March 29, 2016

What Does Superman Mean Now?

I'm pretty much the definition of double-dipping my content...

This article was originally published in The Odyssey online magazine; there have been minor additions made to the material below, but you may read the original here! Be sure to share it on social media too!

March 28, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x18 “Worlds Finest”

There’s been a lot of buzz about this one, and the marketing and sneak peaks have been more overt and numerous than normal! I for one was really excited about this, and I think it did a good job overall. There are problems to be sure, but the sheer enjoyment factor and novelty of having a crossover like this does overshadow those somewhat.

Also, just as a quick disclaimer, I don’t watch Flash. I’ve heard it’s quite good, and based on Grant Gustin’s performance here I am now even more inclined to give it a go, but yeah, I have no prior knowledge of the show besides what I’ve read about and heard, so this was, for all intents and purposes, my introduction to the Flash character.

As with most any Supergirl episode, the strengths come from the cast and the character-based scenes and dynamics that pepper an otherwise run-of-the-mill story. I liked Kara’s and Barry’s interactions a lot. The interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff made this feel like everyone involved was not only putting their best foot forward (exemplified quite well in the finished product), but also that they seemed to really believe in this project, wanted to have fun with it, and genuinely cared about what they were doing. This is in contrast to the recently released Dawn of Justice, wherein everyone seems to sleepwalk through a grim and depressing script. Supergirl’s been pretty hoss about throwing shade to the DC Expanded Universe’s darker take on the lore, and this episode is no exception. The fun factor and enjoyment that the script and the actors and the director imbue into this episode just makes how dark the DCEU is that much more bizarre, and it’s nice to see a crossover where two superheroes get along and are just genuinely happy people who know how to work with each other. Remembering to have fun seems to be this episode’s point, if it has one at all, directed at the DCEU.

Barry Allen has good chemistry with the cast in general too. His interactions don’t feel forced or shoehorned in like I was afraid they’d be; sometimes in event episodes like this, the script and the actors can come across as being too aware of what this is out of universe, but everyone handles the event with a subdued giddiness which I liked a lot! Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin are great on screen together, their obvious off-screen friendship and professional acting history seeps through and just gives the whole thing more verve and life that pumps up an admittedly weak villain-of-the-week story.

There are some good scenes that feed naturally into the wider narrative that’s been going on throughout the last few episodes of Supergirl too. Kara reflects on how she’s tried to win back the city’s trust to no avail, and Barry points out that she’s forcing the solution with her too-quick, one-and-done solutions, when she needs to slow down and cement herself as a hero again. I like this exchange because it serves as side-eye at Man of Steel and especially to Dawn of Justice, but even more importantly, it could be a conscious recognition by the writers that they’ve tried to force storylines and arcs onto the show itself when it was doing just fine anyway. Does this signify a change coming for the narrative of the show? I’m not sure, but given the ending for this episode, I’m confident that the writers are pulling the show back onto a more solid track, recognizing that they have good ideas that are worth exploring. And I like too that this seeming admission was worked into the episode itself, but again didn’t feel obnoxious in its inclusion.

The best scene in the whole thing for me was when Kara saves the helicopter from destruction and all the civilians rush over to her aid when she collapses. It gets kinda over the top after that, but even then, the spirit of the scene was good! It reminded me a lot actually of Spider-Man 2, when Peter stops the train and all the people step in front of him to defend him. Just, scenes like this make me smile because they serve as a reminder of who Supergirl is fighting to protect in the first place, and having the populace rally around her seemed again like a conscious effort on the part of the writers in reassuring audiences that the show itself is now going to pick up steam. Very well done.

Finally, the looming romance between James and Kara comes to a head, and it’s good! I liked this coda actually a lot more than I thought I was going to; I felt it eased us nicely back into the Supergirl episode/universe proper, realigning us to the show without Flash there, and brought back the season bad guys and gave us a good cliffhanger. I hope to God the writers can deliver on this one!

