specific category of “fantasy organic science”: stuff that delves into plausible-sounding pseudo-scientific minutiae as it pertains to biology that doesn’t actually exist. I’m pestered by questions like “If contact with iron burns faeries, what’s the oxidizing agent in faerie blood?” and “If drow live underground they must be obligate carnivores, so how can they digest vegetables?” Manifest Destiny is not only great fuel for my fantasy biology obsession, it’s an original, beautifully-illustrated and creatively written piece of historical fiction. The story follows Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their famous exploratory journey across the Louisiana Purchase, except in this version, mapping and documentation are just a cover for what they’re really doing: clearing the new territory of strange and terrible beasties to make it safe for human habitation.
While the concept and aesthetics are a delight, the writing does fail in some more-or-less predictably disappointing sexist and racist ways, which is especially frustrating since the series came out in 2014. Sacajawea, in spite of being well known and almost mythologized in popular culture, is woefully underdeveloped and more than a little caricatured. Although historically Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery encountered and had good rapport with many Native American communities, (establishing trade was, in fact, part of the mission) Sacajawea is the only Native American to appear in the first six issues of Manifest Destiny, and although she becomes directly involved in the narrative in issue three, she doesn’t even speak until issue six. It’s an irritating distraction from a series that has a lot going for it creatively.
If you were to take the year 1987 and simmer it down into a thick gelatinous paste, then leave it undisturbed in a warm, moist environment for eighteen months, you could look at the resulting slurry under a microscope and what you would see is the Masters of the Universe movie unfolding before your eyes. This film is the most ingenious parody of an 80’s film ever executed, or it would have been if it had been intended as a parody. The story and characters are based on a series of loosely connected generic action figures designed in-house in 1981 by the Mattel toy company so they wouldn’t have to pay licensing fees to make actual franchise toys. It stars Dolph Lundgren (who at the time was not fluent in English) as a virtually naked barbarian creatively named He-Man, one of the few fantasy genre characters stuck awkwardly into an otherwise vaguely Power Rangers-esque science fiction movie. Part of the movie takes place in an alternate fantasy/sci-fi mashup dimension and the other part is trying really hard to be an aggressively typical 80’s high school angsty love story. The result is an absolute mess of the most quality entertainment you can imagine, if you’ve got some booze and an hour and forty-five minutes that you never want back.
This art definitely makes me take this movie more seriously.