Marny Finally Gets A Feyguard Book

If you’ve been following my reviews of indie YA author Anthea Sharp’s Feyland and Feyguard books, you might remember this aside from my review of Royal:

Marny continues to be everything. I really hope she gets her own Feyguard book complete with a worthy love interest, because she’s one of my favorite things about this series. Although one of the best things about her is that she’s happy and confident without a boyfriend, I want to see someone love Marny as much as she loves herself.

Well, dreams do come true! Now that the holiday madness has died down, I am happy to bring you a review of the third Feyguard book, Marny. (Disclosure: Anthea sent me a free advance review copy, which I was not able to follow up on nearly as soon as I’d hoped.)

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Continue reading “Marny Finally Gets A Feyguard Book”

Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil

I want to preface this review by saying I know virtually nothing about Daredevil lore. I know there’s Daredevil and he’s blind and lives in Hell’s Kitchen and his girlfriend is Sydney Bristow whose alias is Elektra and that’s pretty much it. I never saw the Ben Affleck movie. All my knowledge thereof comes from riff reviews like this one.

But, like billions of other nerdy pop culture consumers, I’m loving the new Marvel era, and I’ve enjoyed several of Netflix’s original series, so I had high hopes for this one. My hopes have been rewarded.

Our hero, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), is indeed a blind man headquartered in Hell’s Kitchen. He protects his innocent neighbors as a defense lawyer by day, and masked vigilante by night. He’s the son of a boxer who supported his family by taking falls in the ring. It’s every bit as noir as it sounds, and yet the show still injects just the right amount of optimism and levity to keep from feeling overwhelmingly bleak.

Murdock’s blindness is handled pretty well, imo. The same accident that took away his sight heightened his other senses, which is how he’s able to pull off his vigilante stunts. The scenes highlighting his superpowers do a great job of showing that he’s relying on senses other than sight. The staging and effects let us inside Murdock’s head where we feel him focus on the sound of a faraway cry for help, or the vibration of an attacker’s footfalls. Yet his lack of sight still comes across as a legitimate handicap; something that, as a disabled viewer, I feel is important to acknowledge in-story.

As of the second episode, Team Daredevil includes Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), Murdock’s pragmatically materialistic law partner; Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), Murdock’s former client and current office manager who I’ve since learned is a canon love interest; and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a Night Nurse who saves Murdock when he’s injured in a vigilante mission. Everyone in the cast inhabits their roles perfectly, and there’s a strong chemistry between the characters.

So far I only have one nitpick with the show. In a scene in the pilot where Murdock and Foggy are interrogating Karen Page, Murdock concludes that Karen’s improbable story is true because he hears her heart rate remain slow and steady while she’s telling it. In this scene, she’s also traumatized, stressed, crying, and in emotional and physical pain. It strikes me as totally reasonable for a person under those circumstances to have an elevated or irregular heart rate even if they were telling the truth, especially if they were stressed about being accused of lying. In real life, lie detection technology isn’t considered 100% reliable for exactly these reasons.

However, one problem with one scene isn’t enough to keep me from enjoying this show. If you’re a fan of the Daredevil comics, I don’t know what to tell you, but if you’re a fan of film noir, TV crime dramas, and the new Marvel cinematic universe, you should definitely check this out. All 13 episodes are currently streaming on Netflix. Here’s hoping life and my internet connection will finally let me binge-watch the rest of them.

Agent Carter: Can I be her already?

You remember Agent Peggy Carter from the Captain America movies, right? And you know ABC gave her her own miniseries and scheduled it during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s winter break, right? And you saw its two-episode premiere last Tuesday because all of my readers live in the US and structure their lives around TV schedules, right? What??? OMG you aren’t hooked on Agent Carter yet??? Well, read on! I promise this won’t be too spoilery.

My biggest question about Agent Carter was whether it would feel more like a spin-off of the Captain America movies or the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series. The answer is both and neither. Like any of the individual series under the Avengers umbrella, Agent Carter draws from the franchise as a whole, but maintains its own distinct feel. And if you like a 1940’s aesthetic with a James Bond storyline, that feel is pretty freakin’ awesome.

One of my favorite things about Agent Carter is how it lets Peggy fill the Bond role while looking like a Bond girl. There are times when Peggy switches out her skirt suit for a pair of slacks, but she’s always got her perfectly-coiffed curls and her signature red lipstick. Do I think any of this should be a social requirement for real women in the real world like it was in days of yore? No and no. Is it how my fantasy self would be attired in my self-insert pulp fanfic? So very much yes.

Peggy’s aesthetic suits her character, imo, because it’s one that requires a lot of effort, skill, and control; all traits we see her display in the field. Peggy is always in charge of whatever situation she’s in, whether her superiors realize it or not. Tell her to bring coffee, and she’ll gather all the intel from your top-secret meeting. Give her a sick day for “ladies’ problems” and she’ll work that case and find the MacGuffin in a disguise that has all her spy colleagues fooled.

