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.