December 6, 2016

Bad Boy- Mini-Views

Hey all.

Okay, so for all two of you who still keep up with this blog which is kinda dead (sorry, college has been relentless this semester, and--sorry, but can we all agree that this year in general was just fucking horrible), anyway, thank you for sticking with me here!

Um, so, anyway I just finished a book.

It's a book that I'd been looking forward to reading ever since finishing up Elliot Wake's other novels Cam Girl, Black Iris, and Unteachable. It's called Bad Boy. You can buy it here.

I'm hesitant to even write this review, because, full disclosure, I just really wasn't feeling this one. Don't take that to mean this book is bad. It's not. In fact, just culturally and contextually, this book is absolutely necessary. The plot in this one revolves around YouTube vlogger superstar Ren Grant, a transgender man who is also the muscle behind the vigilante group Black Iris, itself formed in the final pages of Wake's third book of the same name. But when he's falsely accused of rape, he has to find out who has framed him and why. Characters here include Ren, his ex girlfriend Ingrid, and his new (really hot) flame Tamsin, plus the returning characters Ellis, Vada, Laney, Armin, and Blythe. Pro-tip: read Black Iris and Cam Girl first before reading this one. Then read them again, because if you're anything like me, names will become confusing for you.

This has probably the most ambitious attempt at weaving in social commentary, transgender discourse (for lack of a batter term, sorry, I really hate that word), and surprisingly nuanced looks at masculinity and the patriarchy, of any of Wake's books. I really loved that Ren struggles openly and internally with his views on masculinity and how that intersects with him transitioning in gender. How does one cope with becoming a person who's body is seen as being inherently part of a patriarchal oppression? How much agency does one lose and gain when they do so? Are they worthy of that agency or is that agency imposed upon them? These questions are raised implicitly and explicitly by Ren himself through narration and some YouTube vlog excerpts dispersed throughout, and I found all of that fascinating. Ren was at his strongest as a character when he was struggling with these questions.

I loved that Ren went in-depth about his transition. It would've been so easy to just gloss over this and trust that the reader would be able to parse this out from the actions of the plot and the climax, but by going in blatantly and talking about what it's like, what being on testosterone is like, how your brain chemistry shifts, all the surgeries and emotional breakthroughs and breakdowns, it lets us see this character fully. I liked that a lot, both in terms of yes thank goodness, we're seeing more representation of marginalized voices in literature, but also in terms of just knowing this character's story and knowing his journey. When he grapples with how this false accusation of rape is affecting him socially and mentally, when he catches himself falling into stereotypical masculine behaviors and always has to ask himself "will I prove all those misandrists and men's rights activists both right?" this is what I call a complex and wholly satisfying way of intertwining academic and feminist discourse into a work of fiction. Wake showed he had that skill in Iris and especially Cam Girl, and it's back in spades here.

The plot, and the surrounding subjects here, is the books biggest weakness, at least for me. Wake loves to go complex, he loves to go big with his plots, he likes that twist and fling of stories. And I thought he just outdid himself in Black Iris, a book so complicated I went through and rigorously read it in chronological order just to see if it all added up in the end (it did). But here, the plot's not really complex, it's just complicated. Complicated to the point that it becomes mundane, even banal at times. And it really comes down to the Black Iris piece of this. Cut that out, have it focus on Ren and his ex Ingrid, throw in a romance between he and Tamsin, and I feel that the story would be so much stronger, tighter, and more believable. What Laney and the gang do is fairly behind-the-scenes, and I feel that Ren could have figured it all out without their involvement. The one thing I will say, just to end this paragraph on a positive note, is that the inclusion of the returning characters did let us see a much better realized Armin. I loved his interactions with Ren. We got to see two men who were both flawed and frustrated with their own masculinities in ways that just really spoke to me, as someone who deals constantly with internal misogyny, misogynistic performance, etc. Really good on that character front!

The pacing in this was really rough for me. For the first half, especially, I was more surprised than irritated, because Wake is usually so good at keeping a consistent pace throughout his work. The first third is this book's weakest point, as it has to reintroduce many characters from Iris and Cam Girl, and build up this new character. And that's terrible, because I know so many people who would put this book down before getting to the good part. Again, just comparing this to Wake's other works, character introduction and allusion is usually a much more subtle process than it was here. And as such, this takes away valuable space from Ren's own story. The second half does ramp up the pace a bit, and there's a reveal in here that was pretty good. But it all just feels a little too... flat (?) coming off of Iris and Cam Girl and how driven those plots were in relation to their characters.