The things I didn’t like? Most definitely almost everything having to do with the villains. Siobhan’s story is okay but hamstrung by a weird origin that felt like they wanted it to be true to the comics but also align with the more light tone of the show. The origin comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere, serving its purpose only but without much of a follow-through. The only good moment for me was her turning against Winn, a moment that worked because the two characters had had chemistry built up over the course of several episodes. And Winn’s own character gets to shine a little bit as he pleads with Siobhan to be a better woman than her father was a man. It was some great acting and good interaction! Livewire doesn’t work here very well; I understand what they were trying to do by having the villains team up as well as the heroes, but this character never gelled with me in her introductory episode and doesn’t add much to this one either. Her fight with Flash is brief and confusing, more of a fancy light show than anything, and honestly she was the weakest character in this episode. The motivations for the two villains was also poorly set up; not a fault of this episode exactly (Siobhan’s hatred always seemed petty at best to me), but the script hinged on previous setup too much instead of expanding that further to give us a greater sense of why these two women would go so far. This was akin to Eddie Brock’s hatred of Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 for me, just taking things way too seriously and for very little payoff.

Those problems aside, however, the episode flows pretty well. The novelty factor is certainly at play here, and if I watch this again later on down the line, I might feel differently about it without rose-colored glasses on my face. But for now, I enjoyed it. I’m sure I’d enjoy it even more if I were watching Flash also, but perhaps this is to the show’s benefit, signifying that even someone like me who doesn’t watch Flash found himself enticed by the Barry Allen character. I think this was a success in the same way Sam Wilson’s cameo in Ant Man was a success, though done much better than that: this was fun, enjoyable, and smile inducing, but was marred by a script that relied probably too heavily on that instead of standing on its own with the Flash as an enjoyable addition. An enjoyable episode to be sure, which was refreshing after this weekend’s terrible Dawn of Justice movie. Everyone behind this project felt like they put all their passion and energy into this, and to paraphrase Christopher Nolan, if I’ve seen that you’ve put that much time and energy and that much of yourself into a picture, I’ll probably respect you for it. I know the difference between a project that tried its best and didn’t quite make it and a project that just didn’t try at all. “Worlds Finest” is clearly in the former category (indeed perhaps a tier or so above it), and I’m so happy about that!

Looking forward to the next episode of course! Coming in on the last leg of the season! Expectations are high!!

March 25, 2016

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice- Shadowcon Mini-Views


Y'know...

Someone needs to find Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer and have them read a Superman comic book. And have them watch the old Superman movies. And the cartoon. And the Supergirl TV show. Because if there's one thing this movie proved, it's that Snyder and Goyer do not understand Superman's character at all.

March 21, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x17 “Manhunter”

I am so conflicted about this episode honestly.

There are parts of it that I really liked a lot, but the overall structure and especially the pacing just made the whole episode flawed.

Content-wise, this thing has it nailed! We get wonderful vignettes of flashback on each of the principal characters, and they work relatively well! Ironically for me, J’onn’s story is the least engaging; I liked the version he told Alex much better than the rendition they decided to go with here. Everything plays out pretty much as he described it, but there’s just something off about how the situation is performed, less emotion conveyed than I think there should’ve been; I never bought Danvers’ very quick conversion into befriending him, and I cringed when he entrusted the safety of his family to this alien. Not to say that J’onn can’t be trusted, but come on; the guy saved you from a snake, which just kinda warps the whole “this man saved my life” story that Danvers tries to spin this as… I don’t know. I also felt that J’onn’s overall emotional tone was off, or maybe just a retread of what we’d gotten before. We already had a great recap of his origins, so this felt hollow. Considering that J’onn’s is the principal story for the first act or so of this episode, that’s kind of a shame, but David Harewood puts in a great performance, contrasting nicely his duel role as J’onn and as the real Hank Henshaw.

Alex’s character gets fleshed out a bit more too, which was good! Her flashback centers on her at a seemingly low/directionless point in her life when Henshaw recruits her for the DEO, and the scene plays into her previously-established idea of feeling second best or not needed next to Kara, and I liked that this felt like an organic feeding into that character dynamic rather than the sort of whiplash feeling I got last episode, and the ending for this, with Alex on her own arc (however contrived- see below) is good! It means that her character both in- and out-of-universe won’t just be revolving around Kara anymore, and that theme was explored and developed well here.