Every good comic book hero needs a sidekick, and Peggy’s will be familiar to Iron Man fans: Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (not to be confused with Tony Stark’s computer system). There’s no will-they-or-won’t-they tension between this dynamic duo, as Peggy isn’t over Steve Rogers, and Jarvis is steadfastly devoted to his unseen wife. Clearly he knows Mrs. Jarvis is the greatest good he’s ever going to get. Jarvis’ deadpan insistence on providing hero support is a perfect foil to Peggy’s obligatory insistence that she doesn’t need it.

Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter; James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis. Image via Ace Showbiz.

Well, “obligatory” isn’t quite fair, since Peggy’s adamant independence is more than justified in-universe. She works in an environment where she has to prove herself twice as good as her male colleagues to earn half the respect. Jarvis recognizes this, and when he informs Peggy that he’s there to stay, he makes a point of saying that all heroes, whether male or female, need support, just like Captain America did when Peggy and Stark were providing it for him.

Which, imo, sums up the best thing about Agent Carter. In the first Captain America movie, I really wanted to love Peggy, but I mostly felt like she was an under-utilized character with great potential. For all her informed awesomeness, she was essentially just The Love Interest. The faded photograph that the real hero looked to for inspiration. In Agent Carter, their roles are reversed. Now Steve Rogers is the faded photograph, and Agent Peggy Carter is the lone hero in red, white, and blue.

And pumps, nylons, and red lipstick.

Agent Carter airs on ABC on Tuesday night at 9pm/8pm Central. You can watch full episodes online at ABC.com.

10 Books That Made An Impression On Me

You’ve probably seen this challenge on Facebook already – list 10 books that have made an impression on you. When one of my friends tagged me last weekend, I decided to narrow it down to ten by focusing on books that I feel have influenced me as a writer. Here’s what I came up with, listed roughly in the order in which I first read them. All images link to listings on Barnes & Noble’s website. Continue reading “10 Books That Made An Impression On Me”

Steven Universe, aka Amethyst And Those Other People

Let me be very up-front about this: I am reviewing Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe for the same reason I was compelled to watch it in the first place, that being the presence of a character named Amethyst.

My interest was further piqued when I found out creator Rebecca Sugar worked on Adventure Time and had written the episode “Simon & Marcy”. She’s also the first woman to create a show for Cartoon Network.

In the limited observation of a very-early-30-something with no actual kids, kids’ cartoons seem to be pretty gender-targeted. Not to say there isn’t some crossover in fandom (bronies, anyone?), but usually you can watch a cartoon for about 5 seconds and figure out whether it’s targeted at boys or girls. Steven Universe clearly and effectively targets both. Watch the opening theme here:

Nothing about it screams “Boy aisle!” or “Girl aisle!” but it doesn’t try to be devoid of gender, either. It’s at once boyish and girly. The color palette is a pleasant medium between primaries and pastels.

So, how about the show itself? Steven Universe (Universe really is his last name) has taken his late mother’s place in a group of intergalactic superheroes called the Crystal Gems. The surviving Gems – Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl – are like aunts to Steven, teaching him how to use the powers of the gemstone he inherited from his mother, Rose Quartz. He also gets help from his flakey but caring human father, former indie rocker Greg Universe.

What really makes this show fun to watch is the sense of familial affection that permeates it. Rebecca Sugar named the title character after her younger brother, who does background art for the show. I totally see my 10-year-old nephew in Steven. I see a little of myself in all of the Crystal Gems. Garnet’s decisive confidence. Pearl’s cool-headed logic. Amethyst’s unapologetic lack of damns to give. And her name. Her beautiful, fabulous, awesome name.

Most of the shows I watch on Cartoon Network are either outright made for adults (anything on Adult Swim), or ostensibly made for kids but catered to a significant teen and adult fanbase (Adventure Time). Steven Universe does feel like it’s being written primarily for kids. But it’s written well for kids. Which also makes it enjoyable for adults, if you’re the kind of adult who goes to Pixar movies unaccompanied by a child. Will I watch it? Not in its actual time slot, where it competes with Bones and How I Met Your Mother. I will, however, catch up on it online when I feel like watching a quirky, endearing cartoon featuring a superheroine named Amethyst.

Image via Steven Universe Wiki

Feyland: Faerie Queens and Gamer Girls

Cover of Feyland:the Dark Court, book 1 of 3. Image via Amazon.