As I sit here digesting the book, I've been mulling over my criticisms, trying to see if they're even worth bringing up or taking into account when you yourself go out and buy this. Bad Boy is about a transgender person learning to put himself back together and become his own man. It's written by a trans author who has worked his ass off to get to where he is. A major theme in the book is that we are all put together from fragmented identities, a patchwork of various movements, views, and assumptions that both shape and are shaped by us. The pacing, the writing, the plot, the characters, they all bend to this theme too, being built out of this wonderful world that Elliot Wake has created and simultaneously adding to it in important ways. To quote Ren directly, "Being a man means being strong enough to let your fragility show," and Wake has done that. I didn't think this book was Wake at his best. But I do think this was Wake at his most honest, at his most transparent, and at his most genuine.

November 21, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 2x06 "Changing"

I've been super inactive lately just in terms of posting stuff. To the like five of you who care about this, sorry (but thank you obvs. for caring!). It's been a super busy month—depressing af too obvs.—and honesty Supergirl and the impending release of Elliot Wake's newest book are the only things fueling me through these last few weeks of 2016.

Really loved this latest episode of Supergirl! This episode had so much awesome in it, it's kinda insane when compared to the previous episodes that honestly haven't been that exciting for me. It's like they saved it all for this.

Alex's coming out was amazing; just so real! Multiple threads of character and different emotions going into it too which was fantastic! It would've been so easy to make this completely happy or just prey on the painfulness, but Chyler and the writers really run the full gamut of Alex's emotional spectrum which was very smart. It gave us an Alex that reacted differently about her being gay when in the company of different people and that was su smart, because it made her more human that way. Super resonant! They even played on the fact that she's an adult coming to terms with this; I just... like, this is amazing! We've never seen that before, not really. I cried, seeing this kind of representation on screen. I also found it satisfying just from a narrative standpoint that Alex and Maggie didn't end up together by episode's end. This was realistic too in how Maggie handled herself and how Alex reacted, and I'm glad that this didn't fall into the trap of insta-love. This is a relationship that's worth the growth and the depth; I'm so glad they're in it for the long haul.

Winn and James finally got to take more active roles in the show which was nice to see; as soon as James showed up in that suit before he even spoke I knew that dude had a voice modulator! He doesn't look nearly as silly as pictures made him out to be; the suit works great in motion. Mon-El and M'Gann are also growing as characters. I'm still not crazy about Mon-El as a character in his own right yet; his use as comic relief is good but I don't know if there's enough depth to this guy to draw his hero trepidations story out for so long. M'Gann Mors though, it should be neat to see where her relationship with J'onn goes after the reveal in episode four that she's a White Martian and her donating blood to J'onn this episode. Setting up conflict is great and I hope they do as equally good follow through.

And coupled with all of this great character work is an external story this week that I actually cared about. I've been thinking a lot about this episode since it aired last Monday. I'm mostly just super happy that Alex's story is being treated as real and as a legitimate character journey. (It's obviously made a big enough impression on me to write this!) Part of why I hadn't posted reviews of the previous few episodes (besides me being swamped with school stuff) is because the external plots of the past few episodes just haven't been all that interesting or nuanced to me. Alien amnesty acts are all well and good, and having a political allegory is fine, but how the show's been handling stuff like this is just so obvious and as such loses a lot of the impact for me. But this episode we have a debut of a classic Superman villain in a way that ties more directly into how the characters themselves are acting (prominently with Winn, James, and Mon-El), so there's more stuff to care about with regards to the external plot this time around, which was so great.

Also, I think I was still used to Supergirl taking a more active role in the show—she is the star, after all. But that was a last season thing; this season is all about interpersonal relationships and how the character dynamics can be shaken up, which is fantastic and it is what a second season is supposed to do. Kara's character is developing very slowly and her arc as a reporter is like the least interesting of everything going on, which I initially thought to be a negative, but on looking back, this is probably all to the benefit of the show because it allows room for other stories to be told. Now, we have Alex and Maggie and their relationship, Winn and James as a team, J'onn and M'Gann's conflicting relationship, and Kara being supportive of her sister.

So yeah, I loved this episode! More like this, please!!

October 18, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 2x02 "Last Children of Krypton"

This season is definitely going in strong!