Kara’s flashback scenes are some of the best, as they’re framed in the context of her revealing her identity to Lucy Lane, a twist that I didn’t see coming (maybe I’m just slow on the uptake here!) trying to convince her that she and Hank are good people. And I liked that Lucy’s skepticism wasn’t dictatorial or arrogant; her objections that Kara lies to people so how the hell are we supposed to trust aliens if all they do is lie seems in character, and Kara’s explanation of her needing to hide to feel normal, to not be ostracized, was great. I loved seeing her and Alex as little kids again and they had a good moment of Kara not knowing how to control her powers on her first day in school, which was the only scene in the whole of Man of Steel that worked for me, and it works well here too. And revealing this to Lucy seems like a smart move; it allows for greater character interaction and complexity, and while this again makes the list of people who know about Kara’s Supergirl life longer, it also brings Lucy’s character more into focus. Lucy hasn’t been given a lot to do, and so this episode sets up a new direction for her, which is good. I like the actress too, and I’m glad they’re giving her more stuff to do!

Throwing Cadmus into the mix was exciting in the moment, but upon reflection, it all but confirms a suspicion many have been having about this series for a while I think, and that’s that Supergirl is very much lacking in overarching direction. That’s not an innate flaw of a show, but the series has the bad habit of introducing threats and then never capitalizing on them, always moving from one potentially good adversary to the next. And that’s fine when they’re one-episode baddies, but Non, Astra, and now Cadmus, these are large-scale threats that should be mapped out over a season carefully by the writers, not just thrown at a dart board to see what sticks.

I bring this up because, on a more episode-to-episode scale, there was barely any follow-through from last week at all! And that’s terrible, because this should have been an episode wherein Kara has to earn back the people’s trust. And the thing that irritates me about this is that the framework of having J’onn in custody was a great way to do that! Have the general guy be all uptight and suspicious, and then have Supergirl gradually win back the people’s trust, have her reveal herself to Lucy and all that, and through these actions change the general direction of suspicion and win Hank back to the DEO not through a fistfight but through heroism. This could’ve even fed well into the flashback sequences, especially Kara’s, having her interview with Cat now framed in this need to be a hero, which it was, but it would’ve been stronger I think had we seen Kara in the present do some heroic actions. And I’m sorry, but two clips of her on tv and a one-off line by Cat doesn’t automatically absolve her of last episode’s actions. There are real character-driven choices that must be tackled here, and I was sad that they didn’t capitalize on that more this episode.

The ending is also a mixed bag. We have Lucy taking more of an active role, which is great! It’ll be good to have Benoist interact with another female cast member on a regular basis besides Chyler and Flockhart (not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just, y’know, more female interaction is always good, especially in the male-dominated military scenes here). Not sure how I feel about Siobhan’s reveal; I was tempted to laugh at that pretty poor effects shot they used, but again having this framed by her relationship with Winn will hopefully make her character more compelling as a villain next episode.

I guess I liked this one, but it was a rude return of the wonky pacing that plagued early episodes (and some would argue that that hasn’t gotten any better, though I’d disagree), and introducing more subplots and vast story arcs at this juncture just feels like they’re grasping at straws. Some great character moments and good setup for potential future character-based interactions save this one. Again, I’ll reiterate: you, the writers, have so much character, plot, and thematic material in this show already! U S E  I T

Next episode though, holy shit!! That’s gonna be at the least a fun time with smiles everywhere! Looking forward to it!!!!

March 19, 2016

Unteachable- Shadowcon Mini-Views


Elliot Wake (Leah Raeder) is in fact my favorite author of all time, and I say that knowing how much weight that label carries for some, certainly for me. I've had an interesting experience with his work, moving through his world backwards as I began with Cam Girl and then worked back to Unteachable, and so admittedly I started with dessert and am now ending with what might be the pre-meal yummy sweet milkshake, yet still I've remained engaged and very impressed with the work he's put out.

