Way back in my senior year of high school, my friends and I took full advantage of our senior year freedom to go see The Forbidden Kingdom in theaters several times. As far as we were concerned, The Forbidden Kingdom was the long-awaited team-up of Asian action stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li—it didn’t matter to us that the plot included some white guy as the main protagonist. In fact, we were pretty happy about it—we thought the white protagonist would make the movie much more attractive to Americans and thus make more money at the box office, thereby proving that Asians could sell movies. And to be fair, The Forbidden Kingdom did rank #1 at the box office in its opening weekend. But nearly a full decade later, it’s pretty apparent that The Forbidden Kingdom‘s flaws in 2008 are the same flaws that Hollywood still has today.
After hearing the news that James Cameron would be helming a film adaptation of Battle Angel Alita next year, I decided to take a dive into the series and see what the fuss was about. I’d never actually read it, but after 15 years of anime convention-going I was sure I’d heard the name before. And since I like to be an informed critic, and am already strapped in and ready to critique the movie (with its tragically predictable almost-Asian-less cast) I figured there was no harm in familiarizing myself with it for dragging’s sake.
Well, after reading all nine volumes of the series, I can confidently say that while I can explain the story, I have no idea what the fuck it is about.
There’s an oft-problematic sub-genre of superhero comics I’ve always had a particular affection for nonetheless. It’s a genre I have a difficult time even coming up with a name for; one where the nigh-incomprehensibly complex nature of a sci-fi/superhero setting and the gritty humanity inherent in “real life of superheroes” type content collide. Series like Transmetropolitan, Astro City, and Powers fall into that category, and those are some of the greatest comic series of all time. But there is one that I tend to forget about and, as a result, don’t often go back to: Alan Moore’s Top 10.
As a police drama set in a city where literally every resident is some sort of superhero, robot, mutant, monster, goddess, or alien, Top 10 hits a lot of zany-but-dark notes. But unlike the (truly brilliant) series Powers by Brian Michael Bendis, Top 10 is much more lighthearted in its take on “how do you do policework when suspects are superpowered beings,” and tends more towards “comics continuity gone wild”-type jokes and narratives.
Top 10 features a dazzlingly diverse cast in an almost unimaginably complex multiverse, but the stories that it tells are surprisingly relatable, due in no small part to the character-focused writing by Alan Moore. The art by Gene Ha crams nearly every page with enough Easter eggs and references that they sometimes come off as being from a Where’s Waldo book. But the comic also, like many of Alan Moore’s greatest works, tackles some very controversial issues in ways that can be (sometimes subversively) heavy-handed and trope-y. Though much of the more problematic content in these books does offer a nuanced and honest look at things like racism, sexism, homophobia, and police corruption, it also sometimes comes off as playing for pure shock value.
Note that this article is about the original 2000-2001 run of Top 10 (and to a lesser extent its prequel The Forty Niners) rather than the 2008-2009 run by Kevin and Zander Cannon (who also worked on the original).
It’s been ages since the last time I read the Seventh Tower series by Garth Nix, but I’d been meaning to read it again, so this weekend I sat down and blasted through all six volumes. (At around 200 middle-gradey pages each, they’re not a heavy read.) I did remember enjoying the series when I read it the first time—probably way back around when it was published between 2000–2002—but very little else. All I remembered was that I liked them enough, so they’d survived several cullings of my ridiculously large book collection until such time as I could reread them and rejudge.
Having finally done just that, I am happy to report that the series is definitely an enjoyable read, although I probably won’t be holding onto them for another round a decade into the future. I was impressed to see that The Seventh Tower uses magic and worldbuilding in a fascinating way that allows for a deconstruction of privilege that feels organic to the story, while providing us with a strong female touchpoint character as well. Although, given that it was Garth Nix writing, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Continue reading
I wish I could say the themes and messages of Brian Wood’s DMZ are less relevant than they were a decade ago, but that is not the case. If anything, this story has become more relevant as the years go by. But even though the central concept of an irreconcilable ideological divide leading to a second American Civil War seems to become more depressingly realistic with each passing day, the stories about humanity and human nature during wartime that DMZ tells remain compelling.
Looking back on DMZ, it is tempting to think of it as prescient. But set against the backdrop of the war on terror and the reality of a post-9/11 world becoming firmly established in the American zeitgeist, it was also very much a product of its time. Yet by focusing on the reality of war for the people stuck in one, the result is essentially timeless.
TW: Discussion of 9/11 and life in a war zone. Violent imagery.
There’s always a mix of joy and frustration in revisiting old classics or old favorites for this column, but the proportions of the two tend to vary from topic to topic. This week I sat down with an old Roald Dahl book I haven’t cracked since probably grade school, and found that, while it’s overall sweet and somewhat empowering, it had several elements that left me rolling my eyes. This book is, of course, The BFG.
Now that Moana has been released and Lindsey Ellis, formally known as the Nostalgia Chick, did a video essay comparing it to Pocahontas and talking about cultural appropriation, I’ve been thinking a lot more about Disney’s 1995 Pocahontas movie. I absolutely don’t want to defend Pocahontas because, well… it’s bad. It’s really bad and racist, but this movie did have a lot of positive effects on me and my understanding of the genocide white people waged on Native Americans. And even nowadays, over twenty years later, it once again indirectly managed to help me come to terms with a personal trauma. Lindsey Ellis’s video does a really good job deconstructing everything that’s wrong with this movie and I wholeheartedly recommend everyone watch it, because Pocahontas is on the whole a really awful movie. Despite my love for it and the positive influence it had on my life, those things do not erase the negatives.
Trigger warning for sexual abuse up ahead.
When deciding what to write about this week, I was torn between a comic and this movie… and then the universe sent me a sign: a gif of one of the Hex Girls, free of context or even any tags, on my Tumblr dash. I’m not one to turn down the universe, so here we are. This is one of the few Scooby-Doo movies close to my heart that I haven’t reviewed for this column yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable watch.
Spoilers for the story below the jump!
Recently, my fourteen-year-old self knocked on my window in the dead of night and asked me to reconsider demon butlers. Or, rather, I went to watch Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic (a movie adaptation of one of the later arcs of the manga) in the cinema with a friend, where we were both promptly reminded why we’d loved this series so much as teenagers. The Black Butler manga is more than ten years old and still going strong, and the movie reeled me back into this world of supernatural action and Victorian Era finery with enough force and finesse that I was compelled to revisit the first few volumes of the manga—the “Jack the Ripper” arc, the storyline I remember being my favorite and starring my favorite pair of villains—and dive back into this story to see if it held up. Is it still good? Certainly. Is it also riddled with problems I’m much more wary of and attuned to now that I’m older and wiser? Absolutely. Spoilers for the arc ahead!
As with many families during the 90s, my family was a Disney family. In my eyes, though, there were fairy tales far more enrapturing than The Lion King or Pocahontas. My mom had this stash of fairy tale stories that I’d never heard of before—it was from this stash that I’d first learned about The Snow Queen and got a head start on my Frozen disappointment. Fairy tales don’t tend to age well under a critical eye, but I remember there being one story in particular that seemed outwardly feminist, even to my tiny baby mind, which had no idea what feminism even was. Jane Yolen’s 1989 Dove Isabeau doesn’t manage to escape all of the not great fairy tale tropes, but the agency given to its heroine and the rejection of typical masculinity saving the day is enough to make me forgive the tropes the story does hold onto.