As with last time, Superman’s around, but I’m so glad that this didn’t feel like scenery chewing at all: his presence felt natural and they enveloped him nicely into the workings of the show without ever compromising on any other plot or character material, and that’s great.

The strengths of this episode definitely stem from tight character work and interactions. The fight between Kara and Alex felt as real as ever, both actresses doing a fine job balancing their conflict and rising tension without becoming catty with one another. I could’ve done with a bit more of that, actually, but what we got was great, and a sign that the two Danvers sisters are going to be in more loving conflict this season, which is exactly what I want. J’onn and Clark not getting along due to the former having Kryptonite on hand feels a bit forced for me, but they devoted enough time to it for it to make its point, and again, given that this episode was a character-driven one, this element plays right into that, and it’s a good way to help integrate Clark into the story so that he doesn’t just seem like the hired muscle of the week.

The pacing this week was very good. This is something that the show had struggled with last season, and it seems to have settled into its own now. It’s a pace that’s fast, but not breakneck, allowing for a variety of tone and character beats to shine. While the hour tends to cut a lot to different locations (I found the Fortress of Solitude sojourn to be a bit tedious), the upshot is that the character conflicts and interactions remained the focus. The fights looked quite good, and the dual fight between Superman and Supergirl and the two Metallos was well done cinematographically; some sweet transitions in there!

Where this fell short for me was pretty much everything having to do with Cadmus. Don’t get me wrong, Supergirl’s needed a strong serialized villain for some time; Astra and Myriad didn’t really pan out too well, and I have a feeling that the writers learned from that and are now trying to make up for lost time by just introducing the season-long villain right off the bat. While this is good in intention, the execution feels rushed. We barely know anything about Cadmus, and what we do know feels ever so much like a cheap knockoff of the excellent depiction in the Justice League Unlimited show. Maybe that’s just me, but I really hope we can get into the workings of this group besides just knowing that they’re evil. This villain has the potential to be very good and very nuanced, and I’m not seeing that right now.

Also, Metallo himself wasn’t great. I’m only tangentially familiar with his comic book stories, so maybe this is how boring and lifeless he is there too, but this on-screen representation just didn’t hold my interest. This would be a bigger knock against the show if the character stuff weren’t so strong, but even so, they really need to work on developing good villains here.

Cat’s leaving! No surprise here, though they gave her a good emotional sendoff, which I liked. Snapper Carr is gonna be a pain in the ass to watch, but it was nice to see Kara set him kinda straight by episode’s end. And Kara’s (and Supergirl’s) goodbye moments with Cat rounded things out nicely.

Next episode looks to be even better, with the mysterious Mon-El waking up and Wonder Woman POTUS herself Lynda Carter coming in on the scene! Exciting!!

October 11, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 2x01 "The Adventures of Supergirl"

This was so fun!

It’s great that Supergirl is back in the air! This is a show that I watched religiously throughout last year (once I got caught up half way through), and the charm and energy is still going strong here. This season has great potential; last season was a bit rocky when it came to pacing overall, and while there’s still a bit of a problem with that here, the writers seem more focussed and intent on what they want to do with the show now.

And yeah, alright, so they switched to the CW network which is fantastic as it allows the show to interact with the other DC shows! I have a problem with this only because CBS had instant access subscription while the CW does not, so I have to wait a day before watching new episodes, dammit. But besides that, the move is a logical one, and doesn’t seem to have impacted the show on the outside, which is nice. Things still look bright and the tone, style, and effects felt consistently up to par with last year’s stuff.

Melissa Benoist is back in full force, throwing herself into the role, and it was a joy to see her on screen again. Her story for the episode was a good one, fitting in nicely with the themes established last season of her figuring out who she wants to be; last year it was who she is as Supergirl, now it’s who she is as Kara. Her relationship with James, one which I was kind of indifferent about honestly, seems to have fizzled out here, which is fine. I much prefer having Kara learn to understand herself first before moving into a heavy relationship, especially with a regular on the show; it’s early in the show’s development, they have time to draw this out. There are a few scenes with Cat Grant that were nice and sweet; Flockhart delivers her lines with less fire than before, but all to the better as to me it makes her seem less cartoony, and what she says to Kara is good advice for anyone really: dive, take risks, but learn first why you’re taking them and what you intend those risks to mean for you. It cements the themes of Supergirl nicely, that this is a person who not only wants to be out of Superman’s shadow, but also wants to be her own person in the process, and figuring out the one does not necessarily mean that she’s figured out the other.