Indeed, reading Unteachable last gave me a thrill if only because I got to see the genesis of many of the ideas, characters, themes, and tone found in Cam Girl and especially Black Iris. Wake's lyrical style is here, and his social/thematic commentary bold, but not quite let off the leash yet, which is understandable. As I've said of other debut books (Beyond the Red, for example), this isn't the book that you got to soar with; it's the book you can prove can swim before doing an amazing swan dive in your next book. And being that Black Iris was one of the most intense swan dives ever, I found Unteachable oddly endearing in its restrained exploration of its subject matter because I knew that Wake would soon just launch off the page. Appropriately enough, reading this felt very much like being at the beginning of a roller coaster ride that I'd absolutely loved: it's the buildup before the big drop that I knew was amazing.

Having said that, taking this book on its own, it's good, but very conventional. Which again, is fine; it's a debut, and in terms of lyricism and imagery, Wake's style is bold and presented proudly, so it definitely proved that the author has a voice worth reading (doubly impressive when I found out that this thing was self-published at first!). It is a romance first and foremost, but while the box-tilt does happen here (in pretty great ways, actually), it all feels very confined and at the service of the genre in which it is firmly grounded, instead of, say, Cam Girl which felt like it was running along a parallel but an aesthetically completely different track to the New Adult/Romance genre. This is clearly New Adult, and it seems resistant to be so but not quite powerful enough to break free of the genre's restraints. Much like the main character Maise, the book takes on the daunting task of needing to conform to a genre while also realizing and actualizing its potential, a potential that it knows to be far in excess of the genre that it's in. Unlike Maise, Unteachable isn't quite able to slip out of its confines.

The plot of this involves Maise, a high-school senior becoming involved with her professor, Evan Wilke, while also struggling against her crumbled at-home situation and needing to get into college. The tryst is naturally attractive, and while the two try to keep their hands off each other, secrets begin to slip out, culminating in a very weird climax that definitely shows that the pieces have moved along a winding road throughout the book. There is some charm in Maise being the least fucked-up protagonist whom Wake's invented... which is saying something considering Maise's own background and history, and it was nice to see Hiyam again (my heart skipped a beat when I read her name in here for the first time; I actually went back to double-check that she was the same one as in Iris). Evan Wilke is a serviceable romantic interest though nowhere near as powerful Blythe and not holding a candle to Ellis (or Blue), and once again Wake demonstrates how the hell to portray a suitably messed up mother-daughter relationship, again planting the seeds for the theme to grow in Iris. I liked Wesley a lot, actually, finding his chemistry with Maise more interesting than Maise's own with Wilke. The school project plot is fun to read about as it introduces a great conflict for all players involved, but setting that alongside the mob plot that showed up was a weird aesthetic and structural choice. I will say I did like how many potential climaxes for the book (Wesley's film project, Hiyam's extortion, and even the breakup) served to keep me engaged and pulled off some nice twists throughout the work that kept everything relatively fresh.

Being New Adult (and Romance), this thing's got lots and lots of sex, makeout sessions, and plenty of sensual details within its contents. I don't know if its just poor ol' asexual me, but this got boring very quickly. However (!) I will say that this proved Wake a writer who is constantly improving, as I realized that this trilogy (soon-to-be-quadrilogy - November cannot come soon enough, dammit!), if viewed in release order, demonstrates how Wake hones his skill at working the sex scenes into a more character-based system: Unteachable lathers itself in excess sensual and sexual vignettes; Iris tempers that a bit more with great character chemistry outside of that; and finally Cam Girl makes its sexual scenes specifically about its characters and what these actions are doing to their psyches and in relation to their situations. Unteachable arguably tries to do something similar to Girl actually, as it raises the question of whether Maise's and Evan's entire relationship is based on sex and physical attraction, but I never got the sense that the answer that the book wants us to arrive at ("no") was justified. To clarify, Iris had very physical and sexual energy from the beginning too, but that was almost always tempered with chemistry between Laney, Blythe, and Armin that existed outside of their physical attraction to one another, something Unteachable lacked for me. I recognize that this is part of the point of the book, that the situation that Maise and Evan find themselves in is itself attractive and alluring and so their physical attraction is an obvious way to exploit that, but their love never moved beyond the immediate for me even when the book seemed to suggest at the tail end that it had. This is definitely more of a me problem than one inherently wrong with this book; this is an insta-romance, after all, which is perfectly fine, but Wake is usually more subtle and nuanced than this, again a truth that is hindered by this being a debut and constantly veering on the more reliable side of the genre.