I discovered Anthea Sharp’s Feyland books in Story Bundle’s young adult bundle. The excerpt from the prologue of Feyland: The Dark Realm piqued my interest in that it avoided a lot of cliches that annoy me. Its futuristic setting didn’t suck significantly more or less than the present. The teenage heroine, Jennet Carter, wasn’t described as a misunderstood outsider. There was no femmephobia to be seen. The narrative didn’t talk about how Jennet wasn’t pretty and then describe her as a conventionally attractive white girl. (It describes her as a conventionally attractive white girl and acknowledges that she’s pretty. Which I have no problem with.) And most of all, Jennet being both a conventionally attractive girl and an awesome gamer was completely taken for granted. I wanted to read more.

Okay, that wasn’t all that made me want to read more. Jennet was portrayed as an awesome gamer without being a perfect gamer. The story opens with Jennet having almost completed an unreleased immersive virtual reality game called Feyland. She’s facing the final boss. And then she loses, which, in a touch of realism, she expected to happen. Because everyone loses to the final boss the first time. Jennet expects the game to load last save and let her fight the boss again.

But no such luck. The final boss, the Dark Queen, isn’t just a video game character. She is the actual fey Queen of the Dark (or Unseelie) Court, and she’s using the game as a portal to the human realm so she can feed off of humans’ “mortal essence”. Humans like Jennet. Who is now doomed to die in the real world unless she can meet the Queen’s demand for a “champion” and face her in battle again.

This leads Jennet to classmate and fellow gamer Tam Linn. If you’re familiar with Scottish ballads (I wasn’t), you know where this is going. Either way, you know Tam is going to be Jennet’s love interest. I like the way Sharp writes their relationship as characters and even more as gamers. In-game, Jennet is a mage and Tam is a knight. There are no straw feminist moments when Tam puts himself between Jennet and whatever is attacking them. Both of these experienced gamers recognize that Tam is just playing a tank, while Jennet’s squishy wizard stays safely out of range and does damage and crowd control from a distance. Tam messes up sometimes. Jennet messes up sometimes. Both of them have each other’s backs. And while their shared love of gaming is a big part of their mutual attraction, at no point is a cute girl who likes fantasy and video games given unicorn status.

In fact, it’s established early on in the book that Jennet is one of several female gamers at her new school, including Tam’s best friend Marny. Marny is another favorite thing about this series. First, she’s tall and plus-sized (the third book implies Samoan ancestry) and is proud of her body. We first meet her when she’s trying to design an avatar and is upset that the game won’t let it be fatter. Second, while she’s initially suspicious about wealthy Jennet’s motives for hanging out with ghetto kids like her and Tam, she isn’t catty or insecure about the difference in their appearance. We never get any indication that Marny resents Jennet’s thinness or blondeness. Third, Marny’s combination of gaming skills and femaleness is taken for granted as much as Jennet’s. And possibly the thing I love most about Marny’s character…she is not romantically interested in Tam. At all. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, a young adult series with no love triangle! A guy and a girl are like brother and sister and neither wants to be anything else! And the girl develops a genuine friendship with her best friend’s girlfriend! This dynamic continues throughout the two sequels, Feyland: The Bright Court and Feyland: The Twilight Kingdom.

I can’t talk much about this aspect of Feyland’s awesomeness without giving too many spoilers: the way the series draws on real British Isles mythology. Tam’s name and a major plot point in the first book come from “The Ballad of Tam Lin,” which Sharp includes in Feyland: The Dark Realm‘s appendices. Feyland itself is divided between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Archetypical fey folk like Puck, the Wild Hunt, and changelings appear throughout the series in pivotal roles.

The first of a new series in the Feyland universe, Feyguard, is due for release on November 30, 2013. Spark centers on Spark Jaxley, a female professional gamer who’s introduced in Feyland: The Twilight Kingdom. If Anthea Sharp continues her winning combination of great characters, great use of folklore, and great depictions of gaming, I’m sure I’ll love her new series as much as the first.

Star Trek Into Whiteness: Why I’m Glad [Spoiler] Was White

I finally got to see Star Trek Into Darkness over the weekend. Thanks to Tumblr, Facebook, and friggin’ Pinterest, I’d already been spoiled as to the real identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain, billed only as John Harrison prior to the movie’s release. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the movie yet and are among the fortunate unspoiled few.

(SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER)

John Harrison turns out to be an alias for one of the most iconic Star Trek villains of all time:

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!!!!!!

Cumberbatch has proven a controversial casting choice. The controversy is understandable. The original Khan, who first appeared in the Star Trek television episode “Space Seed,” was a Sikh man played by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban. British actor Cumberbatch may or may not have broken a few world records for Whitest Guy Ever in the History of White Guys. This is known as whitewashing, and, as I cannot overemphasize, it is a legitimate concern. However, now that I’ve seen the movie, I think turning Khan white was the right call.