Of course, Tyler Hoechlin guest stars as the Man of Steel himself, but I was pleased to find that he never stole the show away from Supergirl beyond sadly relegating Winn and a few other Supergirl-centric characters to shorter scenes. Benoist and Hoechlin have decent chemistry on screen, and the two do a good job of not overplaying or overselling themselves too much; the two characters are giddy, but they also understand one another on a familial level. This is in great contrast to how Superman is seen by the general public: while Supergirl always strolls into the DEO and no one pays her much mind, Superman flies in and everyone is at attention. A bit of an obvious difference, sure, but it highlights again how revered Superman is, how he’s seen as a god among humankind, and how much weight his mere presence brings. I’m a little sad that they didn’t address this beyond a few remarks by an annoyed Kara at how everyone seems to love him, but at the same time I’m glad they didn’t turn this into a needlessly antagonistic pissing contest or some such.

Where Hoechlin really shines is as the bumbling Clark Kent. This is possibly the best version of the character we’ve had since the early Superman films; he’s quiet, charming, and has that everyman sound to him. I liked too that he gave advice to Kara but also asked to spend time with her so that she could tell him about home. Those were two vital scenes that really cemented to me their relationship as family and as two fairly lonely people living on an alien world. It also pushed further the idea that is central to Kara’s character, that she’s felt like she’s living in Clark’s shadow in that the show kind of pushes back against that: this is Supergirl’s show, so to have Clark be humbled enough to ask for her help and not be mad about her being credited with saving the day and such, it just made the characters feel more dimensional to me, more real.

Lena Luthor is a new character for me, and I liked her here. She’s shrewd but not needlessly antagonistic, and the brief scenes we have with her cement her character well. This played in nicely with the furthering of Kara’s character, as she now needs to make a decision about what she wants to do with her life now that she’s no longer Cat’s assistant. Having Lena Luthor in here gave that goal both a face and a foil to work against; it even parallels in a dark way the Supergirl/Superman relationship in the eyes of the world, that Supergirl is working on her own terms now, much in the way Lena is trying to distance her company from Lex Luthor’s villainy.

I did have a few complaints. The actual villain of the episode is very flat: obviously we need to set up his origin story for his eventual transformation into Metallo, but this was just really not a character that had much impact for me. I don’t get why we should be invested at all in an assassin taking out a target beyond the fact that this is happening in Supergirl’s city... it just didn’t land well at all. Metallo himself is a great obstacle for the children of Krypton to face, but the road to get there was not satisfying on this front. Similarly, as mentioned before, some of the other Supergirl regulars felt a bit shunted off to the side this time around. There are a lot of strangely short scenes making up the hour, so maybe that contributed to it, but still, it all felt just a bit underdone. The interactions between Kara and Alex, for example: they’re there, but it never felt like they were working towards anything this time around. Decent character interaction I suppose, but nothing we’ve not seen before. It would’ve been nice had Alex gotten more to do here beyond beat up a bad guy and make off-hand comment about how nice Superman smells; have her give Kara some advice, or offer up encouragement what with Superman commanding so much respect. Maybe they didn’t want this to get in the way of Cat’s mentor role already, but I don’t know, Alex felt underutilized in this episode.

The big mystery that’s not a mystery is who’s in the pod? Mon-El of course, I mean who else could it have been? Clearly, this and the Cadmus stuff are going to be the long arcs for either the first half of or for the full season. What they’re doing seems neat, and if I want the writers to have learned anything from last season, it’s to keep a tight focus on long story arcs and make them count. Don’t Astra this shit!

So yeah! Was this as good as the Flash crossover? I don’t think so, no. But it was certainly one of the highlights for this show, and not just because Superman was here. It’s the reasons why he was here, the story and character advantages that presented that I think the writers took advantage of as best as they could. They made the chemistry between Clark and Kara work pretty well, and should he make guest appearances after next episode that might be fun. But above all I’m glad that this never shied away from being about Supergirl first and foremost. This is her show, after all, and the second season has started off things very strong! Keep it up!

August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad- Shadowcon Mini-Views

Before I say anything else, I'll just say this: buy the album! Seriously, this movie has like the best mixtape of songs ever, it's so great!

Other than that....?? Yeah, this movie sucks.