So yeah, I'm obviously really mixed about this book. I did like it, but I think I liked it more so because of how it demonstrated the growth of its author than it as a work of fiction. As I said in my Beyond the Red review, I'd much rather be honest about what I think of a book by an author I love rather than what that author would want me to say as that's treating everyone like the intelligent and thoughtful people we know each other to be. And I can't say I was as enthralled by this as by his other material. There're some great nuggets of ideas in here, but the full potential of those ideas is better realized in Wake's later books. Read this for the full Elliot Wake experience, certainly, and if you're more of a fan of typical Romance and especially New Adult than I am, you'll probably love this! For me, however, I can only say I think it's a great representation of the potential for New Adult lit, but only an average demonstration of Wake's writing abilities.

March 14, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x16 “Falling”

This episode hit most of the marks I was expecting it to hit and it did so very well!

It seemed like the writers really wanted to bring back some of their more successful ideas: we saw the senator lady return, many character dynamics shift back into focus for better or for worse, and there was a definite sense of status-quo shakeup here that gives me hope for the rest of the season!

Right off the bat, RedK Kara is the sexiest Kara holy crap!! I’ll echo what @webethemonsters said, “I’m asexual, but damn I had to stop and take a deep breath when Kara walked in the club” #same for me, honestly! And when she goes all RageQuit on everyone, man that was super satisfying… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I LOVED the beginning of this one! Seeing Supergirl interact with the people of National City was awesome and yes, it helped contrast with her darker self, but even more broadly it helped hit home the fact that she is the city’s hero, a hero of the people, and I really liked that! It’s kind of the same feeling I got while watching Amazing Spider-Man 2 wherein Peter actually seems to be connected with the people of New York and not above them. I thought they did a good job representing that here with Kara too! And plus that little girl was adorable! Indeed, many of the set-up scenes to establish Kara’s good-natured self were effective and I’m always happy to see Melissa Benoist be all adorkable and happy, so that was cool!

As for when Kara goes all Red Lantern sass, um HELL YES!! This Kara was great to see in action! Her nonchalance in stopping the one-off villain and then letting him go was refreshing, and Benoist really just nailed the bad girl attitude! Her getting Siobhan fired carried emotional weight for Siobhan’s character, a lot more than I was expecting, so that was nice; it provides good setup for her eventual turn to villainy. I also liked that this destroyed a potentially good relationship with one of Kara’s friends too, yet the episode doesn’t come out directly and address that, which I’d normally cite as a problem, but in this case it just reinforced how dangerous Kara is when she is not in check, even when not active as Supergirl.

Now, her as a more angry Supergirl, that’s what you’d expect, and they pulled it off relatively well. While her more sassy monologuing dipped into villainy a bit too much for me towards the middle, it was for the most part sound. I also liked this exchange between her and Cat before she throws her off the building:
Kara: “‘Supergirl is brave, kind, and strong.’ Isn’t that kind of a stock characterization? Very two-dimensional. Everyone knows real people have a dark side.”
Cat: “Yes, but you don’t get to be a real person. You’re a superhero. You get to represent all the goodness in the world.”
This is great! It hits a character theme that I wish they’d explore more, this idea that Supergirl is a celebrity and at once has little agency in the public’s eye: she is trapped, in a sense, in a kind of social obligation and thus rendered to an extent powerless. Now, that’s obviously the most extreme case of her relationship with the public, but it does raise the issue of how Supergirl’s operations and celebrity status might affect her personhood and agency. It also brings to light that dynamic that I love about Supergirl as a character overall, that she essentially needs to carve out her own identity when placed next to her cousin. This takes that one step further and suggests that she needs to do that while being held hostage by the public to remain a stereotype of superheroics. And it’s understandable how she might feel limited and fed up with that. Not justifying her follow-through of those emotions, but I did think that it was a good character insight and examination.