Before I explain why, let me share a bit about my perspective. I am Latina. I don’t speak for all Latin Americans, all people of color, all women of color, or all Trekkies of color. My POV doesn’t cancel out that of other people of color who were offended by the casting choice. But I want to establish that I’m not coming at this issue from a perspective of white privilege. In fact, while I was waiting for the movie to start, I was mentally composing an angry rant about a preview for Devious Maids. (Maybe you’ll get to read that review in the future if I ever subject myself to an actual episode.) I’m all for privilege-checking and political correctness. I’m fully aware that there’s a huge difference between recasting white characters as people of color (a decision I’ve praised in other works) and recasting non-white characters as white. So, I promise, this review isn’t going to be a kiss-up minority telling other minorities not to be so damned sensitive. Again, if you’re a POC and you were offended by Khan being white, I’m not going to tell you your feelings are unjustified or invalid. But, personally, not only did I really like Star Trek Into Darkness‘ Khan as a villain, I think I would have been offended if he had been brown.

Khan’s characterization in the original TV series and in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan falls under “fair for its day,” imo. He’s arguably one of the more complex, sympathetic villains in the original series (hereafter referred to as “TOS”). And TOS gets major kudos for casting a person of color in the role of a superior human specimen. But like so many other elements from TOS that were edgy and progressive in the late 1960s, a lot of Khan’s characterization looks problematic when seen through a modern lens. Though he is the intellectual and physical superior of Captain Kirk, Khan is still portrayed as savage. Primal. Exotic. Other. He’s a mysterious warrior from a forgotten time (the 20th century, nearly 300 years in the past by the time he wakes up from his cryogenic sleep on the Enterprise). His name conjures images of a ravaging Oriental horde. Kirk describes Khan and his peers as “aggressive, arrogant [people who] began to battle among themselves,” which Spock attributes to “superior ambition.” To be fair, Kirk calls these people “Alexanders and Napoleons,” but the concepts discussed play into common fears about minorities rising up and seizing undeserved power from the white establishment. And Khan is part of a long tradition of people of color as villains matched against white heroes. Charismatic, sympathetic, complex villains beloved by the audience, maybe, but ultimately villains, who exist for the purpose of being tamed by the white heroes. In the TV series famously pitched as “Wagon Train to the stars,” it’s portrayed as just and magnanimous when Kirk essentially leaves Khan and his people on a reservation. This is all forgivable in a product of the 1960s, but in 2013, not so much.

Montalban’s Khan achieved genetic superiority through selective breeding. Cumberbatch’s Khan, similarly, is genetically engineered to be a superior human specimen. He’s Captain America without the biceps, pecs, or conscience. Like Montalban’s Khan, Cumberbatch’s Khan is Kirk’s superior and Spock’s rival in matters of intellect and strategic thinking. Still, he is an archetypical Ancient Warrior. Khan outright tells Kirk that his ally in Starfleet needed him less for his intellect than for his “savagery”. It was an excellently-written scene, and Cumberbatch played it to chilling perfection. However, I think if I had seen a Middle Eastern man who had recently emerged from a literal sleeper cell deliver this line to the white all-American hero holding him captive, I would’ve felt like walking out of the theater.

Let’s go back to that sleeper cell thing. Star Trek Into Darkness starts out with Khan orchestrating a major terrorist bombing on a trade center public archive. Shortly thereafter, he executes a second one on the Pentagon Starfleet Headquarters. We later find out that this man has been sleeping in a frozen cryogenic state for centuries, awakened when some military mastermind had use for him. He has over 70 crew members still frozen, still sleeping, whom he has hidden inside actual missiles. In case it isn’t obvious enough, terrorists sleeper cells suicide bombers Al Qaeda 9/11. It was a good storyline, and no more in-your-face than Gene Roddenberry’s endless Cold War allegories. But given J.J. Abrams’ choice to pursue this storyline, I’m glad the villain wasn’t someone who actually looked like his name could be Khan Noonien Singh.

Which brings me to a bit of subtext that is pure speculation, and that I’ll be interested to hear Abrams’ thoughts on in the future. Why the hell is this guy named Khan Noonien Singh? He looks way more like a John Harrison. My theory? Misappropriation. It can’t be a coincidence that he just happens to have a name most commonly associated with a historical figure legendary as both a ruthless conqueror and a military genius. I think his real name was Harrison and he named himself Khan. He likely chose the name for all the reasons it’s arguably problematic – the exoticism, the Orientalism, the romanticism, the mysterious otherness. The idea of a white Englishman appropriating a name/title from multiple Asian cultures in this way makes Cumberbatch’s Khan look even more villainous, imo.

So, that’s my take. I loved Cumberbatch as Khan. I loved this movie. I will see it again in the theater if I get a chance. I will own it on DVD. I will rewatch it many times, as I have its 2009 predecessor. And, like I did in the theater, I will quote the final lines of the movie along with Captain Kirk.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.