Kara’s actions towards Hank were certainly effective, but seemed to come a few episodes too late for me. These two characters hadn’t interacted as alien outcasts for a while, so to bring this theme back now was a bit of a left-fielder for me. The stuff between her and Alex was also good if a bit too on-the-nose. I’d’ve liked for that conversation to happen before Alex knew what was up with Kara, make that argument a two-sided affair where both had things to say to one another. Instead, we get Kara simply telling Alex things that they’ve already been through, their previous arguments and scenes establishing far better their sister dynamic than this. The scene does tie back into the loose theme of Kara feeling controlled by the various people and entities in her life when she hits Alex with the deduction that she killed Astra because she hated what Kara was, but it wasn’t a central part of the argument so it came off as kind of flat for me. Still, it did work okay, got the job done and all, and the emotions that Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh display here are fantastic!

Bringing Max Lord back into this seems to be a nervous tick that the writers have, and while it worked okay here as he was severely limited in his appearance, I admit I did groan when he appeared. The episode was strong already, I really didn’t mind not knowing who made the Red Kryptonite. Lord’s plan was bland, but at least they had the good sense to call it out this time, so that was fun. The problem with his character on the whole is I just don’t know what they’re trying to do with him. There’s a potential mutual respect enemy thing going on between he and Alex that is struggling to catch momentum and it’s kind of pitiful to watch, especially next to all these great character interactions that are working well already. I hope they give Lord more direction in the future.

And yes, that ending! J’onn is revealed and captured and this really makes me curious as to where the show’s gonna go from here! We might be seeing more of Lucy Lane considering that they said earlier in the show that if Hank were ever not in charge then control of the DEO would fall to General Lane (dammit), so maybe we’ll see that happen! The status quo is definitely shaken up and I’m looking forward to where they go from here! I hope to god that they don’t just push the reset button as they’re want to do; let this be a lasting thematic and emotional through-line that the characters must deal with for multiple episodes. Don’t Astra this shit! It’s important for the characters to breathe a bit and recover from this on screen! Kara needing to win back the people’s trust; having her deal with a lot of now out-in-the-open emotions with Alex and Hank; her and James’ relationship… again, this is all right here! So USE IT! Please!!!

Anyway, as an episode on its own, this one worked very well! Visually dazzling and emotionally driven this was, a nice opportunity for Benoist to stretch her acting legs a bit more (and yeah, show off her legs more too!) and I enjoyed it a lot! Let’s hope next week can follow through with a lot of the material this one set up!

March 10, 2016

My First Conference

Hi, all! Just wanted to pop in and let you all know what's going on with me in case anyone cares. I've been posting a bit more here, trying to keep the blog active with tiny blurb-thoughts about the book's I've been reading, and that's been nice! I like doing those little Mini-View things, it's good.

Today, I presented my Transformers paper at the Lewis&Clark Gender Symposium and it was pretty cool! It was me, one other panelist, and the moderator, and so it was a nice little intimate thing. Small audience, too, so that was good.

Here we all are sitting down. I don't know what was up with our expressions; it was a candid shot, okay!


The room we were in was giant, though! Look at this!


It's like a full-on lecture hall deal! I'd thought that it'd just be something small; the presentation I went to yesterday was set in a fairly cozy room. But this thing was a big room, great acoustics and such, looked great! I walked in there and was immediately daunted by the size of the space i had to work with. And they gave us a lectern and everything; I felt so professional.

The talk itself went okay! I looked at the gender representation in the Transformers franchise, focussing on Arcee and Windblade specifically. I sped through a couple spots, freaked out about time and didn't cover things that I had time to cover anyway, and said about a million and one "uh"s and "ums"s, but the audience seemed to like it. The other panelist was very good too! She talked about fandom and the pull between the more progressive thinking that is found more in the fandom than in the actual "canon" fiction and how that might be both a good thing and problematic. Very interesting stuff!

The most interesting and insightful part of the whole thing was the Q&A, which was rife with thought-provoking questions and lots of intriguing discussion! I just love that! It gave me further things to think about with regards to this Transformers paper, it gave me new topics to look at, and it was just super engaging!

Besides that, not much has been going on. I was a mess on Monday (only got two hours of sleep the night before because of insomnia I guess) so that was lovely. I'm like super into Elliot Wake's books right now, so I might read Unteachable next! One more week before Spring Break! That's exciting!

March 8, 2016

Black Iris- Shadowcon Mini-Views


I've never had favorite authors until now.

Oh, I have favorite books (there are eleven of them so far, all of which I consider masterpieces for more personal than objective reasons, and they can be found here), but no author has spoken to me so personally through their work or done as thorough a job at making me fall in love with their world, writing, and characters, as Mr. Elliot Wake. His writing is beautiful, raw and untamed, definitely, and the allure of that is powerful. But even more than that, it is his specific storytelling ability that fascinates and moves me.

Black Iris isn't a New Adult book. It's in that genre, and there's definitely a romance in here, but as with any story that is bound to steal my heart, it's what Wake does with this material that gives this life. As a storyteller, you can either stay in the proverbial trope-box, you can go outside of it completely, or you can tilt the box and really explore the various tropes and whatnots that are in that box, rip them open and send their insides flying. I am a huge tilt-the-box fan, and this book plays that strategy on a whole other level, one that had me on the edge of my seat for most of it.

So, no, this is not New Adult. Like the main character of the book, Delaney, Iris doesn't conform to labels. It slithers around and examines a host of themes while flirting with many different labels all at once: it's a suspense-thriller, a tragedy, a romance, an erotica, etc.. But none of these define it, and the book recognizes and just plain revels in that knowledge.

The plot is this book's strongest facet, told out of order in a very complicated spider-web over roughly two years, following the life of Delaney Keating as she explores herself and her identity as a person; "befriends" Blythe and Armin, two fucked up individuals; weaves an endearingly complicated and self-centered revenge scheme; and contend with her bipolar mother, wrestling with their relationship and coming to terms with her mother's death. It's interwoven a little too well, and there are a lot of twists besides, and as a result it feels upon first reading more delicate than solid, and I was left wondering if everything added up; I've no doubt it did, but I never got that personal "reader's click" that you're supposed to get at the end of a big multi-storied work like this. Still, the themes that tie all this together are so strong that they do make up for how nettled the plot web becomes at times.

There are a few really great passages that come out and tackle ideas of binary gender labels, sexuality, and the corruption and cynicism of the human mind, and coupled with the trademark visual writing that lathers the pages of this story, the book works very well in telling an engaging moral and socially-aware tale while maintaining the general fucked-up-ness of its core cast, another sign of how Wake de-centers thematic material from their respective tropes. Indeed, the mere environment that these people inhabit seems to cling almost desperately to darkness or harsh knife-like day, a fact that propels the story and always keeps you invested in whatever's going on.

Admittedly the sex/make-out/erotica of the book that is a staple of the New Adult world is a bit overdone. Unlike in Cam Girl, whose sex scenes all gave us new insight into Vada's or Elle's characters, a few of the later sex scenes between Laney and Blythe or Laney and Armin failed to give us new information about the characters, existing more for their own sake than anything else, something that Cam Girl managed to rarely ever do. There are many scenes though that do contrast with each other nicely, informing us of how Laney feels differently about either of the two characters, but by the end I found less pieces of her character unveiling as the story went along whereas with Cam Girl there was a consistent emotional development happening with Vada's sexual relationship with Elle, not just a physical one. I myself was also not a fan of the continued literary and author references on display. I found them a bit too on-the-nose; I get that Wake wanted to enunciate his themes by referring to other works and authors and themes explored in them, but the book was already doing such a good job doing this on its own that I found the extra help rather superfluous.

Those issues aside, however, this was another excellent book from Elliot Wake! Complex characters, a riveting story, and that intoxicating and just so vivid writing make for an amazing experience, and I highly recommend this one, and I recommend you check out Elliot Wake's other books as well. He's an incredible writer, leaving a definitive and powerful mark on the literary world!